The Oklahoma City Thunder start 1-1 out of the All-Star break with Saturday’s loss to the New York Knicks, 119-97. The shorthanded OKC Thunder, missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Darius Bazley, George Hill, the, of course, traded Hamidou Diallo, and Josh Hall gave it a good run especially in the first quarter.
The Thunder rolled out a starting lineup made up of Theo Maledon, Lu Dort, Aleksej Pokusevski, Isaiah Roby, and Al Horford. Against the best defense in the NBA, surprisingly, that group got out to a fast start posting 31 first-quarter points. However, it was not sustainable as the offense eventually sputtered.
Lu Dort turned into a bright spot in this game, as Mark Daigneault staggered him against Theo Maledon allowing each player to have true point guard minutes. Dort, took advantage, dishing out five assists, grabbing six rebounds, scoring 14 points thanks to his 10 free throw attempts. Lu Dort has a skill set that allows him to be more than just a three-and-D player, and this game helped prove that.
Ty Jerome flashes his versatility, a must-have trait under new Thunder head man Mark Daigneault. To this point, Jerome had typically been put in a spot-up shooter role in his limited action in Oklahoma City. Today, he showed that in a pinch, he can operate with the ball in his hands as he handed out five assists, including a fantastic left-handed dime to Kenrich Williams.
Perhaps the biggest thing we learned from this game is that even with all the missing pieces, once again, Mike Muscala could not get on the floor. This should signal a full-blown move into “roster exploration” as Mark Daigneault has termed it or simply put a move for the OKC Thunder to only play their young players or players with any upside. The lucky winner in the shorthanded roster sweepstakes was Justin Jackson who earned 16-minutes after not playing in the 2nd half opener against Dallas. Jackson at 25, has at least some upside compared to the aforementioned Muscala, who has played lights out this year.
Despite the lopsided score, in the end, this was a competitive game in the early stages of the fourth quarter. The fact Mike Muscala, who is healthy, could not get off the pine, is pretty telling about the direction this team is going. Muscala could have made a difference in this game.
For more on this game, check out the Locked on Thunder podcast.