The Oklahoma City Thunder were once a title contender in the East. With the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all on the one team together, they were an exciting and young team to watch. Fast forward to today and the last remaining piece of the championship contenders is Westbrook. Did Durant and Harden all desert him on a sinking ship or was in fact Russell who pushed players away with his play style and attitude towards his teammates. OKC have acquired a consistent All-star in Paul George but even with an MVP winner, Most Improved player and various other above average pieces, the OKC Thunder will never contend for a title nor trouble the teams at the top in their current state.
We’ll start with dissecting Russell Westbrook. He is almost a walking triple double but not necessarily in the best way. He will most likely give you 20 points, 8 or so rebounds and 9 or so assists. This is a stat padded box score with Westbrook taking at least 25 shots a game to reach this figure as well as claiming soft rebounds and kicking shots out at the last-minute. While it is good to have someone who tries to elevate his team by doing it all, it does make him very difficult to play with. Westbrook seems to have a persona that he is arrogant and the best player on the planet. This is a mindset that he seems to thrive under, being looked at the ‘bad guy’ which results with him considering himself a lone wolf as such thrives upon the feeling of doing things without the assistance of teammates. Is he solely responsible for having Durant leave? Probably not but he definitely played a factor in it. Watching him play you can see it is the Russ show and he wants to be the centre of attention and the face of the franchise. He has a lot of upside though, he will get you points and he is insanely athletic, it is just a shame that his play style is not that of someone that wants to draw in large free agents and championship contending players.
But what about Paul George? The All-Star signed on with the Thunder after what was essentially a trial year through a trade with Indiana. He is a rock solid player, providing both offence and defence and can be considered a star. Unfortunately, this is all he will be remembered as at the moment, an above average player who could have achieved so much more. By signing on with the Thunder for an extended contract, he remains in the shadow of Westbrook. Now that is not a bad thing to be the 2nd choice on a team, but when that team’s first choice will not lead you to a championship, then it is a hard shadow to get out of. This is not saying that he should have gone to the Lakers but if you consider being in the shadow of the best player in the league and arguably the best or second best player of all time while also competing for championships, it seems like a more productive place to be. I have nothing but respect for Paul George for what he can do on the court but if he wants the ever sought after ring, it seems OKC was a turn in the opposite direction.
Let us look at why we should get off the OKC bandwagon. To start with, they are an awful 3 point shooting team in a 3 point shooting league. They shoot on average, 29.7 3 point attempts, only being successful on 8.2 of them. That gives them a 3 point percentage of 27.5%. That is very poor for a team aiming to win a championship. We’ll compare that not to a team like the Golden State Warriors but a team with a similar record in the Charlotte Hornets. This franchise has been basically irrelevant for the last few years, missing out on playoffs but also not obtaining super high draft picks. They shoot an average of 34.5 3’s a game but make 13.0 of them leaving them with the percentage of 37.7%. That extra 10% can be the make or break of a season. If we do our math and equate 10% to roughly 3 extra 2 pointers made, (10% or 29.7 = 2.97) that equates to an extra 9 points per game which can be the difference in multiple games and absolutely the difference between winning and losing.
Besides the 3 point shooting woes on the team, there is also a significant lack of star power outside of Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Steven Adams is one of the top 10 big men in the league and Dennis Schroder is a strong addition off the bench, who else can you really name that you could consider a starter on most championship viable teams? This in turn results in liabilities at lots of positions for the team depending on injuries and rotations. Now this is not to say other teams are perfect, but when looking at championship rosters, the depth is key as all the players will have a role to play at some point. The supporting cast in Oklahoma City is one that leaves a lot to be desired.
Finally, just from a brief overview, we’ll assess the coaching staff. Billy Donovan is a decently respectable coach who keeps the Thunder ticking. But is hard to consider him a great coach. He has had the pieces at OKC in the past and did not win a championship so with even less around the team, which does make his job harder. It is difficult to gauge if he is a bad coach with what he has available to him but it definitely does not look like he is a great coach. Take Quin Snyder who has a team that seems to have less than the Thunder yet is competing for places in the play-offs and took apart the OKC team last playoffs. Safe to say, there is room for improvement in the coaching situation at this franchise.
Looking at all of the above and comparing the OKC Thunder to GSW seems like comparing apples and oranges. But if OKC is trying to consider themselves a championship roster then we have to compare them to the current champions and if that seems like they are on a from a different planet, it is because they are in terms of their status in the league. Maybe this isn’t the time to put your OKC jersey in the trash but unless something changes radically for this franchise, that jersey will be a reminder that the team was once close but is currently becoming irrelevant.