At this point in the Thunder's season, the reality of the struggle to make the playoffs starts to sink in.
When we know we have a mountain to climb, a battle to fight...a marathon to run, but at least everybody's healthy. Then, we start to drop a couple of games. Games, that we were sure, or almost sure we should win. ...And you remember that this team has only played together, as it is, for a few weeks now. Passes flying off of hands, rebounds getting tipped, but not grabbed, more passes glancing off kneecaps, shots are missed, and Michael Cage says one more time, "That's timing, they'll get that worked out...". The growed up bench and the superheroes aren't quite on the same page yet. Then, just to piss you off and knock you off balance, they do share the ball like never before and guys that don't score, start scoring in a balanced fashion, and whoever we're playing sort of craps their pants...it's like a merry-go-round of insanity.
So, I sat down this morning with my coffee, and pondered why I'm a little worried, and worked on convincing myself that I shouldn't worry...except that didn't work.
I'm still a little worried...but also, excited at the same time. This is what being a fan is all about. Crunch time, game time, the time to deliver what you get paid to do. The only problem was that crunch time wasn't supposed to hit until February, or March, when we were a little behind schedule in our domination of the brick-house Western Conference. Now we realize that we can't afford to have a game when a player "feels it" and gets it wrong. We need the coaching staff, the starters, and the bench to all click like a well oiled machine. Every day, every shot, every pass, every rebound, cut, pick, drive, formation...we can't go all drunk giraffe and cheetah on everyone like we've relied on in the past.
Kevin goes down with an ankle injury, and still isn't back...then the Mavs pick up Rondo, the Grizzlies rip up the Warriors, we lose to the Pelicans twice.
Yeah, I'm still a little worried...and this is a hard post. The truth being that I'm not going all stats to back up what I'm thinking at the moment. So, I'm running the risk of showing my 4-year old behind, wearing a captain's hat, trying to boss dad around while he's driving the boat. That's why I don't write for ESPN.
So, after a long intro, that's probably shorter than my actual point...here goes:
The coaching staff reworked our offense schemes this summer. We've seen some of this, and we like it. They reworked it again, after everybody and their wife got hurt. We grimaced, but we won some games we could have lost, which made it ok.
Now Kevin and Russ are back, and they need to get back to doing what they do...right?
Except, for the fact that if we have truly increased our offensive efficiency and power on the bench, then the bench guys actually have to play, and shoot...right?
Nick and Serge don't have to shoot 3's anymore, we went and got Anthony Morrow to do that for us...right?
Jeremy and PJIII are growing up this year...right?
Reggie's in a contract year and should be tearing it up, if he wants his payday... right?
We've seen the Thunder, in their six game win streak, share the ball like they never have before. That's because of two factors: the bench has shown they can actually score, and the offense has guys moving, cutting, opening up a two man game, and getting layups in a much more efficient manner. That's what excites me.
Was Kevin's 30 point first half a good thing? Or did it lull everyone back into the sleep that Jeremy Lamb looks like he just woke up from when he's on the bench? If KD's gonna have 60, then what do I have to do? If Russell's gonna go all teleportation and Tasmanian Devil with a near triple double every night, what do I have to do?
The cuts are there, the shots are there, guys are open. Reggie Jackson either misses Anthony Morrow in the corner when he drives underneath the basket, or he simply doesn't want to pass the ball to him. Serge has become a tipper and bumbler of both passes and rebounds...(Just grab the damn ball!).
I think the Thunder are in a bit of an identity crisis, and I'll point it out now. We are in the middle of changing some things, which spreads the offensive load around to a better balance. Which is key, but The Thunder have to remember a couple of things...
We all hate the Spurs, right? It's because it doesn't matter who's on the floor, they have an offensive system that doesn't depend on specific people being on the floor...it depends on specific roles being on the floor. Those roles indicate the team chemistry because they can be supplied by Tim Duncan, or Tiago Splitter...Ginobili, Parker, or Leonard...they are interchangeable. In the last 20 seconds of each quarter, you don't know who is gonna take the shot!?
If the Thunder can achieve a better balance, it will be because Kevin, Russell, and Reggie defer some of their opportunities in the short run, in order to let other players have that shot. It will mean that Serge gets 60% of his points from 5 feet of the basket. It will mean that Morrow has to take seven 3-pointers in order to have a game where he hits 5. Right now, he's not getting the ball that much. He's hit an off-screen curling 15-foot jumper in the last 3-4 games I've watched...and after he does, he never gets it again.
The only consistency I see right now, is the inability to know at the point guard position, whether we are going to score or pass.
I'm not knocking Russ, or Reggie...I'm simply pointing out that we have to know what we're doing. If Reggie's running a play and the lane opens up...he may need to let that one go, in order to see something else. We need to trade Kevin's 28 footers, and the Russ/Reggie rim attack, for more opportunities for alley oops to PJIII and Steven Adams. "Opportunity Cost" means that you can get an assist on this possession, or 2 points...not both. What are you looking to accomplish on this possession? What are we looking to accomplish on this possession?
I am worried about Jackson and Russ, more than anyone else. Here's why: As a point guard, in high school, my job was to make sure the offense ran its course. The offense provided shots...not me. I was suppose to be able to see the points in the process for guys to get shots...and get them the ball. I focused way too much on my own personal points, and it caused my team to be less than it could have been. If I had thought more in abstract terms..."My job is get the lead from 5 to 10"...then I could figure out how to best do that. If it's "cut the lead from 10 to 5", then my decisions are different, than just attacking every time. There's more balance, more opportunity, more vision, more team basketball.
I love our scorers, and I don't mean to say we don't have roles...Nick knows his role, Perk knows his role. But, the Thunder, as a team, have to approach every offensive possession as a mission to deconstruct the defense...not to showcase any one players ability to drain a three point shot from Tulsa, or to teleport past the defense for a layup. Every move needs to have a larger reason behind it..."Drive the lane to draw 3 defenders into the paint...not to shoot...but to pull the defense IN...then do it again next possession, but kick it to Morrow, or Kevin." OR "Take a longer jumper because the guy is running off a screen and shoots 75% from the freethrow area...and PULL the defense OUT so that next possession, out of a pick-and-roll...Steven Adams hangs on the rim after cutting to an open lane". I believe we start to run the offense a lot of times, but get bogged down in past habits when we drive the lane and think, "Man I got this guy, I'm gonna take it all the way"...somewhere in the process it breaks down before we get to the end-game we seek for a possession.
Chemistry and Opportunity. The right mix for the right reason, at the right time, for the right person.
If that happens, The Thunder could be one of the best teams in the past 15 years. They could destroy any team, if the skills of each player are balanced and utilized as a single tool to cut apart a defense.
That's my take. I've said nothing on defense...that comes and goes...The Thunder will work hard on defense every game and every practice...we just need to see the offensive end become a place where hard work connects with talent while connecting with a solid overall strategy.
The coaches have to do their part, and I believe they have. At times this season, we've gotten layups, dunks and 3's whenever we wanted, and the game was easy when that happens...you just can't hold on too tight personally.
Otherwise, it's just Rucker Park with a uniform on.