1. Things were looking really, really good at halftime of the Celtics game. That was Friday. It feels like it was 1,000 games ago. Since then, through two and a half games the Thunder have looked like a ragtag Y league team I played on in middle school. Our name? The 69ers. That’s about all you need to know. The Thunder have been the 69ers since Friday. It’s been an absolute mess. I sure as hell hope that tonight is rock bottom. It’s still very early. If rock bottom is an embarrassing Tuesday night loss to the Kings in early November, I can probably live with that. But Good Lord it can’t get worse than tonight. Can it?
2. First off, let’s make this clear: the Kings suck. I think they have a few pieces and seem to have a tad more direction than the past several seasons, but that’s stretching– they suck. Zach Randolph is 100 years old. And he isn’t the oldest King. Vince Carter is older than I am. And I’m old. Certainly too old to be staying up this late on a Tuesday to watch that steaming hot pile of garbage we saw tonight. The rest of their roster is full of very young pups or veterans who are clinging to life in the NBA. They suck. Our previous losses were frustrating, but I also felt there was some bad luck– lost to quality teams in close games where the opposing players made everything they tossed up there. Tonight, it was the Kings. And if I haven’t made this clear– the Kings suck. There is no “yeah, but…” tonight. There is no “caught some bad breaks….” tonight. To make it all worse the Thunder got off to a fine start– a 25-10 lead. After that, not only did the Kings beat them, they beat them down. The Kings bench scored their first 29 points of the game. Say what? How is that even possible? More so, how is that possible AND results in a win? Just a truly humiliating loss to a terrible team on a night when the Thunder should have been locked in to get a W off of two straight losses.
3. So what’s the problem? Yeesh, where to start… right now the Thunder seem physically incapable of playing well on both ends at the same time. The defense has generally been good all year long. An improvement on last year for sure. But the defense lapses when our offense finally picks up. It’s happened several times this year. Beyond this team trend, Russ has been a dumpster fire the past two and a half games. Through the first 6 games he looked fantastic. Totally in control. But since that Boston game, he has been frantic far beyond what is necessary. He appears to be frustrated and is making awful decisions. He is trying to make passes through three defenders and his shot selection is iffy at best. Defensively he’s wild and gambling far too often. He’s playing hard as always, but he isn’t playing smart at all. I think he’s pressing. I am sure they are all feeling some tension and Russ is likely trying to do too much and struggling to balance picking his own spots with getting the other guys involved. Russ often plays quite well when he plays angry. But there is a difference when he plays frustrated. Those results are generally far less positive. Russ isn’t the only issue right now, but he’s the leader and it starts there. They can all take a lesson from Jerami Grant (never guessed I’d be saying that). He has shown patience with the ball, taken the ball to the rim and finished strong several times this year already, tonight included. They others almost seem to be nervously launching. Everyone just needs to chill.
4. One thing they need to do is take Russ off the ball a little bit. George is a good facilitator. I’d like to see him with the ball a little bit more often. Russ is the point guard and he should absolutely have the ball in his hands more often than not, but on occasion I would like to see George initiate the offense even when Russ is on the floor. It may help calm things down and it mixes things up and gives the defense something else to handle. It opens the floor up for Russ where he could cut to the basket and/or crash the glass.
5. My “grace period” was 30 days, but reality is that if you lay that type of egg against a dreadful team it’s going to tighten some sphincters. Thunder are now officially off to a shaky start. These three straight losses have been brutal. Donovan needs to start coming up with some answers. He isn’t in an easy spot. Russ is already a hard guy to coach due to the violent and aggressive nature of the way he plays. Last year, Donovan had little choice– just green light Russ, coach them up defensively, get them to play hard, and hope for the best. This year they don’t need to do that. This year there is plenty to work with. But we’ve seen it before in the league– the Heat got off to a rough start when they first formed the super team. And then last year the Warriors got off to a relatively sluggish start. I think the entire team is feeling the pressure right now. Things look really tight. I don’t think Donovan is going to turn these players with all generally high usage rates and turn the offense into Hickory High. But he does need to find a way to get them to relax and get the ball to spots where those guys are comfortable. It’s still far too early to say any one game is “big” or “important,” but there is no doubt that the Thunder could use a sigh of relief right now. And one way to do that is to win a game against a solid team in Denver Thursday night. It will be interesting to see how they respond to the debacle against the Kings. Did I mention that they suck?
Ed Kleese is a long-time Thunder season ticket holder and a smart Thunder fan. You can read all his work on his own personal blogWe invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Don't forget to subsribe on Youtube! Our Podcast is on iTunes and on Stitcher. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!