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.