Confession: Not having the Thunder make a deep playoff run has actually been kinda nice. Sure, they're one more season away from possibly taking a giant step to becoming the most underwhelming, should-have-been dynasty (because of that little Durant contract situation) ever, but still. Not stressing over a game every other night, and having to plan your entire life over being available for those games, has actually been a nice relief.
Of course, it's also meant doing more things like "real-world work" and less things like "musing on the Thunder for a blog." Once you get out of the routine of breaking down every little move the Thunder make, both on and off the court, it's kind of tough to get back into it. Luckily, we live in a glorious age when you can kind of fade out, and use the ideas of others to slowly guide you back in.
That's the glory of the mailbag, ladies and gentlemen, where others come up with topics and I simply play off of those topics to form something of my own. This is the first time I've taken a stab at this (and with how much I enjoy being lazy, I have no idea how it hasn't happened sooner), and I certainly hope there will be more to come. I only threw it out on Twitter a couple times, and I didn't exactly get an overwhelming response, but I got enough to get one of these in the bag (see what I did there?), and hopefully it will be enough to get the ball rolling for future mailbags to come.
If you'd like to submit a question/comment for a future mailbag, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop us a line on Twitter (@WTLC) using the hashtag #WTLCmailbag.
Cool? Cool. Let's embark on this journey together, yeah?
What is a skill you would like one or more thunder player to develop? Outside of obvious- ex Kanter guard pick n roll, improve defense? -John Grooms (@jgg512)
This is a fun one because you could riff on just about anybody on the roster. I'd start with Kevin Durant, and say he needs to improve on not fracturing his feet, because no matter how deeply we break this thing down, that's probably the biggest determining factor in how far the Thunder will go in 2015-16.
John points out the most obvious in Kanter's defense, because that was the most glaring weakness by the end of last season. Hopefully the return of Ibaka and Durant, who I would argue are the two best defenders on the roster, along with new coaching to hopefully instill a more fine-tuned system, will fix some of those problems.
However, I'd make the case that - beyond Kanter - Westbrook improving his on-ball defense could be what puts the Thunder over the hump more than ever before. Westbrook has never been called a bad defender - in fact, he actually received some All-Defense votes - and his 2.1 steals per game last year are a flashy number. But we're long past the point where steals should mean anything beyond "capitalizing on fortuitous opportunities."
In fact, I'd argue it was Westbrook's over-zealousness in gambling for steals that so often cost his team on defense. We all know the move by now, when Westbrook ole's his man and attempts the reach-around steal. It's a game-changing play when it works, because it often leads to a run out and showstopping Westbrook dunk. The problem is that for every time it works, it fails at least five times more.
When it fails, it puts pressure on everyone else on defense. You get Westbrook out of position and a penetrating point guard which forces the interior bigs - like Kanter, who already struggles defending the rim as is - having to choose between staying on his man or protecting the rim from the drive. That, in turn puts everyone else out of position and scrambling to try and make up for the gamble.
I'm not suggesting Westbrook should stop being a risk-taker altogether, because that mentality is largely what has turned him into the player he is today. But it's tough not to look at Stephen Curry and the Warriors, who made exponential leaps in the defense department, and how important their dedication to the defensive side of the ball has taken that team from playoff contender to championship contender.
So that's my long-winded answer. My short answer is: keep Jeremy Lamb awake.
Jeremy Lamb - trade bait or contributing bench player? -Hannah (@kairos_catcher)
How's that for a tie-in? I always feel like the one person in Thunderland that doesn't have a strong opinion on Jeremy Lamb one way or another. Seems like he is always a fun topic to get people going, because he is tied to such a seismic moment in Thunder history.
So many people want him to work out, and so many others want to never see or hear from him ever again. For whatever reason, I've never really cared what happened with Lamb. Would it be great if he turned into a reliable shooter that could somewhat create points on his own? Sure, but we've kind of got Anthony Morrow to do that now. Would it be great if we traded him for an awesome piece in return? Sure, but I'm not really sure how many teams are going to offer a whole heck of a lot for Jeremy Lamb at this stage in the game.
If I had to choose a side, I guess I'd go with "contributing bench player" just for the purposes of answering this question. That's mostly based on the fact that, as I just said, I don't really think there's much of a trade market for him. So at this point, it's best to try it one last time with a new coach and see what happens. Ideally, he becomes a consistent player that gives the Thunder another long-range threat to go along with Morrow. Of course, if that happens, I'm not really sure what that does to Dion Waiters. Again, so much of the Thunder's season will come down to who's healthy, and if there aren't any injuries - which is the goal - somebody is going to get stiffed on playing time. That's just the reality of having a deep team, and so we will likely be in the same position we have been the past few seasons: either Lamb contributes and someone else becomes expendable, or he doesn't and the Thunder finally cut ties.
I wouldn't rush into anything, though, unless you can somehow package him with the pick which, again, I'm not sure how much more lucrative Jeremy Lamb makes any deal.
What do you think Billy Donovan will do to the offense? - Justin D. (@justin_danziger)
How will players like Lamb, Jones, Singler, and Waiters fit into Donovan's new schemes? Who will it help/hurt the most? - R.K. Anthony
Yeahhhh, so this is the first mailbag and I only got a few actual responses. I'm not above manipulating the system though and relying on people I know to give me ideas, so I threw out a "please help" in the WTLC group email and, well, you can see everyone was on a similar page.
Here's what I knew about Billy Donovan at the time it was announced he would be the new Thunder head coach: He was a college coach at Florida who won a national championship when Joakim Noah was on his team and... that's it. That's all I knew.
Look, I hate college basketball. It's boring, it's slow, the shot clock is too long, they foul too much, the tournament is way too lucrative for the players not to see any of the money, I hate pretty much everything about it. For that reason, I hardly ever watch, and I hardly ever know what coaches at the college level actually bring to the table.
Now, since the hiring, I've read a couple things on Donovan, one of which is that he embraces the new age of basketball and analytics, which is reassuring to me. I think it's foolish to bring in a guy like Byron Scott or, heck, even Phil Jackson, who refuse to acknowledge that the game is gravitating to a 3-point shooters' league.
Now, exactly how Donovan will use those analytics for this Thunder team, I'm not entirely sure. For what it's worth, I thought Scott Brooks' system of "let Durant and Westbrook be the best basketball players on the planet" was actually pretty awesome, and I hope Donovan at least relies on that to a certain extent. But if he can find the right combination of the Durant/Westbrook supernova, and the whole ball-movement, "pass up a good shot for a great shot" thing that Brooks started to establish, that's really all the Thunder need. That's something I felt like Brooks never got enough credit for, because the Thunder offense was still pretty dangerous last season, in spite of the injuries.
I'll probably never be totally on board with the Donovan hiring, because I think it was a raw deal to fire Brooks for a college guy who hadn't had a meaningful moment in at least five years. But that's the way these things go, I guess, and if Donovan can find that balance I just mentioned, and build on Westbrook's increasing command of pick-and-rolls, it's hard to see how this team doesn't score at an elite clip just based on talent alone. Lamb, Singler, Jones, Waiters, they'll all get theirs simply because defenses will have to give it up somewhere in order to account for Durant and Westbrook.
So, again, to boil down the answer, I don't think it will be as much about Donovan's offense as I think it will be about Westbrook and Durant's decision-making.
And now, since I'm fresh out of questions, I'm just going to carry out the rest of the mailbag with imaginary questions that I wrote myself covering the things I feel most need to be covered:
So, about that weed that fell out of Kevin Durant's car? - Chris H.
Probably need to at least acknowledge this happened, though I think the response to it - or lack thereof - kind of gives you an idea of people's feelings on the matter in 2015. It's worth mentioning that A) He wasn't the driver of that car and it could have been anybody's bottle and B) all you could see in the TMZ video is a prescription pill bottle, and Kevin Durant recently had foot surgery, so it's entirely possible they were meds for that.
But let's be real, Kevin Durant wouldn't be the first NBA player to smoke weed, and he certainly wouldn't be the last either. Durant was in California, too, where weed is pretty much legal and about as easy to come by as Acai bowls.
Maybe someone out there wrote the "What about teh kidzzz?!" column, but I didn't see it, and that's at least a reassuring sign for where we are headed as a basketball-watching society.
How many times have you watched Russell Westbrook singing "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar? - Chris H.
I have the weirdest taste in music in that, I don't really have any taste at all. When people ask me "What type of music do you listen to," I first get annoyed at such a stupidly open-ended question, but then I respond with some variation of "pretty much anything."
HOWEVAH, if you asked me, "If you could only listen to two more artists for the rest of your days, who would they be?" my answer would absolutely be Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar. Again, I have the weirdest taste.
Imagine my delight when the two of them released an actually-pretty-damn-awesome track together. I enjoyed it so much that I proclaimed the day of its release my favorite day of 2015.
And then, just a few days later, the Westbrook Instagram happened. While Durant was off clubbing in LA, Russ was vibing out to T Swift and Kendrick. It was so Russ, it was so perfectly encapsulating of everything that makes me happy, and I laughed like a creepy fangirl for about 3 minutes as I watched it over and over again.
Never stop being you, Russ. And for goodness sakes, Taylor, we're glad you like his Instagram and all, but get the guy in one of your actual videos already!
Can we talk about Mitch McGary's Instagram now? - Chris H.
OK, so you know how Blake Griffin is incredibly unlikable on the court - he whines, flops, stink-eyes the refs, always seems to be in the middle of a disagreement - but is also incredibly likable off the court - funny Kia commercials, bros out in Mexico, is generally pretty funny? Yeah, I feel like Mitch McGary is the exact opposite.
I love watching McGary play basketball. He hustles, isn't afraid to get dirty, and always seems to provide a spark when his team seems to need it most. His selfies, though, have become frat-bro levels of unbearable and desperate.
They obviously work, because he gets all sorts of love in the comments from his female followers. But unlike the lovable Westbrook Swift lipsyncs, the Jeremy Lamb #yousobad campaigns, or the HASHEEM THABEET SELFIES, McGary's just don't strike the right chord for me.
Hey, maybe I'm just being hard on the guy. I'll just do my best to ignore the strange R & B lipsyncing Mitch, and stick to rooting for the gives-it-his-all-every-play Mitch instead.
That's all I got. This was fun, let's do it again sometime. Send some questions, or I'll just make more up on my own.