Week in Review: Groundhog Day

NBAE/Getty Images

NBAE/Getty Images

When I watched Enes Kanter limp off the court in the Thunder’s win against the Celtics, my mind shifted to one of the greatest movies the 90s ever produced: Groundhog Day.

For those who refuse to enjoy the best of American cinema, Groundhog Day tells the story of a cocky, self-absorbed weatherman named Phil, who is assigned to Punxsatawney, Philadelphia for the town’s annual Groundhog Day festivities (that odd tradition where the length of winter is determined by a groundhog and his shadow).  Due to a massive snowstorm, Phil and his crew are forced to stay in Punxsatawney for the night.  Yet, when Phil wakes up the next morning, he slowly comes to realize he’s woken up yet again on Groundhog Day. Stuck in an unrelenting time-loop for years (and years and years),  Phil tries many methods to escape his purgatory, but all to no avail.  Fortunately, for Phil, a happy ending awaits.  Instead of permanently wallowing in a puddle of self pity, Phil embraces his opportunity to utilize his acquired-knowledge about that fateful day to better himself, help others, and, most importantly, get the girl.

As to how this relates to the Thunder, a perpetual cycle of injuries is the Thunder’s own Groundhog Day. Just this week alone:

  • Kanter suffers the aforementioned ankle injury against the Celtics, and misses Friday’s game against Atlanta
  • Kevin Durant’s foot, operated on twice, is not healing as expected, and Durant is being shut down indefinitely from “all basketball-related activities”
  • Nick Collison suffers an ankle injury against the Hawks on Friday and will miss “at least 10 days”
  • Andre Roberson suffers apparent ankle injury early in the Thunder’s win over the Heat on Sunday and will miss two or three weeks

And let’s not forget that a week ago Serge Ibaka underwent a procedure on his knee and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Per @anthonyVslater, only six of the 21 players who have suited up for the Thunder this year haven’t missed a game (Lance Thomas, Sebastian Telfair, Ish Smith, Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, and DJ Augustin).  None of those six players have been with the team the entire season.

But just like Phil, the Thunder have an opportunity to better themselves.  The injuries have given guys like Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, and Anthony Morrow a chance to shine.  And maybe, just maybe, the Thunder will come out on the other side of their own Groundhog Day having landed in the playoffs as a better, deeper team with renewed optimism about the future ahead.

THE GAMES

  • Beat the Boston Celtics, 122-118
  • Beat the Atlanta Hawks, 123-115
  • Beat the Miami Heat, 93-75

THE BEST PLAYER

Russell Westbrook.  Three games and one* triple-Russell (Russ originally had a triple-Russell against the Heat, but a rebound was taken away upon review).  I think we all need to take a minute and relish what we’re witnessing.  The injuries and the perpetual fight to get into the playoffs have largely overshadowed the accomplishments of Westbrook, and that’s a shame.  Coming into the season, everyone knew Russell was good, like really good.  But really, could anyone have imagined that Russ could elevate his game to historic levels over a sustained period?  Say what you want about Steph Curry, James Harden, and Anthony Davis, but save some words for Westbrook.  This guy has played not just like a MVP but like one of the best players in the game right now.

What impresses me the most is a game such as Sunday’s game against the Heat.  In the past, if Russ had a 5-16 shooting night, you would say he had an off night or was “bad Russ.”  But Sunday’s game was quite the contrary.  Sure, the shots weren’t falling, but Russ was relentless in every facet of the game, dishing out 17 assists, grabbing one rebounds, nabbing four steals, and he even had two blocks, including this rejection of Goran Dragic.

russ block

For the stat-lovers out there, over the last three games, Russ averaged 28 points, eight rebounds, 14 assists, and three steals.  Very good, mate.

THE BEST PERFORMANCE

Dion Waiters against the Atlanta Hawks.  Every Waiters apologist out there finally has a signature game they can use to defend Waiters.  Sure, Dion has shown flashes of competency, but those glimpses have been shrouded by the ever-present step back or flailing airballed layup.  Not so against Atlanta.  Dion scored 26 points (on 11-18 shooting!) and had three rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two blocks in 37 glorious minutes of basketball.

Look at this shotchart.

dion shotchart

Waiters took 11 shots in the restricted area and made eight.  He resisted the midrange jumper (zero attempts).  He made a corner three.  He played great defense.  He was good.

Honorable mention:  Anthony Morrow and Waiters should probably be tied for the best performance.  I gave Waiters the nod largely because he’s been a walking face-palm for much of his Oklahoma City tenure.  Morrow, on the other hand, has met expectations for the most part.  But his performance against the Hawks deserves some props.  Morrow was on fire, scoring 21 points on 6-10 shooting, all of the three point variety.  In the fourth quarter alone, Morrow was 4-6 from three and was a massive catalyst in the Thunder turning a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit into a ten-point lead.  This is also on the heels of Morrow’s 20-point performance against the Celtics.  This guy can flat-out shoot.

THE BEST PLAY

best play

Again, Russ was everywhere against the Heat.  This steal was one of his four on the night and led to a nifty finish by Waiters.

Honorable mention: Waiters had a stepback pass that led to a basket! A. Step. Back. Pass.

step back pass

THE WORST PLAYER

DJ Augustin.  Leading into the “worst” categories, I had a difficult time narrowing the field on who should be named worst player, and who had the worst performance.  The Thunder had a 3-0 week and, while maybe not entirely dominant, looked really good overall in piecing together three solid wins against three Eastern Conference playoff teams (admittedly, Boston is on the fringes, but they currently holding the eighth spot at the time of writing).  So, picking the “worst” of the week is a bit like complaining about your Ferrari’s gas mileage.  Sure, the gas mileage isn’t great, but you’ve got a Ferarri! Quit complaining!

Right after the Enes Kanter-DJ Augustin-Kyle Singler-Steve Novak trade (narrative!), DJ Augustin looked like the perfect backup point guard.  He was scoring, he was shooting well from three, he wasn’t glaringly bad on defense, and he was dishing out assists, all while not pouting about playing time.  Unfortunately, DJ has come back to earth a little.  In the last week, Augustin is shooting just 31 percent from the field and an ugly 17 percent from three, to go along with five total assists against six turnovers.  His slump, though, shouldn’t change the perception that he’s a great pick-up, and I expect he’ll turn things around.

THE WORST PERFORMANCE

Jeremy Lamb against the Miami Heat.  In four minutes of action, Lamb failed to score a single point in his mop-up duty.  I mean, even Steve Novak had 3 points on 100% shooting in his five minutes of burn.  SMH.

THE WORST PLAY

If you’re willing to admit it, Waiters is excellent in getting to the basket.  Once there, it’s been, um, how do I put this delicately?  It’s been challenging.  Waiters shies away from contact like a vampire hides from sunlight.  As a result, he contorts his body wildly and tosses up dead birds that sometimes find rim, and sometimes don’t.  Notwithstanding the epiphany that Waiters had against the Hawks, Waiters’ signature has been stepback jumpers and mind-boggling misses at the rim.

worst play

This is an example of what I’m talking about here.  What a pretty little spin move to get to the rim, but then Dion fires up a weak shot with his left hand that fails to register iron.  He then gets his own rebound (yay!) and takes a stepback jumper, which again fails to draw iron (boo).

Let me take a minute to say that I believe in Dion Waiters.  At least, I believe he’s working on his game, and he wants to contribute in more ways than just scoring (I mean, shooting).  Look, the Thunder are 7-1 when he starts.  And if you aren’t noticing some positive trends (less stepbacks, more drives to the rim), you’re willfully blind to what Waiters is doing.  Re-watch his game against the Heat.  Sure, he was back to missing everything at the rim, but if you watch his eyes, the tunnel vision is gone.  He had three assists, and it was obvious he was actively looking for his teammates.  If he could only develop some touch in the restricted area…

UP NEXT

  •  Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, March 24
  • At the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, March 25 (ESPN)
  • At the Utah Jazz on Saturday, March 28
  • At the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, March 29 (NBA TV)

If you have Twitter, you have the exciting opportunity to follow John Napier at @ajohnnapier.

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