Oklahoma City is not a fun place to be right now as huge expectations ahead of the season have been replaced with frustrating losses amid productive displays against big teams like Golden State Warriors.
For a team that has three All Stars on its roster, holding a losing record isn’t acceptable irrespective of the short time they have spent together. As at the time of publication, OKC has 13 wins and 14 losses placing them eighth in the Western Conference far behind teams they ought to be battling with at the top.
Houston Rockets leads the Conference and the league with the best record closely followed by Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Unlike the Thunder, Minnesota is right where it was pegged to be following a sensational offseason bringing over top tier talent in Jimmy Butler and productive players like Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague. Across the conference, Boston Celtics have been in scintillating form after adding Kyrie Irving. Despite the loss of one half of their offseason recruits Gordon Hayward to a horrific ankle injury, Brad Stevens men are top the Eastern Conference staving off Cleveland Cavaliers as expected.
Failing to make the best out of a talented team has led some quarters to call for the sack of Coach Billy Donovan citing his inability to connect with his team well.
Some part of this call rings true as Donovan’s presence on the sideline has barely transitioned into a different look from the Scott Brooks days when an isolation heavy system with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant highlighting the season. The Thunder’s inconsistent form has characterized its season thus far with losses to Orlando Magic taking the wind out of a Golden State winning sail.
Against Indiana Pacers on Paul George’s maiden return to the Pacers after he got traded from the side, OKC got out of the Hooiser State with a 100-95 win. Beating Indiana away from home shouldn’t be too much of a problem for OKC in past seasons but the Victor Oladipo inspired team has been strong this year. Indiana played the Thunder after snapping Cleveland Cavaliers 13 game winning run a few days before, so clinching the five point win is a positive note. While all members of the starting unit registered double digit points, none of the bench unit did despite all five members recording double digits in minutes.
Out of a 100 points scored by OKC, only 29 points came from the bench which surprisingly is an improvement on what the unit managed in the prior game. Playing the Hornets, Oklahoma lost 103-116 with eight members of its bench unit combining for 14 points in the game. That startling statistic is a major concern for the team as it prepares for tougher challenges down the stretch with postseason basketball set to pop up. The unit needs help badly which it can get from Carmelo Anthony should the 15 year veteran accept a role off the starting unit.
For the season, Oklahoma’s bench is ranked the second worst just ahead of Milwaukee Bucks who are paying the price for offloading Greg Monroe and Michael Beasley in the offseason. The Thunder’s bench is averaging just 23. 4 points per game; for a team with ambitions of facing Golden State, this is unacceptable.
Despite admitting he is in the toughest shooting stretch in his career, former New York Knicks Forward Anthony is averaging a respectable 17.7 points per game which would easily pace the reserve unit. Jerami Grant leads the bench unit with 7.8 points. Struggling to adjust his new role as the third piece of attack, Anthony is yet to find peace playing with the ball out of his hands with the clock winding down. Signed with most experts seeing him as a catch and shoot option alongside Westbrook and George has failed to pan out as Anthony doesn’t seem to have his range on point after going through possessions with a few touches.
Former Cavs Guard Deron Williams stated he is not a Derek Fisher type of player who can just roll off the bench and hit two three pointers in quick succession rather classifying himself as a rhythm guy who has to be in the flow of the game to play great. Perhaps this could be the best description for Melo who works best as the go to guy pressed with holding the ball up as long as he wants to find a shot. In the starting unit alongside ball dominant players in George and Westbrook such tendencies won’t work but in a unit that hands him as many shot choices as possible, Anthony is bound to thrive.
The Thunder’s bench was poor last season and prevented the team from progressing further; without changes, a first round playoff exit will repeat.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter