The Oklahoma City Thunder are 3-5 since the All Star break, have given up on average 110 points per game over that stretch and now trail the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference. They have had very poor losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers during that stretch and have allowed little known guards to rack up career high points totals (Gerald Green’s 41pt game for the Suns and Jodie Meeks netted 42 for the Lakers).
Don’t raise the white flag just yet though.
While this stretch of games has been anything less than ideal, they are just regular season games that have been played during a very tough adjustment period for the Thunder. It is no coincidence that the defense has lost its substance when two of Oklahoma City’s best defenders are sidelined through injury. Those who were screaming for Thabo or Perkins to be traded at the deadline, might just now realize just how valuable these guys are to the fortunes of the franchise – even if the “numbers” don’t reveal it at first glance.
Outside of the subtractions of key personnel there has also be the addition of two new pieces – well one brand new and one relatively new this season. Caron Butler made his way onto the Thunder after the trade deadline and Russell Westbrook made his second return of the season just after the All Star break. Both of these pieces need time and games to get their groove back or in Butler’s case, to learn just exactly what the groove is. During this time, it is inevitable that there are teething problems and this is exactly what we have witnessed over the past fortnight.
Adjustment period, slump, funk – whatever you like to call it, the Thunder are just not operating at full capacity right now. The good news is that right now is not when their best is needed. That comes when the regular season has concluded and the journey towards an NBA Championship really heats up and that should be what the Thunder and their fans should remember and be targeting. When the playoffs begin, Russell Westbrook should be back to his brutal best, Caron Butler should be very comfortable in the systems and his role and Thabo and Kendrick should be healthy and back in the lineup. You will also have found minutes and experience for your second unit – with Steven Adams, Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb all receiving invaluable experience and opportunity.
The Oklahoma City Thunder play chess not checkers. They are always looking long term and have the main goal as their priority. You can be assured that nothing has changed just because of a tough patch of games since the All Star weekend. Any team that has Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on it is going to get you into the playoffs. Coupled with the development of Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson and you can be assured that no-one really wants to face the Thunder first up. While they still need to win the games and nothing is taken for granted, the talent is most certainly there.
Those who have been with the Thunder for any period of time know just how far they have come since the beginning. And they also know that you can never count out a team that has such a big heart and desire to win. For all their flaws and in-game mistakes, passion has definitely not been an issue for any member of the Thunder. They want to win, and they will do whatever it takes to win. You best believe that the players are hurting just as much as the fans are over this recent period. They know they haven’t played to their full potential, and they will practice accordingly to ensure the issues a re rectified as soon as possible so they can get back on track.
You don’t win every game and you can only learn from the mistakes. When you do that, you become better, you become stronger and you become a winner. You better believe that the Thunder are learning and the results from the lessons of the past fortnight are steering them right back to the path of success. The next lesson against the Houston Rockets will be a very tough yet insightful one.