After the loss to the Brooklyn Nets in Mexico City, the Thunder followed with a stinker of a win against the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime and an even bigger stinker of a loss against the Charlotte Hornets at home. Though the harsh reality is that the Thunder is flat out bad, it’s not all bad news. There are reasons to believe the team can right the ship.
So, to follow up on my column listing seven things that were killing the Thunder, this week I’m going to counter with seven reasons to be optimistic.
The Thunder’s clutch-time woes are improving.
To start the season, the Thunder was one of the worst teams in the NBA in close games. In games where the scoring margin was five points or less with five minutes or less to go, the Thunder started the season 1-9. Since then, the team has tipped the balance a bit, going 5-1 in the last six of such games. Sometimes those close games are decided by a wild Andrew Wiggins half-court bank shot, but more often it can be about big-time players, make big-time plays and, fortunately for the Thunder, the team has three big-time players capable of delivering with the game on the line.
Over the remainder of the season, close games should be a strong suit for the Thunder.
The defense is excellent.
News Alert: The Thunder is a really good defensive team. Here’s how the team ranks in key defensive categories:
|Opponent points per game||First|
|Opponent points in the paint||Second|
|Opponent field goal percentage||Seventh|
And the defensive stop to seal the win in Indianapolis:
There’s a lot of season left.
There are 55 games left in the 2017-18 season and the Thunder is three games out of the fourth seed, and just five and a half games out of the third seed. With as bad as the Thunder has been, it’s not like the team can’t make the playoffs. There’s still a great chance of earning home court advantage in the first round.
Shots will eventually start to fall.
Overall, the Thunder has the third-worst field goal percentage in the league at 46 percent. Three-point shooting percentage is the fifth-worst in the league at 35 percent. Even when the Thunder is open (closest defender 4-6 feet away) no one can make a bucket. The Thunder ranks dead last at converting open looks with a field goal percentage of just 40 percent. On open threes, the Thunder makes just 32 percent, which is third-worst in the league.
The Thunder has shooters: Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Alex Abrines, Patrick Patterson, Raymond Felton, and Terrance Ferguson to name a few. At some point those guys will stop missing open shots.
The road record will improve.
With just four wins in ten tries, the Thunder has been pitiful on the road. Good teams typically win more than 29 percent of its road games, and if the Thunder is the team we believe it should be, that road record will improve.
Steven Adams gives the Thunder a “big four”.
I mentioned this last week, but Steven Adams has been really good and a crucial key to winning games.
In wins, Adams is averaging 18 points per game on 71 percent shooting (vs just 11 points on 59 percent shooting in losses). When he scores 12 or more points, the Thunder is 13-7 (vs. 0-7 when he scores fewer than 12). Suffice to say, if the Thunder can make Adams a key part of the offense, the wins will come.
The Thunder is loaded with talent.
While the wins have been elusive, this team is extremely talented. If it can correct the lack of focus, poor shot selection, and over-reliance on isolation, from a talent perspective, this team can compete with the league’s best. Three perennial All-Stars (Russell Westbrook, George, and Anthony), a budding star (Adams), a defensive stalwart (Andre Roberson), savvy veterans (Patterson and Felton), an elite sharpshooter (Abrines), and an incredible athlete (Jerami Grant) — the pieces are stil there to make a run.