Let me start by saying, that since the first day Coach Donovan joined OKC, I have been a fan of his.
Anyone who could steer OKC away from that relentless isolation play offence, centered equally between Westbrook and KD, while the three other players stood, like the worst giant decoys ever devised, pretending they would get the ball and score if you sagged off them, just that ONE more time (lucky #99 – I will get the ball passed to me and I’ll make you pay! Just you watch. Ok. Ok. Lucky #100) which was pretty much the entire offensive set, for 7 years under Coach Brooks and could convince Westbrook to move the ball around for the betterment of the team, was always going to be a winner in my books.
I would always picture the 29 other coaches, led by the master, Coach Popovich, having their annual get together drinks to welcome the new, uninitiated coaches of their devious plan. Pop would clink his glass and scowl at the room until they all quietened, then tell them that for 82 games of the season, no matter their position on the ladder, that they would pledge to only double team Westbrook and KD a maximum of 8 times per game, but then when the playoffs started all bets were off and they would surprise Scotty with trapping defence. Then they would all laugh and laugh. Sorry, where was I again?
Ah yes, the ball movement only improved further in Donovan’s second year, after KD took his bat and ball and went to Golden State, citing he wasn’t getting enough of the ball. How dare Westbrook listen to the coach and pass to open players for easy buckets, while at the same time making them more involved in the game, lifting their confidence and making them better players all around? The ball should clearly have been in KD’s hands dammit!
Didn’t Russ hear all of KD’s post game interviews, where he said repeatedly that, “That was why he was paid the big dollars for?” To have the ball in his grubby huge hands, in late game situations and ONLY in his hands? No wonder he left! I’d probably leave too if someone I considered my obvious subordinate didn’t listen to MY press conferences, or MY repeated screaming for the ball during the game, even though I had two players hanging off my left arm and jersey, while I stood a mere 3 inches away from the sideline. My right arm was still free wasn’t it?
No wait, I probably wouldn’t, because I would know it’s a TEAM oriented sport and I’m not an egotistical narcissist, who craves attention and glory over the TEAM winning the game.
From the start of the season, OKC has been moving the ball with some measure of fluidity, with more games than not, multiple players ending in double figures scoring and nearly all players ending up on the stat sheet under multiple categories. Sure, this was a small part due to the superb play of the future MVP and Triple Double Monster Extraordinaire, who we OKC fans affectionately just call Russ, but it is also a HUGE part due to Coach Donovan convincing Mr T.D.M.E. to pass the ball to the open players and encourage his team mates to score.
One area OKC has always lacked this year however was consistent scoring, which was not surprising seeing as KD took not only his bat and ball to GSW, but also his 28.2ppg as well. This was alleviated somewhat by the acquisition of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who’s 16.3ppg and 5.8ppg respectively more than makes up for the 12.6ppg lost in the Serge Ibaka trade. Andre Roberson has lifted his already lofty scoring numbers another 1.9ppg, now averaging 6.7ppg however he is also playing 30mpg this season, a bump up of 10 minutes to achieve that extra 1.9 points. More on Dre later.
Adams is playing 5mpg more and now scoring 11.6ppg, a jump of 3.6ppg and Kanter has increased his numbers from 12.7ppg to 14.5ppg in the same number of minutes, a jump of 1.8ppg.
Where it has been made up the most however, is the play of Mr T.D.M.E. who while playing only 24 seconds more per game than last year, has amazingly lifted his average from 23.5ppg to 31.8ppg. That’s a jump of 8.3ppg with only playing 24 more seconds a game! What are the chances of Mr T.D.M.E. breaking Oscar Robertson’s 41 triple doubles in a season record, winning the MVP, winning the Scoring title and winning Most Improved Player award all in the same season?
I should have placed a bet with Alfonzo, the local bookie/mafia enforcer for the Superfecta before the all-star break. Now the odds would be too much in his favour and I definitely don’t want to wake up with a horse’s head laying on the pillow next to me in the morning. Well unless it was KD’s head, but then again he is more of a jackass than a horse isn’t he?
You look at the numbers and think to yourself, well we lost 28.2ppg but then we made up 9.5ppg with the Ibaka trade, then add another 8.3ppg from Russ, 3.6ppg from Adams, 1,8ppg from Kanter and lets not forget Dre’s contribution of 1.9ppg and we have clawed back 25.1ppg. That’s not too far off what we lost right? Only 3.1ppg less, which coincidently, is almost exactly how many points less we are scoring this year (-3.3ppg).
The problem is, that we don’t have “consistent” scoring. OKC has a bad habit of going completely scoreless for minutes at a time, most glaringly obvious in the game against the Mavs last week where in the 2nd quarter we were held scoreless for 6 full minutes while Russ sat on the bench. 10 minutes into the quarter and OKC had scored only 5 points and at the end of the quarter, they finished with a disheartening 10 points and while the Mavs only put up a pretty standard 24 points in the quarter themselves, that was enough to give them a 15 point lead, after only being up by a point in the first.
The entire team that day, outside of Russ, went 22 from 55 shots. Mr T.D.M.E. had to put the team on his back once again and claw the team back from the 15 point hole they had dug for themselves, to rip a 1 point victory out of the jaws of defeat just 7 secs before the end of the game. Russ finished the game with 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists and 2 steals.
It was a great victory, but I told myself that this was against the Mavs, who are 3 spots outside the 8 at the moment and only have a 40% winning percentage. This model just would not work against the top teams.
I felt like Nostradamus, when last night OKC played the 2nd placed powerhouse team; the San Antonio Spurs. In that game OKC led the Spurs 69 – 48 with only 5:50 left in the 3rd. A 21 point lead! Spurs came out firing after that however, scoring 52 points in less than a quarter and a half, while OKC only managed to score 26 points in the same period, to lose the game 100 – 95. Russ finished the game with 32 points, 15 rebounds, 12 assists to record his 39th triple double, but most of that came in the first half. In the second half he only shot 3 of 12.
Those 2 examples perfectly sum up the entire OKC season to date. It has happened just too many times, where OKC dig themselves into a huge deficit with their scoring droughts and expect Mr T.D.M.E. to dig them out of it. Any time Russ sits on the bench, or has a rare poor shooting performance, even if it is just for 1 half, as per last night’s game, OKC will more often than not go for extended possessions without a bucket.
It was quite telling I thought, when during the TNT Players Only broadcast of OKC versus GSW, that one of the commentators asked Coach Donovan if off the back of the 5 game winning streak they were on, if he now thought they were a contending team and Coach replied “No. We are still two shooters away from that being the case.” The thing is that Sam Presti has provided some scorers for the team.
In fact he provided THREE of them, in Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and Norris Cole. One more than you asked for! The simple fact is that Coach Donovan just isn’t using them to the benefit of the team.
Taj Gibson is a veteran workhorse, a pro’s pro, who goes into battle every single night. He has a nice mid range shot, great low post moves, works hard on the boards and is a lock down defender no matter where he is on the court. He is also professional and a great locker room guy, from all the reports from around the league. When OKC played Bulls, when Taj was still playing there, I remember Doris Burke specifically pointing out all those facts, as well as saying teams will be scrambling after Taj in the offseason because he is a coaches dream player. Comes to work every night, gives 100% and causes no issues.
After coming to OKC however, Coach preferred to start the rookie Domantas Sabonis for 7 more games and only tried Taj in the starting lineup to attempt to stem a 4 game losing streak. They went on a 5 game winning streak straight after that. Sabonis is a great pickup for OKC, don’t get me wrong and he will be a huge boost for the Thunder in the future, but he is only a rookie scoring 5.8ppg and you start him in front of a vet who any coach in the league would love to have? Even now that Taj is starting, he is only getting 20 mpg which is balanced perfectly with the 20mpg Sabonis is playing. In those same 20 minutes however, Taj is contributing 9ppg and 4.5rpg. In Chicago, where he was used only 7 minutes more, he contributed 11.6ppg, 7rpg, 1apg and 1bpg. As a regular starter with 30mpg you would only expect that number to grow further, wouldn’t you?
Doug McDermott, nicknamed McBuckets, plays 17 minutes per game, but lately has been pretty much warming the bench while the team goes on extended scoring droughts. In the last 5 games he has only been averaging 8mpg and I would be surprised if he played more than 3 minutes in a row in any of those games. You would think the nickname would give it away, but for Coach Donovan, this kid can score, well, you know, buckets!
In the game versus Mavs when OKC scored 10 points in the quarter, Coach stuck to his guns on defence wins matches philosophy and played both Andre Roberson and the equally offensively challenged rookie, Semaj Christon together for extended periods of time on the court. Now Semaj was the 3rd string PG behind Russ obviously, then Cameron Payne before he got traded to Chicago. When Cam came back from injury, Semaj did not play even 1 minute in 18 games. In the last 11 games however. Semaj has been averaging a staggering 17 minutes per game. I say staggering, because in those same 17mpg, he is only averaging 1.4ppg.
In that same 11 game example, Andre Roberson has averaged his career norm of 30mpg and scored 6.7ppg. So for 47 mins the two players are only contributing 8.1ppg combined.
In the game versus the Mavs, both Dre and Semaj scored a total of 2 points each. Semaj going 0 for 5 from FG and 0 for 1 from 3PT range. A not so perfect 0% night, his only 2 points coming from FT’s which he uncharacteristically hit both (he is a 51% FT shooter to go along with his 34% from 2 and 17% from 3PT ranges) while Roberson hit 20% going 1 for 5 from 2PT and 0%, going 0 for 2 from 3PT range. His season averages are 46% from the field, which isn’t as good as that number indicates because I have seen Dre actually take 1 mid range jumper total in 4 years, so all his 2 point shots are layups or dunks, which he is missing close to 60% of them, to go with 25% from 3PT and 43% from FT’s.
With that stellar shooting night, Coach continued to let Dre play 35mins and Semaj 20mins. In contrast, you had McDermott on the bench who played a total of 12 minutes, scored 5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal and shot 67%.
In that same 11 game stretch, Jerami Grant, who Presti secured by trading Ersan Ilyasova, is a young great defender, not quite as good as Dre but definitely in the same ball park, a great shot blocker, can jump out of the gym, can guard 5 positions on the floor, ala Draymond Green and who this season with OKC, has been hitting 51% of his 2PT shots, 37% of his 3PT shots and 62% from FT played a total of 9.7mpg.
Norris Cole, the third veteran scorer that Presti gave to the coach, played the first 4 games and averaged 13mpg. In that time he contributed 4ppg, 1.3rpg and 1.3apg. Since then however, that same ominous last 11 games, Cole has played an average of 1.5mpg, with Coach preferring to start the rookie Semaj over the veteran PG who can defend well and can actually score.
It’s bad enough starting Andre Roberson and having him play 30mpg. I know he is a great defender, but there are decent defenders who are sitting on the bench who can actually play both sides of the floor. Defence doesn’t win games if you still can’t outscore your opponent and having Dre play such significant minutes means that you get a defender on the floor who can guard most wing players, except the smaller ones like Lillard, McCollum and Thomas who are just too fast for him, but it also means you are playing 4 on 5 when you are on offence.
To be truthful, I think Coach Popovich must have cancelled his annual let’s trick Scotty Brooks get together, because now Russ is getting double and sometimes triple teamed down the floor, with more often than not, the guy who is supposed to be guarding Dre is the one flying across to double on Westbrook. Coach leaves Dre standing there by himself at the 3 point line, but with his 25% average, (which has increased dramatically since the all-star break by the way) no one is falling for it. They are practically daring him to take a shot and even if he does, they will live with the 6 points he will rack up. Coach does the same thing with Semaj when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. You have a 17% 3PT shooter standing out there as what, a decoy? OKC may as well get big Perk back and have him stand out at the 3PT line as a decoy.
Hey I know Perk! I think it is pretty ludicrous idea as well. I was just using it as an example and well, at least you can scare guys as they run past you. Sheesh!
So Coach has 2 players on the floor who couldn’t hit a barn door with a paintball gun, from 24ft playing significant minutes and another in Sabonis who is taking about 10mpg more than he needs to for his 5.8ppg.
In the meantime you have basically a young Kyle Korver sitting on your bench who could start as your SF, who will definitely stretch the floor and open up the middle for Russ as well as the bigs, because if McDermott’s man leaves him for even a second, a 3PT shot will go up and if when contested he hits 40% of his 3’s; imagine if he is wide open what he would be shooting? You also have a vet PF who is playing 10mpg short of starter minutes, who can contribute significantly on both ends of the floor. You have a young, athletic SF who is a 37% 3PT shooter who can dunk on anyone in the league as well as defend and block their shots, sitting on the bench gathering dust and a veteran PG who can defend AND score who is playing 1.5mpg.
I know at the start of the season, everyone not named Russell Westbrook, thought OKC would struggle to even make the playoffs after we lost KD for no return and it could well be that Coach thought, we have the 2nd youngest team in the league behind the 76ers and lets face it, without Russ, OKC would likely only be a rung or two ahead of them, so lets blood the 3 rookies and develop them over the next 2 or 3 seasons so that we have a nice core group.
But now that Mr T.D.M.E. has got them to 6th place, only 2 games out of 5th where they would face off against the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, a team which I honestly believe OKC would take in a 7 game series, thereby granting them a second round berth, on top of the players that Sam Presti provided to you in Oladipo, Grant, Gibson, McDermott and Cole; don’t you think the Coach owes it to the both of them to actually utilise the best players he has and make a serious run at the playoffs? Or am I asking too much?
Please note, no barn doors were in any way harmed in the writing of this article. Both Andre Roberson and Semaj Christon did take 10 shots each at the barn door from 24ft, I believe to prove me wrong more than any sense of pride, but luckily the barn was only barely grazed twice. The horses inside the barn however were treated for shortness of breath and sore ribs from laughing so hard. They found the attempts and misses just hilarious!.