In The Scope: OKC’s Playoff Flop Proves More Change Is Needed

“In The Scope With Joshua M. Hicks” is  a weekly column from the Managing Editor of WARR 

AP/Rick Bowmer
Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) defends against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook during the first half of last Friday’s close out game in Salt Lake City.

The Oklahoma City Thunder thought they hit the jackpot this past summer in getting Carmelo Anthony and Paul George via trades for what arguably seemed then like a relatively small price.

In looking back on those off-season moves, the relative inconsistency of OKC’s output in the regular season and the mass dysfunction of the Thunder’s recent playoff skid — another in what’s becoming a list of disappointing postseasons — more change seems to be in order for this franchise that just can’t get over the hump to a place of real championship contention in the NBA.

Blame should be pointed at all the team leaders: coach Billy Donovan and OKC’s Big Three in Melo, PG13 and the most restless MVP candidate from year to year in the league, Russell Westbrook.

Donovan is a heck of a coach with an impressive college resume to prove it, but it may seem that his offensive schemes are not the best for the Thunder. Donovan got out-coached in their recent playoff series against a young Utah Jazz team simply because of not making adjustments.

All season long, the team’s memo was let Brodie be Brodie offensively and let other role players fill in, but the problem is the role players have to adjust to Westbrook’s style of play, which is difficult to do when you do not have pure shooters and are trying to share the ball among three all-star players that play similar game styles. Even worse, when your best players are all struggling from the field and your team cannot buy a stop, you do not have a backup plans to adjust to, which evidently cost them the series with Utah.

Westbrook is a superstar and a mean triple-double machine, but the Westbrook system has had its flaws since Kevin Durant left town. The Thunder’s offense is a one-man show, banking on Westbrook to be efficient every game and when he needs help the players just automatically show up. However, come playoff time, he has not always been efficient, which leads him to be go in a downward emotional spiral and put everything upon himself instead of trusting his teammates.

After getting outplayed by Ricky Rubio, he stressed that Rubio would get shutdown the next game. With his pride getting in the way, he played just as bad as he did in Game 3 and it cost them the game. Westbrook averaged 29 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds a game for the series, but he also shot 39 percent from the field, 35 percent from three and in Game 6, shot the ball 40+ times. That will not get the job done in the tough Western Conference.

George had his moments where “Playoff P” was displayed in full effect. In Game 1, he scored 36 points while shooting 65 percent from the field and 72 percent from three, but his efficiency was just as inconsistent as Westbrook’s over the course of the series, only shooting 40 percent from the field and 36 percent from three the rest of the series. Not to mention, the so-called “Playoff P” also scored only 5 points in the elimination game. As one of the best two-way players in the game, that is unacceptable and will not get the job done.

Melo has not been the same since he left New York. For the season he averaged 16 points on 40 percent shooting and 36 percent from the three, but the postseason only got worse with Anthony providing only 12 points a game on 38 percent shooting and 21 percent from three, as low a set of numbers as Melo has ever had in his 15-year career.

Focusing now on the off-season, one move should be made above all — OKC general manager Sam Presti should fire Donovan to bring in a coach that can strengthen the defense and shake up the offensive system that has promoted Westbrook but derailed the surrounding talent around him the past couple years. After that they should re-sign PG13, let Melo go and use the payroll to invest in pure spot up shooters.

We know Presti will do whatever it takes to get the Thunder back on track to one day get back to the NBA Finals, but that franchise landmark is far in the rear view at this point and with the roller coaster season the Thunder just had, it is time to go back to the drawing board.

Joshua M. Hicks is a Chicago-based sports writer and broadcaster, follow him on Twitter @jhicks042; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio

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