What’s up with the Thunder? July 6th, during perhaps the wildest NBA free agency period ever the Indiana Pacers traded their star swing-man Paul George in exchange for Victor Oladipo & Domantas Sabonis. Sam Presti had done it again, one of the best GM’s in the league received one of the best two-way players in the game and all he had to give up was a string and a bag of chips.
OKC fans celebrated, the media celebrated, and it appeared that OKC was on it’s way to reclaiming its spot as one of the elite teams in the Western Conference.
Fast forward two months later, OKC acquired Carmelo Anthony in a three player deal which sent Enes Kanter & Doug McDermott to the New York Knicks. Once again, it was a time for celebration in OKC. Just one year after losing to the 2017 Finals MVP, Kevin Durant, they replaced him with two top ten small forwards just a season later. This was the best collection of players OKC had since the Westbrook-Harden-Durant-Ibaka era.
OKC had the league MVP, one of the best two-way players in the game, and a future hall of famer in Carmelo Anthony, as their core three players. On paper, they looked like the most likely team to knock Golden State off their throne atop the NBA, but amidst all the celebration, people incredibly looked over the problems they would inevitably face.
For one, who is their number one guy? It doesn’t matter how much team basketball you play in the NBA, It’s imperative you establish a number one, number two, and number three guy (If you’re lucky enough to have three) in a reasonable pecking order that the team and the organization can agree on. If you can’t efficiently establish this hierarchy among the stars on your team you are bound to face discourse.
For example, let’s flashback to the 2010 NBA season when Lebron, Wade, and Bosh first came together to form the big three in Miami. As talented as that team was even had trouble establishing who that number one player with a Lebron fresh off back to back MVP awards and a Dwade still in his prime. This OKC team is nowhere near as talented as that 2010 Heat team so if they had those struggles it was all but inevitable that OKC would face similar issues.
Over the years watching “super-teams” formed throughout the NBA, I’ve only seen two get off to hot starts without a hitch. The 2008 Celtics and the 2016 Warriors with Kevin Durant. That’s It. Both those teams beautifully and effortlessly seamed their new star players together to create two of the five greatest teams in NBA history. The second thing everyone seemed to look over was Melo, Russ, and PG each were some of the biggest users of isolation plays in the NBA and has created some of the ugliest offense I’ve seen out of a team this season.
OKC’s offense stagnant, little to no ball movement, and outside of those three and the occasional slight scoring burst from Steven Adams they have little to no offense surrounding those guys. Watch a Thunder game and you’re bound to see what I like to call “Hero Ball Incorporated.” Just three guys jacking up ill-advised shots who do a terrible job of getting others involved. The Oklahoma City Thunder cannot and will not win this way, and they definitely won’t stand a chance against the Golden State Warriors playing this brand of basketball.
They desperately need to establish chemistry among one another to where they’ll feel comfortable playing along side each other and feeding the ball exactly where each player likes to play. Now, I understand this takes time but I’m afraid this will be a long standing problem just based off of the style of play each of these guys play.
Each of them are averaging just over 20 PPG slightly above 40% and honestly, it looks good that they’re all getting theirs but this can’t continue and someone is going to have to take a backseat. I believe in order for OKC to reach their full potential they’re going to have to make Carmelo the #1 offensive option on offense, he’s the best shooter between the three and the best scorer in the post as well, their #2 option needs to be Paul George, and their #3 option needs to be Russell Westbrook. I understand he’s the league MVP and it’s “his” team but this is what great players do Russ. When KD fled to Golden State Steph took a backseat, Lebron took a backseat to Kyrie and let HIM close games for Cleveland, Dwade took a backseat to Lebron. The best players always do what’s in the best interest of the team, period.
Russell Westbrook is the point guard and the best passer between the three. He needs to be willing and able to take that backseat if he ever hopes to capture that elusive title that he wants so desperately. He’ll need to look to feed the hot hand, not compete with it, and that Is the only way the Oklahoma City Thunder will ever have a chance in dethroning Golden State on top of the basketball world.