I have a confession to make. I don't watch a lot of TV. You won't see me spending a lot of time watching shows, and you won't see me spend a lot of time listening to the NBA analysis that the national analysts give. I only watch ESPN for a specific event, NBATV became a TNT B-Crew a couple of years ago, and TNT itself is more of a comedy show than anything else. And, while I do find the show entertaining, the analysis the crew gives is iffy at best. Because, time and time again, Charles Barkley makes outrageous statements about the NBA that are mostly untrue.
But, I'm not going to sit here and argue about credentials, because while Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley have no management or coaching experience, I have zero NBA experience whatsoever, and am writing this column from my house, not an office. My argument here is strictly that the statements they make have little to no ground behind them.
Let's just go to Chuck's first statement, about the Thunder's lack of defense (clip here):
The Oklahoma City Thunder stink defensively. Kevin Durant got mad at me a couple of weeks ago (for saying this). They don’t play any defense and they don’t rebound the ball. That’s why they are not a legit contender. Until they learn to play defense and rebound the ball, they are just in the way.
Below: My Response, More Statements, More Analysis!
Okay, let's take a look at this. The first accusation that Charles Barkley makes is that the Thunder stink defensively. Additionally, some stats were put up on the screen at the same time, showing the Thunder's perceived lack of defense this year as opposed to last year. And in the strictest sense, Chuck is right. The Thunder are allowing more points to be scored, the opponents field goal percentage is much higher, and they aren't getting as many rebounds. But, before I go any further, lets look at the San Antonio Spurs this year and last year.
The team has universally dropped in every defensive category mentioned by TNT, and, somehow, they're considered to be the best team in the NBA right now. How is this so?
The Thunder have risen from 6th to 3rd in the league in steals, while the Spurs have risen from 26th to 5th. The Thunder and Spurs are simply trying a strategy of creating more offensive opportunities, rather than limiting the other teams offensive production. In laments terms, they're trying to double-team and steal the ball more often for easy points, rather than defending the other team well and hope they miss their shot. Additionally, the Thunder and the Spurs have improved their points scored per game (from 101.5 and 101.4 respectively, to 102.9 and 105.8). For the Spurs, it basically negates any defensive loss they may have had. For the Thunder, the improved points per game makes them break even. So, while we haven't improved ourselves and entered the Western conference elite, we have stayed near the top while trying out new methods of play.
Now, let's address Chuck's second statement, this time about us not having taken the next step after our success last season:
(The Thunder) had success (last season) and when you have success you assume you’ve made it. What people don’t understand is that once you’re successful, it gets harder. From a talent standpoint, they are one of the best teams in the league, but they haven’t taken that next step. They are living on reputation.
Are you kidding, Charles? I know that starting off my counterargument with an insult isn't the best way to go about things, but one has to realize the ridiculousness of this statement. Think about this for a second. None of the Thunder's rotational players have reached their prime yet. None of them. The oldest, Nenad Krstic, at at 27, and the statistical peak of a players career generally happens at 28 or 29. So, if we can keep this roster intact, the results will only be greater over time.
Chuck is thinking with a "win now" mentality. Most fans aren't expecting a championship within the next 2-3 years, and I would be surprised if the Thunder ever won one. And I certainly wouldn't like to see us trying to start a run by cashing in on our young talent and trading it for old farts. We've seen that even superstars in Miami need a learning period to get to know each other, and we've seen in Cleveland last year that everybody on the team has to buy into the team's plan in order for them to be successful on the highest level. The Thunder already have the teamwork and the team mentality. All they need right now is to work out a solid gameplan, continue to get more experienced, and secure the young players with long-term deals.
Here's some more quotes by the TNT crew and Kevin Durant, courtesy of TNT itself:
Kerr on the Oklahoma City Thunder: "There is still more maturity to come, this is the third youngest team in the league, they average 24 years of age. We talked about the defensive drop-off, (they also have) work to do offensively. They are so talented; they have such a bright future. The other thing they are dealing with now is the expectations that come along with the success they had a year ago."
Kerr on Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant: "(Kevin Durant) is so talented, so smooth, he’s got that long frame and he’s got that ability to shoot over the top of just about anyone in the league."
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant on the difference between the Thunder this year as opposed to last: "We were a team last year just trying to find our way. This year, teams are coming at us a little different and bringing their best effort, as opposed to last year teams were kind of iffy on us. They didn’t know what type of team we were, we didn’t establish our identity. Now we have our identity as playing defense, playing together and being a family. But the biggest difference is us maturing as a group."
Durant on this year’s Thunder team: "We’re a lot more mature, I can tell you that. Our defense has to be a lot better, our offense has to be a lot better, but we’re working hard every day. Me and Russell and Jeff are trying to be great leaders and moving forward."
Smith on his philosophy regarding the tempo of the game based on the number of great players on a roster: "It’s real simple. A lot of coaches don’t know this and they don’t follow this plan. If you have multiple great players, you would play faster because you want the game to be sped up. If you have one great player, you slow the game down. But when you don’t have any great players, you want to speed the game up because you don’t want to get in a set offense and force your guys to make plays. When (the Mavericks) get into this set offense they struggle, they are not able to get into a set. A lot of times you’d say they are not good players, let’s get into a set. When you get guys who are not playmakers into a set it leads to turnovers. With one great player you slow it down, when you have Dirk, make sure he touches the ball. Multiple guys, you run. When you don’t a great line-up you speed the game up and because you need everyone to touch it because you don’t want to slow it down and make guys make plays."
The last statement can definitely apply to the Thunder as well, but we have about four players (Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Green) who can work well in isolation and make plays on their own. The Mavericks don't really have that because their players are more about scoring in specific instances on specific plays, rather than creating their own offense. So this statement rings true for them.
But all in all, whatever Chuck spouts off doesn't matter. The Thunder are simply experimenting with different types of defense in order to be the best team they can be, while also being built for long-term success, not just a "win now" mentality. The wins will speak for themselves, and I'll laugh as Chuck eats some donuts....or something.
Also be sure to check out Dogbert's evaluation of the TNT Crew's statements about the Thunder earlier this year.