Week in Review: Still Struggling
Yesterday, the NBA released updated fan vote tallies for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. The fan vote is worth 50 percent (with NBA players and media making up the other 50 percent), with voting to decide the starters. The twist this year is that there will be no East vs. West — the leading vote-getters in each conference will serve as team captains and will pick their respective teams.
As it stands now, three Thunder players made the top 10 in voting, but none in the coveted starting spots (top three front court and top two back court). Paul George (fifth) and Carmelo Anthony (seventh) are in the discussion for a front court position. George, in particular, trails Draymond Green by just 69,148 votes for the third spot.
At guard, Russell Westbrook is third, but well behind Stephen Curry and James Harden. Westbrook finished third last season in fan voting, and tied with Curry after the players and media put Westbrook at the top of their ballots. If you recall, since Curry had more fan votes, Westbrook lost the tie-breaker and was a reserve.
What’s interesting to me is that Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging a career-low in scoring and shooting percentage, ranks ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns. Name recognition clearly goes a long way with the fans.
Missing Andre Roberson
Without Andre Roberson (knee tendonitis) the last six games, the Thunder has gone just 2-4. Roberson, ranking fifth in the league in defensive rating, is the team’s defensive anchor. Per NBAwowy, when he’s on the court the Thunder holds opponents to just 1.022 points per possession. When he’s sitting, the team allows 1.137. It’s no surprise, then, that the Thunder’s defense has been absolutely atrocious with Roberson out. The team has a defensive rating of 112 over the last six games, which would rank last in the league.
The real culprit has been interior defense. Over the last six, opponents have been scoring 47 points in the paint per game. Also, when the Thunder does get a stop, they allow opponents to grab offensive rebounds, allowing a league-worst 18 second chance points per game over the last six contests.
It doesn’t seem like Roberson’s absence should cause this, as he’s a perimeter defender, but the fact of the matter is the Thunder doesn’t have many skilled on-ball defenders. This means that opponents can break through the perimeter defense, forcing a big to step up to help, taking them out of position to defend the rim — as well as grab a defensive rebound.
There are ways to fix this — the Thunder needs to improve on help defense and also team rebounding, but more than anything, they just need Roberson to be healthy.
Melo’s Seventh Dunk
So Carmelo Anthony had a very nice dunk against Portland. Did you know this was just the seventh dunk this season?
Speaking of Melo — remember when we were talking about how he was modifying his game to fit his role on the team? Well, maybe we spoke too soon. Anthony is still launching an irresponsible number of contested isolation jumpers. Not only does he convert a low percentage of these, but take a look at the below:
It’s early in the shot clock. He’s defended. Every Thunder player is just standing around. No one is in position to rebound. No one is getting open for a shot. This is literally the worst kind of offense a team can run. And yet, here we are, more than halfway through the season, and the Thunder is still running this worse-than-street-ball offense. It’s hard to be surprised that the Thunder managed a meager 88 points in Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Steven Adams dunks it a lot more than Melo. Just saying.
The Disappearing Alex Abrines
After a promising rookie year that saw Alex Abrines shoot nearly 40 percent from three, it was assumed he would take a step forward and potentially anchor the bench. The trades for George and Anthony changed everything, though. With all-bench lineups rare (the Thunder has played just 126 minutes without any of the OK3), Abrines has become totally lost offensively when he plays alongside George, Anthony and the rest of the bench.
In 91 minutes with Anthony, Abrines has taken a total of 12 shots, and has a true shooting (TS) percentage of just 42 percent. In 102 minutes with George, Abrines has taken just 20 shots with a TS% of 29 percent. However, when Abrines plays with the bench, he shines. In 75 minutes without the OK3, Abrines has a TS% of 58 percent and a usage rate of 21 percent.
We all know that Abrines is a defensive liability, but if he’s going to be getting most of his minutes with George and Anthony, his value seems to be minimal at best. With the trade deadline around the corner, you have to wonder if Abrines, a valuable young asset, could be flipped to shore up interior depth. The difficult part of assessing a trade is that if George (and also Anthony to some degree) depart this offseason, the team needs to keep Abrines. However, aside from core players and Terrance Ferguson, Abrines is the team’s most valuable trade chip.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN…
I talked a bit about what missing Roberson has done to the defense. For my last point I thought I’d break down a defensive lapse that the presence of Roberson might have mitigated.
In this clip, Portland runs a well-executed off-ball screen. Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu set a double-high screen for a curling CJ McCollum. With Ferguson trailing, McCollum catches the ball in motion. Adams steps out to defend, but is caught flat-footed, allowing McCollum to easily drive by.
Since all of the action is happening on the perimeter, there is no one to help and McCollum gets an easy layup. Yes, you have to give credit to the Trail Blazers for a well executed set, but Ferguson made the critical mistake chasing McCollum and trying to go over a high-screen that’s set three or more feet beyond the arc. He was never going to get back into position. That’s a situation where if you saw what was going on, you would go under the screen and slow McCollum’s attack. Roberson would have made the correct play here.