SIX THINGS FROM THE LAST WEEK OF THUNDER BASKETBALL
Winning and Losing.
At 7-7, the Oklahoma City Thunder has been equally good at winning as losing. Now in the midst of the longest winning streak of the season (three games!), the trends behind the wins are becoming more reinforced. While the Thunder’s offensive inconsistency has been a focus, the variable nature of the defensive effort has been a problem in losses. Admittedly, the Thunder has mostly beaten up bad to middling teams, but the stats show a notable difference in wins versus losses.
In wins, the Thunder’s defensive rating is 90, a whopping 15 points better than in losses — 105. Thunder opponents also shoot worse (38 percent vs. 47 percent from the floor and 32 percent vs. 37 percent from three) and score far less (90 vs 104 points per game). Long story short, the Thunder’s defense has been good in wins, but not so good in losses. Compelling stuff, I know.
Hot and Cold.
In addition to the Thunder showing its best impersonation of Jekyll and Hyde in wins and losses, sometimes the Thunder plays wildly inconsistent even within a single game. While the game against the Boston Celtics will be Exhibit A (from up 18 at the half to losing by 7), the Thunder’s win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday might be Exhibit B.
Sure, the Thunder won by double digits, but after an incredible first quarter, with the defense smothering the Bulls en route to a 27-7 advantage, OKC was actually outscored by seven over the final three frames. I mean, that’s really not so bad, but the Bulls are literally the worst.
When the Thunder is on, the team is one of the most dangerous in the league. The lack of consistency could really come back to bite OKC when it comes to playoff seeding, however.
Paul George Can Fly.
With Steven Adams nursing a right calf contusion, Dakari Johnson has made three straight starts in Adams’s place — all wins. Coincidence? While the timing was somewhat fortuitous, with two of the three wins over doormats like the Dallas Mavericks and Bulls, Johnson did have to go toe-to-toe with DeAndre Jordan in his first career start. He didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but played admirably and showcased promising basketball IQ. He reminds me of a bigger Kendrick Perkins — he’s not the most athletic, but he’s fundamentally sound and won’t cost the team points.
Let’s look at this play against the Clippers, where Johnson comes up with a steal. He leverages his size and his immense wingspan to force Lou Williams into a bad pass. Though Williams got the switch he wanted, Johnson’s length left Williams no room to slip a pass inside to Jordan. It’s a great sign to see Johnson show such promise, especially when the Thunder is thin in the front court.
I’ve always thought of Jerami Grant as a bull in a china shop. He can be a disruptive force, but far too often his force is far too unrestrained. However, he’s making evident improvement as the season progresses. His stats aren’t particularly exciting but it’s the little things.
For example — instead of recklessly chasing blocks, he is more disciplined defensively. But what gets me excited is that he’s also showing improved vision on the offensive end. He will never be a marquee passer, but that doesn’t mean he can’t read a defense and then make a smart dish, as he did below against the Chicago Bulls. Look at him make the extra pass with the defense out of position to get Patrick Patterson a wide-open three.
I Meant to Do That.
Speaking of Grant, take a look at this and-one by Houdini Grant.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN
The Thunder will host the Golden State Warriors and Kevin Durant next Wednesday night. While the wounds have been softened by the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the rivalry between the Thunder and Warriors will remain intense. In advance of the Warriors-Thunder grudge-match, Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report dropped an interesting article from an interview with Kevin Durant.
“Ain’t no such thing as loyalty,” was Durant’s headline-inducing quote.
While Durant never specifically called out any specific event, Bucher connected the James Harden trade and Scott Brooks’ dismissal as instigating events leading to Durant’s comments about loyalty. But the key force behind that quote seems to be revealed in this statement by Durant:
I’m a person. I’ve got real feelings and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable in front of people who watch us play or that follow the league. It’s f–ked up that you’re saying that stuff about me, because just a couple months before, I was the greatest thing since sliced bread because I was playing for your team. Your team is on TV every day, playing late into the playoffs and you get to brag about how good your city is to some other people around the country. It was all good when I was doing something for you. It was all good when I was representing you. Now I decided to take my career in my hands and I’m a ‘b—h’? That’s confusing … because some people that I’d seen that cheered for me, people that I actually talked to, the faces they were giving me, the tone they had when they looked at me, it was weird.
That statement makes it clear Durant just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand why fans reacted the way they did, and why they continue to feel slighted by his departure. He ignores the multitude of statements he gave about how he was invested in Oklahoma City, not as a place to play basketball, but as a place to live. He forgets that he said he wanted to have a legacy like stars who stayed with one team their career. He disregards that he said Oklahoma City was “perfect” for him.
Sure, loyalty is not an absolute in the NBA. If the team trades Enes Kanter, who was intensely loyal to the team and the city, no one bats an eye because, quite frankly, it’s Enes Kanter. But it’s different when you’re the face of the franchise and the guy the organization has built around. Fans may have loved Kanter (and can we give kudos to Kanter for acting with 100 percent class and graciousness when he was traded?), but he wasn’t a transformative figure. He wasn’t someone we bragged to people about in other cities.
So, yes, Durant did many amazing things for the team and the city, and for that he is permanently enshrined in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, but don’t lecture about loyalty. Don’t talk about hurt feelings after showering the city with praise only to show it the back of your hand. Durant made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t with Oklahoma City. And since OKC has adopted the mentality of the guy who was loyal — that means you’re against us.