OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder have a lot of point guards.
It’s a good problem to have in today’s NBA. Just ask Sam Presti.
“What we have here now is I think a pretty unique opportunity to see what we can do with those three ball handlers,” Presti said last week. “I think it’s well documented that ball handling and the ability to create opportunities for yourself or others is a pretty high premium in the league.”
“We’ve got to figure out how to leverage that over 48 minutes and use that to our advantage.”
The challenge for the Thunder will be how much can Billy Donovan get the most out of this potential lineup.
“I think the point is it’s got to be effective for us,” Donovan said today. “I think the challenge is always when you have guys that are used to playing a certain position and having the ball in their hands, there’s an adjustment period when you’re not in that position.”
The versatility of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will make this potential three-guard lineup a reality. While Gilgeous-Alexander’s game is certainly a diverse prospect, his physical attributes alone make this a more intriguing lineup.
At 6’6” Gilgeous-Alexander’s length can give Donovan the confidence in perimeter defense. Paul has long been one of the NBA’s most pesky defenders in terms of racking up steals, but at 34 and his size, it’s hard to put that much defensive responsibility on him against some of the better guards in the West. By now, we know Dennis Schroder isn’t a defensive force.
With Gilgeous-Alexander’s length and athleticism, Paul’s vision and mid-range game and Schroder’s attacking ability, you can almost trick yourself into thinking this lineup may be one of the more valuable ones Donovan can employ.
Oklahoma City is no stranger to three ball handler lineups. Last season, Donovan ran Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Schroder on the floor for 435 minutes. It was their second most used lineup all season.
Of course George is a wing, but with the Thunder, his high-usage rate ranked in the top-10 amongst isolation heavy players in the league. He held the ball a lot.
Gilgeous-Alexander seems to slide into the wing/George roll while Paul and Schroder trade off on/off ball attack.
“I think these guys are unselfish enough,” Donovan added. “Mature enough and old enough that they understand if they complement each other and play off each other, that’s going to make our team better.
“So, as long as we can kind of play to the second or third side, generate some ball movement and try to utilize those guys’ skills, I think that will be good.”
Paul comes from a situation in Houston where he and James Harden traded off isolation duties. That’s going to happen when you’re playing with a scoring supernova like Harden. In OKC, Paul understands that he will, “have the opportunity to have the ball more often,” which can help streamline this lineup.
But it will remain a work in progress.
“I think the biggest thing for all of us is just communication,” Paul said at practice. “Building the trust. You know it’s a luxury to have those many guys that can handle the ball because you can play off the ball and you can share. We will figure it out.”
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. For Sooner fans, you can also listen to the “Inside OU” podcast with John Hoover, Rufus Alexander and Brady. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports