The OKC Thunder lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 104-112 on Tuesday but if there was anything positive about that loss, it was that Kevin Durant made a successful season debut for the Thunder in that game.
The 26 year old 2014 MVP underwent surgery on October 16 after suffering a Jones fracture. With Durant out for six weeks, the Thunder were hoping that his tag team partner Russell Westbrook would carry them the way KD did last season when Westbrook himself was injured. But as fate would have it, Westbrook also suffered a broken hand in their second game of the season and the Thunder were left to improvise without their dynamic duo for the whole month of November.
Looking at the Numbers
The Thunder hoped to at least break even without their stars but they’ve come up very short and instead they find themselves dug in a 5-13 hole after Durant’s season debut. But despite the disaster, the numbers still look positive for the Thunder.
They are 10 ½ games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the Top seed in the West and five games behind the current 8th seed Phoenix Suns. Catching Memphis may need something special to happen, but overtaking Phoenix isn’t a tough act for this OKC team. 49 was the magic number to make the playoffs in the Western conference last season. To do that, the Thunder must go 44-20 (.6875) from hereon. That’s not a problem because they won 71.9% of their games last season at 59-23. And despite Tuesday’s loss, the Thunder are still 14-2 in their last 16 games with Durant and Westbrook both on the floor.
Offensive Help Has Arrived
It’s not that the Thunder have played so bad this season, but it’s really because they have been short on manpower since the season started. Aside from Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder were also nursing injuries to rookie Mitch McGary, Grant Jerrett and Perry Jones.
Defense has not been a problem for the Thunder with a healthy Serge Ibaka as defensive anchor. The Thunder are currently 4th in the NBA in points allowed (93.2), 3rd in opponents’ FG% (.423), 6th in rebounds per game (44.2) , 7th in blocks (5.3) and 6th in points per shot (1.15). What’s been ailing the Thunder have been their offense because with NBA’s reigning scoring champion at bay, the Thunder are dead last in the NBA in points scored (90.9), 28th in FG% (.422) and 26th in points per shot (1.13). Without Westbrook, the team is last in assists (18.8), 20th in turnovers (14.4) and 26th in assists to turnover ratio (1.31).
The good news for the Thunder is that both Durant and Westbrook are back and healthy, so these offensive numbers should return to normal soon and the Thunder should start winning.
Blessing in Disguise
Moving forward, the adversity in November could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Thunder. Durant’s absence was the longest since he put on a Thunder uniform while this was the first time ever that the team has played without both Durant and Westbrook.
If we recall the 2014 Western Conference Finals, the Spurs easily beat the Thunder because they were virtually a two-man team with very minimal bench contribution. This season, back up guard Reggie Jackson averaged 20 points before Westbrook returned. Anthony Morrow, Andre Roberson, Jeremy Lamb and even Steven Adams have played more than their usual minutes because of the injuries that hit the team. The added exposure of these reserves will come in handy as the season progresses and if OKC makes the playoffs because the experience and confidence that these young players gained in the past month are priceless. So with the bench now ready and the stars back in action, the Thunder should be on their way to full recovery. Now could all the adversity be a blessing in disguise after all?