In a recent post by Bedlam Brother, he outlines why Thunder fans need not panic despite the string of losses prior to last Friday where they would go on to defeat the Raptors on their home floor in Toronto and what he believes they need to win more consistently. Despite the seemingly worrying trend, I am inclined to agree that there isn’t a need for panic; however, in terms of what they need to do to win, while I don’t necessarily disagree with some of his points, I don’t full agree with them either.
Steven Adams – Agree
As one of the strongest, if not the strongest players in the league, Adams should be demanding the ball more throughout the course of the game, however, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. On top of that, since the start of the new year, he has been struggling mightily to score even from point blank range. Along with that, he also has a tough time catching passes that come his way for some inexplicable reason and has plummeted to a near net negative on the defensive end. If the Thunder are to have any hopes of winning consistently during this last stretch or making a deep playoff run, Adams will need to find who he was in the first half of the season.
Jerami Grant – Disagree
Of the Thunder’s starting five, Grant has arguably been one of, if not the most consistent player on the team. As such, I would disagree that Grant needs to step up or prove that he’s worthy of his contract. Despite Westbrook, George and Adams being considered the Thunder’s “big 3”, Grant is averaging nearly the same amount of points as Adams (13.3 vs 14.1) while shooting 38.3% from 3 and over 50% from the field. He’s also making over 70% of his free throws while Adams sitting at an abysmal 51.7%. Granted Adams grabs nearly double the amount of rebounds and they’re nearly identical when it comes to steal and blocks with Grant leading in blocks and Adams in steals. All this while only making $9.1M compared to Adams’ $22.5M. He not only brings much needed energy to the team, but is sound defensively, able to finish through contact in the paint, make free throws at a decent rate and space the floor. In that sense, he’s done everything you could possibly ask of him and then some given he’s considered the 4th option or 5th when Schroder is on with the starting unit.
Westbrook – Agree/Disagree
While Westbrook taking a backseat for the first half of the season worked as he struggled to find any semblance of offense, he has really started coming to life post all-star break. In that sense, while I do agree that Westbrook could stand to facilitate more, with his shot falling with consistency from both the beyond and in the arc, there isn’t much of a need to more than he already does. On top of that, Westbrook alone can’t solely be blamed for their recent stretch as he’s been playing like a superstar while George, Schroder and Adams have all collectively struggled. If the Thunder are to make a deep playoff push, they will need Westbrook to continue to play at this high of a level. He could stand to make better decisions throughout the course of the game though, that I won’t deny.
As mentioned in one of my previous posts, George has struggled to find himself on the offensive end, however, as of late, he has started to look like the MVP candidate many pegged him out to be prior to the all-star break. If he continues this level of play on the offensive and defensive end for the remainder of the season and into the post-season, the Thunder will be an incredibly difficult team to beat given his ability to impact the game in a multitude of ways. And as the leader of this team now, everything starts and ends with him.
While Schroder was considered a top candidate for sixth man of the year prior to the all-star break, since then, he’s seemingly fallen off a cliff offensively. Although he did play incredibly well against Toronto Friday, that was an exception to his current struggles of 3-16 (2/22), 5-12 (2/23), 5/17 (2/26), 4-15 (2/28), 6-15 (3/2), 6-22 (3/3), 4-8 (3/5), 7-16 (3/7), 5-20 (3/8), 10-18 (3/11), 3-10 (3/13), 3-10 (3/14), 6-14 (3/16), 7-16 (3/18), 5-16 (3/20). Yikes, if that’s not an extended cold spell, I don’t know what is. And as the leader of the bench unit, this hasn’t boded well for the Thunder. In fact, aside from the loss to Golden State, every other loss during these last few weeks have been incredibly close and can be attributed to the lack of scoring from the bench. This is also in part on Billy Donovan as he chooses to run a full second unit at times without any of the starters on the floor.
Despite these issues, as stated previously, losses have still been incredibly close. In that sense, there’s no real need to worry as George and Westbrook, the keys to OKC’s success, are playing at an extremely high level with players like Grant making solid contributions on a nightly basis. Adams, Ferg and Schroder along with the rest of the bench unit though, need to start locking in and playing at a higher level though. And if they do, boy will they be a tough team to beat.