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.
How you feel about Week 3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2015-16 campaign probably says a lot about your views on Thunder basketball in general. You either saw the same old team that couldn’t make the playoffs last year, or a developing second unit starting to figure it out. You saw either a bad loss to an Eastern Conference team, or a first year head coach showing exactly why he was brought in.
Of course, there was also a lot of the same stuff you’ve become accustomed to, including Russell Westbrook’s incredible production, Kevin Durant in street clothes, and a Kendrick Perkins technical foul. Never change, Kendrick.
And please change, Kevin.
Week 3 Plus/Minus
+3 Billy Donovan
Of all the things that drove Thunder fans crazy about Scott Brooks, his propensity to let 7-point deficits balloon to 13 before calling timeout had to be among the most rage-inducing. Against the Grizzlies, Billy Donovan did an excellent job of managing the game’s pace, especially down the stretch when Memphis appeared to seal the game multiple times. He allowed for just the right amount of Westbrookian chaos. Donovan didn’t halt any momentum, while he also didn’t sit idly while the team dug a hole it had no chance to climb out of.
The rookie coach also resisted hitting the panic button against the Pelicans, successfully steering a sleepwalking Thunder squad to a much-needed victory.
To top things off, Week 3 saw some new wrinkles on baseline out-of-bounds plays that resulted in good looks and easy points. Solid execution of creative sets in key moments: not exactly a staple of past Thunder teams.
Billy Donovan will be judged by the work he does in April, May, and (with any luck) June, but so far he has given Thunder fans a few reasons to believe.At the very least, he seems to possess an both accurate gauge of the team’s pulse at any given moment and a few go-to sets that he keeps in his back pocket for key moments. These may seem like small steps now, but they are the kind of small steps that keep seasons alive come springtime.
+2 The evolution of depth
Apart from a certain Sixth Man, the OKC bench showed signs of life in Week 3. Against New Orleans, it wasn’t just how Enes Kanter dominated the paint – it was the second unit’s insistence on getting him the ball. There was a cohesive strategy on offense, and it turned the game around after the most uninspired first quarter the Thunder have played in quite some time.
Even when the unit is struggling as a whole, several players seemed to experience some success this week. D.J. Augustin looked like a different player after struggling mightily in Week 2, and Anthony Morrow seemed to find a groove for the first time this season.
Much of the rotation will be altered once Durant returns, but for now it is comforting to see a second unit capable of producing game-changing runs.
+1 Cameron Payne
This was great.
0 Russell Westbrook’s efficiency
Westbrook’s numbers this week were again unbelievable: 27.8 points, 9.5 assists, and 8.5 rebounds, all on 46.5% shooting. Hidden in that 46.5% number, however, are two very efficient shooting games and two that Westbrook will be glad to forget. Against the 76ers and Celtics, Westbrook went a combined 13-42, sprinkling in 10 turnovers along the way. That’s how a good team goes 1-1 over weekends it should go 2-0.
Russ bounced back in a big way, though, going hitting 27 out of 46 total shots against the Grizzlies and Pelicans. The turnovers were still there, but Westbrook remains basically impossible to slow down when he exercises even remote discipline in picking his spots. His insistence to get into the post against the Pelicans was a snapshot of his ever-evolving basketball maturity, and the resulting numbers back it up.
This is all nitpicking. In Week 3, Westbrook had a 43-point game. He had a 17-rebound game. He had a 14-assist game in which he also scored 40 points of his own. Every night, Russell Westbrook continues to post at least one stat that looks like a typo. He’s right: he does this.
-1 Thumbs down to Serge Ibaka’s defense
Serge Ibaka is currently putting up the worst Defensive Box Plus/Minus of his career (0.6, per basketball-reference.com, compared to a career-average of 1.9), and by a wide margin. Granted, the team around him consistently defends poorly enough that Serge must basically account for all five opposing players at once, but too often he is looking downright lost. Ibaka’s defensive statistics have always lied. He never was actually a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber defender, but he at least was effective flying in from the weakside to block shots that other centers wouldn’t dare challenge.
As Serge regresses and is perpetually caught floating 12 feet from the basket, even Enes Kanter appears to be exerting more effort on defense at times. I won’t go as far as saying that Kanter is currently playing better defense than Serge (not even close, statistically speaking), but one of the two at least looks like he is playing for his reputation. Maybe both should be.
-2 Dion Waiters
Waiters has been on a nightly mission to prove why he should be yet isn’t an All Star. In Monday night’s loss to Memphis, he did not catch, pass, dribble, or shoot a single ball cleanly. He was a mess. And yet still he managed to get some tough baskets to help keep the Thunder in the game late. But his insistence on going underneath perimeter screens in a 4th quarter that saw Memphis unable to miss from long range visibly frustrated several Thunder players, and helped set the stage for a barrage of backbreaking threes that prevented OKC from stealing what would have been a monster road win.
Against the Pelicans, Waiters augmented an inevitable Shaqtin’ A Fool Hall of Fame Nominee with 20% shooting and a pair of turnovers.
Only one man could keep Dion Waiters out of this week’s -3 spot.
-3 Memphis finally gets the villain it deserves.
By now, it’s pretty clear that the Memphis Grizzlies are the Thunder’s chief rival. The playoff battles and ridiculously close win-loss splits from the two teams’ meetings always gives Thunders/Grizzlies matchups a little extra juice. Only one problem: Memphis is kind of hard to hate. Marc Gasol is the rare technician at the center position, and Mike Conley has fought back admirably from the criticism he faced early in his career. Tony Allen is brutal to watch in the kind of way that he would take as a compliment.
Memphis is the team you want to hate. It’s the team the statistics say you should hate. The players themselves, though, have always made it hard.
Enter Mario Chalmers.
If you are a Thunder fan and you don’t dislike Mario Chalmers in an inappropriately personal manner given the context of sports fandom, then congratulations: you are one of the approximately seven fans the team gained during last season’s non-playoff run. Every professional sports team has one random opposing player whose dominance against them is equal parts reliable and inexplicable. Mario Chalmers has always been that guy for OKC, and now he is probably on the appropriate team to play the part better than ever. It almost doesn’t hurt anymore.
And now I hate the Grizzlies.