It’s halftime of a much-anticipated game. Kevin Durant was firing on all cylinders in the first half, scoring 14 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out 4 assists in just 17 minutes of basketball. And to start the second half, Durant is in the locker room, tending to an injury rather then gearing up for more basketball.
No, I’m not rehashing the December 19, 2014 game against the Golden State Warriors, where Durant torched the Warriors for 30 first-half points before spraining his ankle. I’m talking about last week’s game against the Wizards, where Durant injured his left hamstring after an awkward landing.
The following day, the team announced Durant would be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. And so, just 9 games into the 2014-15 season, and the Thunder are already playing without Durant, giving fans a nauseating sense of deja vu.
But that’s not the only reason Thunder fans should be sensing deja vu. The defensive issues that have plagued the Thunder this entire year have continued to plague the Thunder, especially in the two-straight losses to close this week.
It’s not just pick and roll defense, which I’ve harped on the last two weeks. It’s also an inability to stay in front on defense and defend the three-point line (teams shot 6% better from three when defended by the Thunder versus all other teams). Some of it is lazy, uninspired defenses. But some of it is the curious lineup decisions by rookie-coach Billy Donovan.
Among rotation players (which I’m arbitrarily defining as players who average more than 5 minutes per game), the worst defensive players by defensive rating are McGary, Anthony Morrow, Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, and DJ Augustin (in that order). The worst players by net rating are McGary, Collison, Augustin, Singler, Morrow, Kanter, and Waiters (in that order).
If you are scoring at home, those players make up the second unit (in various lineups). And, unsurprisingly, lineups that do not include one of Durant, Westbrook, or Ibaka perform very poorly. Again, arbitrarily limiting it to lineups that have seen at least 5 minutes together, the Thunder have played 5 lineups without any of the “big 3” with absolutely zero success. Not a single lineup posted a positive net rating, and nearly every lineup had a defensive rating north of 110 (which is bad).
It’s incredibly early in the season, and Donovan has his work cut out for him in finding lineups that work (outside of the starters, who have been excellent either with or without Durant), but one major criticism of Brooks was his refusal to stagger his stars. So far this year, even with a deeper (and healthier) roster, having one of Durant, Westbrook, or Ibaka on the floor seems to be a catalyst to success. It’s a tough line to walk, giving your starters plenty of minutes together, while finding a way to keep at least one of your best players on the floor at all times, made even harder when you’re playing one card short with Durant out. But being 6-5 at this point is not what anyone had in mind.
So good luck, Billy.
- Win at the Washington Wizards, 125-101 on November 10.
- Win vs. the Philadelphia 76ers, 102-85 on November 13.
- Loss vs. the Boston Celtics, 100-85 on November 15.
- Loss at the Memphis Grizzles, 122-114 on November 16.
Serge Ibaka. You could make a strong argument that Westbrook belongs here. You’d probably be right, but it’s unquestionable that Ibaka (quietly?) is playing some really good basketball. In the last four games, Ibaka is shooting the ball well (50% from the field), taking and making more threes (75% from three), rebounding (8 per game), and blocking shots (3 per game). What I like the most, however, is Ibaka being involved on both ends. He’s active offensively, setting picks and fighting for offensive boards, and importantly with the aforementioned defensive struggles, active defensively, helping relentlessly. With the perimeter defense (sans Andre Roberson) lacking, having Ibaka to help makes a monumental difference.
Honorable mention: Yeah, Westbrook is pretty good. Westbrook nearly averaged a triple double this past week, with 28 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds per game.
DJ Augustin. After the first few games, I really believed we would be getting version of DJ Augustin before he came to the Thunder. Smart with the basketball, able to create shots for himself and for teammates, and a solid three-point shooter. After these last four games, I am beginning to think I may have been wrong. In 20 minutes per game, Augustin’s shooting is atrocious (just 35% from the field, 29% from three, and a TS% of 40%), and he’s shown a penchant for turning the ball over, culminating in a 5 turnover debacle against the Boston Celtics.
Russell Westbrook triple-doubles the Philadelphia 76ers. With Durant out, Russell does as Russell tends to do, and that means exploding for triple doubles nearly at will. (Last season, Westbrook led the NBA with 11 triple doubles.) Naturally, with Durant out against the 76ers, Westbrook had a 21-point, 17-assist, 11-rebound triple double.
Thunder offense in the second half against the Boston Celtics. In the first half against the Celtics, the Thunder looked generally decent at basketball. The defense was mostly solid, and the offense was fluid (absent six Westbrook three pointers). As a result, the Thunder had a team assist rate of 61% and a TS% of 60% en route to a 7 point lead at the break. The team’s net rating for the first half was a positive 8 points.
Now, the second half? Totally different story. While team did manage to assist on 70% of its 10 paltry baskets, the team’s TS% was an unsightly 36%. The team’s net rating was a negative 45 points (FYI, this is very bad).
The tape shows an offense that ground to an absolute halt, with sticky hands and poor shot selection. You know something is wrong with your offense when Steven Adams (as in the guy who is the starting center) leads the team in passes. (Adams passed the ball 57 times against the Celtics, Westbrook just 54). So yeah, kind of the performance that garners a “worst performance” award.
Dishonorable mention: This bullet from Royce Young sums up Kyle Singler’s performance against the Memphis Grizzlies: “Without Roberson, Kyle Singler got the starting nod. 12 minutes, 0-5 shooting, zeroes across the board except for a steal and four fouls. He also pulled up for a 3 in a 3-on-2 transition opportunity, bricking it long while also putting a toe on the line to make it a long 2. It was perfect.”
Enes Kanter leads the break against the Philadelphia 76ers. Enes Kanter loves making plays on offense. Even plays that start on the opposite end of the court. What a beautiful transition play by Kanter.
Kyle Singler’s three turnovers versus the Boston Celtics. So I’m going to cheat and combine all three of Singler’s turnovers against the Celtics into one mega-worst play. In his first turnover, Singler catches the ball at the top of the key and immediately drives to the lane. Apparently lost, Singler wildly tosses the ball back to the top of the key to a member of the Celtics.
Singler’s second turnover was another case of confusion. On an inbounds play, Singler catches the ball on his way to the corner. But rather than dribble, Singler just keeps running. If you take too many steps without dribbling, they call that traveling, Kyle.
And last, but certainly not least, on Singler’s third turnover, he catches a Waiters’ pass on the wing and attacks the basket. But by “attacks the basket,” I actually mean Singler can’t coordinate the act of dribbling with the act of driving and literally falls forward, losing the ball in the process.
WEEK IN PREVIEW
- Vs. the New Orleans Pelicans on November 18 at 7:00 pm CT (ESPN). The Pelicans have been fighting a serious case of the injury bug, and look nowhere like the team that took the eighth playoff spot from the Thunder last season.
- Vs. the New York Knicks on November 20 at 7:00 pm CT (FSOK). Derek Fisher coaches the Knicks, and they have a rookie with a funny name (Kristaps Porzingis). That’s all I got.
- Vs. the Dallas Mavericks on November 22 at 7:00 pm CT (FSOK). Mark Cuban has a knack for putting together a team that is just good enough to matter. The Mavs are 7-4 on the year so far.
- At the Utah Jazz on November 23 at 8:00 pm CT (FSOK). I wonder what kind of reception Kanter will get? The last time the Jazz played, they had an impressive win over the Atlanta Hawks.