The Thunder have had a lot of close losses recently. Some were easier to cope with than others, but I don't think you could take any loss harder than last night's disaster against Denver. The Nuggets looked extremely beatable, only winning the game on some easy kickouts that the Thunder failed to cover. But the losses have come in too numerous a fashion to pinpoint the blame on just one person or aspect of the team. There's blame to go around on this roster from top to bottom.
But there is good news. The Thunder have some extremely winnable games on the schedule until early December, and there's still time to grab some crucial victories before the eventual return of Westbrook and KD. It's going to take improvement from just about every single player though, especially after what we saw last night. So, here's what I think each player could do to approach their games differently as the season rolls on....
Reggie Jackson: Make better crunch time decisions
Last night, with the Thunder down only three points and three minutes to go in the game, Reggie Jackson had the ball. He proceeded to dribble it for 15 minutes, then shoot a long, contested three off an Ibaka screen. This is with the Nugget D ICEing his shot and drive, leaving Ibaka wide open for the pass Reggie could have made. After the missed three, Reggie lost Wilson Chandler in transition and allowed an open three.
Rewind to two nights ago against Utah. Dante Exum buries three wide open threes at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. Jackson was trying to get the rebound each time, and ended up getting fooled by the swing. This allowed the Jazz lead to swell, while Reggie clanked another couple of long jumpers.
Those two incidents were the most egregious that I can think of. I don't think Reggie's all bad. For example, I wouldn't hold him really responsible for the Detroit loss, despite the fact that he bobbled out the game winner and was guarding Brandon Jennings when Jennings went beast mode in OT. That was just a hard fought loss. But what went on against Denver and Utah is basic, fixable stuff.
Jeremy Lamb: Go to the rim
I seriously don't get why this guy tries so hard to establish himself as a shooter. His percentages are way too low for any defender to seriously respect his shot, and he always shoots too far beyond the three point line for his shot to get defended, anyway. But what's most maddening about his shooting is that Lamb always ignores open lanes. I can't tell you how many times he's gotten the ball on the weak side with an empty block and decided to shoot it. When there's a much higher percentage shot available, why?
Serge Ibaka: No more post ups or decision making with the ball, more pick and roll
There's nothing that I hate seeing more than Serge Ibaka's post-up. It has to be one of the least successful offensive plays that we continue to try out every single game, and it never works. It only ever results in Ibaka jab-stepping a jumper, shooting an extremely unreliable hook, barreling into his defender for a blocked shot, or throwing the ball away. Speaking of Ibaka handling the ball, it should happen as little as possible. His court vision in the high post is terrible, and he routinely misses easy passes. Not as much as Perk, but....
Steven Adams: Find your offensive role
It's high time that this Kiwi figured out what he wants to be. I've seen him play games as a nice pick and roll big, I've seen him play as a post up big, and I've seen him play as a garbage/defensive big. I've even seen Adams experiment as a pick and pop big. But I've never really seen Adams settle into one of those roles, and I think that's hurting him early in his career. His playbook is so open-ended that he often looks confused on the floor, and will get stranded with the ball sometimes. Adams has done a better job of relying on the baby hook more regularly in recent games, but I still don't feel like there's a specific play where we can count on Adams to score. That needs to change.
Anthony Morrow: Stop thinking like a role player
This team desperately needs offense from night to night, and I really wouldn't mind seeing Morrow take more shots. Sure, his percentages have been suspect in certain matchups. But Morrow is really good at nailing tough shots. In fact, I might even say he's better with a man in his face than without. So I'd like to see him given a bit wider of a berth with on-ball shots.
Nick Collison: Practice shooting off of screens
Name one way for an aging big man to stay in this league. Almost universally, the correct answer is for them to develop a shot. Nick Collison has been doing this with the finest of expertise, now regularly trotting out to the three point line for attempts. But I think Collison has been a bit more successful when he's caught the ball in stride, as opposed to catching the ball when he's set. Some people seem to work better when they're shooting off of previous momentum, rather than receiving the ball and creating the momentum themselves. I think Collison is one of these people, and would hit shots at a higher clip if he was given a bit more motion on offense.
Lance Thomas: No Complaints
This dude is playing so far above his level that I have no complaints. Like seriously, his play now compared to what he was doing in the pre-season is just unreal. He's gone from no offense to hitting jumpers off the dribble and making really crafty cuts. Thomas almost always finds a way to throw in some positive contribution, and for me to expect him to give any more at this point is right out. Especially with the way he made James Harden look foolish a few nights ago.
Kendrick Perkins, Sebastian Telfair: Stay Locked in
My advice for these two players might seem like a bit of a cop-out. But the relative skillset of these two players is pretty much set in stone. Perk is a big defense-first center, Telfair is a small distribution-first point guard. Neither can really stray from those roles because their quirks are so ridiculous. Perk is too slow and cement-handed to put anywhere but center and trust with anything but the most basic of baskets. Telfair can't hit a jumper and isn't athletic enough to be a presence near the rim, so all he can do is game manage. They'll have good nights when the opposing team has a defensive hole or things just go their way. Otherwise, you try to cover for their weaknesses and hope for the best.
What do you think the Thunder should do to improve their games? Drop a comment and let us know!