Sometimes I get the sense that the Oklahoma City Thunder are a bit bi-polar. At times, the team looks absolutely fantastic (see wins over over the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz, and San Antonio Spurs). At other times, the team’s play makes you wonder if Semaj Christon’s DNA is contagious. Fortunately, despite starting the week off with one of those head-scratching losses (at home, to the Portland Trailblazers), the Thunder won the next two over two of the top four teams in the Western Conference (the Jazz and Spurs).
SIX THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Domantas Sabonis prints a poster. Up high and down hard.
Alex Abrines, the triple threat. We’ve seen Abrines knock down threes. We’ve seen him throw down ferocious dunks. And now, we’ve seen him showcase some nifty ball-handling.
Minutes. Just last week, Doug McDermott played 37, 35, and 35 minutes against the Suns, Mavericks, and Blazers, respectively. In the last three games, though, he’s played just 41 total minutes (including just 5 minutes against the the Jazz). A big part of this is the absence and then return of Victor Oladipo, but it certainly looked like McDermott had earned the trust of Donovan. Cole has suffered a similar, if not worse, fate. Immediately thrust into the rotation on his first day as a member of the team, Cole hit a high of 24 minutes against the Mavs. The following game, Cole played just 6 unimpressive minutes, and his foot hasn’t set foot on the hardwood since. One of the knocks on Scott Brooks was his unwillingness to stray from his set rotations, but Donovan has shown a willigness to mix up rotations, play the match-ups, and sit guys who are ineffective. McDermott and Cole are prime examples of this. With Oladipo back, Donovan seems to be looking for favorable match-ups to get McDermott on the court (McDermott played well in a larger role against the Spurs). And with Cole looking like a player who belongs in the Chinese Basketball Association, Donovan has opted to play Christon over Cole.
Taj Gibson starts. On a similar note, there was certainly some cause for concern when Sabonis stuck in the starting lineup after the trade for Gibson–especially when everyone said that Gibson was brought in to start. But two games ago, Donovan, flexing his, um, flexibility, elevated Gibson to the starting lineup. While Gibson’s minutes were consistent with his bench role, Gibson quickly settled in to his role with the starting unit. Against the Jazz, Gibson looked like a great fit, as he scored 15 points and stole 6 rebounds from Westbrook. Four of his seven made baskets were on Westbrook assists. And all of this was in just 22 minutes of action, as Gibson suffered a hip injury in the second half and did not return. His status for tonight’s game against the Brooklyn Nets is still uncertain.
Buzzer beaters. While rare, the Thunder have had their share of memorable buzzer beaters this season. Who could forget Gibson’s amazing 3/4 court prayer against the Blazers. Or the fact that half of Semaj Christon’s made shots shots have been quarter buzzer beats. But add one more to the buzzer-beating lore: Westbrook’s tip with 0.3 seconds left to go in the first half against the Jazz. Kudos to Billy Donovan for the fantastic play call, and to Abrines and Westbrook for the impeccable execution.
Exclamation point. Period.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN
Triple Doubles. I haven’t mentioned Westbrook’s triple-double pursuit in a while. It hasn’t been for a lack of reason, as Westbrook has continued his chase to average a triple double for the season and break Oscar Robertson’s record of 41 triple doubles in a single season. It’s obviously the biggest story line this season for the Thunder, but this season is such an interesting season for the team. After losing Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant this offseason, this season was always going to be a transitional season. Though the cupboard isn’t bare (thank you, Westbrook), it’s certainly sparse, and Sam Presti and Donovan no doubt have been viewing this season as an opportunity to see just how sparse the cupboard is, and what should be added. But, thanks to Westbrook, the Thunder have remained as must-see-TV, if nothing else but to watch whether Westbrook may wrangle yet another triple double. There are 16 games remaining, and Westbrook has 32 triple doubles, good enough for second all-time. Nine more, and Westbrook ties Robertson’s untouchable record. Ten, and Westbrook would accomplish the most impressive single-season statistical achievement in NBA history.