The Thunder have played nearly half a season at this point, and since we have an extended break between games, the time is opportune to have the WTLC take a look at how the season has unfolded thus far. This roundtable will feature a series of questions divided into 2 posts. If you have any other outstanding questions that you'd like the team to address, write it in the comments below!
Today's rountable participants are Joey Conger, Kevin Yeung, Justin Danziger, Dontae Delgado, and Kevin Nesgoda.
1) The Thunder are 37 games in and a game below .500. What do you think the Thunder record should have been at this point?
Kevin Y: Interesting question, and a hard one to consider given the nightly ebb and flow for teams over the regular season. One way to track an "expected" win-loss record is by checking luck. The Thunder are 2-4 in games decided by a margin of no more than three points, which is my lazy way of guesstimating their late-game luck, and by that rough measure they haven't had a whole lot of bad luck. Probably a safer measure instead of that, though, is Basketball-Reference's Expected Win-Loss which has the Thunder at 20-17 compared to their real world record of 18-19.
Joey: I think the Thunder have been in a ton of close games that were certainly winnable, but I only think they blew about 3 games. I think that they blew the first Pistons game where Brandon Jennings got hot in OT. I also think they blew the Portland game where they were up by 10 with like 1:34 left. And I think they blew the Mavericks game. The rest were just close games but we didn't exactly blow them.
Justin: With the exception of one or two games, I think the Thunder's record is fair for a team that was missing its two biggest stars. The one exception would be the Blazers get, when they blew a 10 point lead with a minute and a half left. But other than that, it is hard to ask for that many wins with that lackluster roster.
Dontae: I stated back in late November how optimistic I am/was of the chances that the Thunder had to not only make a playoff push, but potentially be better than the majority of the world thought. Honestly, I’m kind of disappointed on where they are. At the time I wrote about this, they were at 3-12. They went 15-7 over that span, for a winning percentage of .681. That’s slight below the .701 winning percentage that I thought they needed to make the playoffs (equivalent to the seventh seed last year and eighth seed this year) and massively lower than the .721 winning percentage the put up over the last three seasons. By all accounts I think they should be at 22 wins neck-and-neck for the eighth seed. Most of their losses were close ones against the best in the West, turn a few of those and you have a playoff spot already.
Kevin N: I truthfully thought they would be above .500 by now. There have been many winnable games with both Durant and Westbrook back that they have lost that have been just inexcusable. At this point I figured OKC would maybe be plus two or three, four at the most.
2) The Thunder are 2.5 games behind the Suns and 7-8 games behind the middle seeds. A) Will the Thunder pass the Suns; B) How long will it take before they pass the Suns; and C) How high can they realistically reach in the seedings by the end of the season?
Kevin Y: The Phoenix Suns bulked up last week with the acquisition of Brandan Wright, a terrific role player. But he's only a role player, and the Suns have real problems to be fixed still. The Thunder aren't without their issues, but they have talent that the Suns can't match even with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. I can't say when the Thunder pass the Suns (working in Dion Waiters and getting Russ out of his slump throw some uncertainty into the mix), but mid-February sounds reasonable. Gonna say the Thunder peak at the sixth seed and are much more likely for the seventh or eighth seed – the current top seven in the West are something else entirely and it'll be hard to play catch-up against that group.
Joey: First of all, I do believe that the Thunder will pass the Suns. As to how long it will take, I think by the All Star break, OKC will be ahead just because Phoenix has a brutal schedule coming up. Phoenix could easily lose 7 out of their next 10. If the Thunder play really well, I think their peak is the 6th seed, which they're 6.5 games behind the Clippers for, but I think 7th is more likely.
Justin: OKC has a few tough games ahead of them (Rockets, Warriors, Hawks, Wizards, and Cavaliers) so I don't expect them to pass the red hot Suns any time soon. However, by the time All Star break rolls around they should be in that picture. I completely expect them to pass the Suns. KD is already beginning to look like his former self so the Thunder will be back to their dominant ways soon. Realistically, I believe OKC can reach as high as a 6 seed. There is no way they pass the Warriors, Rockets, Blazers, and a healthy Spurs, but the other teams are beatable and passable in terms of standings. 4-6 are less than two games within each other so every game counts for the Thunder.
Dontae: A) Yes, we’ve seen the Suns’ best, and it’s only 2.5 games ahead some of the most inconsistent Thunder ball. B) The Suns are about to go through a buzzsaw of a schedule next week, through the first week of February (HOU, LAC, PDX x2, GSW, CHI, WAS, MEM) and I suspect they’ll lose some steam. OKC has a good chance to pass them during this time. C) No higher than the 6th seed. San Antonio has had injury issues and they are the 7th seed, they’ll improve and that leaves Dallas or the Clippers to conquer. I suspect they can leap them, but not beyond that.
Kevin N: If they stay on their current track they are projected to finish 40-42 and will be about 9 games behind Phoenix. If they pick it up and play to the level they are capable of then I could see them passing them by the All-Star break and potentially getting as high as the fifth seed unless the West just falls apart and they never lose another game. Which won't happen, but stranger things have occurred.
3) What defining trait/flaw distinguishes between the Thunder this year and the team over the last 2 seasons that won 60 and 59 games?
Kevin: Besides injury luck? Well, let's go with a positive: they got Anthony Morrow in the summer. Morrow represents something Sam Presti has rarely done: bring in a non-rookie free agent in the offseason to be a legit role player. And more than that, he delivers in a department that the Thunder were sorely lacking in before: 3-point shooting. Morrow changes the offensive complexion of the Thunder when he's in, as the team's only real 3-point specialist in the backcourt. Want to know what I see in Morrow? I see urgency – the Thunder are well aware of Kevin Durant's free agency in 2016, and want their ring now. Morrow was an uncharacteristic signing met to fill a need now, as opposed to calling upon rookies and letting them grow into the role.
Joey: The big one that sticks out to me, is injuries. Outside of 1-2 minor injuries, the Thunder have been extremely lucky with their health during the regular season. Of course there are the two major ones in the last two playoff runs, but nothing like so far this year. I think there have been more injuries this year than all of the thunder's seasons in OKC combined. Somebody fact check this.
Justin: Injuries have plagued this team unlike any other year. But another flaw that sticks out would be ball movement. OKC currently ranks 29th in assists per game with 19.8. Yes, things would be different if KD was receiving the assists but 29th? There is no excuse for that. With KD out, OKC should have realized that moving the ball is the only way to overcome a star-less situation.
Dontae: Injuries is the first thing, the Thunder have never dealt with injuries to Westbrook and Durant at the same time. Secondly I’d say that the offensive changes and failings have never been as drastic as this year’s team. Outside of the ball movement changes that Brooks made to the offense while KD and Westbrook have been out, this team has more shot makers and takers than they’ve ever had (looking at you Waiters).
Kevin N: The chemistry is not right. I can't put my finger on it, but there is something definitely off from the coaching down to the players. No one seems in total sync.
How would you answer these questions? Do you have any others that need answering? Leave your comments below and stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!