Billy Donovan Staying Means Another First Round Exit

There’s a joke going around about Sam Presti and the Thunder. As the joke goes, Presti the Thunder GM drafted three MVP’s but kept the worst one. It is that worse one, though, that Presti is paying $35 million to next season. Clearly, the Thunder coach Billy Donovan has no clue on how to coach Westbrook so he does less and the Thunder get less out of Westbrook’s talent when measuring the bottom line. Even when you take Westbrook out the equation, it is hard to see what the Thunder offense actually is except iso.

The modern NBA is iso-negative. It’s not 2002. Teams need multiple actions with mutiple players. Efficient shooters are the holy grail. Stockpile them. The Rockets have. The Warriors have. The Celtics have. But still you need a system to liberate and elevate everyone. What has Billy Donovan done to earn another year other than the Thunder don’t want to pay him the remaining two years to not work while they are paying another coach who knows how to scheme?

The Utah Jazz have a team motto: the strength of the team is the team. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a motto: the strength of the team is Russell Westbook. If Westbrook plays well, the Thunder have a chance at the end. If he doesn’t, it’s over. The problem with the all the eggs in the Russ basket is his playoffs are getting worse, year after year.

Russ On the Downside Fg% 3-Point% Usage Rate Offensive Rating Playoff Winning Percentage
2018 Playoffs 39.8% 35.7% 39.0% 99 33%
2017 Playoffs 38.8% 26.5% 47.0% 105 20%
2016 Playoffs 40.5% 32.4% 34.3% 112 61%

This year 39%. Last year 38%. The year before 40%. Because he is not a player that has a desire to help his teammates achieve, his numbers are going to be the stranglehold on the franchise as he is feast or famine. He selfishly admits he can only play one way which is admitting he isn’t coachable. So you take a non-coachable talent and put him with a coach who can’t get the team to play team ball, nor will he tell Carmelo to come off the bench because it is what the team needs (irrespective of how Carmelo feels he is sacrificing by being in OKC), add it all up, put it in a blender, and you have this mess in OKC.

Westbrook is coaching Westbrook. Donovan is coaching everyone else. But everyone else is at the mercy of Westbrook. And so the circle goes round and round and the circle goes nowhere.

Sam Presti deservers all the credit in the world for drafting Durant, Harden and Westbrook in back-to-back-to-back years. He deserves all the blame for trading Harden. A little self awareness is required on his part, that perhaps Durant walked because he couldn’t stand to play with Westbrook in the sense that his style of play just cannot win in the playoffs. Sure, it can get him the MVP on his way to shattering records but that is an individual achievement not a team thing.

Paul George is always going to be Paul George whoever is coaching, he is that talented. But an older Melo needs an NBA coach that is going to recognize his iso days are over. Melo needs an offense that legitmizes ball movement, screens, catch and shoot actions. He needs verstatility. Otherwise he is a waste.

The Thunder want to shame Melo into opting out his deal that will pay him $27 large but good luck with that. Melo refused to exercise his no-trade clause on a Knicks team that stunk. He’s in OKC for the long haul to get that payday. Money matters to Melo. If money didn’t matter he’d have some rings. He would have shortened his Denver contract and been a free agent with LeBron and Wade. But he wanted the money.

At the end of the day you have in Donovan a coach that cannot make an impact on his star player. You have a star player who is single minded. You have a free agent in Paul George mullling his options. You have Melo making money he cannot earn. You have a $100 million dollar player in Steven Adams who barely touches the ball. You have an anemic bench that needs to be blown up.

In OKC, you have a mess. Billy Donovan is a problem but he is not the only problem that needs fixing.