San Antonio Spurs - Oklahoma City Thunder Preview
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When: Wednesday, 28 October 2015 at 8:00 PM EST

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

A journey begins with a single step. While six of the league's teams began that journey last night, the rest of the league takes that step tonight. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, this first step is a welcome sight. After the injury-plagued year that was 2014-15, the Thunder enter this season completely healthy. Inactive players who were also healthy was never a thing with the Thunder last season. This year, they enter this game with two healthy inactive players. If this season is to be a redemption tour, then health will be of tantamount importance.

The San Antonio Spurs won the season series last year against the Thunder 2-1. The Thunder won the first meeting on Christmas, behind Russell Westbrook's 34 points, 11 assists, and five steals. Kevin Durant was never active for any of the games against the Spurs and that caught up with Oklahoma City late in the season. As the Thunder battled the New Orleans Pelicans for the last playoff spot over the course of the final month of the regular season, a stretch where the Thunder lost six out of seven games (twice to the Spurs) was, in essence, the death knell for the team's playoffs chances.

The Opponent

The San Antonio Spurs finished last season 55-27 and lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Clippers in a riveting seven-game series. Over the offseason, they signed LaMarcus AldridgeBoban Marjanovic, and David West, while obtaining Ray McCallum via trade. They lost Cory Joseph and Marco Belinelli via free agency and Tiago Splitter via trade. In the preseason, they finished 2-6 and seemed to struggle a bit to acclimating all their new parts.

The constants are still Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. While the addition of Aldridge will alleviate some of the workload from Duncan, Parker has seen his production and effectiveness go down the last two years. The Spurs attack is dependent on Parker's ability to get into the lane, but due to age and injuries, his effectiveness in that area has been decreased. On the wing, Danny Green continues to be one of the best catch and shoot players in the league. On the other wing, Kawhi Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, increased his usage rate last season, but needs to improve on his jump shot to be a more complete player. Off the bench, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, McCallum, and West will be the top reserves for the Spurs.

Probable Starting Lineups

San Antonio Spurs

  • PG - Tony Parker
  • SG - Danny Green
  • SF - Kawhi Leonard
  • PF - LaMarcus Aldridge
  • C - Tim Duncan

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG - Russell Westbrook
  • SG - Andre Roberson
  • SF - Kevin Durant
  • PF - Serge Ibaka
  • C - Steven Adams

Three Things To Watch For

  1. Perimeter Defense - The Spurs ranked top-12 in three-point field goals made and three-point field goal percentage. It is a huge staple of the their offense as Parker and Ginobili's ability to get in the lane allows the wing players for the Spurs to get open. Green shot a blistering 42 percent from the three-point line last season, while five other Spurs shot at least 34 percent from deep. The Thunder's defensive scheme the last few years was paint protection heavy. They relied on long armed wings to get back on the shooters once the ball was kicked back out to the perimeter. Because of this, the Thunder were burned a lot of the time from deep. Thunder coach Billy Donovan's scheme is similar, but his pick-and-roll philosophy allows perimeter defenders to recover quicker on shooters.
  2. Attack The Paint - The loss of Splitter will be more felt on the defensive end for the Spurs. Duncan is great as a defender, but contrary to popular belief, is still an aging veteran player. If the Spurs are looking to make another championship run, they will have to preserve Duncan by playing smaller ball with Aldridge as the center or playing the inexperienced Marjanovic big minutes throughout the season. Aldridge has never been a great paint defender. If the Thunder can get Duncan in foul trouble, they can take advantage of a paint devoid of elite paint defenders. 
  3. Welcome Back! - Primetime. Opening Night. Chesapeake Energy Arena. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in jerseys. Everything feels normal once again. Welcome back, NBA.