The Oklahoma City Thunder are the NBA’s most bizarre team.
They have the league’s sixth-best net rating, behind only the Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, according to NBA.com. They have three stars in Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Russell Westbrook. They rank third in points allowed per 100 possessions, when defense was supposed to be their primary concern following the addition of Anthony.
And yet, their offense has betrayed them more than anything, leading to a 7-9 start that few saw coming, even when factoring in the learning curve tied to the newly formed Big Three.
So what gives?
At least that’s what Westbrook says, per the Associated Press (via USA Today):
Westbrook’s mind is on the Thunder’s early struggles. Oklahoma City entered the season with high hopes after the team added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in trades. Despite the infusion of talent and Westbrook’s still electric play, the Thunder have stumbled to a 7-9 start.
“It really don’t matter who we have next, it’s about us,” said Westbrook, the reigning MVP. “Regardless of what other teams do, when we play the way we’re supposed to play for 48 minutes, it’s hard to beat us. That’s all I worry about is our team.”
The reigning MVP isn’t wrong. A lot of the Thunder’s issues come back to balance—coexisting alongside one another. And this holds especially true during crunch time.
Oklahoma City is 1-8 through games in which neither side trails by more than five points entering the final five minutes, according to NBA.com. That gives it the second-lowest winning percentage in the league, ahead of only the Dallas Mavericks. The Thunder are also being outscored by 48.5 points per 100 possessions in these situations, giving them the NBA’s second-worst net rating, in front of only the Los Angeles Clippers.
Watch them down the stretch, and you can sense the awkwardness. Westbrook isn’t sure when to attack and when to defer. Anthony looks timid before starting his moves. George is standing off to the side, not doing much of anything. All of them are settling for too many jumpers.
Play smarter in the closing minutes, with more cohesion, and the Thunder will be a completely different team, in a completely different situation, sporting a completely different record. But will they get there in time? Will the Big Three forge fluid chemistry as the schedule wears on so they’re equipped to pull away when it matters most? We’ll have to wait and see.