Jon Hamm: The most impressive Thunder player of the night may have been Jalen Williams.
Sam Presti once nicknamed Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort as the “Molson Twins.” On Thursday night, the Canadian duo got a chance to play in Dort’s hometown.
The Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Detroit Pistons 128-125 in a preseason contest in Montreal. The final score may not have been in Oklahoma City’s favor, but that’s no fault of the starters. Both Dort, who finished with 24 points on 8 of 12 shooting, and Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 12 points in 22 minutes, shined in their home country. The two Canadians scored 19 of the Thunder’s first 21 points.
OKC built a 21-point lead midway through the third quarter on a Dort three-pointer, his fifth of the evening. SGA chipped in with three assists and three steals in his preseason debut.
But the most impressive Thunder player of the night may have been Jalen Williams.
Williams, who made incremental improvements each month last season, showed off a well-rounded game. He scored 17 points in a variety of ways. Step-back. Post up. Pull up. Transition bucket off of a steal. The Thunder outscored the Pistons by 18 points during his 22 minutes of playing time.
Any concerns about Oklahoma City’s lack of height fail to account for Williams’ sheer strength. Williams looks physically different from last season, and admitted that he was drug tested after an offseason photo of his physique made the social media rounds. His position is now something between power forward and power guard. His physical and aggressive play also rewarded him with six free throw attempts.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault rotated through his bench late in the game, and the Pistons capitalized. Former Houston Cougar Marcus Sasser and one-time Arkansas Razorback Stanley Umude sparked a 38-point fourth quarter for the Pistons, erasing the Thunder’s lead and delivering the victory for Detroit.
Yet the Thunder’s play in the first 36 minutes warrants praise, as OKC’s quick-decision style and player movement philosophy continues to show promise.
Trying to puzzle out Daigneault’s rotations is a futile effort, but he stuck with a ten player rotation through most of the first three quarters. While the Pistons ran lineups with at least one, and often two, traditional big men, it didn’t force the Thunder to adapt.
Chet Holmgren scored 16 points in his second preseason game, more than holding his own against former second overall pick Marvin Bagley III. The Pistons held a 33-28 rebounding advantage through three quarters, but OKC still led by 12. Most of the Thunder’s lineups featured Holmgren or 6’6” Kenrich Williams as the center.
Vasilije Micic made his Thunder debut and capably ran OKC’s second unit, playing most of his minutes with Joe and rookie Cason Wallace. He finished the night with seven points and three assists in 17 minutes.
Micic admitted on media day that he’d need to adjust to the physicality and athleticism of the NBA, but his floor vision needs no such correction. One of his passes hit a trailing Isaiah Joe, on the other side of the floor, in rhythm for a splashed three. Another nifty no-look pass was highlight-worthy, but the play ended when Lindy Waters III was blocked by James Wiseman at the rim.
The Thunder continue their preseason slate with a Sunday afternoon game against the Hornets in Charlotte before returning home to play the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.
- The Pistons were without Cade Cunningham, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Jalen Duren
- The Thunder’s Tre Mann was a late scratch due to a calf contusion. Aaron Wiggins, Jaylin Williams, and Davis Bertans had the night off.
- One of Holmgren’s three blocked shots came thanks to a challenged call in the second quarter. The Thunder won another challenge in the fourth quarter when a foul call on Olivier Sarr was overturned.
- Micic’s first field goal attempt was a three-point shot that fell well short. He later connected on his next two deep attempts.
- Josh Giddey once again made inbounds passes must-see TV. One of his assists was a sidelines bounce pass to a cutting Dort for an easy score.
- Ousmane Dieng scored 14 points in 22 minutes off the bench. The second-year forward is more assertive and less prone to drifting in his preseason minutes so far.