The Thunder have been nothing if not a team in transition all season. I’m not sure what version we are on but change has been constant. First we had a coaching change after game 13. During P.J.’s little sip of water with the Thunder this season the team was absolutely anemic on offense (92.5 offensive rating) and a bit above average defensively, using a lot of gimmicky zone defense (105.7 defensive rating). The offense was beyond terrible, running and gunning but inefficient and only scoring more than 90 points 4 times in those thirteen games, and only going over 100 once. Blowouts were the norm. I guess that was Thunder version 1.0.
Next came version 2.0 with Scotty Brooks in charge. The offense immediately took a huge jump in efficiency. Spacing was improved and the team began to attack the basket and get a bit slower and more deliberate. The defense meanwhile was completely destructed. The zone defense was sent to the shelf, double teaming was rare, and man to man was the order of the day. The results were pretty spotty. In Brooks’ first dozen or so games the defense performed terribly, but it was sort of overshadowed by so much offensive improvement. The team began to get blown out a lot less frequently.
Brooks also was tweaking the lineup. Out of the rotation were Johan Petro, Chris Wilcox and Damien Wilkins. Durant went to the small forward position, Green the starter at the 3, and Collison manned the post. Desmond Mason finally solidified himself as our best defensive two, and Westbrook moved in as the starting 1. Things began to gel.
The team lit fire around the coming of the New Year and began to play .500 ball, which is saying something when you start the season 3-29. The team also plucked Nenad Krstic from Euro purgatory and began working him in. Brooks brought in assistant Ron Adams to help with defense.
Desmond Mason went down in late January, but the team kept up it’s winning ways for the most part by playing above average offense and just enough defense. Kyle Weaver stepped in and the team adjusted.
Late in February and early in March found the Thunder without Kevin Durant and Jeff Green for a series of games due to injuries. Even the most optimistic Thunder fans probably thought that we would be fodder for every team in the league, but you know the story: The Thunder won 5/7 games without Durant and Green led by stingy team defense and crazy individual defense from Thabo Sefolosha picked up from Chicago on a trade deadline deal.
During that stretch of games without Durant (and some which Green missed) the offense was a bit below average, but not horribly so, but again, the defense was otherworldly by Thunder standards.
But now that Green and Durant are back in the fold, the defense has actually held up comparatively well with the defense played without them, but the offense has disappeared. Everyone including me was probably expecting the defense to stink and the offense to catch fire with Green and Durant, but just the opposite has happened.
I’ve been keeping a running tally of offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency (points scored and allowed per 100 possessions) by the Thunder all season. I ran the numbers after last night’s game with Utah and the numbers validated what I thought I was seeing: the offense has been missing with Durant and Green in the lineup.
Here is the breakdown of the efficiency numbers for the season, broken down into four game blocks and separated from the first thirteen games coached by P.J..
As you can see, the differential between offense and defense has steadily improved under Brooks. Where the differential is closest, or positive you see it reflected in the win/loss column.
I think it’s fair to say that the lineup of Westbrook, Thabo, Durant, Green and Krtic is struggling to find it’s mojo. My first reaction is that perhaps Thabo isn’t gelling with the other four the way Desmond Mason and Kyle Weaver did. Thabo has the third highest individual offensive rating on the team (109) just behind Durant and Collison, and the team lead in defensive rating (104). His offense and defense both outshine Weaver’s and Mason’s, yet for whatever reason, the team is struggling with this new lineup. I have my opinions about why this may be, but I am going to wait a bit more than the four games so far and see they validate themselves.