Game Preview: Pistons host MVP candidate Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder

On Monday night, the Detroit Pistons (5-5) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (6-4) at the Palace of Auburn Hills at 7:30 pm eastern.

Probable Starting Lineups

Detroit Pistons

PG: Ish Smith

SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

SF:Tobias Harris 

PF: Marcus Morris

C: Andre Drummond

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG: Russell Westbrook

SG: Victor Oladipo

SF: Andre Roberson

PF: Domantas Sabonis

C: Steven Adams

The Oklahoma City Thunder, coached by Billy Donovan, lost last night to the Orlando Magic (119-117) because of a last second buzzer-beater by former-Thunder, now Magic power forward, Serge Ibaka. The Pistons are coming off their first road victory of the year, defeating the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night. 

The Oklahoma City Thunder, led by early MVP candidate Russell Westbrook (averaging 30.9ppg, 8.9rpg, 9.4apg), started off red-hot this year winning their first five games of the season. Recently, however, the Thunder have cooled off a bit, dropping three out of their last five games.

Billy Donovan runs a fast tempo (ranked 6th in pace) offense that relies on his players hard work and hustle. However, as with most young and fast-paced teams, OKC struggles with ball discipline and shot selection.

The Thunder average only 103.2ppg (18th of 30) on 43.6% shooting (22th of 30) while coughing up the ball nearly 17 times per game (tied 4th of 30). This is because, out of necessity, they rely too much on their All-Star point guard, Russell Westbrook.

Although Westbrook ranks third amongst top scorers in the NBA, he is the least efficient shooter (41.2 fg%) of the players in the top ten. The former-UCLA standout also averages the second most turnovers per game in the league (5.4). That said, Westbrook is one of the most athletic basketball players of all-time and Ish Smith will have his hands full on Monday night. Ish’s only saving grace, is that Westbrook played 38 minutes yesterday.

Newly acquired Victor Oladipo is the Thunders second best offensive option, averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. Offensive-minded big-man, Enes Kanter, averages 12.2 points and 7 rebounds while  defensive-juggernaut, Steve Adams, is posting a near double-double with 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Although the Thunder struggle on offense, they are able to win games because of their strong defense.

The Thunder only give up 100.8 points per game (9th of 30) and they limit teams to 43.5% shooting (8th of 30). OKC is also 3rd in the NBA guarding the 3-point line, limiting opponents to 31.1%. On the glass, the Thunder are top 10 on both ends of the floor. On defense they are averaging 35.4 (6th of 30) rebounds per game and offensively, they clean up 11.2 (9th of 30).

After ten games, the Detroit Pistons are playing .500 ball (4-1 at home, 1-4 away). On defense, the Pistons excel, limiting opponents to 97.0 points per game (4th of 30) on 43.1% shooting. Unfortunately, Detroit has one of the worst offenses in the NBA. The Pistons average only  97.7 points per game (24th of 30) with an offensive rating of 103.0 (22nd of 30). However, SVG has taught this young team to value their possessions. The Pistons are averaging only 11.8 turnovers per game (6th of 30).

Ish Smith (9.6ppg, 6.7apg), continues to struggle shooting. Ish is currently hitting 36.7% of his shots from the field while shooting an abysmal 9.1% from downtown. In order for Stan Van Gundy’s pick-and-roll offense to be successful, the point guard must be a shooting threat. Unfortunately, that is not Ish Smith’s game. Optimistically, Ish is 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.19).

Small forward, Tobias Harris, leads all Pistons scorers averaging 16.5 points while power forward, Marcus Morris, is right behind him with 15. Off the bench, Stan Van Gundy will depend on power forward, Jon Leuer (10.3ppg, 6.5 rpg) and point guard, Beno Udrih (7.4ppg, 3.5apg) to led the group offensively. Hopefully Stanley Johnson will continue to produce in his limited minutes. Over his last two games Johnson has averaged 11.5 points. As usual, Andre Drummond (14.9 ppg, 14.3 rpg) will be the key to a Pistons victory and unfortunately, he has a tough matchup.

Dre will need to match the energy level and grit of Kiwi center, Steven Adams. Adams attacks both sides of the glass so it is crucial Drummond remain engaged and focused. In Pistons wins this year, Dre has averaged 17.6 rebounds, compared to 11 rebounds in losses. Drummond also must watch out for foul trouble. Look for Westbrook to drive every time Dre switches on him. If Westbrook does, it is very important Drummond stay in front of him (as well as he can) without fouling. Help defense is very important tonight.