The Oklahoma City Thunder looked better than expected on their first appearance in preseason, with a new head coach in Billy Donovan bringing new basketball (maybe), while Kevin Durant looked great after a long absence while Russell Westbrook didn’t seem to mind having competition on the court once again.
Durant hasn’t played an NBA game in 8 months, but he did take part in the Team USA minicamp during the summer, where he showed he seems to be quite over his injury woes from last season. He scored 15 points in 22 minutes as the Thunder beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-99, finishing with an extremely impressive 34 assists.
Russell Westbrook finished with 13 of them, also scoring 14 points while shooting 50% from the field. There’s no need for him to go on triple double crusades anymore while ignoring anyone and everyone around him. He’ll still have his opportunities to put up big numbers, it’s impossible not to, but the best thing for the Thunder will be Durant back in MVP form and a little bit more balance offensively behind him.
Serge Ibaka was the leading scorer with 18 points and Enes Kanter scored 16 points to go with 6 rebounds. One thing Donovan is going to have to figure out pretty quickly is how the defense can work with a soft defender like Kanter. This is a very talented team offensively, and they have a very good outside group off the bench in Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow and D.J. Augustin, but interior defense is going to be a problem at times, although Donovan just might have that figured out.
The Minnesota Timberwolves started Kevin Garnett, who looked like someone who should be retired. He scored 0 points in 8 minutes, but he’s staying so he can help in the locker room. I wonder just how much help he actually is. Karl-Anthony Towns scored 18 points on his debut and Gorgui Dieng scored 18 points off the bench, suggesting the Timberwolves are set at center. Ricky Rubio didn’t play, which meant the backcourt of Zach LaVine and Tyus Jones had plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. Jones didn’t score any points; LaVine finished with 8 on 2-of-11 from the field.
The Thunder can be just as good as anyone in the league, but it’ll take more than just the individual efforts of Durant and Westbrook to make that happen. Donovan will need to create some sort of balance, not to mention formidability defensively, in order for the Thunder to not just get back into the playoffs which is almost a given, but challenge the Warriors and anyone else for the spot in the NBA finals.