As of Thursday of last week, the Thunder had lost two straight and five of their last six games. The defense was giving up ungodly amounts of points, opposing teams were feasting from long range, and fans were dusting off the panic buttons that had been neatly put away since last season.
Oh, the difference a week can make.
The Thunder have gone 3-0 since then, including two wins over quality opponents in Philadelphia and Portland. OKC still sits alone in third-place of the Western Conference, which is incredible when you consider how bleak things were beginning to look just a short while ago.
Here’s a look at the numbers in the 1-5 slide, the three-game winning streak that has followed, and how they compare to the season in its entirety:
Though the defense in the three-game winning streak has been worse than season average, it’s improving on the perimeter after a rough couple of weeks. Teams hit 14 threes per game on 43.1 percent shooting over the 1-5 stretch, averaging 130 PPG against OKC in the process. In the three games since, those numbers have fallen to 9.3 threes per game on a 30.8 percent clip and the Thunder defense is allowing 112.7 PPG.
That’s an improvement.
(Even though the Knicks certainly help skew the numbers in a Thunder-positive way)
In addition to the defensive improvements, the Thunder offense has been much better — posting an offensive rating that’s 9.7-points better than the season average over the three-game span. Compared to the 1-5 stretch, the overall field goal percentage has increased from 46 percent to 49.4 percent, the three-point percentage has gone from 39.7 percent to 45.8 percent, and the team is hitting 10 percent more of it’s free throws — making 82.6 percent from the stripe.
Even if the crux if the issues were on the defensive end, the offense is enjoying a renaissance of its own. These two things happening alongside one another has provided positive results for a Thunder team that desperately needed them.
All of this might be a little pointless, as a three-game stretch is too small of a sample size to hang your hat on. That being said, things are shifting and the Thunder are experiencing positive regression after a nasty stretch between January 6 and January 17.
Vintage for a Night
Russell Westbrook has been a lightning rod for criticism this season — a position he’s put himself in by suffering career-lows in a number of shooting categories. While it’s naive to think things can be turned around with one electric performance, he was next-level in last night’s win over the Trail Blazers. It was perhaps the first time all season he’s looked like Russell Westbrook again.
- The Numbers: Westbrook picked up his 14th triple-double of the season against Portland, dropping 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 14 assists. If you want to look like Russ, the triple-double is a good place to start.
- The Shooting: Russ went 9-of-20 (45 percent) from the field and 1-of-4 from long range — though two of his attempts from deep came at the end of the shot clock. You can live with that every night of the week.
- Getting to the Rim: While his three-point shooting has been the biggest point of contention, Russ has struggled uncharacteristically in the mid-range this season. He rectified that last night by assaulting Portland at the rim — shooting 5-of-9 at the cup and forcing the Blazers defense to collapse on itself. (Fewer attempts also resulted in 3-of-6 shooting in the mid-range)
- Free Throws: The aggressiveness paid off in trips to the line, which would normally be a negative considering he’s making just 65.5 percent of his freebies this season. However, last night he went 10-of-12 (83.3 percent) from the stripe — closer to his career-average of 80.7 percent than whatever has been happening recently.
- The Dunks: Russ put the game on ice with two ferocious dunks late in the fourth quarter — yelling “I GOT UPS” after one, then stomping around and speaking in tongues after the other. Such violent displays of aerial warfare have been few and far between this season. The dunks felt cathartic for all of us.
All in all, it’s one game and it’s going to take plenty more to change the narrative surrounding Westbrook this season. That being said, his poise, shot selection, free throw shooting, and athleticism were all on full display. Seeing it come together for 48 minutes was a welcomed sight for the Thunder and their fans alike.
Terrance Ferguson Rising
I don’t know what’s gotten into Terrance Ferguson in 2019, but his rise has been nothing short of meteoric since the turn of the new year. The 20-year-old shooting guard is averaging 10.2 PPG this month — making most of his noise from beyond the three-point line.
Here are his offensive numbers by month:
Pretty remarkable, right? Ferg is hitting 50 percent of his attempts from downtown in January on a little more than 5.3 attempts per game. To put that level of success into context, his three-point percentage is tied for fourth-best in the NBA this month among players with at least 20 attempts. He’s failed to hit a long ball just twice in 11 games and has made three or more on five different occasions. As a result of his increased efficiency (along with others), the Thunder have crawled out of the league basement in terms of overall three-point shooting. They’re currently tied for 26th-best at 33.8 percent for the season — which isn’t great, but is certainly an improvement.
While converting his three-point attempts at this rate is likely unsustainable, Ferguson weaponizing himself on the offensive end can only mean great things for OKC moving forward. He’s boosted his 3P% to 38.9 percent for the season, and with Westbrook and George so deadly off the dribble, should continue to get plenty of open looks as their trust in him grows. He could help plug the Thunder’s biggest issue should he continue to knock them down.
Return to 2Pat Island
Patrick Patterson is another guy worth mentioning in terms of improvement from beyond the arc, as 2Pat has shaken off his early-season rust to start canning shots at a high rate. Like Ferguson, Patterson is hitting 50 percent from long range in January — up from 30.8 percent in October through December.
Patterson’s offensive numbers by month:
Though he’s only playing 13.6 minutes per game this month — and is part of a struggling bench unit that has his overall plus/minus at -4.3 across the span — Patterson looked washed in November and December and was being included in Trade Machine deals by Thunder fans everywhere. He’s bounced back in 2019 and will hopefully help buoy a second unit that needs all the help it can get. He deserves some credit for the turnaround through 11 January games. Don’t write him off just yet.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Thunder could have interest in Rodney Hood of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Shooting guard Rodney Hood is garnering interest from several teams, and has a no-trade clause on the one-year, $3.4 million qualifying offer he signed with the Cavaliers before the season. Teams such as New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee have looked into wing help. For a Cavaliers team with heavy salaries throughout the roster, Hood has emerged as a targeted piece.Shams Charania
Hood is a career 36.8 percent shooter from long range, and he’s averaging 12.7 PPG on 36.1 percent from three this season. Not sure what the Thunder would need to part with to secure his services — or if he’d impact the team’s trajectory much at all — but with Andre Roberson out for the foreseeable future and Hamidou Diallo having crashed headfirst into the rookie wall, it’s unsurprising to learn Sam Presti is looking for help on the wing in the second unit. Charania reports Presti will likely try and use the exception gained from the Carmelo Anthony trade, saying OKC “will explore their options to use their $10.7 million trade exception, including pursuing shooting small/power forwards.”
Something to keep an eye on as we move toward February 7’s trade deadline.
All I got. Have a happy Wednesday.