10 Things We’ve Learned After 10 Games
We’re we’ve reached the point in the season where the sample size is becoming telling.
After 10 games, we can finally begin to understand what is real in this Thunder season and what can still be written off with the reasoning that “it’s still early.” A 6-4 record through its first 10 games seems about right. But what has been off, at various times in the season’s first 40 periods, is the Thunder’s actual performance. We’ve seen huge defensive slippage from last season and some unusual selfishness on offense. We’ve also seen some great strides out of individuals and some inexplicable inconsistency out of others.
The Thunder has so much time left this year to. OKC is far from a finished product. But here are 10 of the biggest things that we’ve learned thus far.
1) Free throws will secure scores of wins
Through the first 10 games, the Thunder is shooting 88.1 percent from the foul line, the best rate in the league. At this rate, the Thunder is on pace for unprecedented accuracy from the stripe. OKC already has closed out a handful of wins by sinking freebies inside the final minutes, and that trait doesn’t figure to change. But what makes the Thunder so dangerous from the foul line is the rotation doesn’t have a single awful free throw shooter. The Thunder has missed only 38 of 318 free throws, and no player has missed more than eight. While the Thunder certainly won’t shoot 88 percent for the year, it’s not likely we’ll see much drop off in this department.
2) OKC struggles most against point guards and power forwards
For whatever reason, the Thunder’s defense has been absolutely atrocious against these two positions. Starting point guards have averaged 20.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 9.4 assists against OKC. That confirms how many clinics opposing point guards have put OKC through, torching the Thunder not only with their scoring but also with their passing. In fairness to the Thunder, some of the league’s best points guards have appeared on the early schedule. But when rookie Eric Bledsoe shreds your defense for 17 points, four rebounds and eight assists, and Andre Miller averages 17.5 points, five rebounds and 11 assists, something’s definitely wrong. Meanwhile, starting power forwards have averaged 15.6 points and 8.3 rebounds against OKC. And those figures would be much worse if Detroit’s Austin Daye didn’t bring down the whole group. Ten games is plenty to know that the Thunder doesn’t have an answer for slowing players at these spots.
3) Serge Ibaka is ready
To expand his game. To become a consistent impact player. And maybe to become a starter. The second-year big man has arguably been the Thunder’s second best player behind Russell Westbrook. Ibaka has averaged 12.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. He’s shooting 58.8 percent from the field and 84.8 percent from the free throw line. At times, Ibaka has been absolutely dominant. So much so that Thunder coach Scott Brooks could soon be forced to make a decision on Ibaka’s role: continue to bring him off the bench or insert him into the starting unit. For now, Brooks has gotten by through playing Ibaka starter’s minutes. (He ranks fourth on the team at 30.5) But at some point, Brooks will need to do something to prevent opposing power forwards from having such hot starts. And Ibaka in the starting lineup could be the solution. What we don’t yet know is whether Ibaka is ready to make that full-time adjustment.
4) Daequan Cook’s day has come and gone
After coming over via trade with Miami, the fourth-year guard got a good, long look at whether he can space the floor by providing consistent perimeter shooting. But in his more-than-generous, seven-game tryout, Cook struggled so mightily that he has been inactive the past two games. Cook has made just three of 16 3-pointers (18.8 percent) and has only rarely contributed in other areas, especially offensively, recording just three assists and hitting only two shots from inside the 3-point arc. Obviously, there are 72 games left in the season and Cook likely will get another shot. But for now, his time appears to be up.
5) Nick Collison is more critical than we knew
Without Collison, the Thunder’s defense looks in disarray. With Collison, the paint is better protected, the help defense is greatly improved and the communication on the floor is infinitely more effective. Collison also takes charges, a seemingly forgotten tactic in basketball these days but one that holds extreme value. After missing the season’s first eight games, Collison’s impact was immediately felt upon his return. Now, over the next 10 games, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Thunder’s defense suddenly shored up with him in the lineup.
6) The Thunder won’t win a lot of blowouts
OKC has won six games by a combined 28 points. For you math geniuses, that’s only a 4.6-point average margin. Only one win, the season opener against Chicago, came by double digits. Meanwhile, the Thunder has lost its four games by an average of 14.5 points. What we’re likely seeing here is quantifiable evidence that the Thunder has indeed transitioned from the hunter to the hunted. The Thunder is getting opposing team’s best shots on a nightly basis, and games are competitive until the very end. OKC should have its share of blowout victories, but by the looks of it there might not be many.
7) Russell Westbrook is on his way to being an All-Star
And I’m not talking about someday. I’m talking about this season. Westbrook has been the team MVP thus far. He’s averaging 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.1 steals. And after hovering around 40 percent shooting in his first two seasons, he’s finally become more efficient, shooting 45 percent so far this season. He’s also getting to the line a ton, his 91 attempts ranking fifth in the league. And he’s connecting on 91.2 percent of his foul shots. We’re seeing Westbrook evolve into an unstoppable player, even without a 3-point shot to speak of. And if he keeps up this pace, which we have no reason to believe he won’t, he’ll be well on his way to a special inaugural All-Star appearance in his hometown of Los Angeles.
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