Before the season even began, most people were already assuming that this year’s NBA Finals would be a rematch from the 2012 Finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. After the James Harden trade, and with the San Antonio Spurs inserting themselves into the mix of title-contenders, a rematch seemed like much less of a foregone conclusion.
With how the Thunder have played in the month of March, though, their chances at making it back to the Finals has never seemed more uncertain.
When Oklahoma City played their last game of February, they had a phenomenal 42-15 record. So far in the month of March they have gone just 8-4. That’s not a terrible record by any means. What’s been bad about their month of March is who their four losses this month have come against.
Of the Thunder’s 12 games in March, six of them have been against Western Conference teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Oklahoma City is just 2-4 in those six games, meaning that all four of their losses in March have come against playoff-teams. Specifically, the Thunder have lost to the Spurs, to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night, and twice to the Denver Nuggets. Though the regular season doesn’t always translate directly into the postseason, it seems like a pretty big red flag that the Thunder are failing to beat high-quality opponents from the West.
There seems to be something off with this team right now, particularly with their offense. One of the things that has always been so impressive about Oklahoma City is that they have always been able to impose their offensive will on their opponents. With stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they’ve always been able to take firm control of games when they’ve wanted to.
Before the month of March the Thunder were averaging 106.8 points and 22.1 assists per game as a team. Before this month they were also shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 39.3 percent from three, and 83.6 percent from the foul line. Not only were they a proficient offensive team, but they efficiently executed their offense.
March has been a slightly different story for the Thunder’s offense, though. In the 12 games they’ve played this month Oklahoma City has averaged 104.6 points and 19.3 assists per game as a team while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor, 31.5 percent from long range, and 80.2 percent from the free throw line. Their offensive stats have noticeably declined this month. One of the reasons has been the play of Westbrook.
Before March Westbrook averaged 18.6 shot attempts and 7.9 assists per game. In March Westbrook has averaged 20.2 shot attempts and 5.7 assists per game. Just to dispel this notion, Westbrook has averaged more shot attempts per game than Durant all season, not just in March. Even though people like to point that out because Westbrook is not a prototypical point guard, it’s unrelated.
Westbrook’s stats in March tell us is that he is looking for his own offense more than he has the rest of the season. Rather than facilitating the offense and letting the game come to him, Westbrook has been forcing the offense to happen instead of being patient or moving the ball around. This makes everyone else’s life way more difficult because they are getting less high-percentage looks at the basket, which explains the declining shooting percentages.
If the Thunder want to get their offense back to the way it was before this month, Westbrook has to go back to being patient and letting the game come to him instead of trying to force things to happen on offense like he has this month. There’s no doubt that the Thunder have the ability to be the best team in the West, but they have to iron out kinks like what’ been going on in the month of March.