This past week saw the Oklahoma City Thunder play three games and go 1-2 against the Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets, and Houston Rockets.
This three-game sample size has given us a few lessons about how the Thunder currently plays.
Now obviously, these things can change as the season progresses as nothing is set in stone and adjustments are made on a game-by-game basis. But here are five lessons learned from the past seven days:
Slow starts have started to become an unsettling trend for the team, especially in the last week. In the last three games, the Thunder have the worst first quarter Net Rating in the entire league at -62.9. In terms of deficits heading into the second quarter, the team has fallen behind an average of 16 points in all three contests.
This team is simply not talented enough to get stuck in holes that deep and constantly get themselves out of them. That has been a theme with this team. The biggest culprit to these slow starts looks to be a lot of miscommunication on both sides of the floor.
Players are not at the right spots on offense while the defense has given up too many easy looks because of this.
This is something that will need to be corrected by Head Coach Mark Daigneault as soon as possible in order for this team to avoid losing games in embarrassing fashion like their losses to Brooklyn and Houston.
Poor D trends
The overall team defense has also gotten worse recently. In their last three games, the Thunder have the 27th worst defense in terms of Defensive Net Rating at 121.8. Like mentioned earlier, there seems to be a lot of miscommunication on this side of the floor. There have been too many breakdowns and miscues by the starters.
The Thunder are not good enough offensively to overcome the poor defense.
A theory as to why the defense has been so poor is how young and inexperienced the starting lineup is without George Hill. Outside of Al Horford, the starters consist of a bunch of 22-year-olds and under in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Theo Maledon, Lu Dort, and Darius Bazley. So maybe the chemistry and experience aren’t there yet with this group.
This group will have plenty of time to gel with George Hill out at least for the next month as he recovers from thumb surgery. And if Hill ends up getting traded before that, expect Maledon to continue to start for the rest of the season.
SGA is the clear best player
This entire season thus far has made it clear that SGA is the best player on the team and the face of the franchise. SGA is the team leader in PPG, APG, and MPG. This past week saw him put up three straight great performances as he averaged 21.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, and 4.3 RPG on 48.8 FG%.
The Thunder’s only win in the last week came against the Suns and SGA’s former mentor in Chris Paul. The two were the best players on the court that night as Paul finished with 32 points. Getting one up on his former teammate from last season must have made that win sweeter.
Many view the Brooklyn Nets as the favorites to come out of the East after their acquisition of James Harden, so Friday’s game against the Nets would have been a good litmus test for the team to see where they stand against the league’s elite.
Well, let’s just say the gap between the Nets and the Thunder is far and wide.
The Nets won this game easily as they went on to score 147 points in regulation and blow the Thunder out by 22. Keep in mind, this was without their best player in Kevin Durant playing. This game was not pretty and demonstrates just how far off the Thunder are when it comes to contending for titles again.
OKC has had a surprisingly good start to the season as they sit at 8-11, but this past week has taught us that the team is still a ways away from achieving their ultimate goal of winning a championship in Oklahoma City.
As mentioned earlier, Hill might have just played his final game with the Thunder as he is recovering from thumb surgery that will keep him out of action for at least the next four weeks. The NBA trade deadline is seven weeks away. I would not be surprised if Hill is traded before then.
If that’s the case, Maledon will be a regular starter for the rest of the season. This week saw Maledon start all three games and surprisingly played well with the starters. In four starts, Maledon is averaging 13 PPG and 2.5 APG.
Maledon’s best game came against the Nets, where he scored 24 points and was white-hot from three as he went a perfect 6-of-6 from beyond the arc.
The 34th overall pick has been the Thunder’s best rookie of the season and has shown the craftiness and composure to continue to earn his starts.
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