Writer: Caleb Akpan
When the NBA season began, there were a few super teams that seemed a cut above the rest. The Golden State Warriors looked even more dominant, Cleveland still seemed to be the best of the East, Houston added Chris Paul, and the Spurs were still the Spurs. All of these teams have proven their greatness so far this season, but there was another team included in that group that has yet to emerge as a true contender. Something’s wrong in Oklahoma City and the Thunder might not have the winning formula in their hands, despite having three of the best players in the league.
Credit: USA Today
GM Sam Presti had completely robbed the Pacers and Knicks to get Paul George and Carmelo Anthony according to most accounts this offseason. OKC had a true big three just a year removed from losing Kevin Durant to the Warriors, and many considered them the first challenge to the machine Golden State had built. Critics saw them as a true contender going into the season, but they have yet to prove they can even secure a playoff spot out West as every member of the trio struggles. Anthony is averaging career lows in points (17.7), assists (1.5), and field goal percentage (40%), which Paul George is also averaging a career low in (41%), aside from his brief playing time in 2014-2015 returning from injury. Russell Westbrook’s raw numbers (22.6 PPG, 9.9 APG, 9.4 RPG) still appear somewhat dominant, but his percentages are even worse than his teammates. Westbrook is currently shooting 38% from the field, 31% from 3, and 71% from the free throw line, numbers that are, for the most part, even worse than those from his rookie campaign. With their three stars struggling to mesh, it’s tough to see what more the team really needs.
A change could be required in the coaching ranks. Many have begun to criticize Billy Donovan, saying he lacks a true NBA system, but Donovan also had a much less talented OKC squad in the playoffs last year, along with Russell Westbrook winning an MVP. Can coaching really be blamed when OKC was successful with less pieces just months ago? Maybe the struggles have something to do with the bench. The Thunder traded away pieces like Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and Domantas Sabonis along with Victor Oladipo, who seems to be transforming into one of the best players in the league in order to get George and Anthony. They may not be as good as Melo and PG, but together they provided OKC with depth and worked well with ball-dominant Westbrook. Having three guys on the court that need the ball a lot in order to succeed has been one of OKC’s biggest issues so far. It’s getting to the point where losing one of the 3 might actually help things in the name of depth and flow of the offense.
The good news for the Thunder and their fans is that they’ve now won 3 of the last four games following a triple overtime thriller with Philadelphia Friday night. The bad news is that they’re still just barely in the eight seed out West and every one of those three wins was won in the final minutes. OKC needs to start really meshing and dominating games soon or it may be too late for any big hopes they had going into the season. There’s still time to recover and get a higher playoff seed, but not too much time. They need to figure out a solution to their issues, firing Donovan, trading George or Anthony, or just simply pulling it together with what they have. However they do it, it’s gotta be fast, or they might not even make the playoffs at all.