The Oklahoma City Thunder felled back to .500 (22-22) after two consecutive losses against the Atlanta Hawks and The Cleveland Cavaliers. The Thunder played their last three games on road against three of the top teams in the East in the Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The last three games were a good test for the Thunder, where they could have solidified themselves as a good team in the league ready to take on the best by coming out victorious in these games. Unfortunately, against these 3 good teams, OKC only went 1-2 and are now three games behind the Phoenix Suns after finishing their road trip with a 3-2 record.
Numbers never lie; all what is happening is due to the lack of offensive consistency and execution especially on road trips followed by a weak defensive stability.
The Thunder have shot 113-of-289 (39%) from the field and 26-of-85 (30%) from the 3-point line in their last three games. Moreover, despite being competitive in fourth quarters, they have shot 22-of-60 (36%) from the field and 9-of-28 (32%) from behind the arc. The Thunder have been also outscored 81-52 in second quarters in their last three games, shooting 20-of-75 (26%) from the field and 2-of-22 (9%) from 3-point range in this quarter.
Let us take a look at the key players averages in their last three games of the following road trip.
Last three games: 30-of-68 FGM-A (44%) - 8-of-24 (33%) 3PM-A
Last three games: 27-of-70 (39%) FGM-A - 5-of-14 (35%) 3PM-A
Last three games: 4-of-19 (21%) FGM-A - 1-OF-7 (14%) 3PM-A
Last three games: 15-of-43 (34%) FGM-A - 5-of-16 (31%) 3PM-A
Last three games: 12-of-35 (34%) FGM-A - 3-of-14 (21%) 3PM-A
All these statistics demonstrate how the Thunder are struggling to find their rhythm on both offensive and defensive ends. The Thunder have lost their 22nd game after a loss against the Cavaliers. In the 2012-13 season, they've lost only 22 games in the entire season and in last year's season, they've lost 23 games.
However, the Thunder still have a chance to re-seize their rhythm as they will play the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-35) and the New York Knicks (8-37) in their next two games, pushing them back above .500 before taking on the new-look Grizzlies.
How can the Thunder improve?
Since the Thunder are in a position where they are still outside of the playoff seedings, they must show substantial improvement quickly. Here are some areas where they can see improvement:
- First of all, they need to accept the fact that they are not a good 3-point shooting team. Scott Brooks must de-prirortize 3-pointers from his offensive scheme. Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters combined to shoot 16 3-pointers against the Cavaliers, making only 5 of them.
- The team must commit to keep passing the ball more often before attacking their opponents to create a better floor spacing as well as an opportunity to run plays. They have shown growth in this area, but now is not the time to abandon the strategy, even though it produced 2 consecutive losses.
- The team should focus on attacking the paint and increase the post presence more instead of going for pull up jumpers. This could be achieved via Ibaka who can finish under the rim very well, and it is better use of his skills than so many 3-point attempts.
- The bench needs to find an identity. Right now, they are hoping that either Reggie Jackson or Dion Waiters has a good enough game to balance out the offense. So far, neither one are getting the job done.
While there are certainly more areas in need of improvement, focusing on these four should help to turn things around heading into the All-Star break.