When Scott Brooks was fired by the Thunder, there was a general sense across the NBA that it was due to the Thunder needing to get better at the so called ‘x’s and o’s’ of the game. Brooks was a superb motivator and a decent player developer but his knowledge of systems and plays wasn’t too great and this resulted in a stagnant offence based on isolation and quick catch and shoot situations early in the shot clock. There was a clear need for a new Coach and Billy Donovan was the guy they selected. Sam Presti who is the General Manager of the Thunder quoted the need for ‘growth and progress to help us reach all our goals’. It is of course heinous to judge a coach based on just over 60 games, but Donovan isn’t doing what was expected of him. Nothing has changed and it looks as if players are winning games for OKC, as opposed to coaching.
What must first be noted- is that I am in no way looking at the Thunder’s record. For a team this good, just making the postseason as a top five seed is good enough, they don’t need to be chasing any records as they in theory- can beat anyone they get in the first round. This year was always going to be about the style of basketball and the development of players but in either respect- nothing has changed all that much.
Passing (Or lack of it):
The major criticism of Coach Scott Brooks was that his offence was simply too basic, it was often based on high pick and rolls and then isolation for either Westbrook or Durant. The team shot a fair amount of threes but most of them would come late in the shot clock as a last resort. The team were 29th in passes per game last season and they have managed to go down a place this year, yes, they are a dead last in passes per game. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are also both in the top ten for isolation possessions- to put this into perspective- there are no other teams with two players in the top 20 of this category. OKC do run a quick offence and this is what makes things even more worrying- they are taking quick shots without making many passes and they aren’t even using isolation to run the whole clock down. Not every time can of course play the Golden State offence of short quick passing- but you need to move the ball in order to cause a defence problems. OKC’s offence is currently doing nothing, it causes switches but there is a lack of off the ball movement which is needed to force defenders into difficult decisions- that is ultimately where you get your points.
Billy Donovan was brought in to change this or at least give the offence some signs of evolution- but it hasn’t happened. Isolation will always be a part of the game if you have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant- however it cannot be the go to tactic- it didn’t work three years ago so it will not work in a much more competitive Western Conference that they now play in. The offence looks stifled, there’s no ball movement, no objective and no kind of x-factor in what the Thunder are trying to do.
Kevin Durant’s future:
I for one expect Kevin Durant to stay in Oklahoma City as he won’t play with a better player than Russell Westbrook at another realistic destination. However, the offence could be something that drives him away from the ball club. It is archaic and he doesn’t put up as good stats or look as good as he could somewhere else. The fact he is asked to run so much isolation is worrying, it shows that they don’t know just how talented a player they are working with. He is a gifted passer who can find the open man on the perimeter, but the lack of cutting and off the ball movement means he doesn’t get to showcase these abilities. If he were to go somewhere like Miami, Washington or god forbid Golden State- he could play in a much more modern role that would allow him to prove he is the best player in the League.
The Thunder always stress the future and looking forward, but this roster should be good enough to at least compete for a finals appearance. They have a good amount of depth, they are young and at the same time they have experienced guys who have played at the most intense levels of basketball. If the Thunder look too far forward- then they will miss part of their window. This team needs to change it’s offence immediately- they cannot win with the lack of ball movement and adventure as the League is moving away from slow offence based on using your best player as much as possible. Big men in the modern game are often more adept at switching onto guards- that’s why isolation is dying as a concept- OKC need to wake up and do it quickly.