Last night before tuning in to game one of the finals, I was watching Game of Thrones with a buddy of mine - my favorite show (if you don’t watch it, reconsider your priorities). I love everything about the show - the constant plot twists, the unhinged/unpredictable numerous plot lines, etc. It's just great, there's really no show like it out there. With that being said, the plot line with the most potential has to be Daenerys'. I mean, she is the Mother of Dragons, the Breaker of Chains and the Unburnt for a reason after all. But doesn't it seem like her story line hasn’t progressed at all recently? I feel like her side of the story is treading water, and if I hear her proclaim her title one more time, I may just drive a screwdriver through my eye socket. There may not be a more perfect metaphor out there for the Thunder. Just like with Daenerys, the potential is there for greatness, but there always seems to be something standing in the way of their respective paths to success.
The scapegoat of the Thunder’s shortcomings has been Scott Brooks in the past. Many were quick to dismiss the Thunder’s yearly playoff mishaps as the fault of the coach. After all, this was the team that blew so many late leads under the guide of Brooks, despite having two superstars in Russ and KD. Naturally the coach is usually blamed for this. However, Brooks is now gone and enter Billy Donovan, a coach with a couple national championships under his belt at Florida, and nothing has changed. This team has to win by 10+ points to win a game – they clearly cannot play in close games. Why is this though? Per teamrankings.com, the Thunder squeaked to a .500 record in close games in 2015, which is actually up from .320 in 2014! That current number is good for a very mediocre 15th in the NBA this season, with the 2014 figures being in the bottom 5 in the NBA. Much of the 2014 numbers can be attributed to the KD and Russ-less Thunder for much of the year, as both dealt with nagging injuries, but that excuse doesn’t hold up for this season. So, how does a team that features two of the best five players in the league with strong role players in Adams, Kanter and Ibaka (perhaps Roberson now too) be so average in close games? Pure numbers don’t do that question justice. To have a better understanding, all one must do is watch the final five minutes of the last three games in the WCF. The Thunder’s offense goes from a modern-style offense with adequate ball movement and spacing to a circa 1990 NBA iso-happy offense in the blink of an eye when the game is on the line. After a bucket or a rebound, either Westbrook or Durant brings the ball up the court, with the other 4 players crammed to the other side. Then it usually features 20-ish seconds of dribbling around, culminating with a last-second heave to avoid a shot-clock violation. That is, if the Thunder don’t turn the ball over first. It’s really an eye sore to watch, and is just poor basketball. The only two players that touch the ball in these situations are Durant and Westbrook, which leaves the other three players on the court as absolute non-threats because there’s no chance in hell that they’ll get the ball. This predictable style of play leaves it easy for the defense to collapse in the lane and double, or even triple team one of Westbrook or Durant on their drives.
The real question is why does this happen? Is it possible that it’s not a coaching problem? It’s clear to me that Brooks and Donovan were and are figure heads that have absolutely no control over what happens in these crunch-time situations (perhaps ever). Both of these coaches strike me as more “yes men” who are afraid to take the reins from KD and Russ. The real problem for the Thunder are the egos of Durant and Westbrook. Both of these guys want to be ‘the guy’ and want the ball in their hands in crunch time. This creates a glorified pissing match between the two, in an effort to one-up each other and figure out who’s the alpha male on the team. What this team needs is discipline and a reality check for both Durant and Westbrook. While they didn’t and shouldn’t have given up on Billy Donovan one year in, I believe this team would really benefit from an authoritarian-type of coach, ala a Tom Thibedeau, who can install order in this team.
What should the Thunder do this off-season? I think they should dangle Enes Kanter on the trade market. Sure, they just signed him last off-season after trading for him mid-way through the previous season, but I think he hurts more than he helps a team. One can clearly see his scoring talent for a bigman with solid rebounding numbers, but he is a truly AWFUL defender and is a black hole when he gets the ball. Did anyone see the and-one move by Anderson Varejeo on him? Anderson. Freakin’. Varejeo. He’s also been claimed to be a terrible teammate, and there was clearly no love lost between his former Utah teammates and him when he left – plus just look at how much better the Jazz got after he was dealt? For a guy that plays no defense and doesn’t pass, his contract is ridiculous. Maybe see if Portland, who signed him to an offer sheet, would want to deal for him. It’s possible that some teams are so in love with his offensive skillset as a big that they forgot how terrible he is in other facets of the game and how big of a douchebag he is. I also think that Steven Adams showed that he deserves more minutes after a strong postseason showing. An obvious move that the Thunder should make is to throw the max at the Durantula. He’s one of the five best players in the game, an unbelievably talented scorer, an improving and perhaps underrated passer (when he’s willing), and a tremendously improved defender. Get rid of Dion Waters. He is terrible and shouldn’t be getting minutes. They should find a player like him – a player that can and is willing to attack and distribute, but a better version. OKC should continue giving Roberson a chance. He has proven this postseason that he is a stellar defender and rebounder, and a good cutter. He also showcased an improved stroke. He just needs time and confidence. In reality, other than perhaps trading Kanter and letting Waiters leave, OKC shouldn’t do much in terms of personnel change in the offseason. In my opinion, they clearly were the more talented team in the WCF, but boneheaded coaching decisions – i.e. making Roberson hack-a-Bogut, which took your best perimeter defender out of the game, which coincidently led Klay Thompson to catch fire – and questionable offensive sets cost them the series. Brace yourself and be patient, OKC fans.