As the Thunder enter their fourth season post-Kevin Durant, they also face a (4-12) playoff record since losing the perennial all-star, and now Thunder fans are searching for answers.
The season has ended and after yet another first-round loss, this time to the Portland Trail Blazers, the popular opinion around the NBA and especially throughout Oklahoma City is that the Thunder need to make big moves during the free agency period that kicks off this upcoming weekend.
While I do agree that moves have to be made, it’s not because this past season was a wash. It’s because the NBA landscape is changing before our eyes, and the Thunder essentially have to keep up with the Joneses, or better yet, the upper-echelon of NBA teams.
With the acquisition of Anthony Davis and an enormous amount of money to sign another max player, the Los Angeles Lakers are erupting as a leading NBA power once again. The Warriors are slowly fading away after both Durant and Klay Thompson’s injuries, and free agency speculations. With Sam Presti knowing all of that, he also knows the heat is on in regards to improving OKC’s roster.
When thinking of what the Thunder are short on, primarily cap space, that may cause OKC to get rid of a key piece in Steven Adams. In addition, Nerlens Noel turned down his player option, which likely means he’ll sign with another team this offseason. So, the Thunder may be significantly lacking at the center position. Actually, they’ll be lacking if they lose one of the two.
Shooting-wise, based on the way the season ended, the popular opinion is that the Thunder need significant help in that department, especially if they want to make a legitimate run as NBA championship contenders. While more shooting certainly won’t hurt, folks have seemingly forgotten about the way OKC played in January and early February. They were actually in the top third of the NBA in three-point percentage as a team, with Paul George, Terrance Ferguson, and Jerami Grant leading the way.
Between the months of January and February, George shot 41.4 percent from three, Ferguson shot 41.5 percent, and Grant shot 44.4 percent. Having three players on one team shooting above 40 percent from long range would qualify the Thunder as a good shooting team. So, what happened?
Well, Paul George got hurt in the month of February before the all-star break and played the rest of the season injured.
So, what happened with Ferguson and Grant through the final 30-something games of the season? How did Paul’s injury affect them?
In the NBA, one player being out, or a player the caliber of George not being 100 percent often means turmoil for the rest of the team. Since basketball is a sport of rhythm and habit, that was a detrimental time for two young, up-and-coming players like Ferguson and Grant who were just finding their rhythm and confidence offensively.
The Thunder could use some more pieces, but while everyone thinks shooting is the immediate answer, finding a starting or backup center may be the bigger need. With OKC being an elite defensive team even without their premier defender, Andre Roberson, the combination of defense, plus what we saw forming in January and early February is nothing to sleep on. The Thunder aren’t as bad as people think. Recency bias, AKA another first-round exit was just the last impression this Thunder team left everyone.
The Thunder should try to make a splash in free agency, but if they don’t, it’s certainly not the end of the road for the league’s fourth most winningest team in the last decade.