Is anyone surprised the Lakers are 0-3? No. How about the 0-3 Kevin Love Cavaliers? Without LeBron, of course not. And the 0-3 Bulls? Expected. But the OKC Thunder who are supposed to be contenders with Paul George and the newly acquired Westbrook backup Dennis Schroder, the Thunder with Steven Adams up front and the walking triple double Westbrook, they are 0-3? Really?
The easy answer is Russell Westbrook’s knee scope set the team back. Okay. But with the exception of Dennis Schroder and the kicking to the curb of Carmelo Anthony, this is the same Thunder team as last year. They made few changes. They paid Paul George just in case Westbrook needed to miss some games, he then could take over.
To start the season, the Thunder competed hard until the end when the firepower and experience of the Warriors bested them in game one. In game two, they didn’t look interested, played bored and the Clippers handled them in the 4th quarter. The home opener against the Sacramento Kings was the shocker. It was Russell Westbrook’s first game back.
Conventional theory was the Thunder without Westbrook were a mirage, despite how good they looked in Oakland to kick off the NBA season. How they look with Westbrook in the lineup is everything and against the Kings they looked awful. Westbrook got his as he will do, talented as he is. Paul George was so-so. Steven Adams was ignored. Dennis Schroder made shots and guarded absolutely no one which is his m.o. Billy Donovan had the same Billy Donovan what-is-wrong stare. Basically, last year’s Thunder is this year’s Thunder.
Here’s the problem. The Thunder put all of their eggs into the Paul George basket. Once George, re-signed, the talking point was they needed another season to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. They needed to work on the chemistry. I am here to say uh…no.
The main problem is ignoring Steven Adams and defense. Throw in 3-point shooting too.
Only three teams have scored less points than the Thunder (Memphis, Orlando, Boston). The Thunder have the worst field goal percentage in the league, not even making 40% of their shots. Their three ball is worse, 23%, dead last in the league. A Russell Westbrook team is never going to be a high assist team but averaging the same amount of assists as the Knicks is wretched.
On the plus side, they are the best offensive rebounding team. All those misses, they better rebound. They are 6th in blocks and steals.
But this is a ball in the hoop kind of game. Scoring matters. The Thunder haven’t been 0-3 since they were in Seattle and it was Kevin Durant’s rookie year and Russell Westbrook was at UCLA on his way to the Final Four. That year the Thunder, who were coached by P.J. Carlesimo, only won 20 games. That is not going to happen in OKC 2018-19. They’ll get to 40+ wins but to reach their goals they need to cross the 50 win plateau. That 2007-08 Thunder team went 0-7 before their first win. That also isn’t going to be repeated. Despite that miserable performance against the Kings, expect the Thunder to beat Phoenix on Sunday.
The Thunder play the Celtics on Thursday night, trying to avoid an 0-4 start. The Celtics have their own issues. Their offensive struggles are worse than OKC, only managing 99 points a game, not able to put the ball in the hole from the perimeter or anywhere else for that matter. Jayson Tatum has sparkled, especially in MSG, but is only shooting 26% from three. The rest of the Celtics including Kyrie Irving (39%, 18% 3-ball) and Jaylen Brown (34%, 33% 3-ball), Terry Rozier (38%) are struggling early on and usually it wouldn’t matter in either league the slow start. But the Thunder and Celtics are considered to be complete teams ready to make it to the conference final in conference(s) with a lot of star power and grind it out wins. Nothing that happens in October counts against you in March except chemistry and losses you cannot spin into w’s and not getting too far behind the pack.
The Thunder have a schedule that won’t wait for them to figure out how to play efficiently and with defensive energy. A back to back in Charlotte and Washington, New Orleans and the Rockets at home, and back to Oakland before Thanksgiving are their more competitive games. Even the should wins like the Clippers and Mavericks aren’t gimmes.
Three-and-a-half months ago, it felt like Christmas with Paul George ignoring the Lakers. It felt as if the Kevin Durant page had finally been turned except for this one teeny, tiny small problem. George isn’t Durant. He is not . Westbrook is still Westbrook. Steven Adams is forgotten. Schroder guards absolutely no one and makes bad decisions in big moments. And Billy Donovan is consistently treading water.
It’s early. You don’t win a title before you win a title, before Christmas. But you definitely can lose it before you thought you would because of the little big things: scoring, defense, boredom.