We’re but two games into the regular season, a year marked by a transition to what we believe will be a year-long competitive team that can go deeper into the playoffs. Small sample size, yada, yada.
The Thunder are 0-2 through two games in California, and two losses that bear similar patterns. In both games, the Thunder started off slow, gained momentum, and then couldn’t close at the end. More specifically, OKC’s offense was horribly stagnant for much of the game, then the offense was buoyed by better shot-making by several players, only for that shooting to dry up with the game was on the line with nothing else to fall back on.
Aside: I can’t help but notice the New Orleans Pelicans have posted 280 points in their first two games, and looked like world beaters in the playoffs last year until the Warriors solved them. Alvin Gentry is not an elite coach, but he knows his team had to evolve past the Anthony Davis solo act. Now they are, breaking a bad pattern of underutilizing one of the four most transcendent players in the game.
When I look for patterns, I am thinking analogically, not analytically. Why is one thing like another thing, or unlike another thing? That’s how I assess whether an NBA team is moving in a better or worse trajectory. And through these first two games, against suspect defenses, the Thunder have displayed tendencies, above and beyond the abysmal shooting, that looks far too much like what we’ve seen from them since circa 2014, and dissimilar to anything the modern NBA game demands from a dynamic offense. And this time, Westbrook isn’t even playing.
What is puzzling to me is the Thunder looked to be displaying a different pattern in the pre-season — the offense looked dynamic and dangerous in limited exposure. Yet here we find ourselves — again — watching an offense which was, in Billy Donovan’s words, “Too easy to guard.”
Here’s a pattern. If there’s anything that has been said about the Thunder offense, it’s that exact quote, and it has been that for close to a decade, and exponentially so over the past two seasons.
Here’s another pattern. If that doesn’t change, and change in a way the competitive landscape demands, this season will end in similar fashion.