As another season has come and gone, the Oklahoma City Thunder finished on par from last season, which in essence is disappointing after apparently getting rid of the ‘problem’ that was Carmelo Anthony. At the end of the 2017-2018 season, the Thunder record was (48-33) and they lost in the first round of the playoffs in five games after being thoroughly outplayed by the Utah Jazz. This season, they finished just one game better, with a (49-32) record and just like last year, lost in the first round of the playoffs in five games to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Although largely this season was a disappointment, there were some players that took strides individually. We’re going to break up our player evaluations by three tiers: their one, two and three. This will be dedicated to the top tier Thunder players.
Tier one evaluations
Russell Westbrook | Grade: B- | 22.9 points, 10.7 assists, 11.1 rebounds.
It’s hard to give a player who averaged a triple-double for his third consecutive season a B-, but the way he ended the year played a huge role in it. Ultimately, it was his decision making and a lapse in leadership when the season was on the line that pushed his evaluation down to him having a slightly above average year.
Westbrook stat-wise wasn’t bad. He averaged a career-high in rebounds and assists, but his shooting percentage in every way dropped this season. He shot 46.8 percent, which while lower than his previous three seasons is still right around average for his career. Westbrook also shot a career-low 65.6 percent from the free throw line, and 29.0 percent from long distance.
Westbrook may be entering a defining moment in his career. As he enters his 12th NBA season and his 31st birthday, his athleticism may be declining. In past seasons, his average to sub-par shooting didn’t matter much at all. Now, he needs to take a page out of Dwyane Wade’s book and focus on his shooting, which he already mentioned he plans to do this offseason.
Paul George | Grade: A- | 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists.
Paul George could have had the perfect season if he continued to play at the level he played at through mid-December into the all-star break. He was one of three in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player award in the NBA and was undoubtedly the most complete player this season.
The crazy thing about George is although his offensive game slumped after the all-star break, his defense didn’t. He still led the NBA in steals this season and is a front-runner for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
George’s next step is his consistency. He dealt with a nagging shoulder injury immediately after the all-star break; a shoulder injury that he’s already alluded to having surgery on this summer. If he can come back for the 2019-2020 season healthy and play elite basketball consistency, he not only could win MVP, he could help take Oklahoma City to the next level.
Steven Adams | Grade C- | 13.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals.
After Steven Adams ascended each of his five previous seasons, this season he plateaued. He played the same basketball from the previous year. Though still productive on the offensive end and defensive end there are times where the Thunder didn’t exploit his mismatch. This season, the Thunder didn’t utilize the sixth year big man the right way and it ultimately hurt the team.
Adams isn’t innocent in this, though. There are two problems with his game; he is a perfect example of what the NBA used to be centered around and he isn’t assertive enough. As the NBA has made a complete transition to big men that can stretch the half-court offense by the ability to step beyond the painted area and be productive offensively, Adams hasn’t made that transition on either end of the floor. More than often, it’s detrimental to the team.
It’s not too late for Adams but if he doesn’t work on extending his game outside of 10 feet from the basket this offseason, the Thunder may have to look elsewhere (which they may already be doing), because the NBA has changed. Centers like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Yusuf Nurkic are the future of the NBA at his position. Hopefully, Adams hasn’t reached his peak yet at just 25 years old.
Jerami Grant | Grade: A | 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists.
This was Grant’s first season where he realized what he’s capable of. Through his first four seasons, he was primarily an athletic, defense-first type of power forward. He wasn’t known as a shooter in the slightest, his handle was questionable and he was out of control on offense at times, but you could see his upside.
That upside came to fruition in Grant’s fifth season. He went from averaging 8.4 points in 2017-2018 to 13.6 this last season. Most noticeably, his 3-point percentage increased from 29.1 percent to 39.2 percent. He went from a complete non-factor from beyond the arc to a legitimate threat that you have to respect. Grant actually held the highest 3-point percentage on the Thunder. His attempts also increased from one to four per game.
This season was a preview for him. This season was where Grant realized and made the NBA realize the player that he could, and probably will grow into as his career progresses. It would be smart of the Thunder to hold onto Grant as long as they can because as Westbrook’s career declines, this team could end up being Grant and George’s.