Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson are out, and Steven Adams is up in the air. That pretty much sums up Oklahoma City’s health situation as the face the defending NBA champs on their home court in Oakland, California. Needless to say, a lot will have to go right for OKC, and a lot more go wrong for Golden State, for the Thunder to pull off the upset on opening night, but perhaps this night isn’t really about tonight, but rather it’s about preparing for early 2019.
Neither of these teams are going to look the same when late January rolls around, and they certainly won’t be the same when spring brings about the home stretch of the season and jockeying for playoff seeding. The Warriors are anxiously awaiting the return of DeMarcus Cousins and Oklahoma City is looking forward to the day when Westbrook and Roberson return to the floor together.
Westbrook could be back as early as Friday, but Roberson is going to take more time. The hope is to have him back by the end of the year, but that hope isn’t going to pay dividends tonight. With the odds stacked against them in Oakland, Oklahoma City’s best bet is to use the moment to prepare for the future.
Dennis Schroder is going to get the start for Westbrook, and Raymond Felton will undoubtedly see more than an average number of minutes as well. Terrance Ferguson is going to get the initial nod to fill the blank roster spot left by Roberson.
That’s two bench players cracking the starting lineup against the World Champs. We’re not talking about the perfect recipe for success if we’re measuring it by a one-game standard. However, the minutes and experience could prove to be invaluable to a bench that has been in need of a severe upgrade for a while now.
Adding Schroder and former Dallas big man Nerlens Noel was exactly what the OKC bench needed. Now they need time: Time to adjust. Time to work on chemistry. Time to find their place. What better way to do that than to be thrown into the fire against a team whose roster resembles an All-Star team?
“We’ve got to come out ready, we’ve got to compete and we’ve got to have each other’s back. If we’re doing that, we’ve got a good chance to win.” – Dennis Schröder
That’s not to say that anyone is chalking this up as a loss before the game even begins. The expectation from the team and fans should be to compete and look for the opportunity to exploit a Warriors team that is going to struggle with bench minutes this season as well.
However, tonight is not about tonight. Tonight is about January, February, and March. That’s where spot starts for bench players will pay dividends because that’s when Oklahoma City’s roster will be whole again. That’s when we’ll see the true potential of this team.