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The State of the Thunder

The State of the Thunder

The people have been brought up to speed on the State of the Union and the State of the City (of Oklahoma, of course) in the past few days. With the season near the halfway point, let’s look at the State of the Thunder.

Forget for a moment that the Spurs and Warriors are both playing the sport of basketball at historic levels. Focus only on what the Thunder has done so far. Even though both Golden State and San Antonio look unbeatable, remember that even the Death Star had a thermal exhaust port. It remains to be seen whether the Thunder has the young Jedi pilot to exploit that design flaw.

The positives:

The Thunder is 28-12, which ranks 3rd in the Western Conference. They are 20-4 versus Western Conference opponents. They rank second in the league in Offensive Rating (an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions), are third-best in Margin of Victory at 7.90 and in True Shooting percentage at 56.5%. They also rank 6th overall in steals and are the best offensive rebounding team in the league. Opponents are shooting only 43.1% against the Thunder, the fifth worst in the league.

Kevin Durant is healthy. Any concerns about his recovery from a nasty Jones fracture are so 2015. He’s back to his former MVP-level and flirting with another 50/40/90 season (field goal, 3 point field goal, and free throw percentages).

Russell Westbrook is also having a fantastic season overall, ranking in the top two in Player Efficiency Rating (a measure of per-minute production) and Real Plus Minus (an advanced stat that shows an individual player’s impact on offense and defense).

Steven Adams and Enes Kanter make for a formidable duo at center. Despite much hand-wringing over Kanter’s 4-year, $70 million contract, he ranks in the top 10 in Player Efficiency Rating despite playing only 20 minutes per night, and also rebounds at a high rate on the offensive glass. Adams has been solid and is developing quite the alley-oop relationship with Westbrook.

The negatives:

The Thunder’s strength of schedule has been one of the softest in the league. They’ve played 23 of their first 40 games at home, are a mere 8-8 versus eastern conference foes, and only 9-10 versus teams with a .500 or better record. That includes Wednesday night’s victory over Dallas in which the Mavericks sat out their entire starting five.

The Thunder has been inconsistent defensively all season and sits near the league average in Defensive Rating. With few exceptions, NBA Champions typically rank in the top 10 in this category. They surrender too many three point shots and opponents hit over 35% of them.

The Thunder’s depth was thought to be one of its strengths coming into the season, but it has largely failed them. Kanter’s offense is impressive but his defense, while improved, still negatively impacts the team. Dion Waiters remains a feast-or-famine player. D.J. Augstin’s shaky play led to his removal from the rotation. Kyle Singler is having perhaps the worst statistical season of any semi-regular rotation player ever. All-bench units tend to bleed leads and put more pressure on the Thunder stars.

While Durant’s Jones fracture is a thing of the past, he has missed 7 games with hamstring and toe injuries. The Thunder is 3-4 in those games. Despite all attempts to build a more well-rounded and resilient team, the Thunder still relies heavily on Durant’s presence.

Final analysis:

Some believe the Thunder have underachieved so far. Defensively, there’s little doubt the team has taken a step backward. Otherwise, the Thunder is pretty much right where many people expected them to be.  An additional victory or two (or three or four) would make the record look better but would still place them third in the west. The Spurs and Warriors are just that good.

Sam Presti has a busy month ahead of him. The trade deadline is February 18. Will Presti stick with what he has? Will he try to shore up areas of concern? Or will the players decide to remedy their issues internally?

 

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