There are multiple reasons for what we’ve seen, or not seen thus far but there are three glaring deficiencies that stick out like a sore thumb. Luckily, they should be an easy fix with time, which is something people aren’t very willing to accept.
Oklahoma City’s ball movement has been atrocious as of late. There will be flashes of a free-flowing offense where almost everyone touches the ball but it seems to always end with either Russell Westbrook, George, or Anthony getting themselves in an isolation situation where they resort to their old tendencies of having to take the game over alone.
Not an excuse but Anthony was forced to be that guy for at least the past 14 years in the NBA and honestly, even in college. George was forced to be that guy for the last seven seasons and Russell is coming off a season where he literally had to average a triple-double for his team to stay somewhat relevant. The point that’s being made is that it’s hard to break a long-term habit like that. Especially in a little over three weeks. As a fan, think of the simple things. Think about how hard it is for people to stop drinking soda, eat fast food, or stop speeding after an extended period of doing so. That’s what this transition is like for at least two of the three of OKC’s stars.
Billy Donovan isn’t innocent in all of this. His rotations have been off. Certain players shouldn’t be in the game when they are. There are players on the bench that aren’t in the game that probably should be (hello Josh Huestis).
A lot of the blame will go on Donovan for the wrong reasons, though. Many are upset with the way he’s managed the big three through the first few weeks of play but that isn’t the problem. The job of these professional coaches doesn’t rely solely on managing personalities. These guys are grown men and established athletes, not to mention, millionaires. There’s not much a coach can do to manage their personalities. A head coach’s job in the NBA is to put the right personnel in the game depending on the situations, as well as managing the X’s and O’s of the game.
This is something Billy Donovan should figure out, based on his prior, yet brief history as OKC’s head coach. Remember the 2015-2016 season? Many were calling for his job due to a slow start and rotations appearing to be suspect, yet he led the team further than anyone expected during the season, just one game away from the NBA Finals. It’s an 82-game season and champions aren’t decided within the first 10 games. He’s using this juncture of the season to test out his talent and his rotations. Things will eventually come together on his end.
Westbrook is known for doing too much sometimes and that’s been where most of the criticism comes from regarding his overall game. Thus far this season, he hasn’t been himself. Yes, he has two other major options on offense but he’s allowed that to stray him away from his overall game. He’s always bee authentic, an attack-first type of point guard and that’s proven to be beneficial thus far in his basketball career. However, through this 10-game stretch, it seems like he’s distracted by the added talent. He’s differing a little bit too frequently when sometimes, he needs to take the game over, especially when Anthony and George aren’t hitting from the field.
Russell is still earning 20.1 points per game and his assists numbers have been up this season (11.4 assists) but in crucial moments, he’s differing when he used to take the reigns. He needs to understand that he’s still the alpha on this team and George and Anthony need to realize that he is too and act accordingly.
Based on their current game, Westbrook is the alpha, George should be the second option and Anthony should be a very dominant third option.
Regardless, the Thunder are now (4-6) on the year through 10 games and there are murmurs of panic throughout the fanbase. This isn’t something that this team will figure out this early. If they were clicking right now it would be extremely impressive. The objective of the season for the Thunder is to simply stay afloat through 82 games and to be playing their best basketball towards March, into the NBA playoffs when a championship is on the line.