NBA Playoff Thoughts (Part Two)
Welcome back! So the other day, we covered one of the top contenders for the NBA title – the Miami Heat. As you could probably tell, I wasn’t necessarily huge on them winning the title, but I definitely think they could do it based on talent alone.
Next on the chopping block, we’re going to take a look at arguably the top contender out West – the Oklahoma City Thunder. Much like the Heat, they’re not without their problems, but they’re still the odds-on favorites, at least in my book, to come out of the West.
Much like the Heat, they’re not lacking talent, especially in the scoring department. Kevin Durant is second in the NBA in scoring (behind Kobe Bryant), Russell Westbrook is one of the best scorers at his position, and James Harden is a shoo-in for the Sixth Man of the Year, as he’s put up some Manu Ginobli-esque numbers this year.
Looking past the top three for now, they’re also an overall efficient scoring team. They’re second in the NBA in scoring at 102.9 points per game, while shooting an NBA best 47.4 percent from the floor. They’re also tenth in the NBA at three point percentage, and tied for ninth in the NBA in three point makes per game. I should also point out that they’re the best free throw shooting team in the NBA at 80.1 percent. That my friends, is ridiculous efficiency from all areas of the court.
Beyond being hyper efficient on offense, they’re also rock-solid on defense. They give up 96.2 points per game, but they hold opponents to 42.5 percent shooting, which is third best in the NBA. Only the Celtics and 76ers are better than them in that category, and those are two of the best overall defensive squads in the NBA.
They also rebound quite well, raking in 43.4 per game (fifth in the NBA) and only allowing 40.9 per game (good for tenth in the NBA).
So yes, as you can see, there’s a whole lot to like about the Thunder. They can score, defend, and have three legitimate threats on offense. So really, what’s not to like about the Thunder? Well, there’s a few things.
First off, and I can already feel some heat coming for this, there’s this guy on the team. He runs the point guard, and some of you may have heard of him. His name is Russell Westbrook. And yes, I know I pointed him out as a strength to this team, which by all accounts he is. But, he also is a bit of a weakness to this team.
First off, he can be a ball stopper. There’s no questioning his scoring ability – he averages 24.1 points per game 46.6 percent shooting – but far too often, he just chucks up bad shots, especially when he’s off. Look at some of his box scores and you can see this – 3/14, 7/23, 9/26, 5/16, 4/16, 8/20, 6/20 – and these are just in the last month. Honestly, I don’t normally have a problem with bad shots (I’m a Lakers fan, so with Kobe, I can’t be), but when you have Kevin Durant on your team, you really should be deferring more, especially when you’re off.
Now I know Durant has defended Westbrook’s shot selection in the past and he did it again just a couple weeks ago, but deep down inside, he has to be frustrated sometimes. To me, he’s clearly the best player on this team (and arguably the best in the NBA), and he should be getting a lot more than .1 shots per game more than Westbrook – especially since he shoots far higher percentages across the board than him.
Beyond that, Westbrook is a point guard. Last I knew, that also meant you should be distributing the ball a bit (unless you play in a Phil Jackson system…then you just need to shoot), and he hasn’t even done that very well this year, averaging only 5.4 assists per game – his lowest output since his rookie year. To make matters worse, he also averages 3.7 turnovers per game, his second highest output in his short career.
Some might say that he deserves a bit of a pass on this since Harden and Durant are both averaging career highs in assists (3.8 and 3.5 respectively), but I’m not one of those people. I realize the point guard has evolved greatly over the years as we have more and more dynamic of athletes come in the NBA, but they still need to be distributors. Look at Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker – all of them get their own, but they don’t do it at the expense of setting up teammates. And when you have Harden and Durant on your team, you should certainly be finding yourself with a whole lot more than 5.4 assists per game.
The other big, glaring issue with this team is depth. They…lack it, I guess would be the nice way to put it. Sure, losing Maynor at the beginning of the season didn’t help, but they haven’t done much to address it. Shy of James Harden, their bench is relatively…just, blah. Collison is ok, but nothing to write home about, same with Daequan Cook. And while I liked the addition of Derek Fisher for leadership purposes, he’s past the point where he’s going to be a productive player.
It also hurts that they have offensive black holes in Ibaka and Perkins. I do realize that it’s not their job to go out and score 15 points per game, but neither of them are even worth throwing a bone to most of the time. Unless it’s an easy dunk or layup, those two won’t be doing much for you. Which is another big problem of theirs – no post offense. They lack that presence in the paint to be able to dump down to for that easy basket. I realize that kind of commodity can be few and far between in the NBA, but it’s still just a slight bit of a knock on them, mainly because they still have three players that can easily create their own shot, which makes up for that.
Again though, despite these gripes, the Thunder are really the class of the West when it comes down to it. Are they my pick to win it all? That much isn’t something I’m willing to reveal right now, but they’re certainly up there.
To put it bluntly though, this team is really, really good. And any team that gets them in the playoffs better be ready for one hell of a battle.
Until next time.