Timi Awotesu asked in the Season Guide if securing Westbrook, landing Paul George and persuading Carmelo to leave the Big Apple would work and right now I don’t think the answer is conclusive. They only added 1 win to last season’s tally of 47 wins and 35 losses, but they also managed to secure the 4-seed, thanks in part to the depth of the Western Conference, compared with a 6th place finish one season ago. For me, the issue is that their all-around game is just so mediocre… 7th in Offensive rating, 9th in Defensive rating, their shooting percentages aren’t great and their turnovers are around league average.
At points however, this squad has just looked awful. Taking losses against teams like Sacramento early in the year, a 3 game skid against Detroit (without Blake Griffin), Dallas and Orlando, yet another loss at home vs Dallas, and even a loss to the Phoenix Suns at one stage in the season. They have had some positives though too – a November win against a full strength Warriors squad proved that they can take on the best. Wins against fellow playoff teams Minnesota, San Antonio and then Utah all in consecutive games shows just how close this Western Conference playoff chase has been. That’s why I think they are mediocre. They have the parts: Westbrook, George, Melo and Steven Adams are as formidable and well rounded as you can get. Maybe they can continue their current 3 game win streak into the playoffs, with home court advantage confirmed, anything is possible with this squad.
One benefit this squad has is their ability to crash the offensive boards and create second chance opportunities. Leading the league in offensive rebounds, boosted by Steven Adams and his ridiculous 5.1 offensive rebounds per game, Russell Westbrook hauling in pretty much 2 per game and even Andre Robertson, Jerami Grant and Corey Brewer (when they aren’t injured) chipping in too. This team’s ability to create second chance opportunities will be key to a playoff run. Offensive rebounds are one of those key momentum-changing things that can happen in a game. Similar to taking a charge, these plays ignite the crowd, especially if it’s a high-flying Westbrook put-back slam.
Where do I start? As I said earlier, this team has just been so… mediocre. They are one of, in my opinion, the most confusing teams in the entire league. Their defensive efficiency isn’t great, giving up 107.2 points per 100 possessions. They are fantastic on the offensive boards, yet rank 26th in defensive rebounds. They force the most turnovers in the NBA, yet even with a guy like Russ, they are one of the lowest pace teams in the league. All of these things make the Thunder a real dark horse in the NBA, because on any given night they can beat you. Sometimes those weaknesses become your strength.
After becoming the first player in league history to average a triple double twice and in consecutive seasons – is the season that this Thunder team have had enough to convince Paul George that he should settle down in Oklahoma, or will the bright lights of LA and the Lakers just be too bright to resist?
A first round meeting with Utah, despite OKC having the higher seed, and home court advantage is one of the toughest matchups in the league at the moment. The ability of the Jazz to turn their season around after the return of Rudy Gobert was phenomenal. But the Thunder have no reason to be afraid, having gone 3-1 over the Jazz this year.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER?
The new guy, Paul George is the most important player for the Thunder. Last season Russ even went for 51 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists in game 2 of last year’s match up with Houston and they still lost. Russ alone cannot carry this team, but the addition however of a solid 2-way forward who can score, space the floor and shoot from deep could be the difference-maker this season.
THE ONE TO WATCH?
Russell Westbrook is a human highlight reel and is always worth watching, but I think the key for OKC this post season is Melo. The veteran who gave up the Big Apple to become a cog in the Thunder has been somewhat a black hole this season, settling for contested mid-range jump shots, missing clutch free throws, and holding the ball for just that split second too long. Watch Melo. If he can move the ball, hit shots when needed, especially in the clutch, then he could be the difference maker.
Written by Sam Chadwick – Copyright © 2018 Double Clutch. Double Clutch is not affiliated with the NBA and does not claim ownership over any NBA audio or images used. All rights are those of the NBA/NBA UK and respected parties e.g. Getty images.