The NBA season is officially here. Which means it’s time to bring back the ole daily BBNBA recaps. Opening night featured two games – although, they were some high-profile matchups – and *only* three former Kentucky players, all of them on the same team.
The first game in Boston was more or less what we saw in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season between the 76ers and Celtics. Boston won 105-87 and was in control the entire second half. Aside from Ben Simmons looking like a real-life globetrotter as he galloped down the court with exceptional grace, the Sixers displayed the same issues that plagued them in this very matchup a few months ago.
The night game was much more exciting. Despite missing Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson – the two backcourt starters for Oklahoma City – the Thunder were still able to keep things close against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Warriors took the game in the end 108-100. Steph Curry was unguardable all game while Paul George was set ablaze during the third quarter. It was a perfect way to jump back into the season. Although, both games could have resulted in major blowouts and I still would have been smiling the whole time. The NBA is back, so let’s talk about the Cats.
Patrick Patterson was inserted into the Oklahoma City Thunder for only the fourth time during his tenure with the franchise. At least to start the season, Thunder coach Billy Donovan is going with Patterson to begin games, but he likely won’t finish much of them. Fellow Thunder forward Jerami Grant finished with 29 minutes compared to Patterson’s 19 (Patterson played at least 19 minutes in only 16 games last season) and is the more likely – and impactful – player to end games. Grant is younger, more athletic, and better suited for the modern NBA, but after watching Patterson play last night, it’s obvious he’s still going to have a significant role. He did everything that I thought he needed to do to establish himself in the rotation. Spot up, rotate well on defense, and make an impact on the boards. The Thunder have a real advantage of being able to play Patterson next to their big man Steven Adams without sacrificing space against smaller lineups. Mix Grant into the equation and an impressive debut from Nerlens Noel and that is frontcourt rotation that can hang with the best of them.
Speaking of Noel… After finally settling onto a team where both sides are actually happy with their situation, Noel had an excellent debut in OKC. He recorded only three points in 12 minutes but tacked on seven rebounds, one block, one steal, and an assist, plus two or three hustle plays. The blocks and rebounds are what the Thunder brought him here to do. The hustle plays are going to be what gets him paid.
And the last of our Oklahoma City Wildcats trio is the rookie, Hamidou Diallo, whose NBA debut was everything that we wanted. He started the second quarter and hit a smooth pull up jumper but the coaches had him glued to four-time All-Star Klay Thompson, something he understandably was not ready for as Thompson pranced around the perimeter for about four minutes, getting any look he wanted before Diallo had to be taken off the court. His second stint of playing time was much more impressive. Similar to Noel, Diallo is going to earn a bulk of his playing time just by trying harder than the next guy and that was evident with how active he was on the court Tuesday night.
Patterson and Diallo were the only two Thunder players who finished with a positive plus/minus.
Nerlens Noel with the block ?? pic.twitter.com/DqqwlD8FEs
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) October 17, 2018
Diallo! Nice finish by the rookie! pic.twitter.com/CeDJUVISbG
— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) October 17, 2018
Hamidou Diallo’s first career NBA bucket. pic.twitter.com/gMZIBD5PCp
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 17, 2018
Tonight in the NBA
7:00: Bucks (Bledsoe, Meeks) @ Hornets (Monk, Kidd-Gilchrist)
7:00: Nets @ Pistons
7:00: Grizzlies (An. Harrison) @ Pacers
7:00: Heat (Adebayo) @ Magic (Briscoe)
7:30: Hawks (Poythress) @ Knicks (Kanter, Knox)
7:30: Cavaliers @ Raptors
8:00 (ESPN): Pelicans (Davis, Miller, Randle) @ Rockets (Knight)
8:30: Timberwolves (Towns) @ Spurs
10:00: Jazz @ Kings (Cauley-Stein, Fox, Gabriel, Labissiere)
10:30: Nuggets (Murray, Lyles, Vanderbilt) @ Clippers (Gilgeous-Alexander)
10:30 (ESPN): Mavericks @ Suns (Booker)
Player to watch
All of ’em. Tonight is the first night to truly immerse yourself in the return of the NBA. The Pelicans have a primetime slot on ESPN, which will give us our first look at the addition of Julius Randle to New Orleans alongside Anthony Davis and Darius Miller. The Pellies will go head-to-head with the Houston Rockets and recently acquired Brandon Knight. The second ESPN game will showcase Devin Booker – who is expected to play despite recent hand surgery – as the Phoenix Suns primary ball handler. The Suns will face the revamped Dallas Mavericks and their prized rookie Luka Doncic.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is who I’ll be watching the closest as he makes his NBA debut against Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles, and the Denver Nuggets. There are 11 games tonight and all but two of them will have at least one Kentucky payer on their roster. If you have League Pass, belly up to the bar. If you’re limited to cable, you’ve got two potentially great nationally televised games.
Basketball is back.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan