The Thunder sits at 30-21 after 51 games, a record that says more about the way the season started than where it’s going. In the wake of the Wizards ending OKC’s eight-game winning streak last night, and with some tidbits of news floating around, I’d like to discuss a few thoughts at length.
Let’s get to it.
PG for BG?
Royce Young made an appearance on The Hoop Collective podcast and discussed an interesting wrinkle in the Blake Griffin saga. Talking with Brian Windhorst, Young said:
Young: They offered him around to everybody.
Windhorst: I don’t know if that’s true.
Young: I mean I know they made calls to Oklahoma City for Paul George. I’m pretty sure they made calls to Minnesota for players, so I mean, like, they tried to get some bigger name players. It just wasn’t happening.
Well that’s interesting, right? A few things on this:
A. The RealGM story floating around has a headline of “Clippers Offered Blake Griffin to Thunder for Paul George” and that’s a bit misleading. Royce said the Clippers “made a call,” not that an offer was officially made. Mrs. Young herself was quick to point this out on Twitter:
She’s not wrong and that’s certainly worth noting.
B. Without knowing what the conversation consisted of, it’s difficult to discuss too much here. However, let’s say the Clippers were ready to make a deal like that work — that’s interesting. Paul George’s contract is expiring at the end of the season, Blake Griffin is locked-in through at least 2021, so — from a long term aspect — it’s at least an entertaining proposal to think about. However…
C. Paul George is the better, healthier player and he’s developing a real camaraderie with Russell Westbrook. He’s far more valuable to the Thunder than Blake Griffin ever could be, and the guy you’d be happy to pay handsomely to play in your city. As Griffin’s contract is worth $171,174,820 over five years, it’s really difficult to imagine it working out. It’s only interesting because of the contract length situation — even then, there’s very little reason to consider it.
It’s all fun and games to talk about, especially considering Griffin now resides in Detroit. Any sort of offer was likely laughed out of the building but I do think it shows a bit of commitment on Sam Presti’s part. He probably had an opportunity to gain a very good player on a long term contract in exchange for what could ultimately amount to a rental. The fact that those discussions fell short is even further proof of the Thunder doubling-down on its PG13 gamble. I’m into it.
Paul George’s second half disappearing act
Speaking of Paul George….
George was named to the All-Star Game because he deserves it — let’s get that out of the way now. The dude is averaging 21.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, shooting 42.3 percent from deep on 7.4 attempts per game, and, oh, he’s also leading the league in steals. His scoring average has been climbing as the season progresses (23.1 PPG in January), presumably as his comfort alongside Russell Westbrook increases. Some nights — if only in distant, indirect ways — he makes you remember what it’s like to have a small forward capable of effortlessly getting a copious amount of buckets. I pray to God he stays.
However, I really started getting the feeling that most of George’s “ooh and ahh” moments were coming in the first half of ball games. So I dug into that a bit and found this:
Although there’s a very sizable difference in his shooting percentages between the two halves, I came away from this a little confused — those numbers don’t mirror what I’ve seen using the eye test. So I went a bit further, isolating January’s 14 games and diving into those numbers. Now this is what I expected:
That’s….that’s a dramatic change after halftime. The numbers are down across the board, but George shot almost 51 percent (!!!) from deep in the first half of January games. After halftime, he was roughly the same caliber three-point shooter as Josh Huestis (28.9 percent) and Terrance Ferguson (28.8 percent). That’s an incredible difference.
Whatever is going on with George, or perhaps the Thunder offense by and large, after halftime — it needs to get corrected. The team’s second best player just simply cannot be that ineffective offensively in the final 24 minutes of ball games. Russell Westbrook and the rest of his teammates need to get him going early in the third quarter and keep the rhythm going.
More 2Pat + other rotation ideas
I’ve long been of the opinion that Patrick Patterson needs more playing time, but Andre Roberson’s injury has only furthered that belief. 2Pat is the best defender off the Thunder bench, the second-best three-point shooter on the team at 39.4 percent (44.4 percent from the corners), and OKC is 17-7 when he logs 15+ minutes (12-3 since December 1). Playing him more seems like an easy decision, but he’s logged just 12 minutes in each of the last two games.
Here are the total minutes played in the two games without Roberson:
Ferguson: 42 minutes (-21)
Huestis: 40 minutes (+5)
Grant: 39 minutes (+6)
Patterson: 24 minutes (+9)
Abrines: 16 minutes (+8)
I feel bad saying this but Terrance Ferguson just….really isn’t very good. He’s shooting 28 percent from long range and too small to handle larger wings — while I do think he will eventually be serviceable, he’s just not there yet.
Josh Huestis is essentially the Great Value version of Andre Roberson, so I’m uncertain why he’s not pegged into the starting lineup. He’s not a great shooter and nowhere near the defender that Roberson is, but he fits the profile of someone most capable of keeping the Thunder status quo. Outside of a costly error late in the game last night, he hasn’t been all that bad.
When it boils down to Grant, Patterson and Abrines, I feel like it’s time to make some choices: Grant or Patterson? Are you willing to ride this out with Abrines?
It’s impossible to say this definitively (because the Thunder organization is more secretive than North Korea) but it really feels like a trade is on the horizon. The deadline is February 8 (next Thursday), the team is without Roberson until next season, and the early returns on his potential in-house replacements have been less than stellar. I’m certain Sam Presti is stalking the league looking for his next victim, or at the very least plotting a potential buyout candidate, but one thing is clear: addition by addition (or subtraction, depending how you look at it) is necessary if this Thunder team is going to make a deep run. There are holes in the roster that can’t be plugged from within.
The Thunder is closer than it appears
As a lifelong fan of sports teams that have continually and consistently broken my heart, I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a little drab in the excitement department. I try not to get too up, nor too down, because I sometimes get the suspicion that sports were put on this earth to be a vehicle for my crushing disappointment. That being said, I think it’s important to establish how good the Thunder has been lately. Not like “we’re going to the ‘ship!” good, but still very good. Particularly when you consider how the season started.
The Thunder was 8-12 on December 1, fresh off back-to-back-to-back losses to the Pistons, Mavericks, and Magic — averaging just 95.6 PPG in the three defeats. The offense was entirely dysfunctional, Russell Westbrook was terrible, Paul George was too silent, and Carmelo Anthony was spending more time in isolation than Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Things weren’t working.
The Thunder has since gone 22-9, been developing actual chemistry, and proven capable of winning close games. There are still issues, sure. Plenty of them. But there has been some good basketball in Oklahoma City over the past two months. As a result, the Thunder is just a half-game back of fourth place in the Western Conference. Even better, just two games out of third place. There’s a lot left on the table with 31 games to go, which is all you can really ask for.
What will ultimately become of this Thunder team remains a mystery, particularly in light of Andre Roberson’s injury. Stuff like that can derail a season completely, although the Thunder certainly has the talent to overcome it if said talent is utilized correctly. For now, I’m encouraged by the upward trajectory and trying my best to be content. I’d much rather watch the team get better than the other way around.