Could selfishness cost the Thunder a return trip to the NBA Finals?
An NBA analyst has posed that question Thursday, hours before the Thunder’s showdown against the San Antonio Spurs at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
ESPN’s David Thorpe believes the Thunder’s on-court culture has changed this season, and for the worse.
He thinks Oklahoma City no longer plays with the same joy.
He thinks Serge Ibaka has become stat conscious.
He thinks Kevin Durant is too focused on winning another scoring title.
And, just in case Thunder fans take issue with any or all of that, Thorpe offers at least one thing everyone in Oklahoma City should be able to agree with: Derek Fisher is playing way too many minutes.
A little context about Thorpe: He was and is a trainer, contiuing to work with players since joining ESPN. He’s executive director of the Pro Training Center in Cleawater, Fla. He’s worked with the Thunder’s Kevin Martin since Martin was a freshman at Western Carolina. He’s also worked with Thunder reserve center Hasheem Thabeet.
Thorpe says he based his conclusions in part off what he saw when from a Thunder game he attended in Oklahoma City last month. It’s anybody’s guess as to how much he’s also gleened from conversations with Martin or Thabeet.
Below are highlights from Thorpe’s discussion with True Hoop blogger Henry Abbott, which you can watch here, and his analysis, which is available only to ESPN Insiders, is here).
On what’s happened to the Thunder this season: “They’ve devolved from that team to one that is more focused on taking care of themselves a little bit. I don’t think it’s reason to press alarm bells yet. I think it’s the nature of the long season. But when you watch them play the joy is not there. That’s pretty clear to me.
“I’m noticing when guys are coming out of games they’re just turning and walking to the bench and not even greeting the guy coming in for them. The joy seemed to have been sucked out of the team.”
On the Derek Fisher factor: “I think it’s largely because of the long season. I also think there’s a little degree of Derek Fisher to mix in. He’s just been, I can’t even say it, horribly bad, at one point missing 21 straight shots. And he’s playing almost 14 minutes a game at the expense of someone like Reggie Jackson, who must now realize that he’s a guy who can start for maybe half the teams in the league as a pure scoring point guard. Inside the paint he’s one of the best I’ve seen this year, and yet his minutes have gone down.
“And (Thabo) Sefolosha’s minutes have even gone down with Fisher coming in, and all the other (perimeter) players have (too) except for the two stars.”
On Serge Ibaka: “Serge Ibaka really has grown into a player who is really full of himself. I have not seen the same joy consistently from him as I once did. I think he’s more worried about his boxscore now; ironic in a way because he’s already got a new contract.”
On Kevin Martin: “Martin can go stretches without a touch, then launch a long and contested shot the first time he does catch the ball, disrupting their offensive flow.”
On Russell Westbrook: “Westbrook is the same. He’s marvelous and a pain in the butt at the same time.”
On what he sees as Kevin Durant’s focus on winning a scoring title: “Durant is constantly throwing his long arms up the the air saying ‘I’m open. Give me the ball.’ As if they don’t know where he is at all time on the court and if they didn’t they’d quickly be reminded by him and his coach and they’d be coming out if they don’t throw him the ball.
“And I’ve seen him yell at teammates who don’t throw him the ball.”
On an what he saw Durant do to a scorekeeper: “He actually yelled at the scorekeeper .. when they didn’t give him two points on the electronic scoreboard up top. .. When he noticed that that really shocked me. I know sometimes players are stat conscious but to be stat conscious during a game in mid March, that was weird for me to see.”
On Thunder selfishness: “It was alarming to see then and it’s something I’m watching for going forward.”
On one of the reasons why he still thinks Oklahoma City will win the Western Conference title: “There is a solution on the horizon. The postseason magically heals all wounds… I think the slog they’re going to is Scotty Brooks’ great reference point. I compare him to a jockey on a thoroughbred horse. Not only is he not using his whip, he doesn’t have a whip in his hand. I think he should let these guys fall.”
On how Brooks can rally the Thunder: “I think once the postseason begins he rallies them up and talks about their unique opportunity to get back to the Finals again if they play like they did to start the year and not what they’re doing right now.”