Just when you thought you had figured out the Thunder’s identity — an isolation-heavy offensive squad with all-NBA-caliber defenders — the picture shifts, however slightly.
The defense is still there (and likely will be — as the saying goes, defense travels), but there seems to be a deliberate effort to pass up poor-to-good shots for great ones.
Don’t get me wrong: there are still plenty of iso situations, but they are more and more often coming off of multiple passes to successfully set them up.
This is clearly a team still working to find their identity, but they’re coming closer every game.
DeMar DeRozan and the dying mid-range game
The Raptors’ springy guard out of Compton, California, has always drawn heavy amounts of both criticism and praise. Regardless, DeRozan puts his head down and just plays — the only way he knows how to.
In many ways (including the SoCal roots), Russell Westbrook is a lot like DeMar DeRozan.
And, like Westbrook, DeRozan is posting MVP-level stats. He’s shooting the highest percentage of his career (aside from his rookie season, which we’ll throw out because he only took 6.5 shots per game). He’s also averaging career highs in assists and steals.
He’s had a phenomenal impact on both ends for the Raptors, and it’s showing in the standings: they’re just a game-and-a-half behind the first place Boston Celtics.
And, as NBA.com points out, DeRozan’s game is going out of style in the NBA. Analytics-oriented people will tell you that, by the numbers, the mid-range shot is the least efficient shot in basketball. Roughly one-third of DeRozan’s shots come from 10-16 feet away from the bucket.
Despite being heavily criticized for his (perceived) inefficiency, DeRozan has elevated his all-around game and it’s shown in the Raptors’ record. Mitigating his impact will be key for the Thunder tonight against the Raptors.
New Thunder alternates fall flat
While Nike has drawn a lot of praise for their new take on NBA alternate uniforms, the Thunder’s new ‘City’ digs have been roundly criticized on social media:
Here are some of the photos of the Thunder’s new City Edition uniforms they announced today. @ThunderMob405 was first on the design. On sale Dec. 27. Wearing for the first time Jan. 25. pic.twitter.com/0fijlySY5a
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 27, 2017
Now, I’m not a person who cares too terribly much about uniforms. In fact, I tend to forget about them about 30 seconds into game action. You know, more important things going on.
But yeesh. These aren’t the most pleasant on the eyes. I’ve been a fan of just about every look the Thunder have debuted (R.I.P. to the G.O.A.T.: the dreamsicle orange ‘Sunset’ uniforms), but this one falls immediately to the bottom of the totem pole.
The OKC shield logo has always been the goofiest part of the Thunder’s branding, and to draw inspiration from that is…questionable.
I do, however, love the Oklahoma on the belt buckle and the yellow outline of the number. Outside of that, though? Let’s just say I won’t be buying one of these.
The Andre Roberson effect
On Christmas day, the ever-efficient James Harden shot 7-18. He also had 14 assists.
Harden is going to get his numbers, that much is certain. But the eye test tells a different story.
With Chris Paul out, James Harden was forced to be the Rockets’ do-it-all guy. Although Harden did plenty of that last year, he also had a deep roster surrounding him. With their mortgaging of the farm to acquire Paul, Houston had to sacrifice a bit of that depth.
Andre Roberson made Harden’s life miserable on Christmas day. What a grinch!
First, let’s touch on Roberson’s perimeter D. Often, Harden couldn’t find a lane to drive, forcing him to dish the ball. Harden’s 14 assists were as much a factor of Roberson’s defense as it was Harden’s offense. He had no choice but to give the ball up.
Secondly, though, Roberson defended Harden without fouling for the most part. A player like Harden can feast at the free throw line, but Roberson played suffocating and clean defense.
With Kawhi Leonard sidelined for the first few months of the season, Andre Roberson has a hell of a shot at making first team All-Defense this season.
Tonight, ‘Dre draws another tough matchup in DeMar DeRozan. Based on what he’s done so far, I’d expect Roberson to limit DeRozan’s impact.