Thunder Preview: SGA vs Trae Young & the Hawks

Oklahoma City (13-19) are starting the weekend off hosting the Atlanta Hawks (14-18) in the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Both teams are coming off big wins in their previous games. Thunder had a historic night against the San Antonio Spurs, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s career-high 42 points, plus the game winning buzzer-beater from Lu Dort to beat the Spurs 102-99. A truly great night for the young team and a great moment for Dort, who says this was his first winning buzzer-beater ever in his life. Meanwhile Atlanta are enjoying the renaissance of Danilo Gallinari, who had been quiet all year for the Hawks, battling injuries. He put up a whopping 38 points and 6 assists for the Hawks in their win over the Boston Celtics last night, and the Hawks hope he can continue that hot shooting into tonight’s contest against Gallo’s old team.

Al Horford (rest), Hamidou Diallo (groin) and George Hill (Thumb) are all missing for the game, and Ty Jerome is reportedly being called back from the G-league to fill in Diallo’s absence. The Hawk’s will be without Kris Dunn (ankle), Bogdan Bogdanovic (knee) and De’Andre Hunter (knee), meanwhile Cam Reddish (Achilles) is currently questionable for the contest.

There should be interesting matchups all around for the Thunder-Hawks showdown. The battle of the young point-guard All-Star snubs, SGA vs Trae Young, will be the headline. Trae Young has gone from an All-Star starter last year to being left off the list entirely. The Hawks have had a rough start to the season, with injuries to their flashy new signings Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Hawks were more or less running it back with last year’s lottery squad. Add on top the controversy of John Collins’ potential departure, and the Hawks’ record speaks for itself. Young’s own individual inconsistent performances throughout the season meant that he and SGA were on the outside looking in for the All-Star selection. As the Hawks continue to figure it out and push for their playoff seed, Trae Young and co. will try to crank up the intensity heading into the All-Star break.

Will Gallinari bring this level of production into the Chesapeake Arena, and will OKC have enough to stop him? If Gallinari stays in his role of playing from the bench, it could be open season on the Thunder’s second unit if Gallo can hit shots. The 6’ 10 stretch-four is a matchup nightmare for any defense if he is playing well, and looking up and down the roster, the only person who realistically can stop Gallo tonight is himself. Isaiah Roby will be expected to slide into the starting role as he usually does when the vet Al Horford rests, and with this comes another chance to gain valuable experience for the second year bigman. Roby will be matched up against Clint Capela, and as one of the league’s leading roll-men Roby’s defensive IQ is due for a stress test. His outside shot will become increasingly important, shooting 38% from three this season, if he can increase that attempt rate and keep a rim protector like Capela out of the paint it could bode useful for the slashers like SGA and Dort to operate.

With two highly skilled young guards on the court, we can expect a high-scoring and exciting contest. The Thunder are currently top 10 in the league in three-point attempt rate, and the Hawks… well, they have Trae Young. If Trae gets hot, this could turn into a full blown shoot-out, so this could get very interesting. Expect the Dortress to be guarding Trae Young tightly if the game is close down the stretch and you can be sure that we are in for a game full of excitement.

A win tonight would increase the daylight between OKC who 12th and the Sacramento Kings at 13th. It would also make OKC 2-0 for this current run of home games. A win for the Hawks here helps close the gap between them and the illustrious 10th seed, as 10th is the new 8th this year in the NBA. It would also help the Hawks start their road-trip off right before heading back eastbound to Miami.

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