It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why the Thunder lost to the Pelicans. The Thunder's big two, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, took the team on their back in the fourth quarter. The duo proved to be rustier than we all thought, failing to utilize their teammates, succumbing to easy turnovers, and missing a few makeable shots. Meanwhile, the Pelicans got an amazing game out of Tyreke Evans, who showcased one of the best in and out moves in the league today.
But there are other factors at play in the Thunder's loss. I don't want everyone to lose sight of what's going on behind the headlines, so here's three other reasons why OKC dropped one in the Big Easy.
Anthony Morrow's three point defense was terrible
Boy, does it feel good to write that in a headline. I've been watching Anthony Morrow absolutely destroy the Thunder with his lazy three point defense at key moments in games before, but I've never felt completely justified in calling him out. Tonight, with a mere 23 minutes to his name, Morrow has no excuse. Here's three stills from three made threes by the Pelicans. Two by Luke Babbitt, one by Austin Rivers.
In honor of Christmas, I illustrated them with red and green circles to show you just how far Morrow is from his man each time. And if you look at the placement of other players on the floor, you can see that there's no clear reason for Morrow to be playing help D in any of the three photos. Ugggggggggg
Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison can't play together
Nick Collison was playing with foul trouble throughout the entire game, providing a convenient reason for his limited minutes. But had he not committed the fouls, I feel like Collison would have been yanked from the game anyway. Simply put, it's too much of a liability to have him patrol the paint with Perkins. Perk needs to have a more athletic forward alongside him to help cover him near the rim, or the Thunder are going to be continually destroyed in the paint.
Case in point: Perk and Collison guarded the paint together for the final 4:39 of the first quarter. The Thunder committed a whopping 7 fouls during that time, along with allowing the Pelicans to shoot 4 of 5 in the paint. In fact, the Pelicans took only one shot outside of the paint, and it was the Rivers three that you see above.
Naysayers might point to the fact that the Thunder went on an 8-2 run while Collison was in the game for the first two minutes of the fourth, but that sequence is fool's gold. The Pelicans failed mostly because of defensive pressure from Lamb and Jackson, and were still able to score inside. The Pellies were even able to grab a pair of offensive rebounds during that stretch, further highlighting the Thunder's need.
If you look deeper into the stats, you'll find that Perk and Collison are dead even in the plus/minus category when on the floor together this season. They manage to be productive because they have a higher number of three pointers attempted and made than other lineups. Presumably, that's because Perk and Collison set really good screens. However, the duo really suffers in two key categories: Rebounds and Blocks. If you're running a lineup of bench big men that are giving up complete control of the paint and can't control boards or blocks, then why are we running them at all?
Below, you'll find the Thunder's most used two-man lineups, with Collison and Perk at the bottom. I've included the other pairs for reference. Courtesy NBA.com.
The Offensive Hole
Andre Roberson and Steven Adams: 40 Minutes, 3 shots
Roberson and Adams, Plus Nick Collison, Lance Thomas - 50 minutes, 5 shots
Doesn't that just say it all? We've basically got an entire player out there who only took 5 shots. It doesn't even matter how many shots they made. That's one player, or 20% of the team, only taking 5.95% of the team's 84 total shots! It's hard to make up for such a statistical disparity when you've got players that have no offensive game whatsoever.
Granted, I will give Scott Brooks credit for managing the lineups of his non-scorers well. Roberson and Adams always play with Durant and Westbrook, the two most offensively-minded players on the team. Collison usually stays separately, while Lance Thomas is probably on his way out of the rotation anyway. But I still think that the Thunder could stand to get these guys more involved.
How? With Steven Adams, the answer is as simple as the pick and roll. He worked on it a bit with Westbrook against New York, but you could definitely feel Westbrook put more of the weight back on his own shoulder last night against the Pelicans. New Orleans has a much more intimidating interior defense, but Adams was able to produce double digits against the almost equally as fearsome Raptors and Grizzlies. I think Adams' offense will come as he gets more used to Westbrook, but it's definitely something to keep tabs on for now.
As for Roberson, he might be a hopeless case. He's made a grand total of two shots outside the paint and taken twelve. That's pretty unimpressive for someone purporting for a shooting guard, and makes it incredibly hard to fool his defender. The most Roberson can do any time he gets the ball in the corner is pray for a three or pass it away, with both options wasting our possessions and time. Still, his defensive and rebounding presence makes him too valuable to ignore, so you just keep telling him to run at the rim and hope that he'll miraculously develop a shot someday.
Did you spot a reason for last night's loss that I missed? Drop some knowledge in the comments!