NBA Handicapping: First-Round Playoff Exit Probably Ceiling for OKC Thunder
by Trevor Whenham - 2/16/2017
There was no shortage of stories about the potential fate of the Oklahoma City Thunder after Kevin Durant ditched them for the brighter lights of San Francisco. So, now that they have played 57 games without their superstar, how are things going for the Thunder? About how you would expect, I suspect. They aren't a bad team, but they aren't nearly the squad they were with two massively-elite players.
Russell Westbrook is playing at a ridiculous level, but there aren't enough other pieces there to help him out enough. They are a lock to make the playoffs but a good bet to go home after the first round. Whereas they were once one of the handful of title contenders each year, now they are just one of those teams that is good enough to make the postseason but not good enough to contend. They are the new Atlanta Hawks. Or at least that's what it seems like on the surface.
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Let's go deeper by discussing these five aspects of the team:
Russell Westbrook: Westbrook recorded his 27th triple-double of the season last time out and still is averaging better than a triple-double on the season - 31-10-10 heading into the all-star break. That's really all you need to know about the kind of season Westbrook is having. Remember, the last guy to average a triple-double for a season was Oscar Robertson. That was 55 years ago! To do it all is incredible. To do it in a league with the pace and the defensive sophistication of this one feels all but impossible. Needless to say, you can't fluke into a performance like this over the course of the season - if you could then it would have happened more often. It has been wildly impressive.
Of course, you could argue that part of the reason more players haven't done it is because they haven't had to - Westbrook is doing it all in large part because it's what he has to do to make his team competitive. You also have to wonder what kind of an impact this type of performance is having on his body and his mind and how long he can hold up under the strain. He's averaging just short of 35 minutes per game. That's Top 20 in the league, and those are hard, physical minutes he's playing, so the impact is more significant than some other high-usage players.
Depth: Like I said, this is a real concern. They are reasonably well set up at center. And less than ideal everywhere else. I would prefer to see Domantas Sabonis off the bench, yet he has started every game at power forward. The starters at guard are strong, but beyond that there are real concerns. And on and on. This is not a roster that is built to dominate.
Coaching: When Billy Donovan finally made the decision to leave Florida for the NBA - for real this time - I was skeptical. Winning two titles at Florida made it obvious that the guy could coach. I wasn't convinced, though, that he was an ideal fit for the NBA. I didn't trust his demeanor or his in-game decision making, and those both matter more on this stage.
So, how do I feel now that he is 139 games into his NBA career? About the same. He hasn't been horrible by any means, but he is no Brad Stevens, and he isn't anywhere near the best coaches in this league. He feels like a college coach to me - and as a guy who loves college sports that's far from an insult. He's not a major detriment here, but neither is he a particular asset.
Standings: 32-25 is a respectable record. When you look closer, though, there are a couple of things that emerge that are concerns. For starters, they are just 12-17 on the road. It's tough to be a legitimate team when you can only win at home - the six playoff teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings all have solid winning records away from home. Second, and even more concerning, they are just 11-16 this season against teams with records of .500 or better. If you can't beat good teams then you can't do anything in this league. This is just an underwhelming team hiding behind a record inflated by good performance against bad teams - because those teams have no answer for Westbrook.
More than any other team in the league right now, you can't let the record and the headlines fool you about this squad.
Betting performance: The Thunder are a decent team to bet on - they are 31-25-1 ATS, which means that only five teams are more profitable. Their betting success geographically mirrors their road issues, too - they are a very profitable 18-9-1 ATS at home and a dismal 13-16 ATS on the road. That split extends to the totals as well - the "over" has gone 27-30 on the season, which isn't profitable on either side but a profitable 16-12 at home. On the road, meanwhile, the "under" is solidly profitable - they have gone under in 18 of 30 games.
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