Oladipo "Very Excited" For New Start with Thunder

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Victor Oladipo can’t wait to get the season started.

“I’m very excited...I’m anxious; everything you can imagine that’s what I am,” he told reporters after Thunder practice Friday afternoon. “I’m just lookin’ forward to the new start, a fresh new look and everything, it’s gonna be fun.”

So far it hasn’t been quite as much fun as Oladipo would have liked.

He doesn’t want to make mistakes, doesn’t want to leave anyone with a bad impression, doesn’t want to appear to be too aggressive, too much of a ball hog, too much of anything.

So sometimes the one thing he ends up doing too much of is thinking.

“Sometimes?” he smiled when asked about that.

“Yeah, a little too much. I’m a deep thinker so I go into things a little too much, especially during the course of a game so I gotta just keep goin’ and playin’.”

Both Russell Westbrook and Billy Donovan have encouraged Oladipo to just play his game and don’t over think it.

“It’s something I’m trying to get better at and yeah Coach Donovan has been helping me with that, along with Russ, so I just gotta keep getting better at it.”

Abrines Still Limited By Bruised Hip

After being taken out of the Nuggets game with a bruised hip shooting guard Alex Abrines, though able to do a few shooting drills, has not returned to full practices.

“He’s moving around, he’s shooting, he’s doing individual skill work,” Donovan said, “but he hasn’t been cleared for any contact so again we’re not rushing him back too soon.”

Abrines does appear to be getting better, “he’s still out of practice but able to do more than he had the last couple days,” Donovan said.

The Thunder hope to have him back for the season opener Wednesday at Philadelphia.

Donovan “Comfortable” With Ronnie Price As Westbrook’s Backup

With normal backup point guard Cameron Payne still several weeks away from returning to action after breaking a bone in his right foot the job has passed to veteran Ronnie Price.

Some fans after seeing the performance of Semaj Christon, who will likely be the OKC Blue’s starting point guard, are wondering about Christon replacing Price on the roster.

That could be difficult to make happen with certain contract situations and roster limitations but Donovan didn’t sound like he had any problems with Price staying right where he is.

“I feel comfortable with him,” Donovan said. “You know Ronnie is a very, very smart guy, he’s played in a lot of different systems for a lot of different teams and he’s a tough on ball defender, he’s physical and he’s a guy that can make open shots.”

The biggest problem with Price is finding familiarity with new teammates.

“It always takes time to get used to a new system, used to new teammates and where guys like to get the basketball on the floor,” Price pointed out.

“So it’s always an adjustment but it’s something training camp and practices are used for.”

And it’s something a lot of guys on this new look Thunder team are going through right now so Price is far from alone.

No Saturday Practice

The training camp practice pace is slowing now with the regular season opener less than a week away. The Thunder took Wednesday off, had long practice sessions Thursday and Friday and will have another off day Saturday.

When the team returns to work Sunday, some guys could be missing. NBA rosters have to be down to 15 players by 4 o’clock (Oklahoma time) Monday afternoon and as of this writing OKC has 19 on the roster.

The team will fly to Philadelphia after Tuesday’s practice for Wednesday night’s season opener against the 76ers. The home opener is Friday night against Phoenix.


Russ: "I Think We're In A Good Place"

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Make no mistake, the Thunder have plenty of things to work on with the regular season now just a handful of days away, but the guy who wears the “0” on his back and is the undisputed number one player on the team thinks “we’re in a good place” heading toward the opener.

“I thought we improved the last two games on both sides of the ball,” superstar point guard Russell Westbrook told reporters after the team’s Thursday practice.

He especially likes “our decision making” on the offensive end “and getting good shots, the importance of getting good shots and not playing extra late into the shot clock,” Westbrook said. “I don’t think we had one shot clock violation in the whole preseason and I think that shows how our offense is working.”

Pace of play has been a point of emphasis this training camp and Westbrook likes what he’s seen so far.

“Just being able to get up the floor and space out, everybody getting to their spots quicker and being able to find guys out in transition, pushing the pace and getting stops. Getting stops creates a fast pace for us.”

And when there’s a stop or a turnover and the floor starts to “tilt” the Thunder want to run and it doesn’t matter so much what position anyone is playing, the goal is to take off and put as much pressure on the other team as possible.

“Most guys spots are interchangeable,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “The 4 and 5 men (power forward and center) are somewhat interchangeable and we’re trying to just not worry about who’s in what spot but more worry about get down the floor and get into the offense quickly.”

And Donovan believes that’s happened for the most part in the preseason games so now “hopefully we can sustain that once we start the regular season.”

These last few days of camp Donovan is using video tape of the games to show how much improvement players have made in certain areas and “then really showing some areas that really stood out of areas of improvement that we need to make really try to focus on those things along with maintaining and building habits on those things we’ve done well.”

The Thunder will finish out the week working basically on themselves and then next week begin to shift some of the focus toward opponents.

The team opens the regular season Wednesday night in Philadelphia and then their home opener is a week from Friday night against the Phoenix Suns.


Donovan May Not Go Into Season With A Set Starting Lineup

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Thunder head coach Billy Donovan would like to get his “main guys” some more minutes playing together tonight against Denver but exactly how much depends on how those guys feel physically coming off of recent minor injuries and then playing several minutes Sunday night.

“I’m gonna visit with Russell try to talk to him about it a little bit, same thing with Steven and Enes and Andre, talk to the medical staff just to see where they’re at.”

Westbrook played more minutes (almost 31) than any player on either team. Roberson played almost 27, Adams close to 23 and Kanter just shy of 20.

“I was trying to give guys minutes (Sunday) I thought were reasonable trying to ease them back into a rhythm.”

Guard Alex Abrines left Sunday’s game with a bruised hip, he did not practice Monday and may not be able to go tonight against the Nuggets. Injuries have limited Donovan’s ability to experiment as much as he’s wanted to this preseason with different lineups and rotations.

“It’s been a bit more challenging for me because we haven’t been able to look at as many combinations both offensively and defensively because of guys being hurt, especially in our frontcourt.”

Somewhat because of that and somewhat because Donovan just looks to move guys around he’s not committing to a set starting lineup for every game. Obviously Westbrook will be the starting point guard and Adams the starting center but beyond that personnel and their positions could change frequently.

“Things definitely change,” Donovan said, “I think you look at different opponent (matchups) and teams you’re playing. Domas (Sabonis) is a guy that gives us great flexibility with our team (at power forward) because I think he’s fine either starting or coming off the bench. So I think you just try to pair guys and match guys.”

Sabonis has started every preseason game at power forward and he appears to have the job of replacing Serge Ibaka at that position but as Donovan indicated certain matchups could favor Enes Kanter pairing up with Adams or even Joffrey Lauvergne.

“I wanted to play Joffrey more (Sunday) at the power forward spot with Steven and Enes being back because he’s been caught playing the center spot (with Adams and Kanter out)” Donovan said. “So I thought that was something good to look at. I played a little of Joffrey and Domas together just to see what that looked like. I haven’t had a chance really to do much with Steven and Enes just because we’ve been limited in practice but that’s something we’re gonna work on and continue to develop.”

Last season, in a significant departure from how former head coach Scott Brooks handled things, Donovan tended change up rotations and at times starters at certain positions to take better advantage of some opponent mismatches.

The tactic was a bit of a head scratcher early in the season with a team that was already a championship contender but the moves paid big dividends in the playoffs.

Now with a team with less lineup certainty “professor” Donovan is even more free to crank up the experiments.

Nuggets In Town Tonight

The Thunder wrap-up their preseason schedule with the 3-3 Denver Nuggets visiting The Peake. Denver is coming off a 106-97 win against Portland Sunday night.

Point guard Emmanuel Mudiey sprained his right ankle against Golden State Friday and will not play. The Thunder will likely have to deal with 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic though who is averaging 15.2 points and 11.2 rebounds in five preseason games.

Nurkic also is drawing a LOT of fouls, he leads the NBA in preseason free throw attempts (8.4 per game) and is making 81.0 percent of those attempts.

Tipoff is set for 7:10. The game will not be on TV but you can watch a live stream of the game on the Thunder team website.

Roster Moves

The Thunder announced Monday afternoon they have signed veteran 6-6 guard Reggie Williams, who was on the Thunder roster briefly a couple seasons ago also.

Williams has played in 200 NBA games and spent last season playing in Russia where he averaged 13.6 points on 58.8 percent shooting (40.7 percent on threes).

The team also released rookie guard Alex Caruso. Both players are likely to end up playing for the Thunder’s D-League team the Oklahoma City Blue.

With the double move the Thunder roster remains at the NBA training camp maximum of 20 players. The roster has to be cut down to 15 players by Opening Day.



T-Wolves Rest Starters And Thunder Roll

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Thunder guard Victor Oladipo goes into the lane for a floater Sunday night against Minnesota. (Photo By: Sam Murch/InsideThunder.com)

Thunder guard Victor Oladipo goes into the lane for a floater Sunday night against Minnesota. (Photo By: Sam Murch/InsideThunder.com)

Playing on the second night of a back-to-back the Minnesota Timberwolves rested their starters and the Thunder, with key players back from minor injuries, took full advantage winning 112-94.

Because of Minnesota resting so many players it’s a little difficult to really get a solid read on the Thunder but head coach Billy Donovan liked what he saw from several individuals.

Russell Westbrook played almost 31 minutes, by far the most this preseason, scoring 26 points, handing 10 assists while not giving up any turnovers.

Steven Adams returned from his double twisted right ankle to abuse several of the Timberwolves down-the-line bigs including former Thunder backup Cole Aldrich. Adams scored 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked four shots.

Adams scored his first five buckets off assists from Westbrook in the pick-and-roll.

“I felt like going through last season, their connection continued to get better and improve and they have got a really really good connection in terms of understanding each other. Russell, when he gets downhill does a remarkable job of finding him,” Donovan said. “Steven with his athleticism, his length and his size, he kind of has an understanding of what Russell is going to do and they can feed off of each other. But no question, I felt like to start the game, those two guys and the pick-and-roll was really effective for us.”

Donovan wanted to get more minutes for his main guys and he was able to accomplish that. All five starters played at least 23 minutes with Westbrook logging almost 31.

“The biggest thing for us I think is maintaining a level of consistency over a period of time,” Donovan said. “Overall I thought that it was something that we can look at and build and improve upon.”

Backups Joffrey Lauvergne and Semaj Christon also had a good run, each playing about 22 minutes. Lauvergne, who’s been impressive at times, was 5-for-6 shooting, scoring 11 points while pulling down six rebounds and Christon also scored 11 points while going 5-for-7.

Christon is officially the Thunder’s fourth team point guard but with Cameron Payne out for another several weeks and with Ronnie Price missing a couple of games with a concussion, Christon may be making a case that he deserves a spot on the Thunder’s 15-man roster.

“Like everybody, I do think that Semaj is a competitive guy. He is a really good defender. He can guard multiple positions. I thought he did some good things and some things that he can learn from,” Donovan told reporters.

Christon got the bulk of the backup point guard minutes with Donovan keeping Price on the bench until the fourth quarter but the head coach said that decision was more about just giving Christon a chance to play against NBA competition.

“Sometimes it is different for a guy getting in an NBA game. He hadn’t had a chance to get this experience and this being only the third game that we have played, I wanted to give him the opportunity for him to play a little bit.”

Donovan gave no indication he may be leaning more toward Christon and away from Price, in fact during his pregame session with reporters he was comfortable with Price as Westbrook’s backup, at least until Payne returns from his broken foot.

The Thunder do face some roster decisions in the coming days. Right now the team has 16 players under guaranteed contracts and Christon’s is partially guaranteed.

At least one of those 16 players has to be either traded or waived to get down to the 15-man roster limit for the regular season. If Christon came onto the regular roster, two players with guaranteed deals would have to leave. The team has until the beginning of the regular season to make those cuts.

The Thunder have one more preseason game, set for Tuesday night at home against Denver then the team will have about a week to practice and lock down positions and roster spots before the regular season opener a week from Wednesday at Philadelphia.



Thunder Game Report For Monday

Thunder center Steven Adams goes up for a slam against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Photo By: Sam Murch/InsideThunder.com)

Thunder center Steven Adams goes up for a slam against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Photo By: Sam Murch/InsideThunder.com)

The Thunder cruised pat a shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves team Sunday night 112-94. It was a big night for both Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams. Randy Renner has the recap in today's edition of the Thunder Game Report.