Tuesday, November 10, 2015

...And they're off, and on...and off again...and on again...can somebody tell me what to think?

So, two weeks into the season, and we find our regular, some of the time, once in a while blogger discussing the Thunder's current season with himself while looking at various and sundry statistics.

Today, the blogger has been seeking to answer some questions, but has decided to back up and actually frame the questions he's trying to answer.  

This is mostly because he's tired of hearing (and saying) things like:

1. And Waiters for another jump back 2 pointer with 17 seconds on the shot clock which will be a two pointer, with his foot on the line....WORST SHOT IN BASKETBALL.

2. Why is Kyle Singler from Duke, yet he's such a paperweight?

3. Didn't Anthony Morrow play on this team last year?  Did we trade him?

4. Does Donovan know that McGary was little-big Jesus 2.0 last year?  Why isn't he starting?  

5. Well, it's time for the flip of the coin in tonight's game...heads "Ibaka rocks", and tails "Ibaka's in the Congo".

6. Yes, yes, yes, We know Kevin and Russ can blow up a team in 2.5 minutes...but if we don't play defense in the last 5 minutes, what exactly are we getting?  

7. So, team's are starting to figure out Russ can do 3-4 things, but at light speed, and if you choose correctly, you can defend him and Kanter, and Durant, all at the same time...Step 1: Make Russ go to rim, Step 2 have all 5 guys meet him there.  Step 3, wait for him to pass to Kanter or Durant and double them.

I'll stop myself there, because you see where I'm going...there haven't been any magical Billy D fixes that make the Thunder look, well like the Warriors at 8-0.  

So.....let's take those remarks and see if the blogger can't identify some real questions, pump out some theories and really take this blog up a notch from almost a waste of your time:

1. What do we really want to see on Offense?  

Short Story, for backsetting...

- KD and Russ:  4th and 5th in Field Goals made in the NBA
- Russ and KD:  3rd and 8th in 2 pt field goals in the NBA
- KD:  5th in 3pt field goals in the NBA
- Russ:  1st in Assists (by 12), and tied for 7th in Steals in the NBA
- Serge:  5th in Blocks in the NBA
- Kanter:  18th in total rebounds...really 12th because of ties, as a second teamer
- Russ:  2nd in Turnovers in the NBA

Why the backstory...because we still don't suck.  That's an important point.  What we're trying to figure out, focuses on how we score our points and why we don't seem to spread it out a bit more, include other players, and be more consistent when it seems we need to score...rather than blowing up 12 in a row every 4-5 minutes and then going another 4-5 without scoring...right?

Irrelevant sidenote:  James Harden shooting 24% from 3pt and 37% from the field (we got 99 problems folks...).

Point:  The Thunder are going about business, as they usually do, with our two primary All-Stars doing what they do, very efficiently,  There are no worries about if the Thunder are going to A) get better at this mode of play, and B) continue to deliver day in day out.

Drummed up theory:

Watch the Spurs.  In going through the shot selection heat maps of our bench, and role players, I believe I've hit on a good insight.  The Spurs have Manu Ginosebleed and Matt Bonner.  Manu shoots 3's from the 45-50 degree angle, and Bonner shoots from the baseline to about 33 degrees.

Guess where those guys get the ball when they run a play and they're open?  Right on those spots.

Anybody Remember Robert Horry?  Dude made a career getting 7 rings from 3 different teams by doing one thing...hitting the corner 3, whenever, however the team needed it.  BUT....you know where he was?  You know where he got the ball?  Yep, in the corner wide open...Bang!  Ring!

The Thunder have a complex problem on their hands.  They need to leverage the shot and play making abilities of their role and bench players, in an offense that creates shots for those players, in a consistent and routine way.  Easy enough?  Right?  Well, that offense also has to support the basic pick and roll, isolation and dribble, drive, shoot, dish chemistry of Russell and Kevin Durant.  

If you get the baking powder wrong, by just a little bit, the brownies will suck.

If you make the same recipe, perfectly, at a different altitude, the brownies can suck.

This is a complicated problem, which won't be solved overnight.  But, understanding the problem may help set some context and perspective:

Billy Donovan has to win games (currently with the big two scoring a crapload of points), and continue to work on evolving an offense that's versatile to get the right guys the right shots in their spots, at the right time.  And that's even if we have guys that know their heat maps well enough...Morrow, good heat map, knows his spots...is NOT getting the ball in those spots currently...(mainly because he's on the bench, but that's beside the point).  This is a work in progress, and may help lend an understanding as to why Morrow's sitting right now, and we've seen odd substitutions so far.  Hopefully, Billy D will see what he wants to see and starts with a more productive offense outside of KD and Russ.

Irrelevant sidenote:  Jeremy Lamb has 76 less minutes than Dion Waiters, but shoots a better percentage, and has the same number of total points.  Relevant note:  Jeremy's heat map shows he's getting the ball more often in the same places he made shots last year... 

2. Once upon a time, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...weren't we good at Defense?

I don't feel like looking it up, but we all remember when the Thunder were in the Top 5 of the NBA in Defense, made it to the Conference Finals, the Finals....and then it seems we decided not to play defense.  The blogger doesn't have as much to say on this topic, because defense with the Thunder really does get better as the season goes on.  The Thunder may have to rely on outscoring opponents more often than not, but don't be surprised when the defense starts to kick up.

What does good defense really mean?  

Here's what good defense means to the blogger in the NBA:

- Contested shots by opposing playmakers, not open, not at the rim.
- Stop dribble penetration.
- Make passing the ball difficult for the opposing team.
- Block out and rebound, no second chance points.
- Nobody goes through the lane without a body on them...(watch what teams are doing to KD).
- Don't get lost...ever.

What does playing good defense look like:

- Shots from opposing teams with less than 5 on the shot clock.
- One shot, one chance, Thunder rebound.
- Knocked / tipped balls on passing lane passes.  
- Point guards going all the way under the rim and back out again with nowhere to pass.
- Making the opponent reverse the ball...this is effective when you see the point dribble and back up to reset....not a Spurs lightning reversal for a wide open 3 on opposite side.
- Pick and Roll defense that results in a 5-10 footer, rather than a layup or dunk.

Point:  Thunder defenders are getting beat, they are inconsistently stopping the ball penetration and not hedging the pick and roll well at times.  BUT, at other times, there are flashes of excellent defense. This needs to improve.  Remember, this is the first go-round for playing each team this year, and every time we play a team the second time, we'll get better.  

Final Point:  Russell Westbrook leads the NBA with 10.9 assists per game, that's an easy double double per game...exactly where are the comments (cough Skip Blameless cough) about Russell not being a true point guard?  He's also 51% on assist percentage, meaning every 2nd pass results in an assist.

Stats and heat maps taken from www.basket-ballreference.com. 

Thunder Up!

Monday, October 26, 2015

On your marks...get set...stay.

This Wednesday, the OKC Thunder will open the 2015-2016 season against the San Antonio Spurs.

This Wednesday, could be the last first game of Kevin Durant as an OKC centerpiece.

This Wednesday, we see what Billy D brings.

This Wednesday, I'll be there...that's gonna be cool, with Dr. Wife.

But, before I get into that, some housekeeping...

New URL, since Scotty Brooks has moved on, I needed to update the URL, since I'm now the Thunder's only Scotty.

Thunderocity.blogspot.com will be the new address...anybody see what I did there...thunderocity (ferocity), Thunder O City...(I'm so subtle, I crack myself up).

One more thing before we get into the season...

In the NBA, which I've never been in...has to shrink your world.  As a player, you are insulated every 7-8 months a year.  Fans aren't friends, sometimes friends aren't friends, and I would take a solid bet that over the years, coaches become true friends to many players.

It was just the other day, I read that Flip Saunders wouldn't be on the sidelines for the first few games of the season, due to his battle with cancer.  I was going to write something about what a loss that would be for the T-Wolves...

Flip lost that battle today.  Here's a memorial from Kevin Garnett...a player I love to love and love to hate.

Embedded image permalink

On to the season...what's up?

We know a lot about what we don't know...but, if you even pulled up the box score of our last preseason game, you know at least this much:

1. Russ got a triple double.
2. KD had 17 points with about 4 minutes to go in the 4th...ended up with 29.
3. Enes and Steven had a lot of fouls.
4. CamPayne...who is that guy?

It will be interesting to see what happens this year.  I believe that Billy D has worked on a couple of things that we'll see early in the season, as a work in progress.  He's overhauled the offense.  It may look the same, because...well, it's the NBA and they all look the same.  However here's a few things I've caught on to that'll be good to look for:

1. Spacing.  In the past, Brooks put the guys into sets, and let the offense flow from there.  Which was good, when it was good, and stagnant when it wasn't good.  When executing a pick and roll, the floor spacing has to be enough to give the play time to develop.  If the spacing is too tight, then the defense can shade into the play area and hose it all up.  Last year, this resulted in Russell's teleportation to the rim play.  A good play, when it's there, but when it's not, it's rough...don't worry, we'll still see quite a bit of this.  On the other hand, with correct spacing, the defense will have to either hedge with the offside post or wing defender...which will give strong cut capabilities to guys that never got buckets last year.  Without Perk, the offside big will get dunks...instead of lay-ins, and Roberson, Singler, Morrow, and Durant will get slicing options from the opposite side of the key down the lane.  Spacing will also help with Morrow and Durant (and hopefully Novak) on the spot up three, as the defender has to drop to keep Russ from hanging on the rim.  Spacing will bring more guys into the mix for team created shots, instead of just one on one playmaking.

2. Defense.  We used to have a killer defense...I think we'll be better this year.  The key will be ball-side pressure, with back side defenders being smarter and aware.  They'll have to figure out our weakness last year where drives to the bucket drew the offside big (Ibaka, Kanter, and Adams) which resulted in a block, or foul, or a bucket.  More times than not, it was a bucket...Serge leaving his man to protect the rim gives an easy dish.  Kanter, much maligned for his defense, actually stayed home, as the anti-Ibaka...until it was too late and many times just gave an And One.

3. Russ not running point.  In the preseason, this happened a few times, which translates into a solid experiment.  Westbrook's strength and quickness make him an excellent post player in certain situations...(I know, but it happens).  When defended against a smaller, or slower player, look for Russ to be lower on the baseline and have an opportunity to post up.  Another option will be for him as the 2, which has meant that Kevin was running point.  With other options at point (Augustin, CamPayne and possibly Waiters), Westbrook and Durant will be loose on the floor with two bigs...this could be fun to watch, if there's some structured movement.

4. Staggered lineups.  I still think we'll see a lot of Russell and KD on the floor at the same time, but staggering their minutes, as Brooks did, will continue.  The upside on having at least one of them on the floor, then overlapping with both, and rotating to leave the other as lineups change give the Thunder an all-star scoring option on the floor.  They can't both score at the same time (as in one bucket can't go to both of them), so staggering their time creates an upside to wear down a defense and maximize scoring opportunities.

5. 3 point shooting.  I don't have much to say here, except that with KD back, I hope it gets contagious.  If we can shoot close to 35-40% from 3, we should be fine.  Anything better than that, and the Thunder will  be incredibly hard to stop.

On the Tweetgram and Instabook

I'm not the best on the Tweeter.  However, I am @xray9378 on Twitter.  Dr. Wife and I generally have the Tweets open during the Thunder games, unless we're behind, or there.  There's a bunch of great, awesome and hilarious folks out there to follow.  So, follow me and you'll get access to Dr. Wife who knows all the cool kids to follow.

Once in a while I'll tweet, but generally my daughter yells something like "Ghheeeeez, Dad why do you have to be so old and last year in your tweets".

I do facebook better...as most of you know, so I'll be there as well.

Why care?   You may not, but there's this whole internet connection thingie that people talk about.  For me, staying in touch with you through the interwebs still makes me feel like we're having a beer and watching the game together...so that's that.

Thunder UP!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The March of the Swiss Soldiers

The William Tell Overture and first month of Spring....see what I did there?

As we head into March, after seeing a few games with what we can term the "new guys", I figured it's time for a little reflection, introduction, and prognostication.  Let's begin with some numbers:

  1. Wear clean underwear son, you never know when you're gonna get your face bashed in.  Russell Westbrook, zygomatic arch fracture.  At least 1 game, probably 2-4.
  2. Keep all hands and feet inside of the car at all times (Part I).  2, the number of fingers broken, requiring surgery, from something as simple as a rebound...it only takes one, and bam.  Russell Westbrook 14 games, Steven Adams...still counting.
  3. Keep all hands... (Part II).  Keep your feet healthy, two pair of socks, keep 'em clean, you lose your feet, we've lost you (loosely translated quote from US captain in Vietnam).  Kevin Durant, with a Jones fracture (whatever the hell that is...), Andrew Roberson, and Mitch McGary.  I've quit keeping track...
  4. It's all in the hips...Kanter, 1 game, Mitch McGary.
  5. Knee-knockers are a killer.  Perry Jones.  
  6. Bam, one man appendicitis outbreak.  Steven Novak.  Out Indefinitely

All of these injuries took Thunder players out for at least a week, or a month.  Thunder fans spent most of December wondering when the juggernaut of basketball was going to get healthy and get back to taking names and kicking some...  We read the articles, we knew there was a hole to dig out of, and we knew that our love for the Thunder, and our fan mojo can carry them into the playoffs by sheer will...right?  I mean, we all knew it was going to be a long road, but this the Thunder, right?  8th place can't be that hard, and that's ridiculous because we've got Kevin MVP Durant and Chupacabra Russell Westbrook out there, right?  We can do this...

Then January happened, and the Thunder went 7-7.   Which, made most everybody freak out. What a hard month.  But was it really?  If you think about it, when a team transitions from a tough opening to getting on to it's winning ways, there's a spot in the performance regression line that stops the negative slope, evens out, and then trends into a positive sloping arc.  That is, unless you just have a point where everything starts working perfectly, then it's just a point, a nice V...which, like much math, doesn't represent the real world.  In January, the Thunder righted a lot of wrongs, and did a lot of right things, but lost some games.  Not to overlook the fact that they also looked incredibly painful in some games, dropping losses to teams which they had no business losing.  They were working through a new offense, as well as getting together with new personnel on the floor (back from injuries, and new peoples like Morrow and Waiters).  Realistically, it takes time, like bringing on a new mechanic in an auto shop, or a new teacher into a school system.  There will be undoubtedly two things:  1. Nice things they can already do, that's why you hired them, and 2. A transition period where they put things like a wrench in the wrong place, or say The Pledge of Allegiance in the morning rather than lunch time...a blending of chemistry shall we say.  The Thunder didn't really lose ground in January, as much as tread water at an inconvenient time for fans.

February rolls along.  Westbrook just completed the second best month of basketball in history, along with Oscar Robinson, averaging 31pts, 9rebs, and 10ast per game.   He also strung together 3 straight triple doubles, which most recently was accomplished by King James in 2009.  And we all felt something strangely amiss as the rumors grew more loudly and we realized the truth of the rumbles about someone in the locker room not being happy.  (I'm going to take the high road with Reggie, against my better judgement, because he was a heck of a Thunder asset for his time here.)  Which made us all incredibly nervous, as we've seen teams like the Lakers, and Heat, have non-blending chemistry with a slew of All-Stars make awkwardly faltering runs into the playoffs.  Then the new guys got here...let's meet them real quick.

Enes Kanter:  Coming out of a somewhat similar situation as Reggie, which we should keep in mind...he was not happy in Utah.  Born in Switzerland, but is really Turkish...like Thabo, who was Swiss, but French.  Serge, who's Congolese, but speaks French mostly, and plays for Spain...  (where do we find these guys...)

  • In the league 4 years, counting this one. 
  • Played in Europe
  • Averaged 7.5 rebounds and 12 pts last year.
  • Averaging  9 rebounds and 15.8 points through 4 games.

Bottom Line:  He's happy to be here, more umph, on both offense and defense (averaging 1.5 more fouls shows some effort on defense).  Plus...and I mean a big plus, Russ likes him.  The team likes him.

DJ Augustin:  Played with KD in Texas, the key being that they were tight.  Meaning a couple of things:  1. DJ wasn't a trouble maker, and worked hard...2 things KD doesn't put up with.  Journeyman:  Charlotte, Indiana, Toronto, Chicago, and Detriot.  He's been around (on teams that didn't make the playoffs), and seems quickly to be very happy to be with KD and the rest of the guys.

  • In the league 6 years.
  • Played with KD in Texas.
  • Averaged more than 2 turnovers only 1 season...guys got handles and he's a true point guard.
  • 88% FT shooter for the past two seasons
  • Shot 40% from 3 last year...which is better than Daequan Cook and Kevin Martin...when they were here.

Kyle Singler:  Love to hate Blue Devils, until they get in the NBA, a few things about a Dukie:  1. Smart, high basketball IQ.  2. Hard worker.  3. Always fundamentally sound.  Been with Detroit his whole career thus far.

  • Only been in the NBA 2 years, he's still growing.  On the high side, could always wake up and bloom into a less attractive Gordon Heyward. 
  • Increased 3 point shooting from 35% - 37% to 40% for the Thunder, over past 2.5 years.  For a new guy in the league, from Duke...that's a great sign.  
  • Still learning the game, but will pick it up quicker than the average bear...you just don't get into Duke or Stanford because you can play ball...(which on another note, is why I secretly hate all people named Lopez in the NBA...smart players are always dangerous players, I.E. Nick the Brick Collision).

Steve Novak:  Every trade has one...the player to be named later.  However, Novak's a great pickup.  Journeyman like Augustin, brings veteran experience and NBA Dad of the Year type stuff to the Thunder (read the Twittersphere...funny guy, family guy).  Played with Houston, L.A., Dallas, San Antinio, and subbed in for the Yankees once or twice.

  • 8 year veteran, brings some age and maturity to the locker room, level head, all around strong moral leader type...follows and sets an example.
  • Has shot below 45% from 3 pt range only once in past four years.  We've not seen this yet, and with the appendectomy, I'm guessing we might not...with the recovery and the fact that we have a roster spot problem.  

Back to the Season...

In February, the Thunder went 9-3.  Interesing.  We all had a our radiation gear on, heading for the fallout shelter, with our Scott Brooks effigies bounding on poles, ready to burn them and hire Kelvin Samson...Not really, I just wanted to see what you'd say.  But...we were doing some serious beer drinking round table discussing, stomping, and huffing. However...

  • The Thunder lost 3 games by a total of 10 points...(3 Pelicans, 4 Phoenix, and 3 Blazers)...each of them having a shot at the end of the game to tie...or having made the shot and went to OT like the Suns.  Previous 4 losses in January, were by 11,  8, 10, 10..so something was changing.

The arc has definitely started to go up.  The Thunder didn't break 100 points in their last 5 games of January, bottoming out at 74 total points against the Griz, on their last January date.

  • They didn't go a game without scoring 100 points in February.

Arc = Up.

Now...8 away games left, all winnable...although there are some tough ones, San Antionio, Grizzlies, Dalllas (depends on the Mavs doesn't it), and back to the Suns.  14 home games left...I like that.

If we can get healthy.  Which appears to be the major challenge of this team this year.  The Thunder own the 8th spot in the standings, and with the season's draw improving, we should be able to realize that we are now in the best part of "The Long Haul" that was laid out in December.

Scottsters tips for avoiding injuries:

  1. No more rebounds, definitely too dangerous on the fingers. 
  2. Roberson doesn't get to play.  You bash in a teammates face, you don't play, simple rule. 
  3. Space Boots...it's the next wave of NBA footwear.  Forget the Jumping Man Jordans...we want Clod Hopping Power Ball.

Tips for finishing the season strong:

  1. Defense.  Dang, it is true, whether I like it or not, Defense wins games...particularly at the beginning and end of games.  
  2. Russell has to continue his pace of stat devastation, all while learning to pass the ball in crunch time, and making sure that he stays healthy in his space boots.  This is difficult, because after stopping a robbery, delivering a baby, and inventing cold fusion while putting up a triple double the last 3 games, two of them were arguably at the cost of the win at the very end...so to be clear:  Russ has to be Russ, but, in crunch time, that's the time to use the Defense's overplay on you, to make your team mates better...which is not all on Russ.
  3. The rest of the team on the floor has to stop being Michael Jackson with popcorn reading comments in crunch time.  It is not the Russell Westbrook show, no matter what the stat sheet says.  Two of the games we lost in February involved Russell missing a shot at the rim as time was running out.  Triple double Russ needs one more assist to [insert ANYBODY THAT CAN MOVE TO THE BASKET] for a quick dish, catch, and score.  Even Big Dog could do that sometimes...improve movement to the basket late, improve catching, and dunking.  This is when Dunks are important...crunch time.  Far less dunks are missed when getting an open look in crunch time (with an impending foul), than shots.  Get the real "And One" and stop just shouting it out loud.  
  4. Slim Reaper...gotta have you, whether you like the nickname or not.  We have absolutely got to get The K-D on the floor doing K-D stuff.  
  5. I hate to say it, cuz, I hate to dis people, but some things have to be said, and you can like somebody and dislike them at the same time...which is confusing, and hard, and some people don't like it, it's easier to just like or not like someone...(I'm doing that thing again where my wife yells "JUST TELL ME").  

Michael Cage has got to go.

It is a key to the Thunder winning...we cannot be the Super Fans we need to be to help this team push into the playoffs, with our ears bleeding from the Matt Pinto like pace, and Captain Obvious anecdotes.  There can be only one Matt Pinto, who can describe a transition bucket while telling you how many assists it is, this year, as opposed to last year, how many dunks that was for a player's career, what Roberson's grades were, and Russell's fiancee's dinner menu for the rest of the week, all in stride before the ball falls out of the net.

Live Long and Prosper (AND ONE!) Said Spock, Never.

Shouts out to Leonard Spock McCoy, Earl Lloyd, and Anthony The Brick Mason, you all had lives that people appreciated and valued...RIP gentlemen.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Clouds Are Darkening

As a complete and total amateur writer, it has become increasingly, even glaringly, clear over the past week how hard it can be to write about sports.  From the "Good Execution" interview, to the previous blog entry by some guy about sounding the red alert...I've concluded that sports writing must not be for the faint of heart.  Like Russell's comments after the Golden State game, to Berry Tramel's, and most of the media's response to the Westbrook grizzly grumpiness, the dirty laundry must be put into the wash weekly, and declared done and over.  

Because, in sports, and I'm stealing this haphazard quote... "Sports remains the final frontier of true reality television".  After kickoff, tipoff, drop of the puck, or first pitch, you have no idea what's going to happen.  We can speculate, which we do...in fact, resulting in millions of dollars spent and made each week on our hunger for speculation and by those that have a knack, or talent for predicting what may or may not happen in a particular game.  

So with my best thick-skinned "fake it till you make it" smiling face, I'm here to follow up my last blog entry, where the house was burning down, and I sorta felt like I wanted to see Sam Presti mowing my yard while I sipped on a beer telling him how to run his organization.  I don't think I was necessarily wrong, but will definitely admit to becoming increasingly worried that we had put too much flour into the cake, or forgot the eggs, or the sugar...which they say would be a scone, but why in the world would anyone have a scone when you could have cake?  Yeah, me neither...

In the past week...while you were sleeping, working and doing various and sundry things...here's what happened:

The Springtime Storms are brewing.

- KD and RW became the only two players in the NBA this season to go back to back games with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.  Russell did it last week, and Kevin has done it this week.  

- That's not this year, that's this season.  

- This is why they are called the dynamic duo.  There are only two players to accomplish that feat in the NBA this year, and they happen to play beside each other.  Bam.

This part may be harder to explain, so grab some coffee, or beer, or a lot of beer...even maybe a whiskey.

The role players are doing exactly what they are supposed to do.

To make this simpler (for me, and less work for me mind you) I'm just going to use the total +/- stat for each game...which represents the net scoring affect in the game while that player was on court.  This is not a tell all stat, but can show the general impact a particular player had on the game.

- Dion Waiters:  GS (+18), OR(+20), MI(-9), Was(-9)

- Reggie Jackson:  GS (+12), OR(+17), MI(+20), Was(+2)

- Anthony Morrow GS (+5), OR(+19), MI(-1), Was(+5)

- Kendrick Perkins GS (+2), OR(+23), MI(+8), Was(+8)

Cutting to the chase...

Where Dion Waiters dropped off, Reggie Jackson picked up.  Waiters has shown his potential impact, and the honeymoon period starts to close...now we see where he can grow into the organization and lineup.  In particular, the rumors of his dead or non-existent defense appear to be just that...he's provided strong D thus far. 

Reggie Jackson, rumored to have packed his bags several times and shipped his XBox to various locations already...is doing exactly what we've seen him do in previous years.  When we've needed him the most, he has come through.  I have noticed in the media, as well as personally, that the past few games, he appears to be back in sync, which we all welcome.

Anthony Morrow remains my favorite pickup from the off season.  Waiters keeps trying to woo me, but watching Morrow on the court, I get the same feel as Derek Fisher and Caron Butler...I'm not an All-Star, but I bust my ass, and I'll find a way in each and every game to help my team.  I really like his consistency at not hurting the Thunder.  I'm also very glad he hasn't flashed into the limelight this season, but rather slowly built credibility hitting the shots we all wanted Daequan Cook, Kevin Martin, and Thabo to hit over the past few years...we know as the 3rd-4th option they're gonna rain some awful 3-balls.  Morrow, however, appears to be keeping consistent with his stats from last year, and slowly arriving at knowing when its his time to come up big...whether its a cutting catch and score 2, or taking the 3 off the pass.  

I put Kendrick Perkins in here just to show his output doesn't indicate his impact on the game.  Reduced minutes, and a different role, but Big Dog comes in and has a positive impact on the game.  What's been missing the past couple of years are the flash games...look at Orlando.  Yes, we blew them out, but in the process, not the trash minutes, Perk kept the scoring machine going by dropping in 10...which kept all the other scoring elements in motion.  They double/tripled in desparation and Perk makes a nifty move one on one, or grabs a quick open dunk and the defense remains disoriented for another few series.  Perk's in a contract year and it shows...he's worth keeping around.  The Miami game was close, so the +/- stats of everyone were pretty low.  Perk stood out at +8, because he knows Miami, and how to play D.

The chemistry I was so concerned about, appears to be coming together.  I was very impressed with two things I saw last night:  

1. Ball movement within an offense at various times.

2. This one got me...  it looks like the old stand-around pick and let KD or Russ do their thing...but in reality it's a motion oriented offense where KD picks for Russ coming up from the baseline.  Leaves the free-ing pick for KD open on wing, KD gets a clean pick on Russ's guy, then pops or rolls.  This gave both KD and Russ several options for attacking the resulting open space  (as opposed to forcing something)...and they drove...they kicked...to each other...and to the wings and inside big men.  When I saw this in the 4th quarter, my first thought in OT was "We gotta be tired and on fumes", but then quickly changed to, "They aren't going to be able to stop that...I'm not sure anyone will be able to stop that".

That's new.  

That's offense.

And it appears to be getting on a roll.

They could catch an early exit in Atlanta, and detour straight back to Struggles-ville, but it appears that the defensive forces are stiffening, transition buckets are coming and offensive sets are creating motion and opportunity.  Assists are up, Turnovers will always be up (but they are down just a tad)...and the Thunder look ready to roll.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Take us to Red Alert Mr. Spock!

After the "healthy" Thunder have dropped 7 of their last 13, and showed a peculiar and newly creative sense of inconsistency on both offense and defense, you have to wonder what's at the core of these issues.  

The Thunder are under-performing at their most basic levels, forget offense and defense for just a moment...and let's reflect on a couple of things the Thunder have always done as trademarks to grab the hearts of a basketball centric part of the US...the plains and heartland.  

  • Freethrows:  At 74%, the Thunder are down 6 percentage points from last year, and 8 from the year before.  When Kendrick Perkins first came to the Thunder, he remarked that he went straight for the gym because he knew the Thunder made their freethrows.  I'm not a sportsologist, but I believe that FT% at the NBA level indicates the level of focus and concentration of the player and the team.  Honestly, it isn't just a quantitative issue, the Thunder are still on pace individually to rectify their FT% into their normal range...it really seems like they are missing freethrows at crucial parts of games.
  • Passing and Dribbling:  While turnovers and unforced errors are in line statistically, the Thunder do not appear as sharp as they have in the past.  They are moving the ball around more, which again, not an expert, but I would point to missed pass turnovers as opposed to dribbling turnovers...I'm sure I can find that stat somewhere...but appearances would indicate that KD looks lax in his ball handling, slow and a careless.  I also really need to know if they are eating buttered popcorn before every game, or if Perkins has shared his personal hand lotion with Ibaka, Adams, and Collison...who seem to have all been practicing catching passes with fists instead of open hands. They simply do not look sharp.
From a straight statistical perspective, the Thunder's shooting %, Rebounds, FT%, TO%, and Assist numbers are pretty in line for their losses and wins...nothing glares at you.  Which means that the Thunder are pretty much playing consistent to the numbers for wins and losses.  Baffling...wouldn't it be easier if there was a stat that stuck out like a sore thumb to indicate what's wrong with our team?!

Which leaves us to wonder what could possibly be the problem.  I have personally consulted the Oracle of Delphi, The Magic 8 Ball, Black, White and Green Tea leaves, and had Sam Presti's palm read in order to figure out the following definitive list of possibilities: 

  • Steven Adams and Nick Collison don't like Mitch McGary.  All resulting from an altercation about a tie that Mitch wore about hating Kiwi's, Corn, and Wheat.  Might be hard to get through this one.
  • Kevin Durant won the MVP last year, and is going all David Duval on the world after he won the British Open...just taking his trophy and dropping off the face of the Earth.
  • Reggie Jackson has figured out that Rex Kalamian looks a lot like Voldemort, and it really has him wondering how long he has to live...locker room is in turmoil, because nobody believes Kalamian is out to kill everyone.
  • Kevin Durant's 2K15 video game season is in a serious slump...he got himself hurt and traded everyone for Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett and it isn't working out.
  • Scott Brooks is letting the assistant coaches talk to the media, and they are all getting too big for their britches...notching their belts each time and getting tattoos that say "Brooks likes me better!".
  • Sam Presti's wife is just really pissed at him for the anniversary he forgot this year...it all rolls down hill.

Ok, seriously... it looks like the Thunder are going to deal a few more players before the Feb deadline.  Up first is the Brook Lopez deal.  This would remove J Lamb and most likely Perkins from the roster for Brook Lopez, should he be healthy enough to pass the physical and travel to OKC without breaking a foot...(enough with the feet already...Thabo, Kevin, Mitch, and Andre...good grief).

Reggie Jackson still remains the invisible Elephant in the room.  His numbers are ok, but most seem to agree that he's off...and by "off", I mean in a way that he's not coming back from.  If you look at Jones, Lamb and Reggie, the 3 youngsters that were the wave of the future, they all got tons of playing time at the beginning of the season.  That's over.  There's games where one of them doesn't play at all weekly.  That's gotta be difficult to get into a rhythm, not knowing whether you, or Lamb are gonna get the call tonight, and if you don't flash fantastic, it could be weeks before you see the floor again.  Now, all of that is completely beside the point of Lamb and Jones consistency issues on the court, but if you stare long enough, you can sort of see why.

Dion Waiters coming into the locker room, and sitting next to Reggie.  SMH...if there's nothing to it, you wouldn't do it.  So, trying to play things close the vest isn't really a long term strategy for Presti and Brooks at the moment...eventually the bomb goes off, mom and dad get a divorce, and all the ugly things under rug come out for full view.  

I'm not saying their ARE locker room issues, but if the stats are consistent, between wins and losses, then why are the Thunder looking to faceless?  They've lived on hard defense and superstar offense...Brooks has said the "Offense isn't going to be a problem"...well IT IS!  AND SO IS THE DEFENSE!    Ibaka looks lost on the court when he isn't shooting the ball from "not the lane".  Have the Thunder given up on the Congo ever getting a strong inside game and thrown in the towel?  Just let Serge learn to hit a 15 foot jumper and call it good...there's no need for a multi-facted player like say, Marc Gasol, Kevin Garnett, or Lamarcus Aldridge...we've got Perk and Adams for that...right?!  SMH...

Russ and Kevin haven't taken over games consistently this year at all...last year, they ran the Knicks into a downward spiral on Christmas Day that the NBA will not soon forget...and the Knicks might not crawl out of for another year or two.  

Superstars aren't being superstars...they are getting their stats, but not by making a statement.  Durant continues to get decent numbers, but how many of you have asked, "When is Kevin coming back in?"...only to realize he's been on the floor the entire quarter?  Russ had a great December, but as soon as Kevin got back, he's on again-off again.

Perhaps, the offensive changes, and personnel changes have the Thunder in an adjustment period.  Where they are not yet comfortable with the sets and personnel we have on the floor.  Hopefully with the impending personnel changes, we'll say goodbye to some loved friendly faces, and welcome new ones...and the Thunder will remember their two hallmark phrases:  Hard Work and We are Family.  

They need to find an identity, and soon...because the red light isn't going to stop flashing until they blow into the 7th or 6th playoff spot.  Simply making the 8th spot at this point won't give anyone confidence that this team has the ability to show up on a particular night and lay down an ass whooping regardless of who they play...and that's what we miss.  Sometimes they Bring IT!  Other nights, they argue with the refs and each other about where IT might be hiding.