Here we sit again. The Thunder have lost three games in a row, and are 7-7 over their last 14 games. What in Sam Hill is wrong with this team?
In Houston last night, the Thunder didn't score a field goal for six straight minutes, and Rockets finished the game shooting 8 of 9 from the field. But the scariest part is how Kevin Durant finished the game. He went merely 1 of 6 from the field, and turned the ball over twice. After a very strong performance early on which involved some excellent ballhandling and passing out of pressure, Durant tried to take over the offense and failed.
I looked at the offensive plays the Thunder ran at the end of the fourth, and one thing stuck out to me. Hardly any of them were plays. The "plays" were simply called "Hand the ball to Durant" or "Hand the ball to Westbrook". After the ball was handed off, the respective player would usually just dribble the ball against double or triple teams and hope that something happened. Westbrook would usually just fire off a terrible jumper, while Durant would put his butt into some defenders and either look for an open guy or release a tough jumper.
Moreover, the Thunder weren't feeding the hot hand. I understand featuring your top players in your end of games offense, even on bad nights. But after a 28 point game, all you're going to give Sefolosha is a heat check from too far out (that barely missed, I might add) and a token three at the end of the game? Agh! And Ibaka, who had 16 points on nearly flawless shooting? He was forgotten as well, merely getting one jumper at the top of the key and forcing a trip to the line on an offensive rebound. By comparison, Durant got 7 possessions, and Westbrook had 4.
My overarching point here is that the Thunder are STALE. They haven't done enough to keep things fresh. Time and time again, we see the same rotations, very few adjustments, and the same end of game strategy. The offense that only consisted of Durant and Westbrook doomed the Thunder to failure in the 2011 Conference Finals, and it's going to doom them again unless they can find ways to distribute the ball. And here, it's not even a problem of anybody else stepping up. Role players were playing out of their shoes tonight. Yet, the Thunder continued to ignore them.
Defensively, there were problems, but they weren't nearly as bad as the offensive collapse. The Rockets are a high-scoring team, and they were consistently nailing tough shots. Still, the Thunder were caught napping while getting back on defense a couple of times, and they could have done a better job of guarding the three point line.
Anyway, let's look at these last 7 losses from a broader perspective. Below, I'll list the losses and the two biggest reasons for them.
January 20th at Denver: Loss of Rebounding Battle, Bad Officiating in OT.
January 23rd at Golden State: Interior D Falls Apart, Westbrook Loses Battle with Curry.
January 27th at Los Angeles Lakers: Poor Interior Help D, No Offensive Help from Role Players.
Feburary 2nd at Cleveland: Speights Gets Too Many Open Jumpers, Kyrie Irving Explodes.
February 12th at Utah: Loss of Rebounding Battle, Bad Ball Distribution.
February 14th at Miami: Bosh Gets Too Many Open Jumpers, Bad Ball Distribution.
February 20th at Houston: Bad Ball Distribution late, Poor Transition Defense.
What does the above tell me? Well, two things:
1. The Thunder are having issues with their big men. Barring a miracle last second deal before the trade deadline today, the Thunder really need to find a solution to their post problems. Keep in mind, this isn't just Kendrick Perkins, whose limitations are obvious. Serge Ibaka's had a few stinkers lately, seeing his shooting percentage and rebounding frequency go down. Nick Collison has seen his minutes consistently drop, and his production along with it. Hasheem Thabeet is an eternal work in progress. The solutions for fixing this problem aren't obvious, but it might be a good idea to switch around lineups and go towards a different team mentality down low.
2. The Thunder need to get other players involved in the offense. It's that simple. The torch can't be handled by Durant and Westbrook 100% of the time. You've got to consistently run plays for your other options, namely Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin. You've also got to work to find the X-Factor, somebody who doesn't normally score but has the hot hand or matchup advantage on a particular night. Perkins against someone with no muscle. Sefolosha against a point guard, when the defense switches their SG onto Westbrook. Collison against someone he can take in the post. Reggie Jackson against someone unathletic. Heck, even Thabeet.
Final Verdict: What we saw against the Rockets tonight and have seen over the past few weeks indicate a problem that's not about having a bad night. It's a problem that's philosophical. The Thunder continue to ride two horses far more than any other successful team in the NBA, and they refuse to change a lineup that's been broken ever since James Harden left. If Coach Brooks doesn't take some action soon, the Thunder could find themselves struggling for home court advantage in the first round.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know!