The Oklahoma City Thunder have played 63 games this season with a record that currently sits at 35 and 28. Eight games above .500, with an overall winning percentage of 56%. It should be better, would be better, and could be better if someone (Billy Donvovan) would come to the very simple conclusion that this team is better when Semaj Christon plays.
You can throw advanced stats at me until the end of time, scream sample size until your lips turn blue, but no matter how much obscure mathematical mumbo-jumbo you toss out, or complicated formulas to disprove my statement, it will not outweigh some good old-fashioned simple division.
Semaj has been the primary back up PG in 39 of the Thunder’s 62 games and Oklahoma City has won 23 of those games. He has sat in favor of the higher ceiling-ed or more experienced option in 23 games and the Thunder only won 12 of them.
Now for the simple math on the stat —and the only stat that truly matters: winning:
23 divided by 39 = 60%
12 divided by 23 = 52%
Extend whatever Semaj brings over the games he was pushed to the side in favor of “better players” and the Thunder are sitting at 37 and 25 —tied with the LA Clippers in the number 5 spot in the conference and just one game behind the division leading Utah Jazz.
I don’t know how Semaj does IT, and to be brutally honest, I COULD CARE LESS HOW HE DOES IT. He just does. This team wins more when he plays. In a league wher only winning counts, what else matters? I don’t know if it’s fairy dust, charisma, character, leadership, Elmer’s Glue, good old fashioned elbow grease, or just plain dumb luck, but Semaj is the final ingredient, the magic touch if you will, to this team’s success.
Cameron Payne may have had a higher ceiling, but the Thunder played just 55% winning basketball when he ran the bench. Norris Cole may sport 2 championship rings, but the Thunder are 0 and 3 with Norris in tow outings against lousy competition.
Conversely, the Thunder came back from the All-Star break, added Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the line-up, gave the back up PG spot back to Semaj and the Thunder ran off three straight wins, including a win against #4 seeded Utah.
I don’t care about sample size, there isn’t much sample size left. The playoffs are 37 days away, barely a month, and there were more games wasted going with players that didn’t make the bench better than there are games left in the season.
For whatever reason, Christon makes the bench more productive. In the games since the All-Star break a Semaj-led bench has scored 39 pts/gm. Against weaker competition, Cole’s bench has averaged 37. Further, one of Semaj’s wins included an Enes Kanter that couldn’t hit water with an oar coming off his rehab for the broken arm. In the games against the Pels and Jazz, Semaj’s bench averaged 43 points and Gibson and McDermott had had virtually zero practice time with the team.
And it’s not just the bench Christon affects. Semaj’s magic somehow permeates all the way to the top. To the man himself, Russell Westbrook. I love him, but facts are facts, the Thunder are 2 and 10 when Russell attempts 10 or more 3 point attempts. Curiously, Russ’ urge to go off on those binges are higher in games Semaj isn’t in. Twenty-six percent to fifteen percent to be exact... and in Cole’s case, one hundred percent. Russell has recorded a triple-double in 47.8% of games without Semaj, zip in the last two, and 48.7% with.
Stats and sample sizes have their place and they are fun to toss around, but at the end of the day they aren’t why we watch. In fact, if stats and sample sizes had all the answers there would be no reason to watch. The reason we watch is that unknown something we can’t explain, the “why” they play the game. That unforeseen wild card that tips the hand one way or another and with no flash or extravagance, Semaj has become the Thunder’s wild card.
Thunder winning percentage per back up PG:
Semaj Christon - 60%
Cameron Payne - 55%
Norris Cole - 0%
In order for the Thunder’s newest back up PG experiment, Norris Cole, to surpass Christon’s winning percentage, the Thunder would need a four-game winning streak. A tall order with a match-up with Pop’s San Antonio Spurs in the mix. Lose that one and the Thunder have to win 3 out of their next 4 just to tie Christon’s number with a road trip to Toronto and a meeting with the Warriors mixed in that lot.
Suffice it to say, Norris Cole has his work cut out to match the body of work Christon has already amassed. And losses to the Trailblazers, Suns, and Dallas aren’t exactly beacons of hope that he will. Cole may put up stats, but Semaj puts up wins.... put me down for wins.