Hey Thunder Nation!!!
Basketballreference.com projects that the Oklahoma City Thunder should be 15 and 10. They are currently 12 and 13. The culprits? Lottery teams.
When the Thunder lost to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night it marked the fourth loss against teams that will vie for the cream of the 2018 Draft crop. Brooklyn, Dallas, Orlando, and Sacramento are a combined 36 and 66, or 35.3%, and yet are a surprising 4 and 0 against the Thunder.
A thorough throttling of the defending NBA Champ Golden State Warriors on November 22 showed us how good this Thunder team could become, but the 4 lottery team losses show just as clearly how bad this team truly is when they don’t remain focused.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the difference. When the Thunder move the ball and keep everyone involved, not just the Big 3, but everyone involved, they can beat anyone. When they play the game right the Thunder can beat teams above .500 three times in a row and even erase double-digit 4th quarter deficits, when they don’t, and there is really no nice way to put this, they can’t beat anyone.
Finding the Field
Basketball, like any sport, requires timing and coördination. Disrupt either, and the rhythm that makes the game beautiful and fun falters and turns into chaos. The basket that once felt 5 feet away and as big as a bushel barrel disappears and the 24 second shot clock that once felt like an eternity flashes by like the blink of an eye.
To succeed in today’s NBA, it takes a system of 5 players working together as one on both ends of the floor. But it only takes one player out of sync to disrupt a play. Whether it be Westbrook chucking a contested three-point attempt with 20 seconds remaining on the clock, or Carmelo Anthony going iso and stopping the ball, Paul George settling for a long 2 rather than attacking the paint, Steven Adams not rolling to the rim after setting a pick, or Andre Roberson not cutting to the rim on cue, it doesn’t matter, all it takes is one player going off on a tangent or not doing their job to turn any play or any system ever designed into complete crap.
I watched a scene from the 2000 movie The Legend of Bagger Vance the other day that reminded me of the way the Thunder plays right now:
If players don’t follow the game plan, or ditch it when a few shots don’t fall, what difference does a system make?
Who has said, when asked who should take the shot, that the hot hand should get the ball?
Well, the hottest hand for the Thunder last night was Alex Abrines. After passing the ball to Melo, Westbrook moves toward the opposite nail drawing his defender into the paint as well as slowing Abrines defender but Melo ignores the wide open Spaniard and opts for a contested circus type fade away. It all reminds of something my Dad used to say when we wouldn’t listen to him, “buy ‘em books, send ‘em to school, and what do they do? Eat the covers....”.
J.A. Sherman wrote a post on December 3rd aptly titled The Enigma of Five Seconds (if you haven’t read it, please do). In that post he broke down two plays that demonstrated the Thunder’s terrible abuse of clock management and used Russell Westbrook in two examples. Now it’s Melo’s turn on the hot seat.
In the above clip, the Grizzlies have totally committed to contesting Melo’s shot and completely ignored Andre Roberson, again. Rather than go for the lob pass at the rim to a wide open Robes, or the PnR to Steven Adams, Melo opts for the contested pull up 3 (his weakest shot statistically this season) over a 7 foot Marc Gasol?
A made basket at that point would have put the Thunder up 5 with just over a minute remaining and in complete control of the game.
Every game, the Thunder go through stretches of 4, 5, and as many as 6 possessions in a row in which the ball doesn’t get passed after it crosses half court. Many time there are multiple occurrences.
From St Elmo’s Fire, “there is the brink of insanity and then there is the abyss”, and when the Thunder stop moving the ball and allow defenses to stop working they are doing nothing but taking a magnificent swan dive into oblivion.
Honestly, for those calling for Billy Donovan’s head, I don’t know what any coach could do to correct something that fundamentally flawed with players that have played the game at a high level their entire lives and should know better. Call time outs? Donovan does that, but there are just so many allowed each game. Yell and scream like a four-year old? Bench them? A plan that worked out well for David Fizdale. Lay down the law like Mike D’Antoni did after Jeremy Lin came to the Knicks and New York went on a 7 game winning streak in spite of missing Melo and Amar’e Stoudemire in 2012? D’Antoni didn’t last a month.
In my opinion, he’s done the only thing one can do with a bunch of spoiled All-Stars that aren’t listening:
Let them fall on their butts.
When Westbrook, Anthony, and George decide to do their own thing, Donovan is letting them choose their own club. No option will get the desired results if not used properly, and he is waiting. Waiting for his team to get tired of pounding its head against a wall of futility and hoping they make the choice to turn to him before it is too late.
That’s what this game comes down to at this level, choices, and the Thunder are making bad ones which in turn is making their season much more difficult than necessary.
Donovan laid it all down in his first press conference when he spoke of commitment:
There's three types of commitment.
The first commitment is a verbal commitment, someone says they're going to do something. Well anyone can, that's the easiest commitment.
The next commitment is a physical commitment, you know? When your physically committed to doing something.
And then the third commitment is an emotional commitment and that's when you actually give of yourself to somebody else. That you are actually emotionally connected to somebody else and emotionally take responsibility to help others...to help somebody else develop and grow."
FoxSports Oklahoma analyst Antonio Daniels talked about the same thing recently:
The Thunder are at Donovan’s first level of commitment. All talk, and occasionally displaying flashes of the second level, the physical level, the doing level, but we won’t see 48 minutes of defense or full games of ball movement until the team, as a whole, makes the choice to put the team first and go all in emotionally. That is where they will discover this mysterious chemistry we hear so much about and are so anxious to see:
That’s when this team will find “the Field” and with it, their “authentic game”. All they have to do is get out of its way.
Daily Rumble’s New Rating System
The Reflux Rating
Between missed free throws, hero and iso ball, and blown double-digit leads, my Rolaids bill has skyrocketed. Even wins have been gastrointestinal challenges and from now until the season ends I’m going to rate each game by the number of Rolaids taken to survive it.
Last game against the Grizzlies, after combining 13 missed free throws (a personal bugaboo of mine), a 19 point Thunder first quarter, a 28% shooting demonstration from Westbrook and Anthony featuring 15 bricks from beyond the arc, poor shot selection, and another Paul George no-show, was a bad one. A fiver. Two in the first half and three coming down the stretch in the 4th quarter and overtime.
I gave up buying Rolaids by the roll a month ago and this 72 tablet jumbo bottle is already about halfway gone. If you’re looking for an investment, put your money on whoever manufactures the fruity flavored variety, they are going to have a banner year.
What is your antacid of choice?
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