The Oklahoma City Thunder were ousted in the first round for the third straight postseason. After being dominated by the Portland Trail Blazers through five games, OKC has questions heading into the off-season. Among them, where does the franchise from here?
Oklahoma City Thunder: Where Do They Go From Here?
For the better part of the regular season, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked like a legitimate contender out West. Paul George was playing like an MVP on offense and a Defensive Player of the Year on the opposite end. Russell Westbrook continued his triple-double tour but was playing strategically, making his teammates better. Steven Adams looked like the final piece for OKC’s “Big Three.”
Yet injuries and inconsistently dropped the Thunder to the sixth seed. Despite many picking them to advance, the Thunder fell to the third seed Trail Blazers. By suffering defeat in just five games, Oklahoma City again failed to reach the second round for the third straight year. This leads to serious questions for them heading into the off-season.
Is it possible for the Thunder to get better, and how? Has Westbrook reached his “peak” already? What is the future of Billy Donovan with this franchise? Let’s take a look at what the Thunder can do moving forward.
Improve the Outside Shooting
The NBA’s three-point evolution has arrived, and it was on display in the Thunder’s first-round matchup with Portland. OKC was pedestrian from beyond the arc, to say the least. The Thunder shot 15.2% and 17.9% respectively in the first two games of the series. Subpar shooting from outside is what dug OKC into a 2-0 hole heading back home.
Despite winning Game three and increasing their three-point percentage, the truth is that Paul George is the team’s only reliable threat outside. If your opponent can contain George or catch him on an off day, the Thunder have no other shooters to fall back on. George can be a streaky shooter from three, but it is by no means his greatest strength.
Number one priority this offseason must be to strengthen the bench. So many of the true contenders in today’s NBA have reliable shooting. Even better is if a team can find two-way players, impacting the game on both ends of the floor. Despite having a Big Three, the Thunder need more depth and a stronger bench, that starts with better shooting.
After being outplayed by Damian Lillard and suffering his third straight exit in the first round, questions began lurking about Russell Westbrook. Despite averaging a triple-double for the third straight season, had we officially seen “peak Westbrook” already? Could he possibly do anything to take his game, and this team, to the next level?
The Thunder and Westbrook have improvements to make, but let’s not get carried away. He’s a walking triple-double and at 30 years old, brings the same high energy each night. Westbrook shows no signs of slowing down. We may not have seen peak Westbrook yet and that doesn’t mean he can’t get better in the future.
Efficiency is what Westbrook needs to get better with. Earlier in the regular season, Westbrook deferred to Paul George as the top scorer and better yet, limited his own shot attempts to smart field goals. The postseason proved to be a different story. In Games two, four, and five Westbrook went 5-20, 5-21, and 11-31 respectively. Russ needs to avoid trying to win the one-on-one matchup. Instead, he needs to strategically pick his shots that’ll help his team.
Billy Donovan on the Hot Seat?
OKC fans have made their opinions known about the coaching direction of the Thunder. After failing to advance past the first round since Kevin Durant‘s departure in 2016, Billy Donovan’s future has constantly been questioned. According to GM Sam Presti, however, Donovan will likely return next season.
If Sam Presti can surround the core of George, Westbrook, and Adams with reliable shooters, then the pressure is on for Billy Donovan. Three straight exits in the first round is not a good track record. With as strong a core as they’ve had in recent memory, advancing to the second round should be the minimum for this Thunder squad. Despite a loaded Western Conference, the sixth seed frankly won’t cut it.
Next season could make it or break it for Donovan. No matter the talent or roster construction, at the end of the day these players must be coached. And if we see a repeat performance for the fourth straight year, Donovan should be shown the door.
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