Over the course of this past summer, Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s front office pulled off a couple of big trades to add superstars like Paul George and Carmelo Anthony alongside their reigning MVP Russell Westbrook. Despite the deals, they had retained players several role players from last season like Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Alex Abrines and Kyle Singler.
Nobody expected them to win a championship but the expectations were high. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief, with the hope that this team would add to the challenge that the Western Conference could present to the runaway favorites – the Golden State Warriors.
Like many Big 3’s of the past and the present, the Thunder are struggling to start this season. Through 11 games, they are 4-7 and are currently owners of a four-game losing streak. Out of the four wins, three have come against last year’s non-Playoff teams like the New York Knicks (season opener), the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls.
What’s going wrong? We break it down:
#5 The offense is struggling
Usually, all of these recent Super Teams have had early issues on defense. It requires a lot of communication and players need to get used to the habits and tendencies of their teammates. Not the case in OKC.
They are fine on defense. In fact, their defensive rating of 97.6 is second-best in the league, only behind the league-leading Boston Celtics (95.6). They are in the top five for most of the major defensive categories – steals, blocks and opposition’s points off turnovers.
Surprisingly their offense has failed to see the light of day. Every major offensive category, they are ranked either in the bottom five or ten in the league: Offensive rating (101.6 – 22nd), field goal % (44.2% – 21st), 3-point shooting (34.2% – 22nd), free-throw shooting (71.6% – 28th) and assists (21.1 – tied 20th).
The current path to winning an NBA championship is having length, roster depth, and multiple two-way players. While the Thunder had given the 73-win 2016 Warriors with their length, their problem since James Harden left was having multiple two-way players.
Although both Steven Adams and Andre Roberson add a lot to the team defensively the duo isn’t reliable on offense and they most certainly can’t create a shot for themselves. This adds more pressure on the team’s superstar not only to create for them but while taking their own shot as well because the defense can afford to sag off of Adams and Roberson.
Raymond Felton, the team’s backup point guard, can be a good facilitator and can be physical on defense but in the current scheme of things, his 6-foot 1 frame isn’t very challenging on defense. Alex Abrines, known for his perimeter shooting (however, he’s shooting only 35% from the field and 30.8% on 3’s in 16.4 minutes), is questionable on the other end of the floor. Jerami Grant, a slasher, is their best shot at a two-way player but his lack of perimeter shooting hurts them (27.3% on 3-pointers).
If you want to contend, let alone win a championship, you got to have a reliable deep bench. Last season’s Houston Rockets played a short eight-man line-up and they eventually fizzled out, losing in the Conference Semifinals despite having a reliable three players off the bench. Forget deep, right now, the Thunder don’t even have a reliable bench.
At the end of the day, teams win when they outscore their opponents. OKC’s bench ranks 28th in the league, in terms of points scored with an average of 25.1 per game. That’s not it. They rank in bottom ten in almost every other major offensive category: field goal shooting (41.6% – 22nd), 3-point shooting (32.2% – 23rd), and assists (5.0 – 29th). In a team bench, the aim has to be, to have at least two players, who can create for themselves and others. OKC doesn’t have that.
The reserves are going to be the players that are expected to extend a lead when the team has one or cut the deficit when the team is trailing. With this offense, the OKC starters aren’t receiving a lot of help. Being top-heavy is not a reliable formula to contend in the league.
Nobody wants to step on each other’s toes.
There’s obviously no animosity among the Thunder’s three superstars but clearly having too much respect hurts as well. Right now all of them are hurling up approximately the same number of shots (17 FGA) but that doesn’t help, somebody has got to lead the team.
Both Melo and George have insisted that Westbrook is the leader because they came here to play with him. The reigning MVP isn’t exactly the player you want taking a majority of the team’s shots, he’s more of a playmaking distributor who can drive hard to the basket. And that’s where part of the problem lies – Westbrook is averaging 5.0 turnovers a game, tied for the second in the league (James Harden leads with 5.1)
The issue lays in the fact that neither of these players are spot-up shooters, all of them need the ball in their hands for a few seconds before they take the shot or make their move.
All of the team’s seven losses have come by a margin less than 10 (three of them under four points). So it’s safe to assume that the game was decided in the last five minutes of the game. And a deeper look at the team’s number under clutch situations (under five minutes and score within five) showcases their biggest issue.
First, let’s take a look at the team’s numbers in last year’s clutch situation. With Westbrook taking over en route to his record-breaking triple-double last season, the team ranked second in the league in net rating (offensive efficiency – defensive efficiency) at 19.9.
This season, they rank last. Yes, dead last – 30th out of 30 NBA teams. In clutch situations this year, their net rating is -60.7, worst by a long margin with Dallas Mavericks, who are 29th, having a net rating of -39.4. Royce Young, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat writer for ESPN summed it best:[“Source-ndtv”]