“Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos” - Doug Copland
I recently have been installing shelves in my garage to help better organize the general mess that a self-admitting pack-rat can accumulate. They are fairly easy to install, nail in the support beams that run at a 45 degree angle into a stud, screw in the bracket clips above the support team so that the shelves are held in place by the clip and given structural integrity by the beams. Of course, as I pondered what explicative I should refrain from screaming into the heavens while squeezing my pulsating thumb, I would not have agreed with my own assessment. So as the evil (and yes, I believe inanimate objects sometimes earn these types of adjectives) hammer dropped to the ground and I stood at the shelf, grumbling some amalgamation of agitated words and grunts, I began to ponder who is truly at fault for the Thunder’s offensive woes.
Don’t be surprised, a lot of things in life lead me back to the Thunder…in fact, if you’re here at this site reading this, I really don’t feel a need to explain it to you because, well, you’re here. You understand perfectly.
But as I stared at the shelf, the hammer and my ever swelling thumb, I began to wonder about what is the real reason the Thunder struggle so badly on offense. The shelves that required the use of a hammer…the moron holding his thumb because he couldn’t execute the hammer swing correctly…both of those things led me to ask a question I’m sure we all want an answer for regarding the offensives woes: Who’s more to blame, the offensive scheme OR the players?
True, the hammer was a good tool, but surely the manufacturers of the shelf system could have just allowed the support beams to be screwed in place along with the clips, it would have taken the hammer out of my hands and prevented me from potentially injuring myself. Without the hammer, I would have been in the best possible situation to successfully install my shelves with as little possible risk of injury or mistakes.
And so it is with the Thunder. Brooks’ offensive system is one that is primarily based on high screens, wide spacing, timely cuts and precise passes. Its goal is to open up the floor so that the players can create easy shots for themselves and pull defenders out of the paint to increase the chance for scoring at the rim. This is not an offense based off of a rigid scheme or one that is mandated movement or even a conventional “system” at all. It is free-flowing and gives an exceptional amount of freedom to the players who operate within it.
And that’s the issue.
This scheme of precise passes, timely cuts and free-reign decision making is one that is perfect and tailor made for a team of veteran playmakers. Remind me which team is the second youngest in the league again?
But is the scheme the problem? Is it even a problem? The offensive stats would shout yes, as would the turnover rate. However aren’t the players as equally responsible for the offensive (and I do mean both meanings here) struggles? Durant, Green, Krstic, Thabo, all of these players are not rookies or sophomores anymore. They’ve been around the league enough to understand the finer points of when to cut, when to shoot and when to pass that make this system so tantalizing. Because even though I think that it is a coach’s job to place his players in a situation that allows them to excel and best utilizes their talents, once the ball is tipped and the game is underway, all a coach can really do to affect the outcome of a game is make subs and call timeouts.
The players HAVE to execute whatever system or scheme they find themselves in, especially one that COULD make this team a nightmare offensively if they can only grab a foothold on how best to run it.
The argument could be made that learning an offense takes years and with a second year point guard being the primary facilitator, this team should be given some slack. And I would agree with that whole-heartedly. But if they continue to struggle, if Westbrook continues to make poor decisions of when to shoot and when to pass, if Durant and Co. continue to stand around the perimeter while Westbrook dribbles the shot-clock out and is thus forced to force a shot himself, if the rest of the perimeter and post players continue to take lower percentage shots than higher ones, if there continues to be no movement or imagination with this team’s offense, which ironically is exactly what this type of scheme is supposed to promote, then there has to come a time when Brooks’ must face the reality that this group of players just might not be the right mix to run such a free-flowing, playmaking offense.
It’s no surprise that the individual who has excelled the most in this offense also happens to be the rookie shooting guard that is supposed to be the least familiar with the scheme. Why? Because Harden’s feel for the game, his court vision and his understanding of angles and when to do what is the best on the team. But I’m not exactly sure if that speaks more positively about Harden—-or more negatively about the scheme and the set of players not named, James Harden.
In the end, there is no quick and easy answer. Like most things in life, it is typically not one or the other, the players or the scheme, that is solely at fault but some combination therein. And blame, like so many things for fans, is something that we usually only look to when the team is losing (winning cures all ails, after all). And since they’ve been on a fairly rough stretch recently, all of the warts are coming to light and we always fixate on what’s wrong with a team instead of the positives.
But isn’t that the point? Not sit back on what’s going right but strive to improve, to fix what is going wrong. Isn’t that how championship contenders are born?
So, since this is the Sunday Discussion, there are no quick and easy answers in this article because if Brooks’ and the rest of the team can’t figure out how to fix it, there’s no way I nor anyone here can. But that doesn’t mean the question should just be ignored.
At what point do you stop sacrificing right-now wins for the promise of what the future offense might look like? At what point do you make the decision that this offense just can’t work with this collection of skill-sets versus continuing to be patient and allow this team to grow into the scheme and identity that they could become: an offensive juggernaut?
Or is the question much more simpler…what if the offense wasn’t broken, just missing a vital piece?
I’ve always been much more interested in searching for solutions to questions, than merely assigning blame to a situation that has no right answer. Unless of course your answer is that I alone was the one at fault for bashing my thumb with the hammer and the solution would be for me to stop blaming everyone but myself and be more careful next time.
Because clearly, it was the shelf manufacturing company’s fault. I mean, a hammer. Really?