After headlining the Northwest Division for most of December, Oklahoma City's recent setbacks have created an edgy vibe in OKC.
Much of this concern is due to a delicate state of roster equilibrium. With shot-creating guard Victor Oladipo sidelined, brazen-faced opponents have exploited each of the Thunder's currently magnified flaws.
Sans Oladipo, Oklahoma City’s previous two charges have simply blockaded the lane, thus averting Russell Westbrook's derring-do drives, while begging OKC to convert from the perimeter.
Unfortunately, these conversions have been rare, as the Thunder netted just 39% of its total FGA and 30% 3PA vs. division rivals Portland and Utah. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers and Jazz successfully buried 55% of FGA and a torrid 45% of 3PA.
Without question, in these contests, Oladipo's 98.7 DEFRTG and 38.1 3FG% would have bolstered his limping team’s two-way cause. Although, with a sprained wrist --still questionable for Saturday's home matchup with Phoenix-- the Thunder may see an upcoming fortuitous stretch of games marred by Oladipo's recovery process.
To illustrate the opportune nature of Oklahoma City's imminent schedule, OKC’s next six foes sport a combined record of 58-96. Further, the Thunder is already 6-0 on the season opposite each of these floundering units.
In addition, Russell Westbrook has garnered a triple-double performance against three (Atlanta, Phoenix, and Pelicans) of these half-dozen hardwood offerings. Overall, the NBA’s triple-double leader has averaged 31.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg, and 9 apg during the Thunder's undefeated mastery over this undistinguished grouping.
However, as alluded to earlier, in these successful ventures, Victor Oladipo’s health was a boon to Oklahoma City’s prosperity. Minus Oladipo, an affected Westbrook’s assist total has suffered a precipitous dropoff to 5.5 apg. Granted, two games is a minuscule sample size throughout an 82-game season, yet it speaks volumes when considering that Oladipo is Westbrook’s favorite passing target.
As the above graph shows, Westbrook finds his versatile back-court mate 12.6 times per contest. Not to be discounted, Oladipo finishes 52.6% of attempted shots off Russ’ shares, and 41.4% of the five-time All Star’s three-point set ups.
The potent combination of Westbrook and Oladipo (46.6 ppg) contribute a hefty 44 percent of Oklahoma City’s offense — and represent the NBA’s third most prolific scoring back court.
With January meetings vs. the Spurs, Cavs, Clippers, and Warriors — and several other 2016 playoff teams — it behooves the Thunder to win no less than four games of their impending six-game schedule.
When considering the next two weeks’ gravity upon Oklahoma City’s season, the Thunder and Russell Westbrook are in dire need of a healthful Victor Oladipo.