BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder saw exactly what they need to move on after Kevin Durant: buckets in bunches from Victor Oladipo.
The 24-year-old guard scored 34 points in his debut on Monday as the Thunder began their first preseason without Durant in nearly a decade with a 142-137 overtime loss at Real Madrid.
Getting Oladipo off to a good start was clearly the Thunder’s focus for the game in the Spanish capital. He made 14 of 24 shots in 33 minutes and dished out five assists, while Westbrook left the team in his hands. Westbrook settled for 18 points in 22 minutes after sitting out the second and fourth quarters.
“I think (Oladipo) did a good job of playing aggressive,” Westbrook said of his new backcourt partner. “That’s the most important part of going out and competing, being aggressive, and that’s what we need for him to do.”
Consistently driving to the basket against the nine-time Euroleague champions, Oladipo led an offense that coach Billy Donovan is trying to remake after the departure of Durant and his superb shooting touch from long range.
The problems for Donovan came at the other end of the court. With shot-blocker Serge Ibaka no longer defending the paint after the Thunder traded him to the Orlando Magic for Oladipo and other players, Real Madrid roared back from an early 22-point deficit by scoring 92 points in the second half and overtime.
“We are a work in progress. We replaced faces on our team,” Donovan said. “We were very good offensively, we scored an enormous amount of points, but . they nearly scored 95 points in the second half. So, to me, it’s much, much more us being able to sustain a defensive intensity for the full 48 minutes.”
Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova, the other players the Thunder acquired from Orlando for Ibaka, also played their first games under Donovan. The newly drafted Sabonis had seven points, five rebounds and four assists before fouling out.
Oladipo, taken second by the Magic in the 2013 draft, led the Thunder in scoring just ahead of forward Enes Kanter‘s 29 points, despite misfiring from distance. He hit only one of seven 3-point attempts.
Spanish rookie Alex Abrines, however, showed how important he could be to the team built around the driving duo of Oladipo and Westbrook by making four of his five 3-pointers.
“(Abrines) is going to be huge for us. We need him, the way he shoots the ball, the way he can open up the lane for me and Russ, the way he spreads the floor,” Oladipo said. “I still got room to improve there obviously. But, again, I feel that I am special in that aspect, that I can do a lot of things pretty good. So I’ve just got to keep growing, keep getting better.”
Next up, the Thunder head east to the Mediterranean coast for Wednesday’s game against Barcelona, Abrines’ team until he made the leap to the NBA in July.
It will then be back to the U.S. for four more preseason games before the Thunder’s season opener at the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 26.
Oladipo will have until Feb. 11 to prime his game for the return of Durant to Oklahoma City, this time in a Golden State Warriors uniform.