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Preview: Suns face resurgent Thunder led by the OK3

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The Thunder have found their mojo over the past few weeks. Can the young Suns pull off the upset in Talking Stick Resort Arena today?

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Oklahoma City Thunder

When: 6 pm AZ time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Probable starters:

Thunder - Russell Westbrook, Terrance Ferguson, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams

Suns - Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Tyson Chandler

Oklahoma City Thunder

OffRtg = 106.5 (10th), DefRtg = 102.8 (5th), NetRtg = 3.7 (5th)

These advances numbers are from when interim head coach Jay Triano took over on Oct. 23, but over their past 15 games, the Thunder must have been hit with a lightning strike because it’s three-headed scoring combo of Westbrook, George, and Anthony is finally learning how to share its offensive workload. They are 11-4 over that span, too.

Here’s how their points per game have shaken out: Westbrook = 27.9, George = 21.5, Anthony = 17.1. Good luck stopping them if your defense isn’t in tune on that night.

When comparing the Thunder to teams atop the Western Conference like Golden State and Houston, they lag behind in terms of overall structure and consistency but they make up for it in defense. With such a lanky, versatile lineup head coach Billy Donovan presents, including a dynamo in Ferguson who can tear the rim off the basket at any given moment, Oklahoma City has a shot any given night.

For the Suns to somehow steal this one, Booker and Warren will have to be at its most efficient against these wings.

One area that has been discussed with OKC’s OK3 is how George and Anthony could be gone by this summer, which is very important long-term with Westbrook. The MVP point guard signed a 5-year max extension this past summer, but if they are unable to get results this postseason George likely heads over to Los Angeles. Carmelo could stay around another season if he doesn’t enact his early termination option (ETO), but he himself could want to go join Houston, which was his preferred destination when asking out of New York.

If both ask out, what does that say about Westbrook? Once again, general manager Sam Presti would have to reshuffle the deck and try to obtain a co-star.

This will be a rather unpopular opinion now, but three years from now what if the Thunder have nothing have around him. He himself could the one dealt to begin a rebuild.

Case in point, the 2018 playoffs are a very important upcoming moment for this version of the Oklahoma City Thunder. If George leaves, what domino happens next? It definitely will be interesting to follow.

Phoenix Suns

OffRtg = 103.2 (23rd), DefRtg = 108.2 (26th), NetRtg = -5.0 (27th)

For the Suns to have a chance today, I think it will have to be more of the usual which signals Booker and Warren carrying the load. One interesting stat, when related to this duo, is that Phoenix is 7-2 when they combine for 50 points or more. Give Booker some help and it usually results in a Suns victory.

If Warren (illness) still isn’t able to go, that will result in even more of the scoring burden falling on Booker. Against the Spurs without Warren, Booker finished with 21-5-5 on 8-17 shooting while being the backup point guard with Isaiah Canaan also out.

As I outlined in how I would build a long-term contender around Booker, the transition to primary ball handler could be something explored later on in his career. As AZCentral’s Scott Bordow asked Triano after Saturday’s practice about Booker playing point guard long-term, here’s what he had to say.

“I think he could do either. I really do. I think he could play either one.”

I think the same because he’s already displaying playmaking along the parallel James Harden displayed while with OKC himself. Once he was traded to Houston and put into a system constructed to his benefit, spacing with snipers surrounding him, his production exploded. A similar path could be taken with Booker down the line, but not for the near future. Maybe in a few seasons if general manager Ryan McDonough follows a similar plan I laid out.

Another note that shouldn’t be forgotten is the resurgence of Chriss. Since Booker’s return on Dec. 26 against Memphis, 2016’s No. 8 overall pick has been stuffing the stat sheet.

Over his past 6 games: 12.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.2 blocks

The only other names over that span to average similar numbers are DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Jusuf Nurkic. That’s some rather good company.

He won’t be 21 until July, but Chriss possibly turning the corner could signal greener pastures quicker for #TheTimeline.

For reference, the only names in NBA history to average 12-8-1.5-1-1 over a season age 22 and under include Josh Smith, Andrei Kirilenko, Jermaine O’Neal, and Pau Gasol.

Here’s the full list below, which includes more big-time names. I think these numbers if Chriss puts it together, aren’t out of the realm of possibilities by 2020 for him. Do you believe Chriss has figured it out?

Prediction

I’m predicting a basketball version of a track meet is about to break out. Not much defense, even though OKC has put the clamps down over the past few weeks, but the pace will quickly dictate a fast one.

Led by Booker and Warren, I see the Suns staying in this until late when the doors get blown open, much like Philadelphia last week. To stay competitive with a team possibly on the way to the Western Conference Finals would go a long way for the league’s youngest rotation.

In the end, the OK3 of Westbrook, George, and Anthony will be too much, though.

Thunder 123, Suns 112