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Sounds of Thunder: the Enigma, the defense, and bulletin board material

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The good, the bad, and a bucket or two of fried chicken.

The Enigma - Dion Waiters

enigma
noun enig·ma \i-ˈnig-mə, e-\
Simple Definition of enigma

: someone or something that is difficult to understand or explain

When WLTC's J.A. Sherman told Phil Naessens that Waiters, aka "And One!" aka "the lone resident on Waiters' Island" was an enigma I knew we had our winner for a nickname because without a doubt....Dion has been the most talked about player in the WTLC comment sections this season.

I could stop right there, and the mere mention of Waiter's name might generate 10 comments. When it comes to discussion, nobody lights up a comment section like Dion.

Out of curiosity I did a search. The WTLC writers and I did nine player previews prior to the season. In the battle of the comments, Dion took on all eight previews and won, 69 to 64. Welcome to Loud City's Cray Allred came down hard on Dion on January 26th and the post has generated 175 comments and counting. That is amazing! It takes game night commenting to top that!

Ironically, Dion has averaged over 15 pts/gm on 54.5% shooting, including 57% from beyond the arc since that post was published, so I think he liked it. Well.... at least his stat line did.

The last time I wrote anything about Dion, I put up a section of his game log from basketballreference.com:

I said he was showing signs of improvement, the overall consensus was the sample size was just too small to make any definite conclusion, so I'm going to add to the sample size:

Can you figure this guy? He got better. It is still a small sample size, so the question is, will it last? Can a leopard truly change his spots? Is it a mystery? No, it's an enigma.

As is....

The Thunder Defense

... of late. As in the Oklahoma City Thunder dropping out of the top ten of the defensive ratings to number 12. I'm not going to mince words here... that sucks.

As a matter of fact, I want to hang this sign in the Thunder locker room to illustrate how much that ranking and the team's defense has sucked lately:

Credit: John Shuhmann

I think that sign should be the screen saver on each Thunder player's laptop. It should be the first thing they see when they turn on their cell phone, iPad, or Kindle. I think Billy Donovan and Sam Presti should quote it as their voice mail message. I want to put it on T-shirts and sell one to every Thunder fan that walks into the 'Peake on game day.

These guys need to get the message. Defense wins championships.

I personally feel the problem lately stems primarily from a lack of focus and effort as the offense is beginning to come together. After a tough half season of adjustments, the team's attention appears to have gravitated more and more to what has become the easier end of the floor. But that is not good enough. Much tougher tests lie just ahead and the Thunder have to put their collective noses back to the old grind stone and get to work putting their defensive house back in order. Now.

If there is a silver lining to be found in the defensive numbers it's this:

hmmm

OK! A 0.9 pt advantage on points allowed per game as a sign of hope for the Thunder's February 6th match-up with the Golden State Warriors is thin.... OK! OK! It's "bleeping" transparent, but I'll take anything I can get at this point!

The Thunder are on a plateau and coasting. They need something to get them off the schneid. Some sort of cattle prod to get them moving forward again.

Such as....

Bulletin Board Material

The Thunder's defensive effort has clearly been suspect of late. Donovan is still talking about the team needing to stay more focused, Serge Ibaka looks like he is just going through the motions at times, and Kevin Durant has talked about the Thunder needing to have fun playing the game again. Add that all together and what you end up with is a team that needs a good swift kick in the shorts.

Enter Steph Curry.

When asked about Curry's quote, Thunder superstar Kevin Durant "took the high road."

Well, maybe not entirely.... Russell Westbrook however, gave Curry comment its just due:

Short, disrespectful, and with a little patented Russell stink-eye for good measure. Good stuff.

Of course when Curry's quote somehow made the news (how did that happen?) he immediately went into damage control, aka PR Spin.

"It's more comical for me because any comments you make are going to get amplified and what have you, so it is what it is. People who know me and know what I'm about know that I'm not the guy out there talking a big game. It's more what I do on the floor."

Ahh Steph! Booby! Don't start crawfishing on me now! We understand, you've never let your mouth get you in a jam before...  or have you?

"Obviously, walking in that locker room, it'll be good memories. Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne."

Oops, I guess you have. So much for that.

So that makes two open mouth insert foot faux pas's in less than 10 days. How embarrassing. So what was Curry's spin on the dis on Cleveland? He said we should read the entire quote.

MMmm-k, sorry, that was the entire quote. The only other thing I could add had something to do with laying an egg the night before. Maybe that has something to do with champagne in San Francisco, but I can't see it:

Curry said it was all in good fun, but James Harden didn't look like he was having much fun Friday night, so my suggestion to Curry is to watch himself in Toronto when the bearded one is nearby.

Keep dancin' Steph but you said it, and it wasn't the first time, so just own it but be careful. One day your alligator mouth might write a check your hummingbird butt can't cash.

Truth told they are still just words, sticks and stones stuff.

That is unless every Thunder fan's worst fear comes to fruition and Curry's Warriors hand the Thunder the beating he expects to dole out next weekend. A beating virtually every pundit in the basketball universe says is inevitable. Then those words begin to burn and fester into full blown bulletin board material. That's why it is better not to say them.

Now let's be clear, I would never wish a loss on the Thunder, but in the grand scheme of things a loss to the Warriors would not be any more damaging than the loss they suffered to the Brooklyn Nets last Sunday. Perhaps a solid thrashing on February 6th is just what this team needs.

Look at the Oklahoma Sooner football team. They rode a loss to arch-rival Texas all the way to the playoffs. Bob Stoops said there was a visible change in his team after the loss. I read someplace about a players only meeting held right after the Red River Meltdown. I know it happened, but I can't find any quotes from it. Evidently that discussion was private, but Stoops clearly saw results at the team's very next practice.

"As much energy as any practice we've ever had, and it was from the start," said Stoops, "You could tell there was a determination that they were going to do something about it (Texas loss). There was a determination to improve."

Something else happened to the Sooners on their way to the playoffs. Something Bob Stoops said was the actual turning point in the season.  A hundred and forty people crammed to together in a small space during a 10 hour layover on the trip to Manhattan, Kansas the following week. Stoops said it was the final ingredient that brought the team together:

"We went out and got pot luck fast food, whatever people could bring back, find something so the players could eat. Let's everybody who has a car go out and find any fast food joint you can find and bring back 10 burgers or bring back 10 of something, and we had everyone go out and get burgers to pizza to chicken to whatever."

Stoops added:

"I'll give Kentucky Fried Chicken a plug. I walked in with two buckets of chicken and the players went crazy. It's funny when you're stuck somewhere for 10 hours crammed in there, you know, everybody is relating to one another and everybody kept their cool about it, and then we went out and played one of our best games the next day."

An embarrassing loss and 2 buckets of chicken, not your everyday recipe for success, but there you have it. It is actually quite simple. The loss was a harsh meeting with reality. The practice Stoops talked about was in all likelihood an all out war. I envision that Monday workout as an old-fashioned, no holds barred, eye gouging, hair pulling free-for-all in which only the strongest survived... and the chicken? A bonding moment, a last minute reminder that at the end of the day, they were are all on the same team. Kansas State never knew what hit them.

Obviously OU had the talent, just like the Thunder. The Sooners' problem was that they were caught up in their own hype and  their complacency was holding them back. The Longhorns did the Sooners a favor. They made the Sooners take a long hard look in the mirror.

The Warriors may do the Thunder the same favor. Believe it or not, winning isn't always a good thing. If the Warriors are that much better than the Thunder, then show it now so the team can get busy with some old-fashioned, no holds barred, eye gouging, hair pulling free-for-alls and restart the business of improving again.

Then when its all done, maybe they can all share a bucket or two of fried chicken.

And if KFC is closed, Curry's "win and a win" comment can tide the team over til they open.