Westbrook Appears Ready To Go For Tonight

Russell Westbrook (background) shoots free throws at the end of Thunder shootaround this morning while head coach Billy Donovan visits with team physician Dr. Donnie Strack at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center.

Russell Westbrook (background) shoots free throws at the end of Thunder shootaround this morning while head coach Billy Donovan visits with team physician Dr. Donnie Strack at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center.

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook did not speak with reporters after this morning's team shootaround, he and head coach Billy Donovan were checking with OKC's medical staff about Westbrook's playing status for tonight's game.

There was no official word from the Thunder after shootaround but the overwhelming feeling was that Westbrook would play.

"I think so," Paul George said when asked if Westbrook would be in the lineup tonight. "You gotta ask Russ that but yeah I think he's playing tonight. I know I would like to be out there playing with Russ tonight."

A final decision may not come until shortly before the game but Westbrook has been fully involved in the team's last three practice sessions so speculation is that he will play though perhaps not much more than 15 to 20 minutes.

The Thunder will play a much different team tonight with the Pelicans coming in with two big men DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis instead of going up against some of Houston's ultra small lineups.

"Yeah it will be (different) we played against a spread team and tonight we'll play against a two big, three out team," George said.

But New Orleans' bigs can still stretch a defense.

"This is still a unique team with the shooting skills of Anthony and DeMarcus they can still spread the defense as well as bang in the post. So it's a different look but we still gotta be prepared for a 3-point shooting team."

Both George and Carmelo Anthony believe the offense will be a bit more in sync tonight than in that first game, especially if Westbrook plays.

"I think we were all excited because it was our first game going up against another team and it took me a few minutes to kinda slow down with the excitement of playing (for a new team)," George said, "and it might be kinda that way tonight in front of our crowd, I might have a little bit of jitters."

But he says he's getting more comfortable with his new teammates and coaches and that will help too.

Donovan said yesterday he wants to see the starting unit together but will stay play some of the younger guys quite a bit.

The Thunder are still expected to be without both Alex Abrines and Patrick Patterson though both are getting closer to returning to practice and then to games.

Tipoff tonight is set for 7:10 and remember OKC's Sunday game with Melbourne, Australia, is an afternoon contest with a 2:10 tipoff time.

 

Christon Deserves A Second Chance And A Roster Spot Over Canaan

By: A. Suave Francisco, via TheSuaveReport.com

 

Finding a legitimate backup and third point guard has been a hot topic for the Thunder dating back to last season. Due to all the hoopla regarding OKC’s new big three and Russell Westbrook’s contract extension, this agenda has been an afterthought during the offseason until now.

Last season, Semaj Christon was thrown into being the MVP’s backup in his rookie NBA season. Obviously, it’s a tall order to expect a rookie to keep up what Westbrook started, but to many fans, it wasn’t an unreasonable thought at all.

Averaging 2.9 points, 2.0 assists, and 1.4 rebounds in 15 minutes per game isn’t an exciting stat-line and definitely not when you look at his 34.5 percent shooting and 54.8 percent shooting from the free throw line. Any and everyone in their right mind knows those aren’t acceptable shooting percentages, but Christon’s fight, relentlessness, and aggressive style of play turned him into a nuisance on the defensive end of the floor.

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With that being said, he deserves a spot on the Thunder roster.

Although Raymond Felton should be the backup point guard for the 2017-2018 season, Christon deserves a roster spot over Isaiah Canaan for multiple reasons. Mostly because of that fight we just mentioned.

Canaan is starting his fifth year in the NBA and seemed to have already reached his full potential a couple of seasons ago. Christon is starting only his second NBA season and clearly hasn’t reached his full potential yet. In layman’s terms, Christon has more upside than Canaan at this point.

Having Isaiah on the roster last year may have benefitted the Thunder more than it would to have him on the team this year. He has a reputation as a 3-point specialist, which last season, on a team that couldn’t seem to get the basketball in the basket, would’ve been a great weapon to have. However this season, the Thunder have three elite scorers on their team, a draft picks that’s expected to be able to shoot the ball well in Terrance Ferguson and a more developed and experienced Alex Abrines who can also shoot the ball.

This would be a premier time for the Thunder to have a player like Semaj on the bench with that pit bull mentality, biting at the bit to get into the game, frustrate the opposing point guard and mess up the flow of the opposing team’s offense. His skill set, just like Andre Roberson, will be more valuable to a team like this where their weakness (shooting) isn’t as highlighted.

Defensively and mentality wise, Christon deeply resembles a young Patrick Beverley. You can’t teach that but you can teach someone techniques on how to improve their shot.

As we’ve all seen during the NBA Summer League and Development League, Christon actually can score. He’s crafty with the ball and does a good job getting his teammates involved too.

Maybe being a backup point guard for a team like the Thunder was too much too soon for Christon, but he’s much better than the numbers he put up last season and that’s obvious. With the proper confidence, he can thrive and with a more experienced and confident basketball team, he’ll have more mentorship needed that will be more beneficial for his development.

Thunder Lose Game And Steven Adams

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Losing the first game of the preseason doesn't really matter but losing Steven Adams does.

Kid Kiwi was pulled to the floor by James Harden in the middle of the 3rd quarter last night as he was going up for a shot. Harden was whistled for a flagrant foul and Adams left the court for the locker room and didn't return to see the end of Oklahoma City's 104-97 loss to Houston.

"I'll be fine mate, they got me on some drugs," Adams joked while talking with reporters after the game. He's had some back issues in the past but this time the Thunder center said the pain seemed to be mostly in his glute rather than his lower back so he's not expected to miss much time.

That would be good news for the the Thunder who haven't been able to see much of Patrick Patterson or Alex Abrines on the practice floor yet and Russell Westbrook also sat out as he recovers from a PRP injection. Patterson is recovering from off-season left knee surgery and Abrines continues to be bothered by a sore left knee. A situation that would seem to be more worrisome the longer it lingers.

In the game the Thunder struggled at times on both ends of the floor as new teammates worked to get accustomed to each other.

Carmelo Anthony got off to a hot start, scoring the first 10 Thunder points. He finished with 19 on 7-for-13 shooting (3-for-5 on threes). Paul George got off to a slow start but finished with 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting (1-for-3 on threes).

"I think sometimes we were overthinking it a little bit and trying to be a little too unselfish out there," Anthony said. 

"One time I had a wide-open shot and I gave it to Paul and he shot it with like three seconds to go and I know how that feel, so felt bad about that but, those are the things we are getting better at and knowing each other’s game and knowing who is on the court, and getting more comfortable and used to the guys out there.”

We’re just working on rhythm" George said.

"Coach is trying to tie myself in, trying to tie Melo in. Even besides us two, there are still a lot of new faces in this crew, so that’s all it is, trying to build on both ends and form a new team. We’re all a team in this and we are trying to figure this out on the fly. Once Russ comes back we will start to trend toward how we are going to look, how we are going to play. It is good for us to get our feet wet and see where we are at.”

The Thunder don't have as much time this season to figure things out in training camp and preseason games. With Opening Night for OKC coming on October 19th the team will have about 10 days less to get ready than in previous seasons.

"Obviously these guys just learning different things, especially with the new guys," Adams said. "Then main thing was just getting the terminology down, because obviously they’re used to… they go into instinct mode and they’re used to certain words.  It just shows what we need to work on."

Overall the Thunder were held to 40.8 percent shooting and 38.5 percent on threes. The Rockets were a bit better at 42.3 percent overall but the big difference in the game was the shear volume of 3-pointers Houston put in the air...55. The Rockets hit 24 of those leading to 72 of their 104 points.

“The game is definitely changing. That’s outrageous. The only way to adjust is more on our end, we have to minimize those opportunities,” Adams said. “It’s running them off properly and making sure they don’t get those attempts.”

And those are things the Thunder can work on but for now it was just a good feeling, especially for Anthony, to get back out on the court.

“That feel is back. That joy,” Melo said. “Being happy out there on the court again. Being excited, being motivated to be out there on the court again. That feeling is back for me.”

The Thunder won't practice Wednesday, using it as a "rest and recovery" day instead. The preseason home opener is Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.

 

Westbrook Practices Monday But Won't Play Against Houston Tuesday

Thunder coach Billy Donovan says he's not sure yet when Russell Westbrook, Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines will return to play...but Russ is getting close.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan says he's not sure yet when Russell Westbrook, Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines will return to play...but Russ is getting close.

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

After a scrimmage on Sunday and a preseason game coming up on Tuesday the Thunder held a fairly short practice session on Monday but the good news is Russell Westbrook participated in most of it.

"Today was the first day that he did contact so we'll see what (the medical staff says) but he looked fine out there," said head coach Billy Donovan.

"We got up and down and worked in the half court and he was there for every bit of it."

However, Westbrook will not play in Tuesday night's preseason game against the Houston Rockets. Patrick Patterson (knee) and Alex Abrines (knee) are being held out as well.

"Those three guys are definitely out but I think just for Russell it's a slow progression (after the PRP injection) there's no reason just to throw him back in so quickly but he's doing more and more," Donovan said.

Patterson is recovering from off-season knee surgery and Abrines continues to have some knee soreness, similar to what he experienced during the EuroBasket tournament.

"With both of those guys it's really hard to put a time frame on it," Donovan told reporters. "It's not something we think is long term but they're not gonna play (for a while) but I think both those guys continue to make progress towards playing, but when that day will be I don't know. Both guys are getting better."

There's no indication Patterson is having problems with his recovery from a fairly routine knee procedure but the situation with Abrines could be more concerning.

He was being counted on to be a major part of the Thunder's second unit and to likely see some court time with the first team in certain situations.

Abrines broke James Harden's rookie record for most made 3-pointers in a season and has added about 15 pounds to his frame.

With Westbrook out, Raymond Felton will be the starting point guard, joining Andre Roberson, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams as the first five on the floor against Houston.

"After going through five, six days of training camp, the scrimmage yesterday and now going up against another opponent so it's gonna fun," the veteran point guard said after Monday's practice.

And though he'll start against the Rockets and perhaps in Friday's game against New Orleans, Felton's main job will be leading the second unit and he's looking forward to that challenge.

"I got a chance to do a little of that today (with Westbrook practicing again) and I'm having conversations with those guys to let 'em know we gotta push (the starters) and make them better. Just because you got three All-Stars we still gotta push them and make them better."

That kind of buying in really impresses Donovan.

"He's really done an incredible job of investing in the young players. He really has spent time with those guys, he helps those guys. He has a great presence on the court, he has a great presence in the locker room. He's a great guy to talk to. He's really been a great addition to our team."

The Thunder will bus up to Tulsa this evening and have shoot-around Tuesday morning.

Tipoff is set for 7:10 and the game will be televisedby NBA-TV.

 

 

 

 

Thrilling Sunday For Thunder Fans

Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook talks to fans in Edmond during ThunderFest For Russ on Sunday. Photo By; Randy Renner/InsideThunder.com

Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook talks to fans in Edmond during ThunderFest For Russ on Sunday. Photo By; Randy Renner/InsideThunder.com

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Almost 5-thousand Thunder fans showed up at Edmond North High School on Sunday to show their appreciation for Russell Westbrook and he again told all those fans they're the best in all of sports.

A few minutes later he told reporters “I like where I'm at, I like to see the fans, I enjoy where I play basketball, and obviously with the extension, it shows that," he said.

Thunder fans and the organization itself have supported Westbrook through good and great times, bad and terrible times. From missed shots and turnovers to triple-doubles and stunning buzzer beaters they've always had his back.

Westbrook tells reporters about his appreciation of the fans in Oklahoma City.

Westbrook tells reporters about his appreciation of the fans in Oklahoma City.

“It's just unbelievable. I'm truly honored and blessed,” Westbrook smiled. “It's just something that you can't make up. You can't re-enact it. The people here, they're genuine. They truly obviously love me and love the team, and they stay strong to that, and that's something that you don't find many places.”

After what the team called "ThunderFest With Russ" it was time to head into the gym for the annual Blue/White Scrimmage.

About half the crowd had to stay outside in Thunder Alley because they weren't able to get tickets. The Edmond North administration distributed tickets to students, staff and boosters.

Westbrook didn't play because of that platelet rich injection he received a couple of weeks ago in his left knee.

He gave reporters no indication when he will return but head coach Billy Donovan said Westbrook is "fine."

Without "The Brodie" the scrimmage quickly became a showcase for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and they did not disappoint. George was on fire hitting 12 of his 14 shots for 30 points and going 6-for-8 from beyond the arc. 

Anthony, wearing a sleeveless hoodie...yes a sleeveless hoodie under his practice jersey, scored 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds and handing out five assists.

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Steven Adams, with more room to operate down low scored 13 points on 5-5 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

"The guys did a really nice job,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of things that we can learn from and get better from and really take a look at both offensively and defensively. It gives us a little bit more information.”

And Donovan, though he's already been seeing it in practice, was also impressed with how well George and Anthony operated within the offense.

“Those guys really moved the ball very well. They extra passed it and skipped it,” Donovan said.

And finally the coach and the players all seemed to really get a kick out of the packed house at the Edmond North gymnasium as students yelled their support and chanted.

“It’s such a great reflection on the community,” Donovan said. “The people are just incredibly supportive. Our guys really enjoy coming into these venues because it’s intimate and they get a chance to connect with a lot of the fans. We appreciate all the support and people coming out the way we do.”

The Thunder will practice Monday and Tuesday before busing up to Tulsa for Tuesday night's preseason opener against the Houston Rockets.