- Russell Westbrook is no longer the only reason you should be watching Oklahoma City Thunder games.
Russell Westbrook was the Thunder’s third leading scorer Thursday night. Oklahoma City won by 21 points anyway—a thought that would have been incomprehensible a few months ago.
This is what everyone imagined, however, when OKC doubled-down this summer, acquiring Carmelo Anthony after trading for Paul George earlier in the offseason. The result was a three-headed attack that allowed Westbrook to be efficient in ways his kamikaze ball couldn’t allow for last season. Russ scored 21 on over 50% shooting, while Melo and PG feasted on open looks, overcoming early struggles to pour in 22 and 28 points, respectively.
The Thunder’s new look on offense was evident early. Westbrook could run pick-and-rolls with Steven Adams without the fear of the paint becoming a mosh pit of limbs. The ball was swinging on the perimeter and defenders actually had to close out. In short, Oklahoma City had spacing—a 21st-century concept that last year’s byzantine team came nowhere close to achieving.
With more stars in tow, the bench also found itself under much less pressure. Jerami Grant and Alex Abrines were never asked to carry the offense for any stretch, and Billy Donovan had the opportunity to play at least one All-Star for every minute of the game.
Of course, the Knicks aren’t exactly a measuring stick, especially not this early in the season. Tim Hardaway has a long way to go to justify his contract, and OKC knows all too well about Enes Kanter’s defensive issues. Kristaps Porzingis was the lone bright spot, grabbing 12 rebounds to go along with 31 points. Porzingis also defended Melo for multiple stretches, a fun sight in the wake of Anthony’s Knicks days.
The Thunder still have issues to sort out themselves. Patrick Patterson—who can theoretically provide even more spacing from the center position—failed to make a mark Thursday in seven minutes of action. And there was a little bit too much one-on-one, take-your-turn offense early in the night, which should sort itself out as the season goes along.
But OKC couldn’t have asked for much more in a much-anticipated opener. Westbrook posted one of his trademark triple-doubles (an absurd 16 assists and 10 rebounds) without having to flagrantly disrespect his teammates. Anthony could score without hijacking the offense from the elbow. And George looks ready to settle into a role in which he doesn’t have to carry the entire scoring burden, which also means more energy for his stifling defense.
Alas, however much fun it is, let’s not overreact. The Thunder will face better challengers in the last days of October (the Wolves twice, the Jazz, the Bucks) who will provide a much stiffer test than the Knicks could. More information can be gleaned from those matchups, especially if one of them happens to be close down the stretch. After one night, though, the Thunder’s stars are clicking in earnest.