THE 1st round match up between the Houston Rockets and OKC Thunder was meant to be all about MVP favourites Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Instead it turned into a trash talking feud and everyone complaining about Westbrook’s teammates. But are his teammates really that bad?
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EVERYONE knew going into this season that Westbrook as going to take control of the team. However, after trading for Oladipo in June many expected him to help shoulder the offensive responsibilities with Russ. He responded pretty well, shooting career highs from the field and from three while still shooting a similar amount of shots he did during his three year Orlando tenure. The other wing player running with Oladipo and Westbrook, Andre Roberson, was never going to go for 30 a night. He did however provide the team with stellar perimeter defense, locking horns with the best forwards in the game on a nightly basis. The 4th year pro out of Colorado also averaged a career high in points despite his poor shooting stats. If he could up his abysmal 42% from the free throw line Roberson could become a very solid player. A mid-season trade also brought Doug McDermott to the side, who, after a full off-season with the team, should prove to be a great deep threat off the bench. Although the team struggled to find a consistent back up point guard, Norris Cole showed his worth over the Rockets series and deserves another contract.
ANOTHER member of the midseason trade from Chicago was power forward Taj Gibson. Gibson offered the Thunder with more front court depth behind rookie Domantas Sabonis and complemented Steven Adams nicely. Adams, who was expected to make a leap this year after seemingly dominating last years playoffs, didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Although he did up most of his numbers in major stat categories, I still feel like Adams can produce more. Whatever Adams lacked on offense he was able to make up for in defense though, while the exact opposite could be said for Enes Kanter. For players who came off the bench in more than half their games this year Kanter ranked 4th in the league in scoring with 14.3 PPG. The aforementioned rookie Sabonis was largely unsighted in the playoffs, but he did play a big role through out the season, even starting 66 games.
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SO WHAT WENT WRONG?
IF Westbrook’s teammates are so good then, what went wrong against the Rockets? Plain and simple they just didn’t have enough weapons to compete with them. Honestly free throw shooting cost the Thunder a few games in this series. Overall they shot 69% for the series making 18.6 a night while the Rockets where a shade under 80% making 26.8. Roberson was the main offender going 3-21 over the five game series. He did however, emerge on the defensive end blocking at three shots in every game, balancing out the fact he is an offensive liability. The Thunder actually had five guys shoot over 50% in the series against Houston as well. The only problem is their 2nd and 3rd best scorers in Oladipo (34.4%) and Kanter (38.5%), failed to produce in the five games, ultimately dooming OKC. Westbrook’s shooting percentage slightly dropped as well, with the MVP favourite jacking up 30 shots a game. He was just 10 total shots off setting the record for the most shots in a five game series in playoff history.
LET’S not act surprised at the result of the series. The Rockets were the better team, they had more weapons and Russell was always going to try kick his production up again, even is it may have been detrimental. That’s who he is. He only knows how to give 110% effort 110% of the time. The roster doesn’t need to go through a massive overhaul to make the next step as well. They have a young core with Roberson (3rd year), Oladipo (3rd), Grant (2nd), Sabonis (rookie), McDermott (2nd) and Adams (3rd) to complement their superstar. With close to $90 million committed between Westbrook, Oladipo, Adams and Kanter though, signing a big name like Blake Griffin would be tough to workshop. Although a starting five of Westbrook, Oladipo, Roberson, Griffin and Adams would seriously turn some heads and I have a hunch we may see the five time All Star return to his home state.
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AT the end of the day though people will complain about Westbrook’s ‘ball hogging’ and ‘selfishness’ which is fair, no player in history has had a season where he has handled the rock like Westbrook has. At the same time though Westbrook’s dominance has been this team’s biggest strength. The team was 33-9 whenever he posted a triple double however the assist-shot numbers in his triple doubles is what interests me the most. In games when Westbrook put up 10+ assists the team was 36-12 and games where he took over 25 shots they were 17-18. If they can find that happy medium necessary to take their team to the next level the sky is the limit for OKC. It will be tough to change Russ’ mentality, but if his teammates can accept their role and step up to the plate when they are called upon Westbrook will trust them more and in turn, OKC will shoot up the standings.
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