The Oklahoma City Thunder have the second best defense in the NBA, allowing less than a point per possession (96.9 per 100 possessions). They are long, athletic, and have a big backstop in Steven Adams in the paint.
Yet, they are just 4-6. Tuesday night, they lost to a Sacramento Kings team that was 1-8 coming in.
Despite having reigning MVP Russell Westbrook plus Paul George and Carmelo Anthony on the roster, the Thunder have the 22nd ranked offense. Watch them play and it reminds you of the 2010-11 Miami Heat when LeBron James first arrived there: guys played next to each other taking turns in isolation, not getting plays out of the offense. The Thunder make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (via the SportVU tracking cameras in arenas). They run more isolation than any team in the league — 12.3 percent of their shot attempts come out of isos, and they shoot just 42.7 percent on them, scoring only 0.87 points per possession on them (19th in the league). Anthony still stops the ball, and the Thunder are predictable. And predictable is defendable.
Paul George is not worried, he is still preaching patience, as he told Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.
“We have a whole year to figure it out,” George said. “We can’t really try to rush this. It’s something that’s step-by-step, day-by-day [and], at this point, game-by-game.
“We’ve got to slowly get on the same page.”
Carmelo Anthony is preaching from the same book.
“This is all new to everybody, new situations for everybody,” said Anthony, who along with George joined the team this summer. “Even though we losing games, I think it’s more of lessons being learned than actually losing the game. So right now, we’re learning a lesson in these last couple games.”
Hard lessons. However, they are right, it was always going to take a while to figure out, it would take time for these players who speak glowingly of making sacrifices to win actually put that into practice. We’ve seen it when LeBron James jumped ships (first to Miami, then back to Cleveland), there are rough patches. Even last year’s Golden State Warriors had some bumps integrating Kevin Durant into the fold.
The challenge is this: Will they figure it out in time to keep Paul George? Westbrook signed a massive extension and is going nowhere, and Anthony has a $27.9 million player option next season that most around the league think he will pick up (unless he reaches a wink-wink deal with the Thunder for multiple years at a little less money). However, George is a free agent. The people around him were not shy about talking Lakers before the trade.
Next summer, with the chemistry be worked out and the pull of staying in OKC be so strong that George re-signs? That’s the real deadline for this team. But they’ve got 72 more regular season games to put it together, that’s plenty of time.