OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder's Sunday win over the San Antonio Spurs shows even further where coach Billy Donovan stands on Alex Abrines.
Donovan had sat the sharpshooter for the team’s previous three games, using him only in garbage time of a blowout loss at the Dallas Mavericks during that time. He has attributed the fall-off in playing time to defense, using rookie wing Terrance Ferguson in Abrines’ spot most nights — though that changed Sunday, when Abrines played 16 minutes. Ferguson didn't play.
Still, even while re-entering the rotation, Abrines’ role remained stifled.
Defensive stopper Andre Roberson played 34 minutes against a Spurs team that rested many of its top players and held back the ones that did play from major minutes. It left Roberson guarding usual San Antonio bench players like Bryn Forbes and Dejounte Murray, making it one of those nights when the reigning All-Defensive Second Teamer's defense isn’t quite the weapon it can be against squads with more threats on the perimeter.
Donovan went back to Roberson with about five-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game, telling reporters later it was because he wanted to get point guard Felton some rest after an eight-minute stretch of play. But he didn’t have to go to Roberson, who the Spurs weren’t defending away from the basket, on a night when OKC shot just 6 of 22 from 3 and struggled with spacing.
Roberson has moved off the ball better lately, spending more time finding space around the wings instead of in the corner, where he doesn’t cut as effectively. Still, it was one of those nights when his best traits don’t stand out nearly as much. But Donovan felt compelled to use him. This could have been an opportunity for Abrines, who has not shot well from 3 this season but who defenses still venture out to the perimeter to guard, to earn significant minutes if Donovan fully trusted him. Right now, he doesn’t.
• A new hire: The Thunder have hired former NBA center Nazr Mohammed to a front-office role, Mohammed announced at the Players' Tribune on Monday. He wrote his official title will be "professional evaluation scout/identification and intelligence."
The former vet expressed interest while he was still a player in working for a front office. He spent two stints for the Thunder during his 18-year playing career, the first from 2011 to 2012, the second during the tail end of the 2015-16 season.
• Gobert or go home: Utah Jazz center and NBA All-Defensive Team member Rudy Gobert, who had missed the team’s previous 11 games with a knee injury, returned Monday night against the Washington Wizards. The Jazz play in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. There is no word yet on if Gobert will be able to play on the second night of a back to back.
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.