HammBag: Raw nerve edition

USATSI

USATSI

The Thunder won four straight games earlier this month and, all things considered (see what I did there?), the team looked pretty good. The Bogut and Iguodala-less Warriors got smacked around in the ‘Peake. The Magic were annihilated on the road. Back-to-back road wins against Miami and Washington weren’t too shabby.

Then the Thunder somewhat understandably lost a pair of road games against very good east teams (which is kind of like picking out the best smelling sewage treatment plant), KD injured a toe and the team has driven off a cliff, “Thelma & Louise”-style. With KD out, the team struggled to beat the 7-36 Timberwolves at home. The giant cherry on top of the dung pile came last night, losing on the road to the 8-37 Knicks.

Nerves are raw. Fans want Sam Presti to turn into J. Jonah Jameson. The ESPN Trade Machine is getting historic levels of traffic from Oklahoma IP addresses. Even my glass, normally half full, is running on empty. Let’s talk each other through this.

Front Office

Perry Jones. Jeremy Lamb. Andre Roberson. There are three reasons. What am I getting at? The “Thunder model” relies heavily on the draft (more or less, in Lamb’s case). There’s a sound theory behind that. Oklahoma City isn’t going to be a free agent magnet, so the model is to acquire talent via the draft and cultivate it. If a player pans out, you can potentially keep him under contract for up to eight seasons. For many players, however, the first season is often a wash. Sometimes the second season is as well.

I think I imagined that Perry Jones scored 32 points in an NBA game. Jeremy Lamb was given multiple chances and fumbled away every opportunity like Ibaka and Perkins do with a pass under the basket. Andre Roberson’s singular talent is that he’s a terrific defender, and that would be swell if this were the NFL. Until he can contribute something, anything of substance offensively, I can’t understand why he plays. Brooks has little tolerance for players that play the opposite way.

I guess what I’m saying is, part of the problem is some of this young talent isn’t all that good. Oh, and Durant missed the last two games. Can’t overlook that, but there should be enough talent left behind to adequately knock out two of the worst teams in the league.

There’s no doubt in my mind that more change is coming, but I’ve felt that way since the Waiters trade. Hopefully fans understand that all parties in a trade must agree to terms and timing is a factor. If the Thunder are ready to deal now, other teams may not be. It’s possible that deals won’t happen until closer to the trade deadline.

That’s among the last places where personnel change needs to happen but there have been missteps, and I’m not talking about just from a transactional standpoint. The “turn Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison into stretch 4’s” concept was born, I believe, in the front office. I wish I could find the transcript, but I have it in my head that Collison talked about this in the exit interviews in May. Whoever birthed the idea, it’s been a flop. And I know Serge’s percentages are good from 3, but consider these numbers:

2013-14 (81 games): 64.5% in the paint (358-555 FG), 47.9% outside the paint but inside the three-point line (256-534 FG), 36.8% from three (28-76 FG).

2014-15 (46 games): 55.8% in the paint (101-181 FG), 42.7% outside the paint but inside the three-point line (93-218 FG), 39.4% from three (63-160 FG).

So last season, 47.6% of his shots were in the paint and he made an excellent percentage of those. Now, 32.4% of his shots are in the paint. 45.8% of his shots used to come from his bread-and-butter zone, and now it’s 39%. The percentage of three point shots he takes has skyrocketed from 6.5% to 28.6%.

And cool, he’s making a lot of threes and at a good rate. It’s adversely affected his overall game (another side effect: his free throw rate is down because of all the chucking). If my quick math skills produced accurate information, then 577 of his points scored this season were on field goals. If he had produced at his 2013-14 rate and spread his shots around at his 2013-14 rate, he’d have 630 points so far. And, one could reasonably assume, more free throw attempts.

But, that’s a rabbit hole fraught with “yeah but what if” and “but you have to consider” sort of things. Point is, Serge’s love of the three has negatively affected his entire offensive game, and possibly (certainly?) his defense as well.

Meanwhile, Collison hasn’t made a three point shot since November 19 and is zero for his last 17 attempts.

I digress, but that’s an example of where I think maybe some “the numbers say we should do this” thought process produced an idea that has fallen flat. Another one: seeking out hardworking yet very one-dimensional players and developing the weak aspect of their games. The organizational concept has been successful, but maybe the model needs to be adjusted.

That’s part of it. I’ve hammered Roberson enough, which is hard because he’s apparently as good a human as you’ll find. And Jackson keeps finding himself in spots to shoot threes and he’s just not that good at it. I believe the Thunder needs to have more balanced players in place.

Scott Brooks

I mean this with all due respect Jesus, but have you been paying attention? If you claim you have been, then it appears to be selective.

Darnell Mayberry wrote articles very recently questioning both the offense and the defense. Berry Tramel opined that Brooks’ job should be on the line. I believe Royce and I have been very fair in our assessment of Brooks: he’s a good coach, but he might not be the right coach anymore.

Do you need some Lt. Kaffee/Col. Jessup style confrontation so you can see your “hold him accountable” wish fulfilled? Do you want Royce to scream “COACH BROOKS, DID YOU ORDER THE FALL AWAY GAME DECIDING THREE POINT SHOT?” in a presser? Scott Brooks gets plenty of reasoned critique. What most folks want are blind rage roastings.

And have you considered the possibility that Brooks has, y’know, actually done a good job all of these years? Sacrilege, I know.

Hopefully keeping your résumé current if this trend doesn’t buck by season’s end.

An in-season change still seems unlikely to me, unless the wheels come off completely. After the season? I’d think all options would be open barring a significant turnaround.

Here’s my hunch: the players are slipping on a virtual pair of Beats headphones when Brooks talks to them. I really do wonder if he’s being tuned out.

Kendrick Perkins

If you guys can hold out just a bit longer, he may be gone by the trade deadline. The general assumption has been that Perkins’ money would come off the books and thus open up room to re-sign Jackson. That seems about as likely as a sequel to “Mortdecai” at this point. So the Thunder may have to package Perkins with Jackson (and possibly others) in order to buy longer-term debt. I’m sure some fans will rejoice. I also think they’ll develop a misguided hatred of whoever they acquire.

Trades

I don’t know exactly what to make of the Denver rumor. Maybe the Thunder were closing in on Chandler and/or Afflalo. Could have been part of a larger trade involving other teams. There’s been way too much trade rumor smoke to ignore the fact that a fire is burning somewhere.

I do believe that a two-way guard would be very beneficial to the team, but I don’t know if Afflalo is that guy. He has a reputation for being a defender but there are advanced stats that say otherwise. He can hit shots well from midrange so maybe that would help. Or maybe the team would push him out beyond the three point line where he’s far less effective.

I’ve heard the idea that no team wants Reggie because he hasn’t been traded yet. I don’t think that’s accurate at all. I do think he’s gone by the deadline, but I don’t read anything into the fact that he’s still with the Thunder. I don’t know exactly what has soured Reggie in Oklahoma City, but I don’t think it’s all because of his role and lack of extension. Can’t help but wonder if something else is going on.

James Harden

What do you mean, Jay? Everything I see on Fox Sports Oklahoma leads me to believe everything is peachy.

This is a whole other rabbit hole to go down, but you’re right. The pecking order was always going to be Durant, Westbrook, and then Harden. I’ll get accused again of defending the trade if I get into this much more, but all of the players benefited from the trade. And until this season, the Thunder were getting by fine without Harden.

Around the horn

Because we’re a sadistic, masochistic species.

Just some dude with a keyboard, piggybacking off the name of a famous actor. You?

Yes to Pleiss, probably not to Abrines. If I’m not mistaken, Abrines is under contract through 2016, which seems like a good time to bring him over. Who knows, by the trade deadline, one or both may not be property of the Thunder.

What’s so “haha” about the Thunder making the playoffs? Sure, the margin for error is getting thinner with each loss but let’s not act like we’re discussing the Lakers’ chances.

Some have advocated that the team is better off missing the playoffs. I think that’s nonsense. There are 36 games left in the season and they are 3.5 games out of 8th place. Change is coming in some form or fashion. Get in the playoffs and take your chances.

This isn’t a parallel, but here’s something to consider: the 2009-10 Boston Celtics started the season 23-5. They went 27-27 in their final 54 games, including a 3-7 record in their final 10 games. Now, they won their division and had the 4 seed so again, this isn’t a comparison to this Thunder squad. But those Celtics weren’t expected to go far and they made the Finals. And a blown ACL belonging to Kendrick Perkins might have been all that got in the way of them winning the title.

If changes aren’t made, I believe the result will be a full implosion. I think there’s toxicity within the team that needs to be addressed. The longer it brews, the worse it’s going to smell.

Because it’s a toe injury? Drop a cinder block on one of your big toes and see how it feels to run and cut afterwards.

The point many are missing is this isn’t about whether Durant should have played in a relatively meaningless January game, health be damned. It’s the fact that the Thunder should be able to beat a sorry ass 8-37 team on the road without him.

As exciting as that sounds, I feel like the that if the Thunder replaced Brooks, it would be with someone else who shared their basketball beliefs. I mean, they should pursue a guy like this if he were ever available, but he’s proven and may not be on board with what this front office wants.

The one move that I think would help immediately is resolving the Reggie Jackson situation. To clarify again, I don’t think Reggie is a bad dude or a cancer or a malcontent. I just believe there is some genuine tension within the team that would be alleviated if he were moved. And yes, everything should be done with an eye towards next year. The two can be done in concert.

I’ve learned over the years not to put too much stock in New York media reports. I don’t keep records or anything, but competition is stiff among the newspapers in the Big Apple and sensationalism sells. Can’t tell you how many articles I’ve seen written tangentially linking Durant to New York. Won’t be long before very convincing arguments will link him to Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and anyone else with significant 2016 cap space.

I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that Durant is frustrated with Westbrook. The rest of the free world is, so why wouldn’t Durant be? I get frustrated with people I’m close to. They get frustrated with me. I don’t get the sense that it’s significant. I won’t get too worked up about this unless more evidence is produced.

I’m on board with giving this a shot. At this point, why not consider a change in your long-held beliefs? If Brooks hadn’t done just that in the Memphis series last year (benching Sefolosha and Collison, starting Caron Butler) then they likely bow out in the first round. I say try it for a few games. Could it turn out any worse than “Perry Jones as a shooting guard” from last season?

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought the same thing. It sure seems like the Thunder have been lapped. That doesn’t mean they are doomed forever, but this Thunder team seems… complacent? Entitled? Maybe it is as simple as continuity issues because of injuries as well as resolvable individual agendas. Funny how the likes of Golden State, Memphis and Portland aren’t sitting still and are trying to sweep the leg.

The prevailing thought was that it could get done. At full health and happiness, the Thunder have won at an above .700 clip. Some solace: Phoenix has played the eight weakest schedule so far. Oklahoma City’s Strength of Schedule is seventh toughest. The Thunder have played 20 home games and 26 away games. Phoenix has played 23 home games and 24 away. This could all come out in favor of the Thunder in the end. However, there are two more head-to-head games left between these teams, and both are in Phoenix. Those could be huge.