By Connor MacKenzie @grandepadre94 written on March 19th
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in a funk, there is no doubt about it. They are 5-9 since the all star break with 11 games remaining. Their defense has regressed, but has shown great flashes in limiting prolific scoring teams such as holding Utah 89 points, and the likes of Indiana to 108. What poses the biggest challenge more than anything has been their inability to keep out of foul trouble. In a late game against the Clippers in LA, the Thunder committed 34 fouls with Russell, PG, and Adams all fouling out in the 4th quarter and the Clippers squeaking out a 118-110 victory.
In 8 of the last 11 games, the Thunder have allowed their opponent 25 or more free throws. As a poor free throw shooting team, only George and Schroder shoot above 80 percent from the line, the Thunder have to maximize their opportunities at the line for this daunting remainder of the schedule.
Steven Adams has been a wrecking ball this season with career highs in points (14.3), rebounds (9.6) and attempts (10.2) making 60%. He receives several touches early in the post, or at the top of the key to start a screen and roll action with one of OKC’s guards. However, he has a way of disappearing through majority of the game. His humble nature and laying his body down is priceless, but as a dominant, max contract guy, he’s got to demand the ball more and take pressure off his all star teammates.
Jerami Grant has been phenomenal with his energy, consistent double figure scoring and occasional double digit rebounds. But the team needs more. He is much like a young Andre Igoudala: jumps out of the gym, great defender, and can knock down an open jumper in pressure situations. But the team needs more. He’s got 11 games to dig deep and show out why he was worth the pay day and luxury tax overhang.
Westbrook has got to revert to his gameplay from before the all star break. He is losing control of his emotions and it has cost his team wins. Clippers and more recently against Golden State when he picked up his 16th technical, which ended up costing him a game against the Miami Heat. The Thunder lost again at home and it was partially due to Westbrook not on the floor. Taking Schroder to the starting role exposes the Thunder bench and it was evident last night as they mustered only 10 points.
NOW, the positive stuff. The Thunder for nearly 2 and a half months were the best shooting team overall and from 3. Shooting slumps do not last forever, but it is rare that multiple players are in a slump at the same time. Blaming the schedule or Paul George’s shoulder is a great scapegoat when shots do not fall. When the shots start dropping, then it becomes a whole other story. The Thunder still have the 4th best defensive rating, but have fallen to the 18th best offensive rating in the league. This is a team built in playing defense, getting out on the break and punishing teams on the glass.
The Thunder’s opportunity to break out of this slump and make a strong playoff push comes tomorrow against Toronto, who is 7-5 since the all star break. This will be a pivotal game as perennial superstar talents in Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry look to make surge for playoff seeding as well. The Peake will be rockin’ and we will see what this Thunder team is made of.