Many have called for the head of Scott Brooks following a 100-92 loss to the New York Knicks on January 28th. That's absolutely ridiculous, because the Knicks beat the Thunder under three very unique circumstances. Those circumstances don't justify the loss completely, but they certainly make it more of an understandable mid-season slip up. Sometimes, the inferior team just has your number.
1. The Knicks literally had five years of Thunder practice history to draw from. Cole Aldrich, New York's backup center, played for the Thunder from 2010-2012. Derek Fisher, New York's coach, played for the Thunder from 2012-2014. Lance Thomas, New York's sixth man, played with the Thunder this season, up until January 5th. In case you're not keeping track, that means the Knicks have had an inside man for every single season the Thunder have been successful. Having that extent of inside knowledge can't be underestimated, especially when you consider that all three players were considered a critical part of the franchise at some point. (Thomas wasn't a part of the future, but we certainly needed him to play.)
2. These aren't the same Knick players that got creamed by the Thunder on November 28th. The only Knicks to play in both games? Calderon, Hardaway, Acy, Smith, Larkin, Aldrich. The new faces tonight were Anthony, Galloway, Thomas, and Amundson. When you consider that Anthony, Galloway, and Thomas were the Knicks' top three scorers in that game, you can see why the Thunder struggled. Galloway and Thomas might both seem like embarrassing players to give up double digits to, but both are justifiable. Galloway averaged 14.5 PPG in the four games prior to this one, and might be a better player than you think. Meanwhile, Thomas is simply one of those floor spacers that will kill the Thunder when they overload the strong side. That's been a weakness for years and years, so I'm not worried.
3. Kevin Durant is essential if OKC wants to hit threes. Without KD, the Thunder only have one player who can consistently hit tough threes (Anthony Morrow). Waiters, Jackson, and Westbrook are all capable of hitting tough threes, but not consistently. Ibaka is capable of hitting open threes consistently, but his release is slow, making it very hard for him to shoot over defenders. This means the Thunder pretty much have to rely on tough Morrow threes and a ton of streaky shooters to open up things for Ibaka.
Of course, the Thunder have gotten around this problem more recently. Both Reggie Jackson and Andre Roberson have heavily benefited from having Dion Waiters in the lineup, as both of them have seen their three point percentages soar over the last 11 games. Take a look:
11 games is a short amount of time in terms of threes taken. In other words, I'm not expecting Roberson and Jackson to shoot these percentages moving forward. But if having the presence of KD and Waiters over the past 11 has given these guys the space they've needed to shoot, then perhaps the Thunder won't have so many problems moving forward.
Anyway, getting back to my point. Jackson shot 1 of 4 from three against the Knicks, while Roberson didn't even take one. Even Ibaka struggled, shooting 0 of 2. This tells me that the Thunder simply couldn't get open when they needed to. I mean, Westbrook took a whopping 8 threes. If he could have given two of them to each of the three players I just mentioned, this game might have been more manageable in the end.
But really, at the end of the day: If KD played, it would have been an entirely different ballgame. The Thunder simply don't have the right type of personnel to win without him.
Do the Thunder need to make a trade to win? Or are we OK with KD in game? I'm with the latter camp. Drop a comment and make your voice heard!