The Thunder played only three times in the past seven days. The outcome wasn’t positive: one win and two losses. Oklahoma City dropped the games in Memphis and Milwaukee. The only win came at home on New Year’s eve against the Los Angles Clippers.
Oklahoma City at Memphis: 80-114
Oklahoma City vs LA Clippers: 114-88
Oklahoma City at Milwaukee: 94-98
The importance of Russell Westbrook.
It’s very clear, the Thunder depend heavily on how Russell Westbrook plays. This past week was another perfect example of it. The two losses matched with two bad performances by Westbrook. In these 2 games, the number zero shot 32% from the floor and 25% from behind the arc. He averaged 25.5 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5.5 turnovers. He also has been ejected for arguing with an official in Memphis. The Thunder were already down by 14 points at that point but after he was sent out they ended up losing by 34. Russell Westbrook needs to take control of his technical fouls situation. He has already 11 (he had 3 just in the past week) and when (if) he reaches 16, the one-game suspension process will start. The team would suffer if he is missing games due to this reason.
As mentioned above Russell Westbrook is the needle of how good or bad the Thunder play. However, let’s not forget that Oklahoma City has one of the youngest rosters in the league with an average of 25.3 years. By excluding Nick Collison and Anthony Morrow from this calculation, they are playing only a few minutes per game if at all, the average drops to 24.8. I am mentioning this in particular because it gets lost in most analysations. This young team needs to grow all together, gain experience. They will need time to do this. The supporting cast, even if it’s good and promising, will make many silly mistakes or play poorly sometimes during a long season. It might cost losses on the way as well as when Westbrook is playing badly. Tough losses are part of the process.
On the road.
After this week Oklahoma City is 8-8 when playing away from home. The Thunder are averaging 101.9 points per game on the road (16th in the league) which is 7.6 points less than at home (109.5 PPG, 6th in the league). The defense is not good as well: when on the road the Thunder allow 107.2 points per game (20th in the league). To compare also the defense home/road while playing at home, the Thunder allow 102.1 points per game (11th in the league).
I mention this because in January the team will play 11 out of 14 games outside the state of Oklahoma. On the bright side, this hard month ahead might help the team to bond even more while spending time together away from home.
Victor Oladipo came back on New Year’s eve after missing 9 consecutive games due to a wrist sprain. He did not look rusty at all and shot the ball particularly well in these past 2 games: 52% from the floor and 50% from three.
The next, and last, return will be Cameron Payne. The point guard is now assigned to the Oklahoma City Blue as a rehab procedure. Many teams send recovering players to their D-League affiliate in order to get them back in game rhythm. His debut seems to be fixed for the home game on Saturday night vs the Denver Nuggets. Semaj Christon is playing good lately but the addition of Payne will give more options to this team who’s struggling for ball handlers outside of Westbrook.
Top 3 plays of the week:
- Abrines at the buzzer from way downtown:
- Oladipo coast to coast:
- Sabonis with the big block:
Oklahoma City will play four games in the upcoming week with three of them on the road. The Thunder will play tonight in Charlotte and then tomorrow in Houston. They will be back briefly at home on Saturday to face the Denver Nuggets before hitting the road again to play in Chicago on Monday night.