"Everybody is counting us out every game, but we're there every single night. We're playing competitive basketball...As a teammate, I couldn't be more proud to be on this team and a part of this organization. We're showing our true colors as a whole. I'm excited to be a part of something so special." - Kevin Durant
As Durant notes in the quote above taken from a recent ESPN interview, the Thunder ARE competitive.
However, despite how competitive the Oklahoma City Thunder are in their games and despite the effort and commitment they put into their game, the outcome is not wins. Victories are within grasp, but escape in the final moments. Previously, we noted how the Thunder fall apart in 4th quarters, which kills their chances. However, this problem is germane to every team. How can the Thunder perform better in the fourth quarter to take control of the game's outcome?
He's the conductor of the squad and he needs to present his creative touches on the roster. How? This can be done through several ways. The first thing coach Brooks has to do is start cutting down Reggie Jackson's minutes. Jackson is averaging 40 minutes a game this season, significantly more than he has ever played before. As a result, Jackson's performances over the past week have gotten worse and worse, culminating 10 points on 4-13 shooting vs the Jazz.
Also, Scott Brooks' teams have played competitively and given themselves a chance to win, but recently in the Bucks and Pistons losses, their end game sequences were bad. Remember the game where the Thunder lost to the Clippers with a 3-point deficit in the beginning of the season? When the team where down by 6 points, Scott Brooks ordered the players to perform the Elevator Doors play, which helped the Thunder to close down the deficit to 3-points through an open three pointer by Serge Ibaka.
Scott Brooks must get his team back to executing these more dynamic sets at ends of games. Jackson (and Lamb and Ibaka) are not Kevin Durant. It is time to play to this truth.
The Thunder offense has been mostly bad, but also inconsistent. Here is The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater:
The first 18 minutes of this game went about as smooth as possible for the Thunder. Balanced scoring, easy looks, swarming defense. OKC led 39-22 at one point. But the final 30 minutes were about as bad as we’ve seen. Sporadic scoring, aimless shot selection and unenergized defense. Throughout this understandably tough early-season stretch, the Thunder has prided itself on remaining competitive. But that wasn’t the case Tuesday night in Utah. The Jazz went on a 58-22 mid-game run and cruised to an easy 17-point win.
Floor spacing and a better ball rotation seem to be there in the beginning but disappear by the 2nd quarter. In addition to that, it will help utilizing the players significant offensive abilities such as Morrow, Lamb, Telfair, Jones (Injured), and Jackson shooting and attacking the paint abilities.
Moreover, Serge Ibaka needs to return to his strengths on offense. He's developing rapidly in expanding his shooting range, which forms an offensive support for the Thunder. However, his improved 3-point game has come at the expense of his strengths in the mid-range game as well as in offensive rebounding.
Keep following the Spurs way
The Thunder are in a large way modeled after the Spurs, both from a front office standpoint (Sam Presti got his start with the Spurs, even responsible for helping draft Tony Parker) as well as from a team-building standpoint (build everything around the right kind of superstar in Tim Duncan and Durant). They also want to play like the Spurs. The truth though is that everyone wants to play like the Spurs, especially when we witness how dominant the Spurs were last season. However, very few teams are willing to put in the sacrifice and commitment that the Spurs do. The Spurs commit to following their process even when it appears like it isn't working. They understand that it is a long term vision and they build their team that way.
The Thunder have the kinds of players who can do this. Nick Collison in particular is contributing more in the early part of this season than he had in the past several years. Although the video below is from 2012, it indicates how much Nick Collison can contribute to winning ways. As you observe in the video, Collison is setting a lot of Pick and Rolls as well as plays on the perimeter, which is organizing and helping the Thunder on playing based on X and O formations.
It takes these little steps from Collison and the rest to build the finished product, which we can see here:
I view the Thunder as one of the best defensive teams in the league. Their defense has kept them in games against some of the best teams this season. However, as we noted earlier this week, there are still areas for improvement and it isn't just a matter of trying harder. With Durant's and Westbrook's absence, the Thunder are playing more of zone defense to cover their weaknesses, but it is exposing others. At the end of the day, their man-to-man defense will need to improve.
Attention to detail
Sometimes, the little things make the biggest difference.
Look how Chandler easily surpasses Thomas, and how the rest of players freeze up instead of sagging off and help in defense.
See how the Thunder commit silly turnovers and lack in effort in terms of performing a quick offense to defense transition.
Here is why the Players should quickly lock down on their opposing shooters and guard a pick and roll very well.
Look at how weak is the sight of Adams in terms of being able to determine that Robinson will be throwing an alley oop. McGee easily passes by Adams and goes for it as Adams doesn't even put the effort to block it.
Here is how terrible the Thunder are when playing 2-3 zone defense. The whole point is to stay in a zone and not get sucked into the paint. When this happens, the shooters are wide open.
Oct 30, 2014 - Oklahoma City Thunder vs Los Angeles Clippers (L) 90-93
Overall game FG%: 43.1%
4th Quarter FG%: 47.1%
Overall 3PT%: 28.6%
4th Quarter 3PT%: 66.7%
4th Quarter result: 28-23 - OKC in lead.
Nov 1, 2014 - Denver Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder (W) 102-91
Overall game FG%: 46.2%
4th Quarter FG%: 40%
Overall 3PT%: 30%
4th Quarter 3PT%: 22%.
4th Quarter result: 35-26 - OKC lead by Nuggets.
Nov 7, 2014 - Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder (L) 91-89
Overall game FG%: 46.8%
4th Quarter FG%: 50%
Overall 3PT%: 48%
4th Quarter 3PT%: 55%
4th Quarter result: 27-25 - OKC in lead
Nov 12, 2014 - Boston Celtics vs Oklahoma City Thunder (W) 109-94
Overall game FG%: 49%
4th Quarter FG%: 73.7%
Overall 3PT%: 41%
4th Quarter 3PT%: 57%
4th Quarter result: 33-22 - OKC in lead
Nov 19, 2014 - Oklahoma City Thunder vs Denver Nuggets (L) 100-107
Overall game FG%: 45.6%
4th Quarter FG%: 38.9%
Overall 3PT%: 43.5%
4th Quarter 3PT%: 37.5%
4th Quarter result: OKC in lead 26-19
The Thunder are now down with 10 losses and 3 wins. In every game they've won, they played well in the 4th. In conclusion, the issue isn't about how capable the Thunder are in handling these phases in their game where as, its all about how capable they are at ensuring the existence of these characteristics in their performance continuously so they can be successful at both fourth quarters and the entire game.