Basketball is back! Okay, I promise, that was the last time. However, it is an important time because it emphasizes that the moment has come for me to pretend that I am some sort of a basketball expert and start churning out articles grounded in my League Pass viewing experience. And what better place to start then discuss one of the hotly debated questions right now: how will OKC do without Kevin Durant?
My personal opinion happens to be: terrible, and not because of the lack of talent. They still have arguably one of the top 15 players in the League healthy and good to go. They also have Serge Ibaka who is a monstrous presence defensively with an ever expanding offensive arsenal. Then there is Reggie Jackson who has shown tremendous growth last season.
The problems here are very deep rooted, but I’ll start in the obvious place. Scott Brooks just isn’t a very good coach. As a matter or fact, I think he might be a fairly awful coach who runs a stagnant offense and has the luxury of falling back onto one of the best one-two punches in the league. If you watch OKC last year, the number of stagnant OKC-iso possessions is mind-boggling.
I mean, we all said Spoelstra was a terrible coach once upon a time, but that is simply not true. Yes, Coach Spoe had the best talent in the League, but he turned that talent on its head with some crazy defensive schemes and offensive movements. He worked around the problem of not having a legit center, turned Chris Bosh into a very solid stretch 4 and I believe that this is his break out season as a coach.
Brooks however, is simply terrible. He is devoid of creativity while having the triumvirate of offensive power that makes every other coach drool. I mean, rightfully, he has Kendrick Perkins, but that has to be some sort of karmic punishment for getting KD, Russ and Ibaka. And even despite his best efforts (and Perk) this was still one of the best offensive units in the League last year.
The problem is, so much of their offence came through KD. He is impossible to stop and whenever the one pick and roll play didn’t work, the Thunder just gave the ball to their superstar and watched magic happen. Kevin Durant played a league high 3122 minutes last year (all stats as per Basketball reference) and attempted whopping league leading 1688 field goal attempts. In contrast, Melo has 2982 minutes and 1643 FGAs.
To be fair to Brooks, that difference isn’t THAT staggering, but let’s consider that Melo is on an offence that has absolutely 0 (!!!) viable options outside of him. KD has a strong support group around him to help facilitate. He is an efficient scorer (statistically he made over 50% of those attempts), but he is still taking on too big of a load, especially having Westbrook around.
This got confirmed last night during the OKC – Portland game. I was glued to the TV watching Westbrook be unleashed on the Trail Blazers as some sort of slithering mad man. He was everywhere, driving to the rack, pulling up from mid-range, defending the ever-loving spirit out of Damian Lillard. And yet one thing was clear. None of that was Brooks inspired, it was simply Westbrook taking advantage that he is a top 5 athlete in this league and probably has some sort of Wolverine reconstructive biological procedures done in his spare time.
Once Russ was off the floor, or even when Portland started hedging their bets on simply stopping him while not worrying about everyone else. The team was devoid of ideas. Yes, in part it’s due to obvious lack of new talent (see later), but in many ways it was because they didn’t run anything. They went through the motions of one or two plays they always do when KD is healthy but then they hit a dead end. There wasn’t a monster physical specimen to hand the ball over to. Yes, Westbrook is amazing, but so much of his game is predicated on causing chaos while driving to the rim. KD on the other hand is just unfair, he beats you one on one without even having to worry about interior defense because he will just pull up in your grill. He is that long.
OKC rarely tried to run off-ball action for Russ, which would have made more sense to preserve him and not telegraph every drive to the basket (my grandfather in Ukraine saw those coming, and he knows nothing about basketball, and kind of blind in one eye). They used Ibaka as a pick machine instead of utilizing his range to stretch LA or RoLo out of the post. They went to KD tactics without KD. Then on defense they were slow to adjust to everything Portland was doing, never really rotating properly or getting their match-up straight. Meanwhile Brooks looked confused on the sidelines.
I get it, KD kind of likes Scott Brooks, but it shouldn’t be that hard to break the news to him that it’s time for Scotty to hit the road. Here is the approach: look Kevin, this is a broom. It has the same coaching IQ as Brooks. That ottoman over there has a better coaching IQ than brooms. Plus, it’s some luxurious shit. You see that? That’s some swag shit. Anyways, we’re firing Scott and bringing in a guy who knows how to run schemes… Chances are, hell maximize our talent, preserve you for the playoffs since you won’t run about 100 isos per game and give us a better shot at the ring. You in? Good. You can keep the ottoman too.
Then maybe bring in a good coach, like George Karl.
The second, and the more painful problem is the lack of depth. This is a team that is known for their financial frugality, and not in a good way. They let their best chance at multiple championships walk to Houston because they wanted to stay under cap. They made absolutely no worthwhile offseason acquisitions despite losing one of their best wing defenders and having possibly the least productive second unit in the league last year (I know the 76ers probably did, but at least 4 guys on that roster weren’t actual NBA players).
OKC needed a back-up big who could provide points in the paint and maybe even flirt at being a starting center so we don’t have to endure Perk for long stretches at important games. They also needed a wing 3 and D guy who can spread the floor for KD and Russ insane antics while also keeping defenses honest. And a league average scorer for the second unit, just to keep them in games when KD needs a rest because his back is sore. Their marquee signing: Anthony Morrow. A half of the “3 and D” guy they needed (I was going to make a name related joke about taking out a “D” from his name, but he already has none, which is fitting).
In part, I can understand Brooks who relies on Durant so much, mostly because he has nothing else to work with. This team has absolutely zero depth, and I’m not sure some guys on their 2nd unit even make the 76ers squad. Maybe they should do a trade.
So how do you keep this team afloat?
It’s going to be hard. I don’t believe Scott Brooks can become a good coach, let alone over night, but someone will have to whisper in his ear that maybe it’s time to actually start running some offensive schemes. This team needs to spread the floor and run Ibaka wide our to make space for Russ. Speaking of Russ, Scott Brooks needs to start using him off ball more, like MIA do with Dwayne Wade.
Yes, Westbrook can blow buy most guys in the NBA, but the element of surprise is in reverse when all we see is him with the ball at the top of the key for 10 seconds prior to the drive. Everyone gets a rest and gets to focus squarely on him. Instead, Brooks needs to introduce a system of getting Russell around screens and picks as well as getting him moving without the ball to get the opposing defenses out of their one-man lock down. Ibaka is a good enough passer to be used as a high-post fulcrum for a variety of motion sets to get Russ open looks without exhausting him the way the Portland game did.
Additionally, once Reggie Jackson returns, he will probably need to come off the bench. Sure, he probably won’t like it, but at the current time, this team desperately needs scoring off the pine and Reggie is the man to give it to them. Yes, he will be upset, but with that configuration he will be the only one scoring the ball, and this is his contract year, and we all know that OKC will not pay him what he is worth just because they’re OKC. I think Reggie can be onboard for an inflated career numbers stretch in his contract season.
Second solution is probably getting some talent here. You have Perk’s contract as an expiring deal-sweetener and you’re already toying with the idea of Steven Adams as your starting center. Him and Nick Collison give you the financial assets to pull a trade with a bottom half team while getting some talent back. There are a number of teams who like high-picks and having Kendrick Perkins as your starting center definitely increases your odds of those.
The changes need to be smart though, you need to bring in a wing who can score for you as part of your second unit (I will be having a lot of Trade Machine fun tonight with this thought).
The main thing that OKC need to do to survive until KD’s return is not override Russell Westbrook. The man is an athletic freak; I have no argument there. He is capable of outplaying most people on any given night on sheer effort alone. But worst case scenario for OKC would be getting KD back and having Russ burn out after carrying the load. They need them together and healthy so they can mask Scott Brook’s inadequacy and OKC’s lack of even a semblance of a supporting cast.
But none of that is going to happen. Instead, Russell Westbrook is turning into the worlds most enduring rigshaw driver for the next 6-8 weeks and the rest of OKC is just hopping along for the ride. If you got some back insurance, sell high to RW0.