Photo Credits: Coby Van Loan/OKC Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder faced lineup discrepancies when shooting-guard George Hill was ruled out just hours before Monday’s contest vs. the Blazers, due to an apparent thumb injury. This left Mark Daigneualt with a decision to make in patching up the open starting spot. Daigneualt could’ve given the starting nod to Hamidou Diallo, who has been the team’s leading scorer off the bench (11.2), or rearrange the lineup for Justin Jackson, who has started once for the team this year. Daigneualt opted to giving the starting gig to the 19-year-old rookie Theo Maledon. Not only in doing this addition bring more passing flare to the usual group of guys, but it also set the team up for history on Monday night.
The Thunder’s starters set a franchise record for youngest starting lineup with the average age being 21 years and 185 days old. This record not only placed them onto the franchise books, but also cracked the Thunder group the 7th youngest lineup in NBA-history. The youngest you may ask? The Phoenix Suns back in 2017, who combined for an average age of 21 years and 14 days.
The Phoenix Suns in their “historic” night were mauled by the Brookyln Nets 126-98, behind Brook Lopez’s 19 points and former Thunder training camp attendee K.J. McDaniels, with 16 points.
Oklahoma City on the other hand did not struggle with their fountain of youth, instead passing by the now 9-7 Blazers 125-122. The Thunder starters were not left on their own mission, as 53 of the teams 125 point came off the bench (including Mike Muscala’s 23 points,) but they still stood right up to Portland’s core. When the starter’s played toe-to-toe in the first quarter, Oklahoma City’s young bucks stood firm, primarily in swinging the ball around. The Thunder’s five combined for nine assists in the first quarter alone, for reference Portland’s entire team only had seven assists the entire first half.
This early spread of making the extra pass laid the ground works for the Thunder’s victory, as their early push of passes gave them a 17-point lead in the first, and was enough to ride on the rest of the night. The early passing stuck throughout the night totaling 25 assists by the final buzzer. The team’s 25 assists to the mere 17 from the Blazers became one of the most crucial aspects to this game as it translated to much more consistent shooting for OKC, shooting 51% on the night to Portland’s 46%.
Oklahoma City will have another shot to keep the ball moving against the Chris Paul led Phoenix Suns (8-7) on Wednesday, and with George Hill still remaining day-to-day, we may see more of Maledon and the franchises youngest starting five.