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What We Learned About Thunder in Preseason

Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder finished their preseason schedule at 5-1, capped off with a 113-102 win over the Utah Jazz.

Let’s look at some of takeaways from the six exhibition games before they get ready for opening night against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

  1. Kevin Durant is Back.

Durant was spectacular this preseason. But that’s nothing new. When healthy, he’s always been spectacular.

If you had concerns of rust or that he’d be tentative, you were overreacting. For example, the last two games in which he played close to regular-season minutes, he scored 52 points on 20-of-29 shooting. Against the Denver Nuggets, he went for 23 on 9-of-14 shooting. Against the Utah Jazz, 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting. That’s 52 points on 29 shots, which included only six free throws. Pretty darn good.

In five preseason games, Durant averaged 18.0 points while playing just 24.8 minutes per game. He was somewhat forgotten last season, and it looks like he’s a man on a mission this season.

  1. Westbrook and Durant Have Picked Up Where They Left Off

There was a thought this preseason that Westbrook couldn’t readjust with Durant after not playing with him for most of last season. This idea was clearly rubbish. They’ve been playing together for seven years now. They’re still one of, if not the best, duo in all of basketball and have been the last few seasons.

  1. Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters are Producing Off the Bench

Waiters started one of the Thunder’s six preseason games. It was in Memphis, the same night Donovan rested his stars. Against the Grizzlies, he played a preseason-high 26 minutes and scored a preseason-low eight points. He missed all five of his threes, went 3-of-12 overall and turned it over five times. The Thunder lost.

In the other five games, Waiters came off the bench, which the Thunder believes he’s best suited for. He led the second-unit and shared the court briefly with Durant and Westbrook. Waiters was very effective, averaging 14.0 points and making 26 of his 46 shots (56.5 percent), as well as 8-of-14 from three. The Thunder won all five games.

It was a small preseason sample size, but it was encouraging to say the least. It’s a contract year for Waiters, which often influences a player, but with a known role and some stability, he might be settling into place finally.

The same can be said of Enes Kanter. Donovan seems committed to bringing him off the bench this season. Here are his point-rebound stats from his four preseason games — 16 and 6, 11 and 7, 18 and 11, 17 and 11. He made 24 of his 34 preseason shots. So Kanter averaged 15.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in just 23 minutes per game. He should be able to exploit each second-unit he faces and should be a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.

Will these two players accept their role for a full season? We’ll see. But if they do, the numbers should be there for both of them.

  1. Thunder Starters Appear to be Set in Stone. For Now. 

In the games where everyone was available, last season’s starting group remained the same with Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams. There were some questions that the starting shooting guard and center spots were possibly up for grabs, but it appears Donovan prefers the defensive-first group and then working in lineup adjustments and matchups from there.

Hard to argue against it. In limited action last season, this starting five was the best Thunder lineup with a net rating of plus-13.4 points per 100 possessions, and in preseason, it was again one of the strongest units.

  1. Billy Donovan’s Pace and Space Offense Looks Good but Wasn’t Flawless

For the first time in six seasons, the Thunder went through training camp with a new coach.

But it wasn’t without a few kinks. After six games, Donovan said his main two concerns were fouls and turnovers. The Thunder gave the ball away 18.8 times per game and were out-shot at the free throw line, 156-135, despite having two of the league’s highest-volume foul shooters.

The spacing looked better, and players seemed far more willing to give up a good shot in search of a great one.

Now, the question is: How will it look when it actually counts this Wednesday against the Spurs?

Some More Team Stats From NBA.com

  • The Thunder shot 49.6 percent from the field, including 37.4 percent from three-point range.
  • The Thunder held opponents to 42.4 percent shooting, including just 25.6 percent from three-point range.
  • The Thunder out-rebounded opponents 54.5 to 47.7.
  • The Thunder averaged 23.1 assists.

Some More Player Stats From NBA.com

  • Kevin Durant shot 59.6 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from three-point range.
  • Russell Westbrook handed out 8.4 assists per game.
  • Serge Ibaka shot 55.8 percent and blocked 1.6 shots per game.
  • Enes Kanter shot 70.6 percent from the field.
  • Dion Waiters shot 50.0 percent from the field and 8-for-19 (42.1 percent) from three-point range.

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