23 for 23: Thoughts on the Season & Predicting the Road Ahead

23 thoughts & soon-to-be-wrong predictions with 23 games to go

1. Russell Westbrook won’t average another triple double

Assuming Westbrook plays in all of the final 23 games, he’d need to average 11.6 rebounds per game in order to wrap up a double-digit rebound average. His best rebounding month was December when he averaged 10.2 boards per game.

2. About those triple doubles…

Westbrook has “only” 17 of those so far this season. OKC is 12-5 when he trip-dubs.

3. OKC will finish with 47 wins

A 14-9 finish to the season seems reasonable. That’s winning 61 percent of the remaining games. The Thunder has won at a .641 clip since December 1, when the team was 8-12. If that prediction feels low to you, consider that OKC has the 7th strongest remaining schedule according to Tankathon.com.

4. The Thunder’s 15th roster spot will go to…

… someone other than Tony Allen. That’s not informed, just a hunch. I suppose the Thunder could ink Allen to a 10-day contract or two if he agreed to it. But ultimately, I’d bet the Thunder pivots and goes in another direction. Perhaps Sam Presti can negotiate a rescue of Iman Shumpert from Sacramento. Remember, OKC had interest a few years ago.

5. Thunder should make Josh Huestis a starter

Huestis is the closest Roberson facsimile on the roster. Well, that’s not really accurate. A “facsimile” means “an exact copy”, so Huestis is more like one of those crooked copies that Betty in accounting hands you because Betty refuses to learn how to use the copier. In any event, lineups with Huestis along with the Big 4 have a net rating of +8.4 in 80 minutes. Since Roberson’s season-ending injury, the Thunder defense is 10.4 points better with Josh on the floor. Roll with that some more.

6. Terrance Ferguson should be starting…

…for the OKC Blue. Look, it’s fine and not unusual that the 19-year old Ferguson is struggling. He’s gained some valuable experience with the Thunder this season, which is tough to do on a contender and it will help him in his career. But in the meantime, he murders Thunder lineups. Ferguson with the Big 4 has played more than 207 minutes together – OKC’s second-most used lineup – and it has a nauseating net rating of -9.7.

7. Less Melo is more

I’ve already bagged on Melo a bit in a recent Bleacher Report article, but there are more interesting high-level stats with him worth mentioning. Like this one: Oklahoma City is 17-3 when Melo plays less than 32 minutes. Seems notable.

8. Less shooting from Melo is more

OKC is 17-9 when Melo takes less than 16 shot attempts and 11-2 when Melo plays less than 32 minutes AND takes less than 16 shot attempts. Melo can help the Thunder, but Billy Donovan needs to reign him in.

9. Is Jerami Grant good?

This has been a season-long question on both Down to Dunk and the OKC Dream Team. After 59 games it looks like a resounding… yes? He’s averaging 12 points and 6.9 rebounds in his eight February games, and his minutes per game are going up. It’s a shame his three-point shooting from last season wasn’t sustainable, though.

10. What’s up with Patrick Patterson?

I’ll be honest, I truly thought Grant was going to be traded as part of a plan to increase Patterson’s role. But Patterson just hasn’t been good this season, though he admittedly played a big part in the Thunder’s victory over Golden State this month. Patterson was a +/- God with the Raptors but has been a negative net player for OKC this season. 2Pat is another veteran that needs to get in gear.

11. Nick Collison and round numbers

Collison is only six rebounds away from 4,700 for this career. Put the man to work, Billy!

12. Steven Adams is good

Remember when lots of people grinded teeth over his extension?

13. Paul George will definitely…

…make a decision at some point to play pro basketball somewhere next season. Hopefully we’ve all learned by now that statements made in December or February aren’t binding. I truly believe George has been honest and forthcoming in his statements, and they’re largely very supportive of the Thunder. My ears will perk up if he’s still saying things like this in late June and early July.

14. Paul George should definitely…

…shoot less, I guess. Oddly, OKC is only 18-16 when George takes 16 or more shots. Yet the record is 14-8 when he takes less than 16 shots. Numbers are weird.

15. Andre Roberson is missed

The Thunder found a pretty good groove after the frustrating 8-12 start to the season. Since December 1, the player with the best net rating on the Thunder is… was… Andre Roberson at 14.9. Steven Adams is next on the list at 7.2.

16. Westbrook’s Shooting

When Westbrook takes between 18 and 21 field goal attempts, OKC is 3-11. When he takes 17 or fewer shots, OKC is 12-1, and that one loss was the second game of the season in Utah. The Thunder is also really good (19-7) when Russ takes less than four 3-point attempts.

17. Defense still matters

The Thunder is 15-1 when holding opponents to under 1-point per possession. The record is 0-8 when surrendering more than 1.22 points per possession.

18. Kyle Singler’s Stretchable Contract

Now that the trade deadline has passed, we can now refer to Kyle Singler as Kyle Singler’s Stretchable Contract. He’s finally tradeable again, you guys! He’s essentially an expiring contract now, with the bonus caveat that his 2018-19 salary can be stretched out over 5 years. I can’t wait to get all of your Trade Machine screen shots leading up to draft night!

19. Brass Taxes

This is very fluid, but here’s an idea of the amount of luxury tax OKC could pay next season. Let’s take the current crew, pencil in Paul George at $35 million and Grant at a reasonable $5 million. Add in, say, three more veteran minimum deals at $1.5 million each. That’s $162 million in salary — nearly $39 million over the luxury tax line. Because OKC would trigger the repeater tax, that’s a whopping $169 million in taxes. The grand total: $331 million expense. Now you see why some are skeptical whether OKC will be willing to pay that much.

20. Dolla Dolla Bills

According to a recent report by Forbes, the Thunder made $64 million last season. Forbes also valued the team, which was originally purchased for $350 million back in 2006, at $1.25 billion. The Thunder has also been quite profitable since moving to OKC. That’s why the owners may be willing to splash out for a season or two.

21. Andre Roberson tho

Through January 27, OKC’s offensive rating was 106.9 and its defensive rating was 103.1. Then Roberson tore up his knee in Detroit. The Thunder’s scoring is up a bit to 108.4 since then, but the defensive rating has swelled to 108.6. Some of this is due to Melo being such a drag on the offense lately, which could fix itself.

22. Clenching in the Clutch

Oklahoma City was a surprisingly good clutch time team last season. Add in more talent and somehow things have reverted to their old ways. OKC is now 13-16 in clutch games with a net rating of -9.1. It’s not ideal, but not a death knell. The east-leading Toronto Raptors are 14-12 in the clutch with an even worse net rating of -11.4.

23. In sum…

For the Thunder to win every game from here on out, the team just needs to defend at an elite level, keep Melo’s shot attempts in check, involve George but not TOO much, keep Russ from chucking threes, and oh yeah — make shots. Not asking for much here, fellas.

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