We are now two games into post All-Star break, and the Thunder are coming off one of their worst home losses in the OKC era, a 23-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Thunder have now lost back-to-back games at home, and didn’t look respectable in the process.
With 26 games remaining, here are three the players who have respectively over-performed, under-performed, and who is set to have a breakthrough the rest of the way.
Side note: Obviously the first and third categories could easily be given to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but that’s a given, so they won’t count for any of those categories.
Over-Performed: Enes Kanter (11.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 55.1 FG%)
Kanter has been one of the few players who’s been consistent month-to-month.
October: 12.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG (2 games)
November: 11.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG
December: 11.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG
January: 11.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG
February 11.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG
Kanter off the bench has been an absolute success for the Thunder. Heck, Kanter has even proven himself as a Sixth Man candidate. His numbers are good—11.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, while only playing 20.7 minutes per game. Despite his stats, he’s still a long shot to win the award. Since 2000, there have only been three non-guards to win the award.
To some, playing Kanter, who is making more than $16 million this season, off the bench is comical. But Kanter is best coming off the bench, so that he can exploit the other teams second units with his impressive offensive talent and rebounding. Personally, I’d like to see the Thunder’s second unit focus more on Kanter’s post up game, but regardless, Donovan has found ways to make it work with Kanter.
He is a defensive liability, but putting him up against second unit offenses helps make it less of an issue. We know that Kanter is a post-up monster and a beast on the glass as well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to the defensive end, where his reputation is being a slow-footed, slow-reacting big man who can’t contain pick-and-rolls or protect the rim. However, to help he’s playing more and more with either Steven Adams or Serge Ibaka, so there’s usually a shot blocker behind Kanter.
He's offered steady production offensively, but for every point he scores, he is giving up on the other end.
Against a team like the Golden State Warriors, who love to play fast to expose opponent’s weaknesses, it would seem like Kanter might struggle heavily against the Warriors.
Instead, Kanter was very playable against the them. In fact, he was a big part of the Thunder’s closing lineup and was a big part of the team’s run to get back into the game.
It was only one game, but Kanter showed he could be a destroyer of small-ball lineups, beasting the Warriors for 14 points, 15 rebounds in just 20 minutes.
His presence was felt on the offensive glass.
And he has proven to be a superb pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop tandem with Westbrook.
Yes, he got isolated in pick-and-roll situations, he got burned and the Warriors often scored. But Billy Donovan stuck with him and had him guard non-screeners like Andre Iguodula and Shaun Livingston, which made it less likely to be put in those pick-and-roll situations.
It was only one game, but he could be an X-factor in the series.
In wins, Kanter's averaging 12.8 points per game and 9.4 in losses. With a 3.4 differential that's the second highest on team. When he scores 10 points or more the team is 28-8 compared to 14-8 when he scores less than 10. There seems to be more success when Kanter is involved more offensively.
Under-Performed: Dion Waiters (9.6 PPG, 39.2 FG%, 34.8 3P%)
Of course there were a couple of other players who have "under-performed" (Anthony Morrow and Kyle Singler), but I think that most Thunder fans would agree that the biggest culprit of this category is Waiters.
Waiter’s inconsistencies continue to follow him.
Pre All-Star: 28.2 minutes 9.9 points per game on 40.1 percent 35.8 percent from 3.
Post All-Star: 32.0 minutes 2.0 points per game on .71 percent shooting 0 percent from 3.
Some people think it’s a confidence thing with Waiters, but he’s always been a confident player and shooter. The confidence is there and maybe it’s there too much at times.
He had a great stretch in January, playing the right amount of minutes (28.8), averaging 11.1 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting and 44.6 percent 3-point shooting. But Dion regressed this month
In February he’s shooting 28.9 percent from the floor and 23.5 percent from beyond the arc in February, adding up to a whopping 6.8 points per game in over 33 minutes a night . The past two losses, he went a combined 1-of-14 overall, missing all five 3s.
It looked as if there was going to be a debate about whether Waiters should remain in the starting lineup, but that seems to have come and gone.
Andre Roberson has been out with injury as of late, which has bumped Waiters into the starting lineup and forced Donovan to play him extended minutes. Because of the offensive liability Waiter’s has become as of late, Donovan needs put Roberson back in the starting lineup.
And it's been reported that Roberson is back in the starting lineup.
Andre Roberson will start tonight at shooting guard. "It has less to do with Dion and more to do with Dre," says Billy Donovan.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 24, 2016
Roberson with the starters: 37 games for 514 minutes: 112.9 offensive rating and a 91.5 defensive rating, which equals a 21.5 net rating.
Waiters with the starters: 41 games for 331 minutes: 114.2 offensive rating and 102.0 defensive rating, which equals a 12.1 net rating.
Even though Waiter’s had a nice stint with the starters, his stats with the second unit are better even playing a little less than 7 minutes per game.
Waiters' stats as starter: 12 games, 33.5 minutes, 38.1 percent shooting, 31.8 percent from 3, 10.1 points per game
Waiters' stats off the bench: 44 games, 26.9 minutes, 39.5 percent shooting, 35.8 percent from 3, 9.5 points per game
Still, Waiters is a good defender, he can put the ball on the floor (and needs to more) and he can generate shots for other guys.
He just needs to cutback on his love for taking mid-range shots, mostly coming off step-back jumpers. It’s no coincidence that Waiters plays better when he eliminates the low-percentage mid-range jumpers. In fact, Waiters ability to finish in the paint is much improved over last season. Last season, Waiters made just 46 percent of his shots in the paint. This season, he’s converting 52.9 percent of his attempts.
The truth is, the Thunder has to have Waiters contributing offensively. Who else off the bench is doing anything besides Kanter? Anthony Morrow can’t defend, and he’s made just 5-of-20 on February 3-pointers. Kyle Singler? Newcomer Randy Foye is available, but he’s 32 and on the downslope. Waiters has to play and play well for the Thunder to prosper. The Cavaliers proved that on Sunday.
Waiters is one of the few Thunder players who average more points in wins than in losses. Players such as Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook actually average more in losses.
Waiters averages 10.8 in wins compared to 6.6 in losses. He has the biggest differential on the team.
When he scored 10 or more points the Thunder are 23-3 (2 of those loses were without KD) compared to 17-13 (1 loss without KD) when he scored less than 10 points. They need production from Waiters. The questions remain 1) can he be consistent and 2) can he be reliable the rest of the season and come playoff time?
The Thunder will have to rely on him regardless. He will be one of the key factors in determining how far this team goes in the playoffs. Until he is able to consistently make his shots, he will have to figure out other ways to contribute to the Thunder in a limited bench role.
Expected Breakthrough: Serge Ibaka (12.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.1 BPG)
Ibaka’s points, rebounds and even blocks per game have dipped throughout the years, but he is still the most important role player for the Thunder.
It’s hard to be a part of a big 3 when the other two players are arguably two of the best four players in the world. Next to those two, Ibaka's deficiencies and mistakes stand out even more.
Ibaka lacks the ability to work as a downhill player and create his own shot. He lacks a post game and has trouble beating his man off the dribble. Another one is his lack of passing, but that’s a rare strength for a big man.
But he still brings many things offensively and defensively.
Offensively: He has an effective pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll game. Hit a rolling Ibaka heading toward the hoop, and he can beat a rotating defender to the rim. Hit him with a pass a bit higher on the floor, and he’ll knock down the mid-range jumper. He's also become a reliable long-range shooter, which helps space the floor even more for the Thunder. That kind of spacing helped to players such as Durant and Westbrook be able to drive at will.
Defensively: Ibaka is one of the best and most feared rim protectors in the league, who can come out of nowhere to erase or alter a shot. He has that coveted ability to protect the most sacred space on the court. He has a good feel for when to help, and when to challenge shots at the rim. One of his most important abilities might be being able to switch onto much smaller guards and contest them out on the perimeter or in the lane. He’s effective in small or big lineups.
Ibaka has become even more valuable because of the change in the modern NBA, which has made Ibaka’s job more difficult than ever. Not only does Ibaka need to pop out and hit jumpers, he must also make swift reads against the fast recovering defenses. Not only does he need to be able to handle switches and defend in space, Ibaka must also be his team’s primary rim protector. The demands on bigs of his talent and type are widespread.
The list of big men who can shoot from the perimeter, protect the rim and switch onto smaller players is very, very short. Let’s not forget the importance that Ibaka was in the Finals run against the Spurs in 2012 and how important he was (even at less than 50 percent) against the Spurs in the 2014 playoffs.
For most teams, a player like Ibaka or a Draymond Green would require two, or even three players to fill all these needs that these players provide. Ibaka can spot up shoot, set screens, run the floor in transition, rebound, and defend multiple positions. That’s a lot to ask for in a big man, but that’s the type of player Ibaka is.
With everything Ibaka brings to the Thuder he might need to have a breakthrough to take the Thunder to the next level throughout the rest of the regular season and playoffs.
The Thunder’s title hopes may rest on the three players mentioned above in each category. A need for a third consistent scorer is huge, especially come playoff time.
Maybe we’re all overreacting and the Thunder use these two losses against good teams as an eye opening experience that can help them re-evaluate what they need to fix. Although it might be close to reaching for the panic button, but let’s wait and see how the Thunder fair in the upcoming road trip.
The Thunder know how important the 3 seed is in avoiding the Warriors for the second round. They have a tough remaining schedule that will help us see where they stand and possibly gain some much needed momentum going into the playoffs.