The Oklahoman

OKC rookies shine in first preseason win vs. Denver

- Thunder Insider Joe Mussatto The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

A steal and 3-pointer from Aaron Wiggins. A clutch offensive rebound from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Nifty finishing from Tre Mann and a little bit of everything from Josh Giddey.

Four Thunder rookies, plus secondyear forward Gabriel Deck, closed out the Nuggets 108-99 Wednesday night at Paycom Center.

The Thunder led 101-93 when Robinson-Earl checked in for Isaiah Roby with 3:31 left. Robinson-Earl completed the rookie quartet, joining a fellow second-round pick in Wiggins and firstrounder­s in Giddey and Mann.

Denver coach Michael Malone sat his starters one minute later, after Wiggins buried a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 12-point lead.

Credit the rookies — picked sixth, 18th, 32nd and 55th — for the Thunder’s first win of the preseason.

“It was a great opportunit­y,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “(The Nuggets) had their horses in, and we really had to grind it out defensivel­y. And I was really impressed by how aggressive they stayed on offense.”

Giddey dictated the flow in the fourth quarter. He had three turnovers opposite two assists, but the 19-yearold Australian shot 3-of-5 in the fourth quarter and finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists.

“That’s when I like to have the ball,” Giddey said of the closing minutes.

Mann shared the ball handling and scoring load, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

Mann’s best attribute, at least so far, is his shiftiness with the ball. At one point in the second quarter, Mann was being defended by Nuggets rookie Bones Hyland.

Daigneault, sensing an opportunit­y, yelled at Mann to “cook ‘em.”

Mann missed a 3-pointer after dancing around Hyland, but Daigneault nodded.

“We’re just encouragin­g him to be aggressive,” Daigneault said. “He’s so slippery and such a threat with the ball that when he’s hitting the gas, that’s a good thing.”

Center of attention

Three preseason games. Three starting centers for the Thunder.

While four starters are seemingly set — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, Giddey and Darius Bazley — OKC’s starting center spot has been a revolving door.

Roby got the first start. RobinsonEa­rl got the second. And on Wednesday, veteran center Derrick Favors got the starting nod.

It was the first time this preseason that Favors (knee swelling) was available to play.

“It felt good just to get out there and get up and down the court,” Favors said.

Favors, tasked with defending reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, had his floater and mid-range game working. Favors finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 15 minutes.

“It was cool playing with Big Fave,” Bazley said. “I was asking Lu and Shai on the sideline, ‘Do y’all like Big Fave?’ They were like, ‘Yeah.’

“I like him myself, too.” Favors, the second-oldest player on the team, laughed.

“They’re a fun, energetic group,” he said. “I think I just come in and try to be that big brother … I’m a fan of theirs, too.”

Darius Bazley gets going

Bazley scored 13 points in the first quarter, shooting 4-of-4 with a pair of 3-pointers.

He was the only Thunder starter to play the entire first quarter.

“Usually I come out,” Bazley said. “I think maybe because I had it going, coach might have left me in.”

Bazley was matched up against Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., who had 15 points and six rebounds. Bazley bested Porter Jr. with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Daigneault said Bazley played “with

in himself,” in the Thunder’s first two preseason games, but that didn’t lead to flashy stats. The payoff came Wednesday.

“He just kinda stayed the course, he’s remained consistent and that’s a good lesson for him,” Daigneault said. “He does that, the next thing you know, things shift a little bit and it’s a new day. Sun comes up and go attack it.”

Mamadi Diakite sidelined

Mamadi Diakite’s injury in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Bucks was worse than the Thunder anticipate­d.

Diakite will be out indefinitely with a left hip fracture, the team announced Wednesday before tip-off against the Nuggets.

There’s no such thing as good timing for an injury, but Diakite’s injury comes at an especially bad time.

The 24-year-old forward was fighting for a roster spot. Oklahoma City claimed him off waivers from Milwaukee before training camp.

“That’s a tough break,” Daigneault said. “We obviously liked him enough to claim him. Sam (Presti) made that very clear. And (Diakite) did a good job. We’re really intrigued by him.”

 ?? BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN ?? Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey (3) drives to the basket past Denver’s Will Barton during a preseason game Wednesday.
BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey (3) drives to the basket past Denver’s Will Barton during a preseason game Wednesday.
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