What Is Wrong With The Oklahoma City Thunder & Their Big Three?
What Is Wrong With The Oklahoma City Thunder & Their Big Three?
Obviously, there is a hell of a lot wrong with the Oklahoma City Thunder right now. After acquiring Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder were tipped as one of the top teams to challenge the Golden State Warriors before the campaign began. Unfortunately, they’ve been horribly disappointing thus far. Even though the NBA season is still young, their issues go beyond simply tweaking a couple of things. Let’s explore the reasons why they can’t get it together.
- RUSSELL WESTBROOK
The other night after their loss to the Orlando Magic, Russell Westbrook took the blame for the catastrophic start to the season. I’m inclined to agree with his self-evaluation. Being his team and being the leader, it was his responsibility to bring this group together and figure this thing out. He has yet to do that, and worse, has reverted back to his old bad habits at times this season when things weren’t going right. He has taken out his “do-it-yourself” kit a little too often as well. Of course it is hard to put the pieces together, and it will take time, but we are not seeing any sort of consistent progression which is worrying. Unfortunately, it has become evident that despite how good Westbrook is individually, he will never truly make his teammates better. People get lost in his assists numbers but either don’t really watch the games, or understand what it truly means to run an NBA offense. As bad as Kevin Durant’s move away from the Thunder is in the majority of NBA fans’ eyes, he has his most efficient and successful season last campaign away from Westbrook. A lot has to do with the excellence of the Golden State Warriors obviously, but his seamless fit into their system is another piece of evidence that playing alongside Westbrook had its fair share of challenges. Victor Oladipo shining in Indiana with freedom and expression is another example of this also. Adding to that, we now have a greater sample size of Westbrook’s inability to elevate others with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. This could be a real problem for the Thunder moving forward. It’s not as simple as people thing, this is hardwired in his DNA, and it’s going to take a lot of work from his part to solve these issues. The reality is some players are just better alone, Westbrook is showing he may be one of those players.
- THE ROLES OF THE THUNDER BIG THREE
A glaring issue with the Thunder right now is that their big three don’t understand what their role is on this team. OKC have lost 11 road games this season and are among the leaders in games lost within five points or less in the entire association. A big reason for this is what we all anticipated – who will have the ball in their hands down the stretch and make plays when the game is on the line? Unfortunately, it will be a problem that will plague them for during their time together. All alpha males, it’s natural that watching the offense during close games will be painful at times. Another aspect that people don’t realize about the Thunder big three is that two of its members in Camelo Anthony and Westbrook are notoriously known for being consistently inefficient throughout their careers. Because of this, there is a massive discrepancy between when the big three are playing well and when they are playing poorly. When the Thunder are bad, they are horrendously bad, but when they’re good, their offense can be breath taking. The problem is this lack of consistency between the two doesn’t enable them to form a good rhythm from game to game and perhaps even playoff series.
- POOR COACHING
Billy Donovan has not received the scrutiny he should have so far this season. Talent wins games in the NBA, and even though it does come with some hurdles, a head coach must facilitate the cream rising to the top. Donovan hasn’t done that. He’s also reverted to playing his starters heavy minutes at times, looking for a quick fix or hoping something will change that way. His inability to create a system that allows each player to flourish has been an underrated part of the Thunder’s struggles so far. He doesn’t take to the floor, but his decision making and personal stamp on this roster needs to be better if this team wants to move forward. As an example, you can’t help but feel if Brad Stevens was at the helm it would be a whole lot different in comparison. As an NBA head coach he must be accountable as well.
- THE USE OF PAUL GEORGE
Another central reason for the Thunder’s struggles has been their misuse of Paul George. “PG13” is a genuine star in the NBA, and borderline superstar, but he has looked like a shadow of himself since making the switch to Oklahoma. I mean, just the other night, George played 40 minutes and had a grand total of two points, how does that even happen for a player of his caliber? What’s worse is that George’s role is diluted at the moment. He’s out there playing minutes but it’s all very pedestrian both in approach and production. He’s not effecting the game like we have been accustomed to seeing from him on both ends. The interesting thing is when the Thunder looked great and won three games in a row, George was their main scorer and even dropped 42 on the Los Angeles Clippers in a magnificent display. Makes you wonder if that is the direction the team has to go towards.
- THE USE OF CARMELO ANTHONY
I think the Thunder and NBA fans alike need to realize that Carmelo Anthony isn’t the 25-year old Melo we all fell in love with during his prime anymore. Melo is older now and less consistently productive. He’s less explosive, less agile and less capable on defense (even more so). Of course, Melo can still score the ball, he can do that in his sleep, but that also ties into a major issue he’s presenting the Thunder with. His lack of efficiency is damaging, and his iso-heavy nature is killing them. You see, Melo is at the age and the stage now where must use his IQ more than anything to dominate opponents. It’s gone past the stage where he should ever force anything. I mean, he has always been a great iso player but as the years have gone on, his effectiveness down low one-one-one with his defender has steadily regressed. If you’ve watched the Thunder this season you would notice that they specifically run plays to get a low post iso possession for Melo. In my opinion this is the type of offense that is killing their flow, rhythm and collective efficiency. This is the time in his career now where his points must come in the flow of the offense. If they don’t, and you force feed him, giving him more touches than he needs to have, it can really hurt your team on the floor. Throw it into him once yes, maybe twice, and if he’s torching his opponent continue to go to it, but don’t make it something you seek out every other time down the floor. Anthony needs to read the defenses and understand when he needs to cut, when he needs to spot up, when he needs to drive etc in order for the Thunder to be effective. In all seriousness, Melo should be getting the least amount of shots out of the Thunder big three. If his shots and points come during the flow of the offense, not only will his efficiency go up, but their offense as a whole will be as deadly as any in the league. The ball has energy, he and the Thunder need to trust that it will find Melo in the right place at the right time.
All in all I fear for this team. It’s early in the season but their form and their lack of progression can have serious implications moving forward. One of which is keeping Paul George after the trade deadline. If things don’t turn around and they get a sense that George may be unhappy or not fitting in, they may need to deal him before the deadline to ensure he doesn’t walk away for nothing come season’s end. There are also rumors the Thunder may be better off without Melo, which could change things as well.
In saying all this I think the results will improve, but not as we expected. The Thunder will be a playoff team, but they won’t be the high seed we anticipated. I do see them as much better playoff team than a regular season team due to their talent which is a positive, but I don’t think it will be enough for them to take that next step in the West.
Their talent on paper is obviously incredible, but I don’t think the Thunder’s big three will ever fully work like we all want it to. I don’t believe their playing styles, personalities, or overall individual gifts will ever fully gel or work cohesively together over the course of 82 games, and more importantly, when it matters most.