Being a Thunder fan is pretty unique. We’ve become accustomed to success. Even in the non-playoff season that OKC had, we still felt like this team was a contender. Last night’s loss to the Lakers was the first time where I really felt the Thunder were just down a step from where I expected them to be.
I mean, the Lakers are a respectable team this year. But there’s just so many emotions involved. The Lakers were a joke last season, and OKC smashed the Lakers earlier this season. The Lakers, with their lack of bigs and poor shot defense, should have been an opponent that the Thunder rolled over. And it was really jarring to see Westbrook engineer this improbable comeback, only to be undone by defensive malaise. AND Nick Young hit the game winning shot. Of all people!
But the Thunder seemed like a one trick pony. The Lakers were able to heat up from beyond the arc, shooting 51.7%. That won’t happen every night. A few of the shots from Lou Williams and Nick Young seemed really improbable. But OKC was clearly looking for turnovers first. The Thunder managed to force the Lakers into 17 turnovers. That’s normally very good. But the Thunder came into that game as the best team in the league at forcing turnovers, and the Lakers came in as the third worst team in the league when it comes to committing turnovers. So the Thunder were clearly below where they should have been in that sense.
Beyond the perimeter defensive woes, the Thunder are experiencing a lot of problems with their bigs. Enes Kanter has gone from a huge asset to a serviceable option. I don’t think it’s any fault of Kanter’s own, other than his continual fear of contact on defense. Kanter is the same player as he was last year, perhaps with better shooting. But there’s no one to pass Kanter the ball when Westbrook’s off the floor. And when no one can get Kanter in position, all the opposing team needs to do is keep Kanter out of the paint. Kanter still managed 10 points, but he should have had at least 20.
Meanwhile, Joffrey Lauvergne seems lost in the lineup. Lauvergne is prime cut as far as backup centers go. I’ve really been impressed with Lauvergne’s finesse, coordination, and hands. But Lauvergne seems out of place in a twin towers lineup, especially with so little ball handling and shot creation. If you’re going to have two seven footers on the floor who can’t create their own shot, you’ve got to have a lot of ball handling to mitigate that. Especially with teams able to spread out the floor nowadays, much as the Lakers just did.
The injuries to the Thunder’s backup point guards haven’t helped things much. Cameron Payne was the original heir apparent, but hasn’t yet debuted this season due to injury. Payne’s return remains weeks off. Semaj Christon suffered a facial fracture and concussion, missing the home game against the Pacers. But Christon returned last night against the Lakers, sporting a mask. I really don’t remember much about Christon’s time on the floor, but he only ended up playing 3 minutes. Clearly, it’s going to take time for Christon to get back to 100%.
In the meantime, options are thin. Ronnie Price, the Thunder’s pre-season experimental point guard, is still looking for a job. Price was originally slated to be the Thunder’s third backup, but was edged by Christon before the season began. Coach Earl Watson of the Suns offered Price a front office position, but reportedly wanted to continue playing. But the Thunder have made no rumblings about a re-signing. OKC has had a history of signing old point guards mid-season to manage games behind Westbrook. Guys like Derek Fisher, Kevin Ollie, John Lucas III, and Mike Wilks. (If you remember all of these players on the floor in a Thunder uniform like I do, you are a hardcore Thunder fan.)
Signing a point guard from the Oklahoma City Blue remains an option, though perhaps not super-appealing. 37 year old Jannero Pargo is starting for the Oklahoma City Blue. But Pargo is a shot creator first, passer second. 12.3 PPG and 2.8 APG averages in the D-League tell you that much. So it doesn’t seem as if Pargo would do much to get OKC’s bigs the ball. (Also, I should note that Pargo played for the Oklahoma City Hornets. We’re going DEEP into obscure OKC point guard history today.
The Thunder march into Sacramento, ready to face the Kings. A win on this road trip is desperately needed, and the Kings are the team to provide that win. With a 5-9 record and a history of infamy, the Kings are usually an easy W for the Thunder. Sure, the Kings have DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. But OKC has some of the best individual big man and perimeter defenders in the league. There’s just no way those two can power through OKC’s defense to a victory. As Kendrick Perkins once said,
“THESE M*****F******* ARE STILL THE SACRAMENTO KINGS”
Just....try not to send them to the line. That’s probably where the Kings excel most.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 119, Sacramento Kings 101.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!
Injuries: Cameron Payne (Out)
Time: 9:30 PM CST
Place: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
TV: FSOK, CSCA