Week in Review: One Step Back
Russell Westbrook, the teammate
I don’t know about you but I just love it when a player steps in to defend his teammate’s honor. Against the Portland Trail Blazers, after Terrance Ferguson took offense to Ed Davis coming over his back, Russell Westbrook wasted no time getting into the mix on behalf of Ferguson.
Paul George + Carmelo Anthony = 0
Last year, void of a superstar running mate, the Thunder marched to a 47-35 record behind Westbrook’s MVP season. This year, with a much-improved Steven Adams, two strong veteran acquisitions (Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton), and Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder are on pace to win … you guessed it … 47 games.
Adding George and Anthony was supposed to give the Thunder a lethal pick your poison attack, but, especially down the stretch, George and Anthony have struggled to provide the added punch the Thunder truly need to be successful. Take two games this past week, for example. Against the Miami Heat (fortunately a win), George and Anthony combined for 2-24 shooting (0-10 from three). Against the Blazers (a loss), those two combined to shoot 7-28 (0-12 from three).
Not really what we all envisioned last October.
One thing that excited me about the acquisition of George and Melo, was the added weaponry those two guys would add in critical situations. Well, it’s hard not to feel like Melo has made a fool of me. After the missed free throw debacle, Anthony had two wide open looks to tie the Blazers last Sunday, and bricked them both. Then, against the Spurs with 1:24 on the clock and the Thunder down just three, Anthony gets caught totally out of position and fouls LaMarcus Aldridge on the rebound.
Admittedly, the lineup data on Anthony looks okay, but it might be the fact that he plays the vast majority of his minutes with Westbrook, George, and Adams. Mired with career-low shooting and scoring, and one of the league’s worst defenders at his position (79th of 82 in DRPM among power forwards), you kind of have to ask yourself, what would the Thunder look like if it was Patrick Patterson getting those minutes?
Well, wonder no more. In 84 minutes the foursome of Westbrook, George, Adams, and Patterson carries a net rating of +27.3. On the other hand, in 1,482 minutes (a much larger sample size, admittedly), swapping Patterson for Anthony cuts the net rating to just +8.8. Hmm.
Russell Westbrook fouls out
With seconds remaining against the Blazers, Westbrook got tagged for his sixth foul, disqualifying him from play for the remainder of the game. That disqualification snapped a streak of 195 games without fouling out, tied for the longest such stretch of his career. In your factoid of the week, that 195-game streak is the fourth longest in Thunder history. The longest streak belongs to Nick Collison, an impressive 266 games and counting.
Save this GIF
My favorite Russ thing (well, aside from his monstrous jams, clutch shots, and the judgmental stares he gives to reporters) is his propensity to re-enact a successful Eurostep.
After a rousing victory over the East-leading Toronto Rapters, Oklahoma City notched its sixth victory in a row and hit a season-high 14 games over .500. With the third seed clearly in its sights, and every remaining game holding massive implications, the Thunder has since gone 1-3, including two straight losses against teams it’s battling for position in the Western Conference standings.
I hate to say it, but nothing about this should shock you. Early in the season, after finally getting back to .500 on the heels of a five-game win streak, the Thunder dropped the next two and five of seven. After winning eight in a row later, the Thunder lost four straight. It’s two steps forward, one step back constantly with this team.
So while, the threat of missing the playoffs has been minimized (FiveThirtyEight says the Thunder have a 96% chance of making the playoffs), the step forward toward home-court advantage in the first round has been wiped out by distressing loss after distressing loss, bringing a six or seven seed firmly into the equation.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN…