By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
They called it a game but it was really a scrimmage, a glorified practice, but there were plenty of times last night when it seemed to be much more than that. And with all the jobs up for grabs on this season’s Thunder squad it probably was.
Anthony Morrow is trying to show he is deserving of more playing time to help fill the scoring hole left behind by Kevin Durant’s departure and last night he filled up the baskets by scoring 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, a couple of 3-pointers and four free throws. He also grabbed five rebounds.
Defensive intensity was really ramped up with players diving and crashing onto the floor. A couple of them, Cameron Payne and Joffery Lauvergne, didn’t get up right away.
Both should be fine, Payne bumped knees and tweaked an ankle and Lauvergne was poked in an eye.
A couple of big takeaways from the night? This Sabonis kid can really play and Andre Roberson continues to get better.
Domantas Sabonis, the rookie from Lithuania by way of Gonzaga and the son of basketball legend Arvydas Sabonis, scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting. He hit all three of his free throws, grabbed three rebounds, while also notching an assist, a steal and two blocks, all while being quite modest.
“Without my teammates I couldn’t have done it,” he said after the scrimmage. “They find me with open looks and I was lucky enough to knock down my shots. My teammates helped me out really well.”
All his teammates were impressed, even the guy who has seen most everything already, Russell Westbrook.
“He’s a man, he’s physical, he knows how to play the game, he knows how to pick his spots and as you can see, he can play.”
That was indicated at the start of the scrimmage when Sabonis came out with what will likely be four starters come the regular season, Westbrook, Roberson, Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams.
Roberson’s improvement on the offensive end of the floor really started taking off in the playoffs last season and last night he scored 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting. It’s not just the scoring that’s picked up with Roberson, it’s his entire offensive game. He continues to set screens and hand out assists, in fact he led the Thunder with six assists.
But it is still his defense that comes first and took advantage of his length to grab four steals, which tied Ronnie Price for the team lead.
“I thought we were good (on defense) getting to our spots,” he said, “and helping each other out on the floor and just gaining that trust from each other.”
Defense has been ahead of the offense in the first practices of training camp and it showed last night the the teams combining for a whopping 28 steals.
Price’s four thefts were just a part of an overall solid outing from him. He had 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, three rebounds and three assists. He’s trying to prove he has more value than just as a veteran voice and mentor to a big crop of young players.
So yes it was just practice but it was easy to see this season’s Thunder team at least has the potential to be an exciting, dynamic bunch that should be fun to watch.