As is the case with this edition of the Oklahoma City Thunder, inconsistency continues to plague the Thunder’s ability to rise up the standings and accumulate wins. This week was particularly difficult, dropping three of four, including two losses to division rivals. In fact, the Thunder’s encore to a rousing six-game win streak is a pedestrian 2-4 record.
THREE GOOD THINGS
More Triple Doubles. After a three-game hiatus from the triple-double train, Russell Westbrook punched yet another ticket to triple-double city in a masterful performance against the Phoenix Suns–26 points, 22 assists, and 11 rebounds. His 22 assists were the most of his career, and the most in an NBA game since Rajon Rondo dished 23 on January 5, 2011. A couple of days before the game, though, Westbrook said, “This triple-double thing is kind of getting on my nerves… If I get it, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t. It is what it is. I really don’t care. For the 100th time, I don’t care.” The way Westbrook plays evidences a desire to win, and explosive stats are a necessary part of the recipe, but from a fans point of view, in the first season without Serge Ibaka and a championship run unlikely, watching Westbrook do something so special and so extraordinary is definitely something worth caring about. So, Mr. Westbrook, while you may not care whether you get a triple-double, please, please, please, keep playing the way you’re playing and continue to amaze us Thunder fans.
Nick Collison. No one embodies the ideals of the Oklahoma City Thunder better than Nick Collison. Not only is Collison the longest tenured player on the Thunder’s roster (his days stretching back Seattle), but even in the dusk of his career, Collison shows up ready to play. After playing mostly garbage minutes this season, Collison was a small positive in the otherwise negative game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Then, on the second night of a road back-to-back, Collison played meaningful minutes minutes against the Utah Jazz and was a +9 for the night (he also had 2 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block), one of only two players with a positive +/- (Morrow was the other at +1). Collison will likely only appear situationally, at best, but major props to Collison who continues to make the most of every opportunity.
Russell Shammgod Westbrook. So, Westbrook did this.
THREE NOT SO GOOD THINGS
Domantas Sabonis’s Aversion to Free Throws. It was a bit of a joke when Sabonis took 4 free throws against the Phoenix Suns because, until that game, Sabonis had taken just 2 free throws all season. Before the game against the Suns, Sabonis was tied for dead last in free throws attempted by a player who had played at least 150 minutes. Denzel Valentine (CHI) and Jason Smith (WAS), his mates at the bottom of the list, had played just 172 and 226 minutes, respectively, while Sabonis had played 501 minutes. The blame for the putrid free-throw rate is not necessarily Sabonis’s. Sabonis is spending a lot of time away from the paint (38% of his shots are from three, a high rate for a PF), but it’s a concerning stat none the less. If you want to hold on to some hope, Sabonis did average over 5 free throw attempts per game in his final year at Gonzaga, so he clearly knows how to get to the line.
The Enes Kanter Epidemic. So, this isn’t just about Enes Kanter, the Thunder’s dynamic offensive-minded center. It’s about Andre Roberson, Jerami Grant, and Anthony Morrow. These players are four supremely talented players, and arguably, outside of Steven Adams, Russell Westbrook, and Victor Oladipo, the best players on the roster. But these four players all suffer from the same flaw that limits the Thunder’s ceiling–they are incredibly skilled at one thing and painfully deficient at others. Take Kanter for example. Kanter is 16th in the league in PER, which measures offensive efficiency. But he’s 274th in defensive box plus minus (an advanced stat that measures defensive impact). Or Morrow, who’s one of the league’s best sharp-shooters, but ranks an even more dismal 404th in DBPM. On the flip side, you have Grant, who ranks 356th in offensive box plus minus and has a below average PER of 10.41, but who’s claim to fame is his ability to block shots and defend multiple positions. And with all credit to Roberson’s evolving offensive game, he’s virtually ignored by opposing defenses on the offensive end. It’s a luxury to have enough depth where your fourth, fifth, and sixth best players can excel on both sides of the ball, but one of main issues with the Thunder’s roster is a heavy reliance on guys who are a positive on one end, but a negative on the other, which–I’m gonna dump some math on you–typically results in something close to a zero-net sum.
The No Call Against the Atlanta Hawks. In the final seconds in the game against the Atlanta Hawks, Westbrook throws up an errant shot after flying into the lane and failing to draw a foul call. Westbrook rebounds this miss, but on the putback, Westbrook again fights through contact, only to have his shot blocked out of bounds as the officials swallow the whistle. With one final chance, Westbrook launches a heave with just over 2 seconds left, but his shot comes up well short as Kent Bazemore blatantly fouls Westbrook as he rises to shoot. Steven Adams collects the miss and, for some strange reason, waits to gather and dunk, with the flush coming after time expired. Ignoring Adams’ mental lapse, the failure of the officials to call a foul on the Westbrook 3 leaves an especially sour feeling about the end. This wasn’t a judgment call foul. This wasn’t a close call. It was Westbrook’s 3 coming up a good two feet short because he couldn’t follow through with his shot due to a hand whacking his wrist. Now, the last thing I want to do is blame the officials for the loss. Myriad other plays could have swung the pendulum the opposite direction. But, uh, that’s a foul.
ONE MORE THING
Happy holidays! Now go watch Victor Oladipo sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to patients at the OU Children’s Hospital.