Superstars will always get the headlines. Even those that aren’t quite yet on that level but seem destined to be. Much will be written about the Thunder’s preseason opener versus the Spurs. About Chet Holmgren. About Victor Wembanyama. And every word of it will be deserved. Both rookies dazzled in their NBA (preseason) debuts. And [...]
Superstars will always get the headlines. Even those that aren’t quite yet on that level but seem destined to be.
Much will be written about the Thunder’s preseason opener versus the Spurs. About Chet Holmgren. About Victor Wembanyama. And every word of it will be deserved. Both rookies dazzled in their NBA (preseason) debuts. And neither one matched up with the other very often.
By the way, the Thunder won 122-121. OKC was down by 19 points in the first half. It’s understandable if the spectacle of Chet versus Wemby makes that fact a deep memory.
But while the two giants made their statements, other Thunder players had a chance to play off their new 7-foot-2 teammate and show off how they could make an impact on this team.
A word of caution: this is just the preseason. Not just the preseason, but game one of the preseason. It was a game the Thunder won by one point, yet no timeouts were called after the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Not even in the closing minute when the one game was within one possession. In a game that truly mattered, coaches would have micromanaged that final minute to death.
The Thunder played without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Vasa Micic. That put the ball in Williams’ hands a bit more than it would have been. Williams finished with 12 points on 12 shots, connecting on 3 of 7 from deep. He also spent many possessions defending Wembanyama, largely by virtue of position (Zach Collins was technically the Spurs starting center, not Wembanyama).
Despite an inefficient shooting night, Williams was aggressive around the rim and in the paint. In a 30-second span late in the second quarter, Williams dunked after a defensive rebound, blocked a shot by Collins, snagged an offensive rebound off a Lu Dort miss and dunked again. He also set up Holmgren for a lob dunk, a sight the home team hasn’t delivered very often the past few seasons. The microburst was part of a larger Thunder surge that cut San Antonio’s lead to just 7 points at halftime.
The third-year guard played 18 minutes, all in the first half, finishing with 10 points and 5 assists. One of the assists was delivered in typical Giddey fashion, a crosscourt fling that found an open Holmgren for an open three.
Dieng was the first player off the Thunder bench. He was scoreless in 11 first-half minutes with zero shot attempts. He finished the game with 9 points on 10 shots. He seemed more comfortable against the Spurs’ deep reserves, who got the bulk of the second-half minutes.
Bertans may not have his belongings unpacked, but he knows where the bucket is inside the Paycom Center. The Latvian sniper got the call to start the second half and nailed three 3-point shots in less than 90 seconds. He made a fourth attempt minutes later and finished with 12 points in just under 10 minutes. This could be a preview of his role when he’s called upon during the regular season.
After a disappointing sophomore season, Mann’s future in Oklahoma City has been in question. Complicating matters is that the Thunder added both Micic and Cason Wallace to the team.
But Mann has continued to put in the work. He averaged 23.7 points per game in three Salt Lake City Summer League games. During his preseason media availability, Sam Presti noted Mann’s presence in the practice facility. And Mann showed aggressiveness and decisiveness against the Spurs, scoring 8 points on 3 of 6 shooting in 15 minutes. He almost had the highlight of the night in an attempted dunk over Spurs center Charles Bassey.
After the game, coach Mark Daigneault noted that Mann had “an unbelievable summer of work.” How that impacts the rotation remains to be seen, but nights like this make it hard to count Mann out.
- Holmgren’s first point scored came at the free throw line. His 21 points represent the most scored by a Thunder rookie in a preseason game, a fact shared by the Thunder after the game.
- One example of how playing Holmgren as the long big man can work on a night like this: in the second quarter, JDub was defending Wembanyama. Isaiah Joe came over to double team. Wembanyama made a smart pass to an open Bassey. Holmgren met him at the rim and forced a miss.
- Daigneault won a successful challenge in the second quarter. Thanks to new rules in effect this season, he had another to use later in the game if needed.
- Wembanyama is going to be insanely fun. In one first-quarter play, JDub beat him off the dribble, but the Spurs rookie recovered to block the shot in the paint anyway. Wembanyama finished with 20 points and multiple shock-and-awes in 19 minutes.
- The Thunder defense was sloppy in the first half, allowing the Spurs to score 81 points. That wasn’t all due to Wembanyama, who scored 18 before halftime.
- The two teams were whistled for a combined 27 fouls in the first half. Both teams combined for 46 free throw attempts before the half. Somehow the game did not take four hours to complete.
- Wallace had a quiet Thunder debut, scoring only 2 points. But those two points were impressive, coming at the expense of a bad Tre Jones pass and in the form of a power dunk on Cedi Osman.
- The arena music has added samples of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, which may be the biggest offseason improvement of all.
- By the way, Holmgren finished with 21 points on 10 shot attempts and 9 rebounds.