So, that wasn’t good. The Thunder’s offense was trainwreck-ish, the defense was soft, and outside of Russell Westbrook, there wasn’t any kind of reliable scoring. And coming off such a difficult loss last night, and really, another one a few nights before that against the Clippers, this game felt important. Instead, the Thunder have now lost four straight after their promising 6-1 start.
The issues were fairly obvious. They shot 37.5 percent. They hit 5-27 from 3. They only got to the line 22 times. They turned it over 15 times. They were bad. Westbrook tried his darnedest, but there just wasn’t any help.
The game itself doesn’t need much of a breakdown, so let’s zoom out a little here. I understand the frustration, but you have to try and maintain perspective and reality. You’re used to watching a true-blue title contender. The last six seasons, you’ve watched a team that you expected to win every game. You got to live outside the actual reality of the NBA, one in which it’s hard to win at a 67 percent clip. It’s hard to win on the second night of a road back-to-back. The Thunder would’ve almost certainly would’ve walked into Detroit and won by 15 with last year’s team. Because news flash, last season’s team was much better. It seems many are having a hard time coming to grips with this.
This season was always going to be about riding through the ups and downs. The 6-1 start was very encouraging, not only because of the wins but because of the way the Thunder were playing. They were handling lesser opponents impressively, and playing top five level defense. I was starting to wonder if maybe they were going to be better than we all thought.
Losing to the Raptors was understandable, and expected. Same goes to the Clippers, even though the Thunder had a very good chance to win that one. The Magic loss last night is the one that stings, because that’s a team the Thunder need to beat, especially at home. This one, even with the Pistons down Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, is somewhat fine. It’s hard to win these kinds of games when you’re not elite. (The Pistons were actually favored tonight.)
But that’s four straight, and it could be five as the Rockets roll in to OKC on Wednesday. The Thunder have problems and they’re going to have to solve them if they’re going to get through this. Thunder fans got a taste of this kind of thing in 2014-15 when Westbrook tried to drag the Thunder to the playoffs. It takes some adjusting to figure out every game might be a bit of a toss up.
Hey, it could be worse. You could have to watch Arron Baynes’ and Beno Udrih’s hair every night.
- This is a huge, reoccurring issue: 33, 11, 10, 9. That’s the Thunder’s top four scorers. That’s just not going to work.
- I completely understand Billy Donovan’s reasoning in not playing Anthony Morrow. He is well below average on the defensive end. But it’s hard not to wonder, for a team so devoid of scoring and shooting, if it’s worth making the sacrifice to get Morrow on the floor.
- Steven Adams has been somewhat disappointing so far this season. Sure, his numbers are officially up, but considering the expectations of him coming into the season — most saw him as OKC’s second best player — he hasn’t lived up to them. Consider his per 36 minute numbers: last season, 11.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 61.3 percent shooting; this season, 11.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 51.2 percent shooting. I said this all preseason: The Thunder’s margin between between very good and good/average is in how well Adams plays.
- What’s the issue? I think it’s two-fold: 1) With the lack of a floor spacing big next to him at the 4, along with the way defenders crowd the paint sagging off Roberson, there’s just no room for Adams as a roll man with Westbrook. Those pocket passes aren’t there. I asked Donovan why Adams wasn’t getting those lobs, and his answer was something about the way defenses are playing him, and that’s it. And 2) Adams isn’t finishing. He’s low key a bad dunker, and isn’t catching it well. Maybe that has something to do with the wrap on his thumb, but either way, he’s gotta do better.
- Westbrook got a tech via the Draymond Nut Kick Rule. It was a pretty ridiculous call, considering Caldwell-Pope was behind Westbrook and very clearly it was a result of Westbrook double-clutching. It was obviously inadvertent, and Westbrook was quite mad about it.
- Oladipo is so confusing. He scored nine points on 4-17 shooting. He’s not been effective as a ball-handler/slasher, and if he’s not shooting it well from the perimeter, he’s not scoring. The book on him was he was inconsistent, but man, if he’s not going to score alongside Westbrook, the Thunder have some big problems. Look at his game logs and compare them to Dion Waiters when he was starting alongside Westbrook to finish 2014-15. Terrifyingly, it’s not all that different. In fact, Waiters was probably… better.
- Billy Donovan is trying stuff. He started Jerami Grant at the 4 in the second half to try and match up with Detroit’s smallball interchangeable group of Tobias Harris/Marcus Morris at the 4. Then he went to Sabonis for Adams a few minutes in, trying out a Sabonis/Grant frontline. None of it really worked all that great.
- Sabonis has been excellent to start his rookie season, but this was a rough one for him. These nights are going to happen. Remember: You’re watching a rookie.
- Alex Abrines didn’t shoot it well. And he had a lot of open looks, too.
- It’s going to help a lot getting Cameron Payne back in the next few weeks. Semaj Christon just isn’t very good. The offense just dies with him running point. He’s somewhat effective off the ball alongside Westbrook, but as the primary handler, it’s bad.
- Andre Roberson is an elite defender. He might make an All-Defense team. But I just have my worries about him fitting on this kind of team.
- Shouts out to Westbrook, though. That guy played so hard tonight. Second night of a back to back, team playing bad, not getting much help. Sometimes for better or worse, but man, can’t fault him.
- That Westbrook dunk was pretty sick though.
Next up: Home against the Rockets on Wednesday