Thunder at Pistons: Five takeaways from OKC’s win in NBA preseason game

Detroit Free Press

The tantalizing tools of back-to-back Thunder lottery picks Ousmane Dieng and Jalen Williams flashed over the course of four quarters Tuesday night in Detroit. 

Dieng, at 6-foot-10, played point guard for a good chunk of the fourth quarter in the Thunder’s 115-99 preseason win against the Pistons. 

Dieng flashed an in-and-out dribble, a crossover, a behind-the-back dribble, a step-back and a step-through … all on one fourth-quarter possession. Then Dieng passed, got the ball back and drained a 3-pointer. 

Both his handle and his jump shot have been smoother than advertised. Dieng shot 3-of-3 from 3-point range against the Pistons. 

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The Thunder drafted Dieng 11th overall. One spot later, the Thunder picked Jalen Williams, who was also excellent Tuesday night. 

Williams is advanced beyond rookie standards in his court vision and passing accuracy. He also finished around the rim, rebounded and had active hands on defense. 

Williams had 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. He shot 7-of-10. 

The Thunder’s two 2022 lottery picks (Dieng and Williams) outplayed the Pistons’ pair of lottery picks (Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. 

The Thunder improved to 4-1 in the preseason, with one preseason game remaining: Thursday night at San Antonio. 

More:Five takeaways from OKC Thunder’s win vs. Adelaide 36ers in NBA preseason

Dress rehearsal 

After back-to-back blowouts of international teams, Tuesday night had a notable air of competitiveness. 

Mark Daigneault’s rotations seemed regular season-esque, of course with the caveat of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (MCL sprain), Kenrich Williams (groin) and Mike Muscala (ankle) being sidelined. 

Daigneault started Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. That’s arguably the best five-man unit he could’ve picked. 

Aleksej Pokusevski was the Thunder’s sixth man, and he was exceptional in that role. Pokusevski had 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists. 

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Giddey outplays Cunningham

There was also a battle of 2021 lottery picks — Giddey and Detroit’s Cade Cunningham. 

Cunningham, the No. 1 pick who played at OSU, might very well end up as the best player in the class, but Giddey got the best of Cunningham in this one. 

Giddey had 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds. He shot 4-of-8 from 3-point range. Eight long-range attempts is a lot from Giddey, who can take a big step in Year 2 if his jump shot improves. 

Cunningham shot just 3-of-13 with 10 points and eight rebounds. 

More:Thunder vs. Mavericks: Five takeaways from OKC’s loss to Dallas in NBA preseason in Tulsa

Comparing rebuilds

Detroit’s rebuild, captained by former Thunder executive Troy Weaver, is often compared to Oklahoma City’s rebuild. 

“They’re in a similar stage that we are,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said before the game. 

A similar stage, but not quite the same stage. 

Detroit’s rebuild is one year ahead of OKC’s. The Pistons are entering year four while the Thunder are entering year three. 

The Pistons have had top-10 picks in each of the last three drafts (Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey) while the Thunder has had just two — Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgren. 

Both teams have a rich collection of young talent besides those top-10 picks. 

As for the Thunder’s biggest advantage over the Pistons? Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Right now, he’s the best player on either team. Cunningham, however, might have something to say about that in a few years. 

More:Thunder vs. Nuggets: Five takeaways from OKC’s win at Denver in NBA preseason opener

Thunder tip-ins

• Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III suffered a right knee injury early in the first quarter. Bagley slipped and his knee buckled. Bagley had to be helped off the floor and he didn’t return. 

• The eight-player Thunder/Rockets trade from late September is becoming more and more forgettable from a player standpoint. Of the four players OKC sent to Houston, only Derrick Favors remains with the Rockets. Ty Jerome was waived soon after the trade and has since joined the Warriors in training camp. Houston waived Theo Maledon and Maurice Harkless on Tuesday. 

• Of the four players the Thunder received, only David Nwaba has played in the preseason. Sterling Brown was waived. Trey Burke and Marquese Chriss are still on the roster, but they’ll almost certainly be waived if not traded before the season. 

• Abdul Gaddy, who recently signed an Exhibit 10 contract, played four minutes off the bench for the Thunder. Gaddy is likely bound for the G League Blue. 

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