Sunday, November 28 2021

The Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 130-110 in the second preseason game, and the bulk of the takeaways from the performance comes from the first quarter.

The good: Lu Dort’s 3-point shooting. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s versatility.

The bad: The Bucks rained 48 points on the Thunder, and the majority of time, the OKC starters were on the court. This was not a 12-minute period of bench players and back-ups; this was the Oklahoma City rotation.

Because of that, let’s hone in on those three areas to see what was good and what improvements are needed before the season can start.

Lu Dort’s 3-point shooting

We saw Lu Dort catch on fire early last season, but something was noticeable about his shot this game, in which he made his first four 3-point attempts, all in the first quarter.

His motion was smooth and consistent.

Dort took his time on his shot and his releases were all a fluid, replicable motion. It was a pretty shot, and he drained them.

Then that set up further action. After he made those shots, his defender crept up on him, which allowed him to drive to the lane and get a bucket inside and pick up the foul. By the end of the first quarter, ESPN commentator Richard Jefferson was raving about his play.

Dort had 15 points in the first quarter and made four of the five 3s he attempted. In all, he finished with 19 points in 19 minutes.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl’s versatility

Before we get into the rookie’s 3-point shooting, let’s touch upon his ball handling.

It’s already clear that Robinson-Earl likes having the ball at the top of the key and creating. He’s no Kyrie Irving with the rock, but he went behind-the-back with his dribble and found teammates to pass to, including one Dort 3-pointer.

Tape of him at Villanova showed him doing the same, which made it obvious why the Thunder liked him, but it was unclear how soon he’d be able to do this at an NBA level. Well, this wasn’t just the middle of the third quarter of some random preseason game; JRE was doing this against the starters of the reigning champion Bucks.

Let’s not get carried away. His dribble needs tightening. He’s not going to be attacking the basket and scoring any time soon. But there’s creation there, and he looked comfortable doing it.

That’s a reason he could conceivably start over Isaiah Roby in the regular season. If Robinson-Earl can maintain an adequate level of ball handling skill, the Thunder wouldn’t be losing out on Roby’s creation. And if Robinson-Earl can keep spotting up for 3s, he’d be an upgrade.

The rookie made consecutive 3s in the first quarter, and spotted up both from the corner and closer to the top of the arc throughout.

His first quarter was the only particularly strong time of his game. All six points came in that frame, as he went 2-for-11 overall and 2-for-8 from 3.

Robinson-Earl attempted just 3.3 shots from behind the arc per game last season, so those eight attempts Sunday were a notable change.

And though he didn’t do any other scoring, his impact was notable.

Robinson-Earl finished the game with 20 minutes of play, during which the teams scored an equal number of points. In the other 28 minutes, the Thunder were minus-20.

The offseason is not a time to make any sort of declaration. But like Josh Giddey in the first preseason game, Robinson-Earl gave the Thunder a reason to feel optimistic about their rookie.

A “wake-up call”

After the game, Robinson-Earl called the Milwaukee Bucks’ offensive performance a “wake-up call.”

The Bucks scored 48 points in the first quarter alone and shot 80% from the field. They were 20-of-25 overall and 8-of-10 from 3.

It’s dangerous to take too much away from the preseason, but a defensive performance like this, during which the starters are all on the court together for the majority of it, raises eyebrows. It would be more reckless to overlook it.

Last season, the Thunder’s defense was quietly very solid over the first half of the season. Much of their success on that end, though, waxed and waned depending on whether Al Horford was on the court.

It’s worth taking note of, which the Thunder acknowledged postgame.

“I didn’t think our competitive level was where it needed to be to start the game,” head coach Mark Daigneault said. “I thought we found that throughout the game, but against a team that good, you can’t search for it very long.”

It’s fair to remember that the Bucks are, obviously, an incredibly good team. Defending Giannis Antetokounmpo is a practically impossible task. Khris Middleton has been on the cusp of 50/40/90 over the last two seasons and took on a larger scoring role last year. Milwaukee is the reigning champion.

But 48 points on 80% shooting is unacceptable regardless of the opponent.

It’s something to review during practice in the upcoming days.

Other notable performances

Giddey had another good game, posting nine points to go with six rebounds and assists apiece in a team-high 27 minutes.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting and had six assists in 19 minutes of play.

Ty Jerome led all bench scorers with 13 points, and Tre Mann had nine points and six rebounds.

Mamadi Diakite limped off the court during the fourth quarter and went to the locker room, but Daigneault said after the game that the former Bucks power forward was fine and eventually wanted to return to the game. He finished with six points and a pair of boards in 16 minutes of play.



Source: Yahoo Sports


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