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Five Thoughts 11-9-17 (Nuggets 102, Thunder 94)

1. Honestly I should copy and paste my previous two or three blogs because it’s more or less the same story. The game arc is actually kind of creepy in terms of how this game mirrored most of our other losses this year. Like Groundhog Day out there. Nuggets assistant coach Bob Weiss actually does look an awful lot like Ned Ryerson…

2. Let me tell you a few things that are NOT the problem…. Melo is not the problem. He is doing his job. His job is to score. He needs to score off of isolation plays and he needs to score off of catch and shoot plays. He’s doing both of those things and he’s doing it at an efficient enough rate. He isn’t a guy that runs an offense or opens a ton of stuff for other people. Not who he is and not who he needs to be here. He is also working hard on the glass and doing enough in the paint. He has been integrated just fine and he looks comfortable. Tonight may have been his best game yet; of our big three he has by far the simplest task– score Melo, score. He’s fine.

3. The defense is NOT the problem (most of the time)… Thunder are generally keeping teams in check and forcing tough shots. What is somewhat maddening is that they’ve seemingly played good defense but have still had difficulty getting stops at the end of close games. This is due in part to some breakdowns late in the shot clock where guys are finding themselves out of position, perhaps in the name of over-extending or trying too hard. It is also due in part to some seriously bad luck. There have been some unfortunate bounces and some extremely tough shots that have gone against the Thunder. Over time this will even out. Andre had a fantastic game tonight- he was the only player on the team to be on the plus side of the plus/minus stat and he is the leader of what is overall a good defensive effort night in and night out. Because of the breakdowns and the end of game struggles, I can’t say the Thunder are a great defensive team yet, but the bones seem to be there. The framework is in place. There are some minor things they can reasonably tweak to make those improvements.

4. So if Melo isn’t the problem and the defense isn’t the problem, then what is the problem? Well, right now the number one problem is that Russ is a mess. Something happened in that Celtics second half that put him in a tailspin. I’ve never before sensed Russ was struggling with his confidence, but right now he seems unsure of what he wants to do. He is pressing big time. After the Kings loss he essentially put all of the team struggles on his shoulders. I think he’s feeling a ton of pressure as the leader of the franchise to get the team to gel and get them to gel NOW. One thing we know about Russ– he isn’t “smooth.” He doesn’t sneak up on you. He’s like the Chris Farley of athletes– he is going to crash through the table to get the desired result. Tonight he missed so many good looks– many of them at or near the rim. He also had the ball slip out of his hand 3-4 times. Melo is already settled; RW and PG13 are not. I think a lot of the RW struggles stem from he and PG trying to figure each other out. I think we will start to see some things get better in a hurry, but the RW/PG dynamic may take awhile.

5. There is no need to sugarcoat, things are ugly offensively right now. There is also no need to panic. I am 100% positive this is NOT who Russ is going to be this year. It would actually be absurd to make that claim. During this stretch he is barely shooting 30% from the field and he’s under 50% from the free throw line. This is obviously a rut and not a sign of things to come. And once Russ gets himself together that’s when I’ll start making harsher judgments. If Russ gets back to his normal level AND we keep losing? That’s when I’ll start to get a little worried. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. And ultimately this crapfest we’ve seen for the past week may prove to be beneficial. This forces them very early to address their issues. No hiding or denying that they need work. This is perhaps better than starting on fire and then slowly having weaknesses exposed. This three game road trip was a complete disaster. Now they get three in a row at home. Two of those games are against the two worst teams in the league. Good opportunity to refocus.

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 blog.

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