Welcome to "Plus/Minus," a weekly series that will run throughout the season, focusing on trends among players, topics, and ideas related to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The scores are similar to those found in the box score of an NBA game, with a higher number representing a better performance. For example, "+3" represents a better performance than "+2," and "-3" is worse than "-2." A score of "0" is completely neutral.
Well, that certainly didn’t go as planned.
Three straight losses that should have been wins, followed by consecutive easy victories over historically pesky foes. There were dunks, there were turnovers, and there were boos from an opposing fan base (imagine that). In the end, though, this week will be defined by the eventual health of a left hamstring that is ultimately attached to a right arm that puts basketballs in baskets better than any other on Earth.
Week 1 Plus/Minus
+3 Getting back on track
Everyone knew the Billy Donovan honeymoon had to end, but the hangover might have come a bit sooner than expected. It wasn’t just the three straight losses. It was how the worst of the Thunder demonstrated a still-beating heart. This was years past all over again, only now without the late-game heroics that so often hid very real chemical and structural issues. A lot of turnovers and ugly iso sets are hidden in prior years’ admirable win-loss records. And while racking up wins is all that counts, the Thunder were reminded this week that when the wins stop coming, the critics get louder than ever. This week offered up the perfect storm: a new coach, a new offensive system that sometimes looks like the old offensive system, and sustained defensive issues – all covered in the blood of three straight losses.
But they turned it around. The Suns and the Wizards have both frustrated OKC over the years. Who could forget the Nene/Westbrook bout, much less the Gerald Green game? And all this before even mentioning the context around KD’s lone visit to DC this season. Turning the tide and getting two very professional, convincing victories put a stop the kind of bleeding that can be the difference between a 2- and a 6-seed in the Western Conference. Make no mistake - this week will have been a disaster if the initial diagnosis has undersold the extent of Durant’s injury, but even that shouldn’t overshadow two nice wins after a trio of disheartening losses.
+2 Russell Westbrook one-handed tomahawks
Two insane dunks this week from Russell:
+1 Pre-season Dion
In two blowout wins, Dion Waiters offered everything the Thunder hoped he would when they acquired him: a true scoring x-factor with the ability to turn the tide off the bench when everything else is broken. Now they just want to see him do it when things are, you know, actually broken. That isn’t to say that Waiters’ scoring wasn’t a huge asset in both games, but if he can continue his efficient shooting and mistake-free ball handling in the coming weeks, it would be a massive boost for a team that is now looking at significant time without its top star.
0 OKC’s chances of keeping Kevin Durant
Tuesday’s win over the Beal-less Wizards meant nothing - and was never going to mean anything – when it comes to KD’s impending free agency. For OKC, call it what it is: a nice road victory over a team that many consider contenders in the East. As a Thunder fan, was it kind of nice to sit back and watch Kevin Durant sit back and watch his team run circles around the Wizards? Indeed. But a regular season game on November 10th isn’t going to move the needle. If anything, both teams are just glad this one is over.
-1 D.J. Augustin, reliable backup point guard
Over the course of the three-game losing streak, the ever-dependable D.J. appeared to be playing with mittens on. Gone was his usual steady presence, with sloppy ball handling and missed open shots coming at the least opportune times for the Thunder. OKC was a mess in all three games – that much is inarguable. But among Augustin’s most important roles is to recalibrate the offense when things go haywire. So often in the past, D.J. has checked in after a bad spell from the starters and completely rebooted the game, allowing Westbrook and Durant to come back in and resume play in a completely different landscape. D.J. Augustin will be fine, but this wasn’t a week he will look back on fondly.
-2 This Anthony Morrow Thing
In a previous article, I discussed the possibility that Anthony Morrow might open things up more than ever for Durant and Westbrook. This was not a revolutionary take. After the All Star break last year, Morrow was among the league’s deadliest three-point weapons. After Golden State used the three-point shot to blitz the Western Conference throughout the playoffs, one could only dream of the services a locked-in Anthony Morrow could provide for a full-strength offense like OKC’s.
Instead, there is Kyle Singler. This isn’t to say that Singler doesn’t provide his own skillset – it’s just that his own skillset has generally appeared to waver between basic and sub-NBA caliber. Singler is generally a better defender than Morrow, a highly relevant point for a team that is giving up 107 points per game and features two guys who probably both consider themselves reigning scoring champion. This is a classic rift between fan expectations and reality. Who knows how Donovan’s feelings on the issue will evolve, but for now one can’t help but speculate that the Thunder are holstering a deadly weapon. Even when Morrow has come on, he hasn’t looked comfortable or fluid. Instead, he is looking like what he just might currently be: a three-point specialist whose continued playing time rides on every shot.
-3 Not this again
Just as the team appears to get back over the hump, they are once again facing life without Kevin Durant. An absence longer than the announced 7-10 days would be a disaster: last year showed how thin the margin can be in the West, and even victories without Durant will represent wasted opportunities to better grasp and succeed in Billy Donovan’s system.
A team bouncing back and another superstar injury - Week 2 for the Oklahoma City Thunder was absolutely defined by a turning point. Let’s just hope it’s the former.