The Oklahoma City Thunder pulled it off again. You know, the thing they do. The thing where they are not supposed to win, everything is working against them, and yet, they put on a show and win the seemingly “unwinnable” game.
On the second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder were without Al Horford (rest), George Hill (thumb), Darius Bazley (Shoulder), Theo Maledon (Ankle), Lu Dort (Toe), Svi Mykhailiuk (Not with the team after the trade), Trevor Ariza (not with the team), leaving the Thunder with nine active players. Nine active players, on the second night of a back-to-back, one of those players was Mike Muscala who made his debut in the 2nd half of the season on Sunday. Mark Daigneault did get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back into the lineup from a leg injury that held him out against the Knicks.
Mark Daigneault put together a starting lineup that features Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ty Jerome (first career start), Justin Jackson, Aleksej Pokusevski (third career start), and Moses Brown (first career start). Yet, it worked? Mark Daigneault played the following players 20+ minutes against Memphis: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ty Jerome, Justin Jackson, Aleksej Pokusevski, Moses Brown, Kenrich Williams, Darius Miller, and Isaiah Roby.
Be honest, some of you reading this, had no idea who half those players were this time a year ago. Yet, here we are. They are playing 20 minutes against an expected playoff team, and NBA media darling Ja Morant’s Memphis squad. In a year that OKC is supposed to lose, not make the playoffs, and finish on top of TankaThon dot com…AND WINNING!
Mark Daigneault has this Island of misfit toys playing harder than any team in the entire NBA. The system Mark Daigneault is implementing is sustainable, and it is plug-and-play. All 17 players on this roster have found success, and you can not help but imagine what a Mark Daigneault coached team will look like with upgraded NBA players.
J.E. Skeets, Of the No Dunks podcast on the Athletic, called this lineup a “bunch of made up names.” yet, they somehow found success.
A lot of that was due to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The special 22-year-old guard dragged this team to an impressive 128-122 win over Memphis. SGA dragging teams to a win is different than most players, it is not him jacking up bad shots and hoping they go in. SGA managed to score 30-points while dishing out five assists, and four rebounds, on 47-percent shooting from the floor and 66-percent from deep. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander upping his aggressiveness while not losing his effecency is huge for his development.
Aleksej Pokusevski had a phenomenal game against Memphis, the best of his young career, going for 23-points, ten rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block. Oh yeah, and for the first time in his career, he did it at an effective clip going 53-percent from the floor, 62-percent from three, and 4-for-4 from the line! The rookie has yet to miss an NBA free throw!
Aleksej Pokusevski is fun to watch, he just oozes confidence, he knows he belongs at this level even if this is the first game the stat sheet reflects that. Poku as a starter has increased not only his swagger but his production. He is the type of player that needs to feed off being with the best of the best on the roster like a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander style player.
Thunder fans are sitting in the money zone with Aleksej Pokusevski. He is 19 years old, the youngest player in the NBA, and we all knew it would be a huge project. Thus, any good game deserves great praise and hyperbole, while every bad game is just “meh.” and kicked aside because it is understood you can not truly judge this raw talented big man for another three or four years!
The Thunder are 2-1 since the All-Star Break, and will now travel to Chicago to take on Billy Donovan’s Bulls who are 5-5 in their last ten and battling for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.