As result, Thunder fans remain in disarray with no clue where to place their emotions on a day-to-day basis.
Early in the season, growing pains were expected. You knew the Thunder weren’t going to be a well-oiled machine out of the gate but assumed that Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony would use their experience to figure things out. Who wouldn’t think that? Three guys averaging 65.5 points per game should be able to figure out an offensive formula to win games. Adding George, one of the NBA’s premier two-way players to play alongside Westbrook and Andre Roberson looked on paper to be one of the most lethal defensive backcourts in the league. The simple fact that there are a combined three decades of basketball between them with no title to show for it lent many to think they were hungry and humble enough to make everything work.
“Early in the season” initially meant the first 25 games. As the Thunder still weren’t playing with any consistency, we stretched it to 35 games and so on. Well, now more than halfway through an 82-game season the question still persists. Can the Thunder play consistent basketball? Can they figure out their roles? How will the bench perform?
The Thunder played consistent basketball for a small stretch of this season. Between Dec. 18 and Dec. 27, they rattled off six straight games where they were victorious in the end. During that time, they seemed to play relatively consistent basketball and that’s when everyone thought this super team was turning that corner. As a matter of fact, the Thunder were (12-5) in the month of December. However, to start 2018 the Thunder regressed, losing three of their next five games to the (17-29) Phoenix Suns, the Portland Trail Blazers without Damian Lillard, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, all in embarrassing fashion. All the positive they did in December seemed to dissolve after the new year and the inconsistencies continued.
OKC is in the midst of another winning streak in the middle of January, which included the highest-scoring outing for the Thunder all season after walloping the Cleveland Cavaliers 148-124. That was arguably the most complete game the big three played all season, yet no one feels comfortable with the team’s current state. There’s absolutely no certainty within the fanbase because they Thunder are just so unpredictable.
They are so unpredictable that they are predictable. Looking through the entire season, the trend of the Thunder is that they underperform when playing teams with lesser talent but step up to the plate when they play elite competition. That’s evidenced by a (15-10) record against non-playoff teams where they would barely squeak by their opponents, if not lose and an (11-10) record against elite competition where they defeated four of the NBA’s best teams convincingly and competed well even in loses. It’s just a common trend that has been noticed, which isn’t necessarily bad. If you’re able to cope with some bad losses during the season then you may be in for a treat come playoff time.
Regardless, inconsistency isn’t a healthy trait for a team to have. For the Thunder to play consistent basketball, they need at least two of their big three contributing mightily both offensively and defensively. They have the luxury where one of the members of the big three could have a subpar game and they’d still be able to beat most NBA teams with ease. As of late (despite the Cavaliers game), only one of the big three has a big game, which makes them equivalent to a middle of the road team with one star.
Also, OKC’s key rotation off the bench has to contribute more than they have been. Averaging just 27.3 combined points won’t cut it against stacked teams like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Cleveland Cavaliers. Not even against the Minnesota Timberwolves who have an exceptional bench unit as well as a big three.
Whether the Thunder are trending upward or downward is still a cold case, no one knows. They may have just beaten the Cavaliers but will they struggle against a non-playoff contending team the next week? For some reason, it feels like nobody will know just how good or bad the Thunder are until the playoffs unfold.