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NBA PM: Scott the Long-Term Solution for Lakers?

With Byron Scott, the Lakers may have finally found the long-term solution at head coach they’ve been looking for for years.

Yannis Koutroupis

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The Los Angeles Lakers officially introduced Byron Scott as their head coach on Tuesday morning, nearly three months after the position became vacant with the resignation of Mike D’Antoni. Scott, a former head coach with the then New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets along with the Cleveland Cavaliers most recently, was welcomed by former Lakers legends who he won multiple championships with in the 1980s. He’s already been embraced more than any Lakers head coach not named Phil Jackson or Pat Riley and despite the fact that it took a few months to officially hire him, he was actually the organization’s top choice all along.

“I just want to thank [Byron] for his patience,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “Over the last six or seven weeks, it was always clear to us that Byron was our first choice, and we did multiple interviews and stayed in touch. But in this business, when time plays out and things linger, I know there’s some uncertainty and tension and testing of patience. Here we are, introducing Byron Scott as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, so thank you for sticking with us and being patient over the last six or seven weeks.”

The Lakers’ hesitancy undoubtedly stemmed from their past failures in hiring a head coach, not because Scott lacked the qualifications or didn’t jump out as the most natural fit from day one.

Lakers President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss has been one of the lead shot callers for the better part of the last decade. Throughout that time, the organization has gone from the lottery to winning back-to-back championships. Although he rarely seeks out praise or recognition for the moves he’s had a major say in – like the drafting of Andrew Bynum and trade for Pau Gasol to name a couple – he’s caught the bulk of the criticism for failed head coaching hires. Rudy Tomjanovic, Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni all flamed out in dramatic fashion after receiving his endorsement.

Buss really came under fire for choosing D’Antoni instead of Jackson after firing Brown early in the season. However, in an excerpt from his latest book, even Jackson said he understood the reasoning behind the move. After working with him for the last five years, nobody was more familiar with the health issues Jackson was having than Buss. With a young superstar center in Dwight Howard in place to potentially bridge the gap from the end of the Kobe Bryant era to the next Lakers championship team, Buss and company wanted a long-term solution in place at head coach. Jackson was looking at the job as more of a one-year gig, which would have been really tough for him to implement his system during – especially on the fly mid-season.

D’Antoni didn’t work out at all and Howard ended up leaving that next offseason, but at worst Buss went with the second-best candidate overall, and the edge he had over Jackson was that he looked like he could be the better fit long-term.

The Lakers wanted stability, not a short-term fix.

With Scott, they may finally have it.

“The one thing I will say is that this has been a dream of mine for so long,” Scott said. “It’s a dream come true to be here sitting and talking to you guys today and be introduced as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. As I told Mitch and Jim in our meetings, the passion and the love that I have for this organization is second to none. The only thing I regret is that Dr. Buss isn’t here today. He’s somebody who showed a lot of love and confidence in me back in the day, and a guy that you could call any time, a guy that could call you any time and you could talk to him about anything. Like, basketball, money, anything. I just wish he was here today. But as I told Jim and Jeanie, I’m going to do everything in my power to make those guys proud, the Buss family proud, and do everything I can to bring this team back to where we know it should be. This organization is all about championships. Period. We don’t look at Western Conference finals, Western Conference championships. We look at championships. We know we have some work ahead of us, I’m excited. Just thrilled to death. I’m eager, and just ready to get to work. I know it’s going to be a challenge, but I look forward do it. I love challenges anyway, so this is going to be fun.”

It’s going to be challenging indeed because unlike Brown or D’Antoni, Scott is taking over a team that is stuck in the middle of the pack. On paper it looks like this team, at best, could compete for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. But, as far as competing for a championship as he stated above, that’s going to either take one of the best coaching jobs we’ve ever seen, or some further tweaks to the roster. The Lakers do have a stock of expiring contracts, a 2015 first round pick heading their way from the Houston Rockets and some intriguing young talent in rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. So, there is some potential for some shake ups in the future as the Lakers are still aggressive in their pursuit for another star after losing Howard last offseason and coming up just shy of signing Carmelo Anthony this summer. For now, though, Scott is going to have to work with what he has.

“I told Mitch and Jim at our last meeting was that I thought they put a roster together that will be very competitive,” Scott said. “The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team. These three gentlemen that’s sitting in this front row, the first that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control. Offense is going to come and go. You’re going to miss shots, you’re going to make shots. But the one thing you control every single night is your effort on the defensive end. So we have to obviously get that back in the plans. Guys have to understand that that’s what it’s going to take and they have to be held accountable for that. But I like the roster that Mitch has put together. It’s a little bit of some youth and some experienced guys and I’m looking forward to working with them.

“They don’t [defend], I’ll take them out the game. It’s pretty simple, Jim. I mean, again, you get beat on the defensive end, and I’ve done this my whole career, guys, they understand that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do out there, there’s consequences. And the only thing that you can really control with players is their minutes. That gets their attention. So if you’re not out there and you’re not playing defense the way I think you’re capable of playing or the way we should play defense, then I’m going to have to find other guys that will.”

Throughout his coaching career so far Scott has had the luxury of having All-Star point guards run his offense. In New Jersey he had Jason Kidd, in New Orleans Chris Paul and in Cleveland Kyrie Irving. Steve Nash is certainly deserving of being mentioned with the likes of those players when you’re talking about the best point guards since the break of the new millennium, but his contributions are probably going to be greater off the court as a mentor and unofficial assistant coach than on the court given his age and injury issues. As of today, Jeremy Lin is at the top of the depth chart at the point guard position, and while he may not stack up well to the point guards Scott has had in the past, he sees great potential for him in his offense.

“The thing I like about Jeremy, is that he’s feisty,” Scott said. “He’s tough. He competes. I’ve played against him, as far as coached against him, in a number of games, so I know how he is. He’s a competitor. The point guard position in this league today, on the defensive end, is vital. You’ve got to have guys that are — they don’t have to be great — they don’t have to be great one-on-one defenders, but they have to go after you. They have to just continue to be persistent at that end of the floor. I think Jeremy is like that, and offensively, obviously he can shoot the ball. He can push the ball up and down the floor. He gets to the basket. He’s a very, very intelligent basketball player, so again, after coaching against him for a few years, it’s going to be fun to coach him.”

Scott will have one All-Star caliber player on his roster next year in Kobe Bryant, who he mentored when he first came into the league and has kept a close relationship with since. Bryant has a reputation for being difficult to coach and stuck in his ways, but if there’s anyone who can connect with him it’s Scott and he’s already making it clear that he’s open to collaborating with his former pupil who is now an all-time great.

“I just think Kobe is an unbelievable basketball player that just has an unbelievable mind for the game of basketball,” Scott said. “And I see us conversating a lot over things that we should do on the basketball court, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Like I said, when I came in the league and had to play with this man over here on his side, listening to him talk about the game was amazing to me, the way he saw the game, so as a coach, there’s certain things that I’m going to see on the floor, and there’s certain things that he’s going to see, and at times, I’m going to go with some of the things he sees, and I’m going to go with some of the things I see. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem whatsoever.”

The search for a long-term solution other than Jackson has yielded poor results, but the Lakers finally took their time, vetted the market and found the candidate most likely to last longer than a couple of seasons in Scott. They’re going to have to be patient with him and realistic with the expectations they’re setting given what he has to work with. While Scott understands how the Lakers truly define success, he has one main goal for next season right now:

“Play hard every single night, and we’ll come ready to defend,” Scott said.

That alone would be a good step in the right direction given what the team went through last year.

Grizzlies Hire Ed Stefanski: Memphis Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace announced today that the team has named Ed Stefanski as executive vice president of player personnel.

“We are pleased to welcome Ed Stefanski to the Grizzlies and the city of Memphis,” Wallace said. “Ed is an established NBA executive and excellent talent evaluator who has had success with multiple organizations. Together, with our ownership, front office and coaching staff, we will continue to work to realize our collective vision of hosting a championship parade down Beale Street.”

Stefanski comes to Memphis following upper management positions with the New Jersey Nets (1999-2007), Philadelphia 76ers (2007-11) and, most recently, Toronto Raptors (2011-13), where he served as executive vice president of basketball operations.

Prior to that, Stefanski spent four seasons as president and general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, where he guided the team back to the playoffs three times after it had not qualified for the postseason in the two seasons before his hiring.  Stefanski helped rebuild the 76ers by re-signing key players such as Andre Iguodala and using mid-first round draft picks on young talent such as Marreese Speights (16th overall in 2008), Jrue Holiday (17th in 2009) and Nikola Vucevic (16th in 2011).

Before joining Philadelphia, Stefanski spent nine seasons with the Nets where he oversaw the team’s basketball operations and was heavily involved in player personnel matters.  He was promoted to general manager in 2004 after serving one season as senior vice president of basketball operations and four seasons as director of scouting.

Stefanski was instrumental in helping build the Nets’ back-to-back Eastern Conference championship teams (2002 and 2003).  He had a significant part in drafting Kenyon Martin with the first overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, as well as a draft night deal in which the Nets acquired Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong from Houston.  Martin, Jefferson and Collins would develop into starters for the Nets’ 2002-03 Eastern Conference championship squad.

In 2004, Stefanski played a major role in the trade that moved All-Star and current Grizzlies wing Vince Carter from Toronto to New Jersey in 2004.  Carter and Jefferson rank second and third, respectively, in Nets franchise history in points scored.

A 1976 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School of Business), Stefanski played three seasons for Penn, where he was coached by Hall-of-Famer Chuck Daly.  He was a member of two Ivy League Champions (1974 and 1975) and helped the Quakers reach the NCAA Tournament in both of those seasons.  Stefanski was drafted by Philadelphia in the 10th round of the 1976 NBA Draft.

While in college, Stefanski founded and secured funding for the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Inner City Basketball League, which provided a structured basketball environment for hundreds of boys and girls living under the Housing Authority.  The Housing Authority later celebrated his efforts with a special recognition award, commending his contributions to the youth of Philadelphia.

Stefanksi also enjoyed a 20-year run as a color analyst for Big Five basketball and ESPN’s Atlantic 10 basketball coverage.

Mavericks sign Ivan Johnson: The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed free agent forward Ivan Johnson.  Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Johnson (6-8, 255) started all five games for the Mavericks at the Las Vegas Summer League and averaged 7.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.0 steal and 20.8 minutes per game.

Johnson spent the 2013-14 season playing for the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls in China, where he averaged 26.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.9 steals and 32.8 minutes per game in 24 games.

The 6-8 forward began his professional career in the NBA Development League in 2007-08 with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Anaheim Aresenal.

Johnson was signed by the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 9, 2011 after impressing the club in a 2011 mini-camp and earning an invite to training camp. He appeared in 56 games for Atlanta in 2011-12 and averaged 6.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 72.0 percent from the foul line. Johnson was named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April. He ranked third among rookies in field goal percentage.

Johnson re-signed with Atlanta on Sept. 18, 2012. He averaged 6.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 15.0 minutes per game in 69 games (five starts) for the Hawks in 2012-13. Johnson holds career averages of 6.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 15.8 minutes per game in 125 NBA games (five starts).

Johnson finished up his collegiate career at Cal State San Bernardino in 2006-07, where he averaged 15.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. He earned All-California Collegiate Athletic Association First Team honors as a senior, and was named Second Team All-West Region by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA Daily: Tyus Jones Thriving in Bigger Role

Minnesota’s Tyus Jones speaks to David Yapkowitz about his growing role with the Wolves.

David Yapkowitz

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It was the last game of the 2016-17 NBA season. The Minnesota Timberwolves had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for quite some time. Their opponent that night, the Houston Rockets, had an impressive year and were on their way to the postseason.

Although the Wolves would go on to lose that game, 123-118, Tyus Jones came off the bench to have to his best game of the year. He would finish with 17 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 75 percent from the three-point line, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.

Jones had just finished up his second year in the NBA, which had gone a little bit just like his first; a few games played here and there followed by some DNP-CD’s. Rookie Kris Dunn was ahead of him on the depth chart at backup point guard for the majority of the year. That stat line he put up on the last night of the season, however, should have been a sign of things to come.

Now in his third year, and second playing under Tom Thibodeau, Jones has firmly seized the backup point guard spot. Thibodeau is notorious for playing short rotations, and along with Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng, Jones has solidified himself as one of Minnesota’s most dependable reserves.

“It’s been good, I’m just trying to contribute to the team as much as possible,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I want to do whatever I need to do to help this team win more games.”

The Timberwolves have done just that so far. They won 31 games all of last season. This year, they already have 16 wins. They didn’t break that mark last season until mid-January. Jones’ impact on the Wolves this year has been a big reason for that.

His stats may not jump off the page; he’s averaging 3.9 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, and 2.8 assists in about 17 minutes of play. But he’s become a reliable floor leader who is able to anchor the Wolves second unit. He’s also one of their best floor spacers at 38.2 percent from the three-point line, and he’s an improved defensive player.

“For me, having a little bit bigger role this year, it’s what I wanted,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just trying to make the most of it and take advantage of it.”

Jones has definitely taken advantage of his new role. Starting point guard Jeff Teague missed four games last month due to a sore right Achilles tendon. Aaron Brooks started in place of Teague for the first game he missed, but Jones was the starter for the next three.

In his first ever career start on Nov. 26 in a win over the Phoenix Suns, Jones had nine points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds, seven assists, seven steals, and two blocks. The following game, albeit in a loss to the Washington Wizards, he finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. In his final start before Teague returned, a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he had his best game of the season with 16 points on 66.7 percent shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals.

“It was a dream, I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Jones told Basketball Insiders about being a starter. “Once again, take advantage of the opportunity and just do my role.”

Although Jones only spent one season playing college basketball before entering the NBA draft, it was the program he attended that’s allowed him to make a seamless transition. He played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski during the 2014-15 season, winning a national championship alongside fellow NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Quinn Cook.

“It’s the best program in the country. Coach K is the best coach, arguably ever, to coach the game,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “There’s nothing comparable on the college level, playing at Duke. They’re the brightest lights, so that helps prepare you for the next level.”

The Wolves are a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. It was the 2003-04 season, to be exact. This year, however, they are hoping to change that. They currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, fighting for the right to host a playoff series in the first round.

“We’re trying to make the playoffs, that’s our goal right now,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “Each year, we’re trying to get better. We’re still trying to take that next step. This organization hasn’t been to the playoffs in a number of years.”

With Jones playing a pivotal role, the Wolves’ playoff drought looks like it will be coming to an end very shortly.

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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

Dennis Chambers

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The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.

By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.

For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.

A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.

stockdown456. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)

Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.

This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.

Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.

Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.

stockup455. Joel Embiid (Last Week: 6)

Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.

The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.

In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.

After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.

Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.

stockup454. Kyrie Irving (Last Week: 5)

Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.

Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.

Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.

At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.

stockup453. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Last Week: 4)

The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.

Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.

As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.

stocknochanges452. LeBron James (Last Week: 2)

After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.

No big deal.

That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.

Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.

Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.

stocknochanges451. James Harden (Last Week: 1)

The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.

James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.

Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.

What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.

On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.

LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.

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NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?

The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?

Steve Kyler

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At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work

The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?

Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.

All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:

Not Enough Touches

The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.

That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.

It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.

That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.

Russ Has To Be Russ

When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.

The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.

Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.

Where’d Offense Go?

The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.

Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.

It’s Not A Selfish Problem

The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.

Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.

But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.

All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.

It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.

That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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