OKC Reboot - Yay or Nay?
Alright, it’s time to check in on one of the things I said I was most excited for this season in this piece: the Oklahoma City Thunder revamp.
I was excited. Hopeful. Confident. Spirited.
Was it all wishful thinking? Was it all for nothing? I mean, they did just lose to the Brooklyn Nets. No shade, but can you name five players on the Brooklyn Nets?
The Thunder are currently sitting at 13-14 – under .500. It’s obviously still very early in the season, but are the team’s current issues ones that can be worked through, or are they here to stay?
Personally, I think the issues are temporary, but there are definite changes that need to take place.
WHERE'S THE CHEMISTRY?
When rosters change, teams usually take time for the chemistry to develop. Therefore, it’s no surprise to me that Carmelo Anthony and Paul George joining the reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, in OKC isn’t working 100%. This was my main concern going into the season, and I’m interested in seeing how it (hopefully) changes as the season continues.
As I mentioned in my previous piece, watching Westbrook last season was truly magical. He dominated the game with an energy that was absolutely mesmerizing. He’s still playing with his usual explosiveness, but he’s not making the smartest plays. What I mean by that, is that he seems to be forgetting that he has two fellow superstars who can (usually) shoot on his team now. He has a greater offensive support system now, but is continuing to play like he still needs to carry the entire team on his shoulders. We all know Westbrook likes to shoot the basketball, but watching him bring the ball into the paint through 4 defenders and take a wild, flailing shot when Carmelo Anthony is straight chillin’ wide open at the 3-point line is so upsetting.
DEFENSE NEEDS TO DOMINATE DOWN THE STRETCH
The team’s defense is currently second in the league – averaging 31.8 defensive rebounds, 10.3 steals, 4.8 blocks, and allowing their opponents just 39.7 points in the paint. The problem is that their defense vanishes down the stretch during close games. They’re the worst team in the NBA as far as crunch-time defense goes, allowing their opponents 162 points per 100 possessions. Now, second worst is Cleveland, so this isn’t to say this is a bad team by any means, but it certainly is a factor in their sub .500 record.
Billy Donovan has been doing some wacky things with his lineups lately. Injuries certainly play into that, and I understand looking for specific lineups that work against specific opponents. One thing I think the Thunder should begin to consider more seriously is bringing Carmelo Anthony in off the bench. I know, I know. But this season, Anthony is shooting just 40.4% from the field, 33.8% from 3, and 76.9% from the FT line (his career stats are 45.1%, 34.6% and 81.2% respectively). It doesn’t necessarily need to be Anthony who comes off the bench, but I think changing the starting lineup and swapping out either George or Anthony for another player would be beneficial. Patrick Patterson is hardly playing this season, and I think the Thunder are missing great opportunities by keeping him on the bench. He’s playing a measly 13.8 minutes per game when he was playing 24.6 minutes last season in Toronto. He won’t shoot as much as Anthony, but he’ll provide great defense, particularly in the paint, and he’ll complement any combination of Westbrook, George and Anthony. He’s a great role-player and I don’t think the Thunder are utilizing him as much as they should.
As I mentioned earlier, having three players who are all superstars in their own right and who are used to carrying an entire team themselves on the court at the same time is going to cause some hiccups in chemistry, at least at first. I really think if Donovan played around some more with lineups, especially having just two of the big three on the floor at a time, the Thunder would thrive. Look at how much better Cleveland is playing now that Dwyane Wade is coming off the bench. Just saying.