The loss to the San Antonio Spurs was a classic Oklahoma City Thunder moment of realizing that no matter how good Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are as players, the team built around them just isn’t going to win an NBA championship.
It’s weird. Two of the 5 best players in the league (probably; most would agree) and you can’t build the right team around them. The Thunder have one of the more predictable offenses in the NBA, and while their offensive rating is the second best in the league, their ability in the clutch resembles nothing from how they flow and score in less “important” minutes. Team lockdown on defense, and the Thunder coming up with about three or four potential plays, nothing more, makes it easy for even bad defensive teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves to walk away with victories.
The criticism over their habit of using too many isos isn’t always true. The Thunder are only 8th in the NBA in that aspect, which is surprising considering how people love to describe the Thunder’s offense. But that’s their best way of scoring: Durant and Westbrook playing to their strengths. The problem is the players around them don’t offer much in ways of versatility.
Maybe the defense is the worst part. Westbrook is a gambler of the worst kind. He does it at the wrong time, without any kind of coordination with teammates when it comes to double teaming and trapping players in the wrong area. He’s a physical freak who can be one of the best defensive guards in the league, but his lack of focus and discipline on defense, plus his inability to realize when it’s the right moment to go for that blindside steal. You know, how Draymond Green makes things so much easier for the Warriors when they need that extra push.
And the thing is, the Thunder’s only chance of taking the Warriors or Spurs in a series is playing with some awful defensive team. Westbrook, Durant, Enes Kanter, Dion Waiter and Serge Ibaka, who is no longer the blocking machine he used to be, while his offense continues to slip. This unit scores almost 130 points per 100 possessions while giving up 115 points per 100 possessions. That’s not ideal, not when it becomes a lineup that plays long minutes. But it gives the Thunder their best shot of somehow shaking up and avoiding the inevitable this offseason.
And what is the inevitable, or the worst case scenario? The Thunder get bumped in the conference semifinals by the San Antonio Spurs or the Golden State Warriors, and the circle of vultures gets closer and closer to Durant, and from a title contender that never live up to its potential the Thunder might enter a spin that sometimes is very difficult to get out of for small market teams. And then everyone will go back to the Harden trade.