I’VE been trying to think of the right Thunder article to write for about a week now. Do I write about Westbrook and his struggles? How Russ might be better with one co-pilot rather than two? Or about the woeful supporting cast that may actually be the biggest problem? Then I realised, with so many issues the Thunder are dealing with, maybe the 10-wins-in-12-games-streak everyone thinks is around the corner, isn’t actually coming at all. Maybe, instead, this is OKC’s team now, and maybe they are actually doomed.
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LET me start by saying that in the long run, I think the Thunder will be fine, however, seeing them continue to hover at .500 might just be this team’s ceiling. The numbers don’t lie. Of all 34 players who average more than 15 shots a game can you guess the three with the lowest field goal percentage? Paul George (32nd, 41.2%), Carmelo Anthony (33rd, 40.0%) and Russell Westbrook (34th, 38.9%). I knew that none of the Thunder stars were lighting up the shooting stats. But for those three to be the worst of the bunch? Yikes.
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CURRENTLY, Westbrook, George and Anthony are shooting a combined 39.9%, with all three of them putting up career worst numbers from the field (apart from George in his ’14-’15 season when he shot 36.7% from six games). I won’t keep boring you with stats, the long and the short of it is currently the OKC ‘Big 3’ experiment isn’t working. It’s unlikely that they all keep shotting career lows, as they continue to struggle to play alongside one another, yet shaking their shooting slump might be their standard production level now.
IT makes you wonder if the move for Carmelo Anthony was a good one in hindsight. He doesn’t have the reputation of sharing the ball and playing well with others, so even though I applauded Sam Presti at the time, perhaps he would like to go back in time and change his decision. Their final move could have been used on getting better role players around George and Russ, rather than dealing for a 33-year-old who is shooting 40% and gobbling up north of 16 shots a game.
LAST season OKC was dead last in 3-point percentage (at 32.7%) and this year the team isn’t much better shooting 34.3%, tied for 3rd worst in the NBA. In his young Knicks career, Dougie Buckets, who was part of the Anthony trade, is shooting a 40% clip. While it’s impossible to know if he would have maintained the same percentages in Oklahoma, there’s no doubt that he wouldn’t have demanded as many touches or attention as Melo.
WITH both Melo and PG looming as potential free agents at the end of the season, could we see a Demarcus-Cousins-style-situation, with OKC opting to trade one of the two in order to get something in return to save this sinking ship? It’s no secret that George may have been a rental and if you are able to get some solid rotation pieces for him, or a decent first rounder, then the Thunder may panic and opt to pull the trigger on a deal closer to the deadline.
IN the ultra-competitive West, panic shouldn’t be setting in for OKC just yet. We have three clear top teams in Houston, Golden State and San Antonio, but from there on it is virtually a lottery. Sitting in 8th currently is Oklahoma City, just 2.5 games out of the 4th seed and four games away from being 12th in the standings. A couple of losses or wins and a teams’ fortunes change on the flip of a coin, so with the season roughly 30% completed, there is no need for teams to throw in the towel…..yet.
Image from twitter.com
LAST night Paul George made his return to Indiana in a win over the Pacers. Steven Adams was the unlikely hero with 23 points, while Russ threw in a triple-double. Despite walking away victorious a similar storyline plagued the Thunder with their three All-Star’s combining to shoot 10-45 from the field. Somehow this is both promising and alarming for OKC. They found a way to win even though their top-tier talent couldn’t score the ball, but still, their top-tier talent couldn’t score the ball. If Westbrook, Melo or George shot even slightly better this game might not have even been close down the stretch.
AGAIN I want to reiterate that this Oklahoma team is just 27 games into their tenure and blending such top-level talent can have varying levels of success. Miami’s ‘Big 3’ in ’10-’11 started 9-8 before reeling off a 12 game winning streak. Boston’s first time housing Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (’07-’08) saw them only lose 16 games during the regular season. And the infamous 2012-13 Lakers were at exactly the same point as OKC through 27 games sitting with 13 wins and 14 losses. The point of the article can be summarized in this paragraph alone. The Thunder could click, stay level or decline from here nobody knows. More times than not though I believe that players of such a high talent level tend to figure it out. If they are still in this position after another 27 games though, that’s when you have a right to panic.
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