If I was given the task of coming with a more crushing night for the Thunder I don't think I could beat what happened last night. At the start of the night the Thunder had the 8 seed with a big game at home, while the team they were competing with for the 8 seed was playing clearly the best team in the NBA. So at the start of the night there was real optimism around the team that they could almost secure the 8 seed. But instead the Thunder got destroyed by the Spurs 113-88, and the Pelicans beat the Warriors, 103-100. The Thunder are in trouble. Their playoff hopes are now in real jeopardy. All season there has been talk about whether this team will make the playoffs but all along most people thought in the back of their head that surely they would make it. Not anymore.
What the heck happened last night?
Great question. There isn't near the space to cover all the things, but probably the easiest way to sum it up is what Pop had to say after the game. "No matter how you slice it, it isn't a fair fight." And that of course was in reference to all of the injuries the Thunder have gone through. At this point the Thunder just aren't near as good as the Spurs. The Spurs are back to the Spurs of old, and if there is any team that can expose the large problems with the Thunder's defense it is the Spurs. The Thunder never led in the game and were down by as much as 36. This is as big of a domination as you will see in the NBA. I mean the Thunder scored 10 points in the first quarter, 10 points!!
This team just looks tired, like they are running on fumes. Russell and Enes have been carrying such a large load on offense and it just looks like they are on their last legs. Right now Russell Westbrook has the fourth highest usage rate (percentage of a team's offensive possession a player uses) of all time. That stat could be used to make a lot of points, but I am using to say that they guy has an unreal amount of stress on him and that has to be wearing on him at least a little bit. I think that his fatigue is coming not so much physically, although there is a chance of that as well, but more so tired from the pressure of having to will the team to win every night.
There also seems to be an issue lately that the Thunder players, mainly Enes Kanter, are having and that is finishing at the rim over size. Kanter rebounds really well, mainly offensively but he seems to be having some amount of trouble finishing over size. It is pretty crazy though, the dude is averaging over 5 offensive rebounds a game.
With Andre Roberson back Scott Brooks is going to have to get a little more creative with some of his lineups. As Anthony Morrow is playing some of the best basketball of his career and Dion Waiters continuing to take step back mid range jump shots, Brooks is going to have to change some things up. He really didn't have any options with Roberson out, but as more players get healthy Brooks is going to have to try some more things to figure out how they are going to guard people.
Is there any hope for the Thunder's Defense?
In the last 10 games the Thunder are allowing the most points per game (109.6), their opponents have the best field goal percetage (49.3), and they are allowing the most points in the paint. Those numbers are bad. Like really bad. The case could be made that the Thunder aren't losing games because they don't have Kevin Durant they are losing because they aren't guarding anyone. In the same stretch of the last 10 games the Thunder are third in the league in scoring at 108 points per game. If they could guard anyone, the Thunder would be winning games scoring that much.
Maybe the one positive tonight was that Andre Roberson came back to play. I am one of the few that thinks that Andre Roberson actually has a place on this team. Roberson has the best defensive rating (amount of points the team gives up while the player is on the court per 100 possesions) of any player on the team. Clearly his largest weakness is his offensive game, but the Thunder clearly don't need help offensively right now, they need defense. The Thunder are also still missing Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka. Nick Collison is second on the team in defensive rating behind Roberson, and everyone knows how good Serge Ibaka is at defense. So there is some reason for optimism defensively assuming those guys can come back and get healthy.
Without those guys healthy though the Thunder's frontline is very slim. Steven Adams can defend (even though he was a -36 tonight) but outside of that the Thunder don't have much as far as defense goes. Enes Kanter has the worst defensive rating on the team by far. He is in the bottom 5 of the entire NBA in defensive rating of players that play at least 25 minutes and have played 50 games. Mitch McGary can be completely lost about half the time. I think that McGary could be a good defensive player at some point
Steph Curry makes Chris Paul fall BUT NOT KAWHI!! The first time I ever saw Kahwi Leonard was when he was playing for San Diego State and he was playing BYU and Jimmer Fredette. I will be totally transparent here and say that when an announcer one time mentioned that a couple GM's had said that Kawhi was a better pro prospect than Jimmer I thought they were crazy! This guy in unreal though and is about to make himself a TON of money. Kawhi had 26 points in 24 minutes with a +17 against the Thunder. Last year when he won the Finals MVP it felt like somewhat of an anomaly considering he was playing with 3 future hall of famers and he was the young role player. Now that MVP makes so much sense. Kawhi can do it all, he is an all NBA defensive team player on top of turning himself into a ridiculously efficient offensive player. Leonard is a top 10 player in the NBA and he is going to have teams salivating for him this summer.
Should the Thunder even try to make the playoffs?
I mean even if they do play well their next four games and the Pelicans lose the Thunder earn a series against Golden State. Golden State is going to end up being one of the best regular season teams we have seen in a while. So what good is it if you are Thunder to play the Warriors if you are going to get destroyed. And not only just pride but if they were to miss the playoffs they could move up a couple spots in the draft. I am going to go ahead and go on record and say that missing the playoffs would NOT be a good thing for the Thunder.
Are the Thunder going to beat the Warriors? Almost certainly not, but the experience of being in the playoffs could pay dividends. The Thunder have made the Western Confrenece Finals 3 of the last 4 years so there is an idea that they are this veteran playoff experienced team, but they really aren't. Kyle Singler, Anthony Morrow, Dion Waiters, and Mitch McGary have never played a playoff game. Enes Kanter played in one series where he got swept. That is 5 Thunder rotation players that have essentially zero playoff experience. Even if they get beat badly, getting the experience of playing the best team in the league could be something that the Thunder could be thankful for as they move forward.
This season has been the Thunder's worst nightmare. Kevin Durant played 27 games, and they had a seemingly never ending list of other injuries. Last night was the second time in 3 weeks that they got completely waxed by the Spurs, and if they are lucky enough to get the 8 seed they will earn the best team in basketball. But If there is anyone that is going to lose his mind and get his team into the playoffs and then pull off one of the craziest upsets in some time its MR. TRIPLE DOUBLE HIMSELF...