Welcome back to The ‘Shop for this week’s discussion. Jabari Davis and Lang Greene continue their NBA conversation with a few new topics from the headlines and are joined today by Josh Eberley of Hoop Mag (NBA.com) and Press Basketball:
Jabari: I hope the holiday treated you and the families well, Josh and Lang. Hopefully, a whole lot better than former NBA head coach George Karl is treating some of his ex-players with some of the excerpts coming from his upcoming book, ‘Furious George’ set to be released on January 10, 2017. “Tell-all” books are nothing new and, given the fact that Karl appears to have fizzled out of the NBA rotation of viable coaching candidates, I guess this should come as no shock.
My biggest issue with it wasn’t the fact that he went out of his way to heavily criticize some of the very players that helped him become the coach with the fifth-most wins in NBA history over the second half of his coaching career. My problem with it was the way in which he decided to personally attack these players using coded (and in some cases blatantly prejudiced) language to add the type of tone that was likely used to specifically sell books. Essentially, this has the feeling of selling the very people out that he experienced some of his greatest professional heights with, while tacking on the type of language and rhetoric that could only have been added to specifically hurt those individuals OR for the positive monetary benefits that can come from sensationalist commentary. First, did you have an issue with Karl’s decision to specifically call out Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin by essentially calling them “fatherless” and criticizing them for things completely out of their control? Second, does this feel like a “final act” for Karl as a member of the NBA sidelines or could you see a path where he would be trusted by NBA players enough to be placed in charge at some point moving forward?
Josh: I love tell-all books, I really do. We’re all NBA junkies and of course I want the behind-the-scenes tour! That said, Karl didn’t have to take it there. Nothing he said about Carmelo Anthony’s game was unfair, it’s not stuff we all haven’t heard before on Twitter or wherever. But adding in his doctor’s notes on the impact of not having a father was probably out of line and overall unnecessary.
Karl put himself in a bad situation here; people will discredit him based on his lack of tact. The truth is there’s probably some great stuff in that book. Even if you hate the guy (as many players seem to), he was an NBA coach for a lot of years. I hope people can sort through the B.S. while still enjoying the nuggets, not for Karl, but for your own NBA fandom.
Oh, Karl is done. Who in the hell would ever want to play for this guy? Boogie, Melo, Martin, Allen, Iguodala, etc. Have all blasted the man. Now he’s writing a book throwing crap on the most prestigious players to ever suit up for him? Even if some of the strictly basketball-related criticism is fair, no one wants to play for a guy who’s going to crap on them publicly and privately.
Lang: What’s up Hoop Freaks? Strong welcome to J.E. I appreciate you stopping through, my man. Let’s rock.
When guys are trying to sell books, especially in today’s climate, I already know there will be some juicy nuggets to bring in readers. George Karl just followed the normal procedure for someone heading into retirement not looking for another check. I might be taking a different approach on this, but Karl has coached some guys that most in his profession would be shaking in their boots to lead. Let’s run down some names for the Freaks: Allen Iverson, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Vin Baker, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, JaVale McGee, Ty Lawson, Chris Andersen, Reggie Evans, Julius Hodge, J.R. Reid, Sam Cassell and Anthony Mason. I mean, I can go on but you get the point.
My goodness. Most of the guys on this list are just headstrong alpha males without any off-court baggage. But some of these guys were (or are) dealing with alcohol issues and drug issues. Some were just blatantly immature and still are to this day. One of the guys got shot in the middle of the season for goodness sake. Quite a few were known to give their other coaches fits during their careers.
I found his criticism to be out of line, but maybe the man was just fed up after having to play the “bigger man” all these years while keeping things internal.
Lastly, the fatherless talk is definitely loaded in code. Make no mistake, it plays to an audience that have preconceived notions of young minority multi-millionaires. However, fatherless households in minority communities is without a doubt a big issue – a huge issue. I don’t want to dismiss that nugget, but I also feel Karl wasn’t trying to “lend a hand” or “raise awareness” when he was going after ‘Melo and Kenyon. Last thing, the exponential growth of fatherless households since the 1960s has increased in all ethnic groups in America. Just to be clear.
Jabari: I suppose we should wait for the rest of the material or perhaps a few more excerpts for additional perspective on what Karl is discussing in the book, but the first bit of information (while it will certainly snatch headlines and potentially sell some books) actually turns me off on the idea of the project, altogether.
Transitioning to a topic Josh actually brought up on Twitter, many of us came into the season with high hopes for what year-two of D’Angelo Russell might look like. The “fit” with head coach Luke Walton, his staff and the system is significantly better than last season, but Russell still hasn’t quite been able to turn the corner just yet.
Finding a consistent effort, not only on both sides of the court, but specifically when his shot is not falling, has been a challenge for Russell to this point. This is not an uncommon characteristic for young guards, but Russell was brought in under the guise of potentially being a “next-level” player among his peers and the hope has to be that he’ll at least be able to continue developing into an impact player at this level. Russell does enough on a regular basis (14.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.3 RPG in 26.3 MPG) to still make you raise your eyebrows about his potential, but remains a sub-40 percent shooter from the field for the season (39.4 percent) and still turns the ball over at an alarming rate on some nights. His current Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranking is 39th among point guards that have started at least four games in 2016-17 just behind Russell Westbrook and ahead of Beno Udrih. When adjusted to determine Real Plus-Minus Wins among the same group, Russell ranks just 25th.
I’m covering him from within the market and will fully admit that I still believe he has the “it” factor that could make him special, but I’d be interested in hearing from each of you about what his potential looks like from the outside and whether he will ultimately live up to the hype many of us have placed on him?
Josh: The “it” factor is what scared me off this kid in what appeared to be a stacked draft. I remember watching him play against Arizona in the tourney and he just kept shooting and shooting. Frankly, it was ugly. He shot a woeful 3-of-19 (16 percent) while his teammates shot a combined 17-33 (52 percent). It was one game but that’s the downside of the “it” factor, it seems to come with a lack of self-awareness. His decision-making is at times, well, not ideal.
That comes off as wholly negative, but I don’t mean it to be. Not unlike Devin Booker and Justise Winslow, the hype of the class seems to drain some of the reality. The Lakers’ hot start was in spite of Russell and not because of him. Is he still incredibly talented? Absolutely. Could he still be an All-Star? Hell yeah, he could. However, his sophomore numbers leave a lot to be desired. Playing less minutes under Luke Walton than he did under Byron Scott doesn’t seem like a red flag to you?
I think he’s going to be a good player – he’s only just creeping up to 21 years old – but I don’t see him as the franchise player many hope he could be.
Lang: Way too early to say he doesn’t have “it” in my view. I remember watching Russell Westbrook during his first season and a half and thinking, “Man, this kid is going to be really good.” But I certainly didn’t see 32-11-11 type of potential.
Honestly, from the outside it seems D’Angelo might fall into the “too-cool-for-school” crowd. The jersey always looks just right, the movements textbook, picturesque jump shots when things are rolling for the Lakers, etc. But I did a YouTube search for “D’Angelo Russell hustle play” and came up with crickets.
I’m on record with you, Jabari, saying Russell has more upside than Devin Booker. This is based on “potential” and what I believe he can become. But here is the definitive D’Angelo Russell play for me up until now – from last Christmas:
Four-on-one fastbreak, two forwards on the wing (Julius Randle and Anthony Brown, I believe) and Nick Young spotting up from three. Oh, and old man Paul Pierce as the only defender on the break. Russell double dribbles after trying to go solo. But pay attention to his teammates’ reaction. Randle is in absolute disbelief. Nick Young is befuddled. The end of the Lakers’ bench is frustrated and have a mini huddle before clapping it up. Just look at Roy Hibbert and Robert Sacre.
But I say all this to say, I think the man has All-Star potential … but it’s much more than acting or looking the part. It’s about becoming that dude.
Jabari: The decreased minutes under Walton aren’t really a shock as you’ll notice everyone within the main rotation is playing somewhere right around 22-29 minutes. His minutes were also reduced for about a week following that knee injury that sidelined him for 12 games, but I anticipate them settling somewhere between 27-30 minutes by the end of the year. It seems like we are all on the same page when it comes to Russell, although, I still think he could be a star player at some point. He’s just nowhere near that place at this stage, and the jury is still out on whether he will ultimately reach it.
Continuing on to another story… can we please take a moment to appreciate just how phenomenal that Cavs vs. Warriors game was from Christmas? At the same time, can I now rescind my “let’s appreciate everything else aside from CLE-GS” stance on the season and start getting geared up for an eventual showdown? I know there are a ton of great storylines continuing to play out (Westbrook, James Harden, the Spurs, the Raptors, etc.), but after seeing “Game 8” the other day, I am ALL in, once again! IF we get a Part 3 from these teams, is Cleveland actually the favorite? Even with the addition of Kevin Durant? Even though the Warriors appear to have at least figured out some of their defensive issues that plagued them in the early going?
Josh: Let’s start with the obvious: It was a great game. I won’t lie, I was in the danger zone early Christmas day. The girlfriend spent Christmas Eve with my family this year so it was Christmas at her place.
Genuine fear creeped into my heart that I’d have to record and watch later. I was at the mercy of the girlfriend’s family, spending Christmas afternoon with them for the first time. I was unsure if NBA basketball on mute during present opening would fly. (My own family has long accepted it at my place.)
*Walk in hug everybody.
“Can I help with anything, No? Great, I mean, umm, hey, would it be cool if basketball was on mute while we did this.”
*Five pairs of eyes fixate on the new guy, how can he be so bold?
“Yeah, for sure, Josh. No problem at all.”
That was my 60 yarder and it was cash, my full court buzzer-beater – nothing but net. Watching the game later after knowing the result would’ve been horrid.
Can we take a second to appreciate 36-year-old Richard Jefferson cramming all over the Warriors? I broke taboo just once during the present opening, jumping up and down and screaming when Jefferson drove his flag six feet into Klay Thompson.
What was the question again? Are the Cavaliers the favorites in the tiebreaker series? Ha. No. Hell no. Steph Curry was hurt, Draymond Green got suspended, Andrew Bogut got hurt, three all-time plays were necessary to win in seven. The Warriors have to be the favorites still. They added a former MVP to a 73-win team. I WILL NOT LET ANYONE FORGET THIS. If the Cavaliers win again, it’s the best NBA Finals ever. There’s never been a better team on the paper than this Warriors squad, they are still coming together. Wait, just wait, for their post All-Star run. It’s going to be savage.
Lang: Josh, props for standing in the pocket with the future in-laws my man. You set the tone early so the next 10-15 years should be a breeze. I remember those early days…
Let me ask this, though. Do I hear excuses? Do I hear a bunch of “What Ifs”? I think I do. Since we’re at excuses making, what about 2015 … what if Kyrie Irving wasn’t hurt in Game 1 of the Finals? What if Kevin Love wasn’t hurt? It’s sports, man. I always wonder what if Richard Steele didn’t stop the first Meldrick Taylor versus Julio Cesar Chavez fight with two seconds remaining in the 12th round. Would Taylor have become one of the all-time greats?
But we’ll never know so all we can deal with is what’s the reality and the reality is, as Ric Flair said, “To be the man, You’ve got to beat the man.” The Cavaliers beat the Warriors. Period. This we know. Then beat them again on Christmas. Cleveland is the favorite until I see something different. This isn’t to say the Warriors aren’t going to show up with a can, because they will, but the Cavaliers – at full strength – might have their number.
Jabari: Part of me absolutely wants to believe what Josh is saying, but what we’ve seen over the last four times the two teams have faced one another makes me hesitant to put anyone ahead of LeBron, Kyrie and a productive Kevin Love so comfortably. The elephant in the room when it comes to these Warriors is the specific way that game ended, in my opinion. Heading in, one of the more intriguing aspects of Durant deciding to join the Warriors was the idea of seeing him play within a system and alongside a group of guys that have won before. Whether it was a foul on the final sequence or not, why did that look so similar to the way things would devolve down the stretch of OKC games year after year?
Josh: I don’t know if I’d go there, not yet. Though, I’m sure somewhere Reggie Jackson is tickled by that notion. The Warriors just aren’t who they are going to be – not yet anyway. Comfort and custom are parts of this game, teams with the least changes usually thrive early in the season. If the Warriors are still falling apart in April, it’s time to bring back this idea. Remember, Durant has actually seen his shooting percentages drop four straight years come the playoffs, I’ll be watching for that this year.
Lang: Still too early to tell, but maybe the problem in OKC in late situations wasn’t Russell Westbrook.
Jabari: The last topic for the week is related to something I actually saw Josh discussing via Twitter (@JoshEberley, @LangGreene and @JabariDavisNBA) the other day. Josh, you were talking about the great play of Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Kyle Lowry. The debate over the top point guards will rage on for another day, but I’d actually like each of you to rank these East guards in terms of which of these guys deserve to make an All-Star team aaaaand which do you think WILL make it: Irving, Wall, Lowry, Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas?
Lang: Interesting question. Kyrie Irving is automatic from the standpoint of being on the East’s best team and defending champion. Isaiah Thomas has been hurt so I have him pulling up the rear, for now. I give John Wall the edge over Kemba Walker. The man has been everything to Washington and I believe Walker has a bit more help on a nightly basis. So if I were ranking right now, Kyrie then J-Dub, then Kemba and then I.T. (and that’s just because of the slight injury absence). I honestly believe Kemba, for all his goodness, will be snubbed again this season. LG out.
Josh: Kyle Lowry has been the best point guard in the East this year, I don’t think it has been close. He’s on the second-best team, he’s probably the best defender of the bunch and his shooting splits are out of this damn world.
A lot has been made of Kyrie Irving being the best he has ever been, or not developing to the level of a superstar, etc. It has been an ongoing conversation, but the simple answer is that Kyrie has been great. He’s an excellent complement to LeBron James, he’s shooting very well, the Cavaliers are winning. He should come off the bench in the All-Star game behind Lowry and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he should be there.
It gets tricky here because everyone you listed is good enough to get in. John Wall is the next man up here, the Wizards are pushing at the right time and he’s having a career-year.
So chances are one of Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker are missing this year. I think it’s Walker’s turn to get in, he’s the better defensive player and they both mean similar to their teams offensively. I also don’t feel so bad because Walker was the last cut last year. Shouts to Goran Dragić, who is having a really good year but has no chance due to market coverage and team record.
Jabari: For me, Lowry has been the most consistent of the group thus far, but Kyrie will likely get voted in by the fans. As long as each of them make it, I’m fine with whichever (if any) of the other three-four candidates make it. After Wall, to Josh’s point, it could simply be a matter of which guy is up in the proverbial rotation.
Really good stuff from each of you gentlemen this week. Allow me to thank each of you for taking the time and I encourage the readers to continue providing the excellent feedback and topic suggestions in the comment section or on Twitter!
NBA Daily: Tyus Jones Thriving in Bigger Role
Minnesota’s Tyus Jones speaks to David Yapkowitz about his growing role with the Wolves.
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.
NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17
Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.
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.
6. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?
The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?
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.
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