January 16, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) controls the ball against Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers (25) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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As the sixth-best team in the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t missed Kevin Durant too much. Here are five midseason takeaways from their start to the 2016-17 season.
So far, the Thunder are 0-2 against Golden State, showing there’s still work to be done as a team. But Westbrook’s play has him in early discussions for the MVP award.
The Thunder are 4-6 in January with five more games left this month. So far, the team ranks fourth in the NBA in rebounds per game (45.5) and 10th in points per game (106.3). But they’re 19th in the league in assists per game (21.5).
As a team, they are 18-5 when they have 22 assists or more this season.
Westbrook is averaging a triple-double this season at 30.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. He has 21 triple-doubles to lead the NBA. He is on pace to become the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62, and just the second ever, to average a triple-double for a season.
The ninth-year point guard looks to breaks Robertson’s record of 31 triple-doubles and then some.
Westbrook will need to start trusting his teammates more. And that’s no shade at Westbrook. But in the teams’ 17 losses, Westbrook has 163 assists and 214 free throw attempts.
Compare that to his 295 assists and 245 free throws in wins, it isn’t hard to see where the point guard may need to adjust.
Granted, he’s got new teammates in shooting guard Victor Oladipo and rookie power forward Domantas Sabonis, but there’s still time and they’re still in the playoff picture. Here are five midseason takeaways for the Thunder as they approach the All-Star break.
Jan 15, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Domantas Sabonis (3) with his arm around forward Andre Roberson (21) as a time out is called against the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center. The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Sacramento Kings 122-118. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
5. The Thunder offense needs a third scoring option
The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t a terrible team on offense. After all, they rank 10th in the NBA in points per game at 106.5 a contest. However, what the team could use is a third scoring option in of the starting lineup.
With the departure of Kevin Durant to Golden State and Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic, the Thunder have looked to Westbrook to shoulder most of the scoring load.
Westbrook is averaging 30.6 points per game and shooting guard Victor Oladipo is averaging 16.1 points per game. But after that, things get a bit shaky on offense.
Center Enes Kanter is third on the team in scoring at 14.4 points per game off the bench. Starting center Steven Adams is 12.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals and a block per game in the starting lineup, which is hard to overlook.
But Adams has missed the past two games with a concussion. He is arguably the Thunder’s toughest post defender.
Between Kanter and Adams, the Thunder are getting a good amount of production. But with Andre Roberson and Domantas Sabonis also in the rotation, a change may be needed going forward for future success.
Jan 15, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) passes the ball to guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
4. Domantas Sabonis or Enes Kanter in the starting lineup?
When it comes to fast starts, it’s hard to ignore what center Enes Kanter has done over the last 10 games. He is averaging 17.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He is a sound candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award this season.
In the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 122-118 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 15, Kanter scored 29 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and a block. He shot 10-for-18 from the floor in the game to lead the way for the bench.
Kanter has played 25.7 minutes per game over the last 10 games as well. It is more than Domantas Sabonis has played (20.8 minutes per game and also well above his production of 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds. It may also help solve the Thunder’s big man rotation.
Sabonis is more of threat outside the paint while Kanter is a bigger threat in the pick-and-roll game with Russell Westbrook. Maybe Sabonis would be better utilized off the bench on the second unit. He is only a rookie after all and learning the speed of the game.
The rookie big man is shooting 36.5 percent from the floor and 18.8 percent from three over his last 10 games.
Jan 11, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) blocks a shot attempt by Memphis Grizzlies forward James Ennis (8) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Thunder’s young rotation still searching for its identity
With Andre Roberson in the starting lineup, the Oklahoma City Thunder have an established defender. But Roberson is still figuring things out on offense.
The fourth-year swingman is averaging 6.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and a block in a career-high 31 minutes per game. But he’s still searching for his identity on offense. Roberson’s shot attempts are up, but his shooting percentage is down this season at 42.5 percent.
Grant has pulled of his fair share of highlight reel dunks but defensively, he hasn’t given the team much. Abrines is averaging 5.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in 14.2 minutes as a rookie. Lauvergne is averaging 5.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in his first season with Oklahoma City, third overall.
The bench is young as well but will need to improve its play if they want to see collective success. Backup point guard Cameron Payne has appeared in just seven games since returning from a foot injury as well. Look for him to play next to Westbrook soon to give the team a different look.
Jan 15, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Victor Oladipo (5) celebrates after a basket and foul against the Sacramento Kings during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
2. Victor Oladipo needs to create more
Much like his counterpart Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo needs to create more for himself off the dribble. Since his arrival in a trade from Orlando, Oladipo has dwindled as a facilitator on offense. His assists are down to 2.7 per game this season.
The fourth-year shooting guard averaged 4.1 assists in his rookie season with Orlando back in 2013-14.
He scored 20 points and grabbed four steals despite the team’s 121-100 loss to Golden State on Jan. 18. Oladipo shot 8-for-17 from the floor and 4-for-8 from three in the game. In the team’s 122-118 victory over Sacramento, he scored 23 points and went 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
Oladipo’s numbers are down a bit this season all-around but his shooting percentages are up. He is averaging 16.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals per contest through 35 games.
He has missed nine games this season due to a wrist injury, but has come on strong for the Thunder of late.
They’ll need more offense from him going forward. He’s scored in double figures in 10 of the last 11 games for the Thunder. He’ll need to be a facilitator next to Russell Westbrook to take the next step for Oklahoma City Thunder.
January 16, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) during a stoppage in play against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
1. Russell Westbrook will need to work smarter, not harder
Russell Westbrook has been great this season. His performance has him deep in the MVP discussion next to Houston Rockets‘ guard James Harden. And for good reason. Westbrook has 21 triple-doubles with 38 games remaining in the season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 16-5 when he records a triple-double this season.
However, Westbrook is shooting 38.6 percent from the floor and 28.4 percent from the three-point arc in the team’s losses. Triple-doubles aside, Westbrook tries to do too much on his own as the focal point of the Thunder’s offense.
Granted, as the point guard, he’s going to have the ball in his hands a ton. But he leads the NBA in turnovers and is averaging a career-high 5.5 turnovers this season.
As mentioned earlier, Westbrook has just 163 assists in the team’s 19 losses. Now, it’s still 8.3 assists on average but look at his shooting numbers overall. He has attempted a team-high 275 three-pointers, even though he’s shooting just 32.4 percent on the season.
His teammate, Jerami Grant, is shooting 41.7 percent with just 60 three-point attempts. Starting shooting guard Victor Oladipo is shooting 37.3 percent on 201 attempts.