It’s been 14 days since the Thunder last played at home. In the last 21 days, they’ve only played once at home. Oklahoma City’s schedule was frontloaded at home, but has quickly been made up by a January spent mostly on the road.
But the Thunder have been home for a few days now and return to play in front of their fans on Thursday against the Grizzlies. It’s a chance to get back on track after a six-game road trip that was rather meh.
“It was a long trip, but it’s good to be back in our familiar surroundings,” said Scott Brooks Wednesday. “I though the trip was good. Not great, but good. There’s some good things and some things that we knew going into the trip that we’d have to improve on. I thought we did some of the things we needed to get better at. We put ourselves in a position to win all six games. We won three of them. But any time you can go on the road and make it a few possession game, that’s all you can ask for.”
Being in games is different than winning games, but I understand Brooks’ point. The Thunder were probably four or five total plays from being 5-1 on the trip, which would’ve been an excellent achievement.
“It’s tough. I think we stuck together,” Russell Westbrook said of the trip. “We were in every game, had a chance to win every game.”
The Thunder are 15-8 on the road, which ranks them second in the league in road wins, only behind San Antonio. Not bad.
One development we saw highlighted on the trip was not just the evolution of Westbrook as a passer, but a dynamic passer. Left hand shotput passes, left hand off the dribble passes, no-look pocket passes — Westbrook’s vision and feel at the position seems to be reaching new levels. He put up 27 assists in the final two games of the trip — the highest back-to-back total of his career — showing off some tremendous passing skills.
“Just trying to get the guys the ball on time and on target,” Westbrook said of his passing. “It can be tough for me going at the speed that I go out, but I think getting guys in spots where they can score the basketball does nothing but help us out.”
Some credit for Westbrook’s development as an improved passer goes to his teammates, who he obviously has a great chemistry and feel with. Serge Ibaka has finished off a bunch of Westbrook’s pocket passes. Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha — all spot-up weapons in space.
“I think the older we get, we become smarter,” Westbrook said. “Knowing if we stay in the right spots, we’ll get the ball. Maybe not every time, but nine times out of 10.”
One thing about Westbrook’s assists: They’re more loaded than before. What I mean is, more of them are leading to high percentage baskets. Of his 8.4 a game, 3.8 of them are leading to points at the rim, a career-high. That’s up from 2.2 last season. Everywhere else — 3-9 feet, 10-15 feet, long 2s, 3s — Westbrook’s assist numbers are mostly the same as years past.
The road trip might’ve been a bit bland, but if the last two games are anything to build on, maybe it’s that Westbrook is finding his voice as a passer. And again, not just because of the numbers. But because of the effectiveness.
On Westbrook’s Eurostep: “Not everybody has the same Eurostep. Everybody can do the Eurostep but it definitely doesn’t work the same. The best I’ve seen possibly at it since Manu was James, but unfortunately he’s not with us anymore, obviously. But he still puts on a show down in Houston doing it. Russ’s speed and athleticism is unreal so when he’s running at you 120 miles an hour, you have no idea what’s going on. The Euro seems to work … when he gets you on your heels, there’s nothing you can do. You’re at his mercy.”