We’re half way through this season. Seems like it was September just a few months ago, doesn’t it? Well, I guess that’s true. But you get the point.
And you know what halfway through means. It means the Thunder’s played 41 games. It also means it’s time to do one of those cliche review the season posts.
But after 41, I think we’d all agree that we’re happy with the Thunder’s 27-14 record. Right now it has OKC sitting third in the West, meaning the Thunder would have home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. In fact, it would mean if the Thunder advanced, it’s possible they’d have home court in the SECOND round too.
If the season ended right this second, OKC would be taking on the Hornets in the opening round of the playoffs. That’d be fun, right? I think our dislike for Chris Paul might reach atmospheric heights if the Thunder played the Hornets in a seven-game series. I might have to go to counseling.
FIRST HALF MVP
I maintain that Kevin Durant still is the MVP of this team. He’s the leader. He’s The Man. But I think it’s also clear that the Thunder wouldn’t be 27-14 without the outstanding play of Russell Westbrook. Not to say KD has been bad or even not excellent, but Westbrook has played big in so many big ways.
Durant is still the team’s best player and I think when the season comes to a close he’ll be in the top three in the MVP voting, but to this point, Westbrook has been the Thunder’s MVP. Over the past months, it’s been Durant. But Westbrook is what got OKC through November and some of December with its head above water.
MOST ENCOURAGING ASPECT
The Thunder’s in third place in the West! First place in the Northwest! They’re four games ahead of last season’s 50-win pace! Those are very good things!
Before the season, I think a lot of us felt like the expectations for the team had been taking to an insanely high level. People were talking about the No. 2 seed, Western Conference Finals, MVP trophies and all that stuff. We all said, “Hey, I think getting the six-seed in the West and maybe winning 50 again would be a great year.” Well guess what? That’s probably going to happen, plus the other stuff that seemed so far out there is still in play.
The team is one of the best in the league at winning close games, they’ve beaten good teams and they win on the road. Players have shown improvement (specifically Westbrook and Serge Ibaka) and the team is right in the mix for home court and possibly 55-60 wins.
But here’s the most encouraging thing: I don’t think the Thunder’s playing anywhere near to what they’re capable of. They’re better than this. And yet, they’ve sort of overachieved, according to most of our expectations. Weird, huh?
MOST DISCOURAGING ASPECT
The Thunder had a very nice first 41. But something was just… off. That’s not just me was it?
Oh I know what it was. Defense. The Thunder’s kind of stunk at it.
Last season, that’s what this team built a winner on. They defended. Actually they didn’t just defend, they swarmed. They hounded. They played a full 48 minutes of lock down defense and routinely held opponents to under 100 points. Last season, they allowed 100 points or more in 37 games. This season, that number is at 25 already. The Thunder’s in the bottom half in defensive efficiency and while every now and then we see that stifling defense, it’s such horribly inconsistent.
The team is winning, yes. But the way they’re winning just feels discouraging. They shoot and make lots of free throws, don’t defend that well and though their offensive numbers say they’re a good offensive team, really what they do is just let KD and Russ try and operate. The team doesn’t look like a dominant group. They win lots of close games and beat most of the teams they should. Good things, yes, but also reasons to feel like things aren’t as good as they might appear.
THREE BIG QUESTIONS
1. Will the Thunder make a move at the deadline?
I think so, yes. But it won’t be anything big. I could see a trade moving an expiring deal (Morris Peterson) for future assets or maybe another player for a sensible contract. And even still, I’m like 51/49 on thinking even that happens.
I get it. Most of you out there want Sam Presti to make a trade. You see the needs and the reasons to bring in help. I see a lot of those same things. But I’ll say it again for the five millionth time: That’s not the plan. Presti is going about things much differently. Other general managers make that scramble move to try and capitalize on a good season. A lot of times, that’s what takes a team over the top. But Oklahoma City is operating under the Spurs model. How many deadline blockbusters can you think of that San Antonio pulled?
Presti wants this group to grow together. He likes to evaluate after the season finishes. Unlike fans, Presti isn’t thinking about the here and now. Of course he wants a team that can win and compete now, but he’s thinking about next season and the next season. He has decisions to make this offseason with Jeff Green and a contract extension for Russell Westbrook so he’s not going to do anything that directly affects those decisions.
2. Will the Thunder win the Northwest?
I think so, yes. Utah isn’t as good as everyone thought they would be. They’re currently tied with OKC, but the Jazz drop games to bad teams. Their schedule has been a bit easier than the Thunder’s to this point and Utah’s roster, while very good, seems to be missing a piece to the puzzle.
The trump card they do possess is Jerry Sloan though. He will have his team ready every night. I think Scott Brooks is a good coach, but he’s not Jerry Sloan. This race will be tight to the finish and probably only a game or two will separate the winner from second. I think 55 wins takes the Northwest and I see OKC as having a better opportunity to get there.
3. Should Scott Brooks adjust the starting five?
I think so, yes. (See my theme?) He won’t, but I think we’re getting close to at least trying it. I’m fine with starting Thabo Sefolosha and Jeff Green as long as the other rotation players see enough minutes. Thabo can start as long as James Harden gets at 25-30 minutes. But that doesn’t seem to be happening routinely.
So maybe a shake-up is needed. Again, it’s not happening and it feels weird to say it because the team is playing well and winning. I asked the question back in November if Serge Ibaka should start and I was undecided. I’m still undecided, but I’m really leaning towards yes. Seeing your starting power forward overmatched from the tip night in and night out gets kind of old. Jeff Green has a place on this roster and I’m still a fan of re-signing him (if the price is right). But it might be time to reconsider his role.
Again, it’s not happening, but I can promise you Brooks is at least thinking about it.
(Via commenter Sammy, some midseason stats, compared to last season)
10-11: 107.2 (7th)
09-10: 105.8 (19th)
10-11: 104.8 (16th)
09-10: 101.6 (8th)
10-11: 48.85 (18th)
09-10: 49.36 (19th)
10-11: 50.49 (20th)
09-10: 48.34 (5th)
Free Throw Rate
10-11: 37.9 (2nd)
09-10: 33.3 (6th)
Opponent Free Throw Rate
10-11: 30.2 (12th)
09-10: 30.0 (14th)
10-11: 12.82 (3rd)
09-10: 13.9 (24th)
Opponent Turnover Rate
10-11: 13.67 (14th)
09-10: 14.00 (7th)
Offensive Rebound Rate
10-11: 26.15 (13th)
09-10: 28.6 (3rd)
Opponent Offensive Rebound Rate
10-11: 26.4 (18th)
09-10: 26.44 (17th)