SIX THINGS FROM THE LAST WEEK OF THUNDER BASKETBALL
Carmelo Anthony Likes to Rebound. This past week, Anthony garnered much attention for his colorful rebounding. Anthony explained that his expletive-filled style helps him mentally, and added there is an additional level of competition to grab rebounds on the Thunder. “Playing with someone like Steven who loves to rebound, Russ who steals rebounds [laughing], it makes it fun for me to go out there and challenge myself to rebound the basketball,” Anthony told reporters this week. The thing is, though, Anthony isn’t a good rebounder. His rebounding percentage is a pedestrian 8 percent this year (for context, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams are at 16 percent), and he has yet to secure an offensive rebound — matching just 10 other “forwards” who average 10+ minutes per game (and most of those guys play small forward, whereas Anthony plays power forward). But hey, when Anthony does get a rebound, it is fun.
Here are a couple of especially fun Melo rebounds against the Bulls:
Paul George Figures it Out. Through the early part of the season, questions began trickling in about Paul George and his offensive output. He was shooting poorly, and unable to make the kind of impact on the game that was expected.
Alas, in the least-surprising development of the season thus far, when the shots start to fall, George starts to look pretty good. After shooting just 39 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three in his first four games in Oklahoma City, George has turned a corner. Last week, George shot 50 percent from the floor and 59 percent from three. More of that, Mr. George, more of that, please.
Fun Facts. Here are (exactly) a handful of random facts about the Thunder’s season so far:
- The Thunder’s three losses have been by a combined 16 points, while the four wins have been by a combined 90 points.
- Only two opponents have managed to score more than 100 points against the Thunder, and three opponents have failed to reach 90.
- The Thunder has yet to play a team located in the southern half of the United States, a trend that won’t end until November 10 (vs. the Clippers).
- Russell Westbrook has four triple-doubles (thanks, NBA, for fixing that last one against the Bucks), and the Thunder has yet to lose when Westbrook triple-doubles.
- Despite being a career 32 percent shooter from deep, Raymond Felton is connecting on 56 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this season.
Those Pesky Timberwolves. As I mentioned, the Thunder’s three losses have all generally been close, and two of those losses (by a combined 5 points) were to the Minnesota Timberwolves. In the first match-up in Oklahoma City, Carmelo Anthony hit a clutch three on a designed set to give the Thunder a lead that Andrew Wiggins would wipe out with a last-second heave. This past Friday in Minneapolis, the Thunder had another chance to take the lead late in the game but Anthony misfired on a three.
So, for those keeping score at home, in two crunch-time situations, Anthony has taken the game-deciding shot both times, while Westbrook and George have combined for zero attempts. The most frustrating aspect of the most recent miss was the lack of a set that created a good look. It was your typical, “give the ball to a star and let him figure something out” play that the Thunder has been known for — a far different situation than the excellent set that created an open look for Anthony previously. Westbrook, Anthony, and George all have the the ability to hit a clinching shot, and defenses should be quaking in fear that one of them would be left wide open. Instead we got Anthony taking a wild off-balance three that was well off the mark.
Alex Abrines. The Thunder’s presumptive sixth-man (though Jerami Grant seems to have an argument about that), Alex Abrines has seen his minutes increase over last season, averaging almost 20 minutes per game so far. The Spanish sharpshooter, however, has yet to turn increased opportunity into increased production.
Abrines is converting on just 33 percent of his three-point attempts. If you ask me, I think the real issue is how he is being utilized by Billy Donovan. About two-thirds of Abrines’ minutes have been with at least two of the OK3 (Westbrook, Anthony, George) on the floor, with just under a third of his minutes with all three. I’ve crunched the numbers, and there is just one basketball to go around, which means Abrines will have difficulty getting shot opportunities when the bulk of his minutes are with usage-heavy players. In fact, when he shares the court with the OK3, Abrines’ usage is a paltry 6 percent. So, you have to ask yourself — what is the point of him playing shooting guard alongside Westbrook, Anthony, and George? It’s certainly not to score, since there is more than enough scoring on the court. And it can’t be for defense, because as hard as Abrines may try, he’s a far cry from one of the league’s elite defensive wings in Andre Roberson.
Really, if Donovan wants Abrines to play with the OK3, the offensive scheme needs to adjust to maximize Abrines’s abilities (shooting!). Unfortunately, the Thunder offense is designed to allow its ball handlers to create shots, rather than passing to create shots. If the Thunder utilized a San Antonio-esque attack, with the ball swinging from side to side, challenging the defense to close wide-open passing lanes from an offense that spreads the floor, Abrines would make perfect sense. But that’s not how it works currently. Oklahoma City creates shots off penetration, screens, and isolation. It’s a one-pass type offense that can work beautifully with the talent the Thunder has, but it renders a guy like Abrines mostly meaningless.
The Thunder Decline Josh Huestis’ Option. Josh Huestis, Oklahoma City’s 2014 first-round pick and the NBA’s first “domestic dash and stash,” has spent the bulk of his career in the G-League. Now in his third year, he is getting the first meaningful minutes of career.
Though the team had an option to keep him under contract for another year, the Thunder decided not to exercise its option, which means he will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. You have to wonder whether the looming luxury tax bill influenced this decision. With an estimated tax bill of $24 million this year, and a bill at least as large next year if Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are retained, the Thunder could attempt to sign Huestis next summer on a minimum contract, which would reduce the potential tax bill on his salary by over $1.5 million. Moreover, if Huestis is signed to a one-year minimum contract, the NBA would actually pay about $100,000 of his salary, and another $250,000 in tax liability would be removed. So yeah, you gotta wonder.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN
Air Kiwi. On the season, Adams has completed 8 of 9 alley-oop attempts. This one against the Milwaukee Bucks was most spectacular.
Back in action tonight against the Boston Celtics. 8:30 PM tip on ESPN and Fox Sports Oklahoma.