There’s one obvious reason the Thunder have underwhelmed.
Carmelo Anthony explains it best.
“We know what we want to do, how we want to play,” he said. “When we stick to that script, we’re a hell of a team to beat…We have to just be a little more consistent. It all comes down to being a little more consistent and having a little more effort.”
But here’s the catch: the biggest issue with this year is not actually the content Anthony is discussing. It is the date on which he made those comments.
That quote is from the beginning of December. It might as well be from five minutes ago. Even if the Thunder have improved since Anthony theorized about consistency — developing more cohesion throughout the season and scoring more efficiently and fluidly in the process – that dilemma still exists.
The Thunder will lose to the Los Angeles Lakers one night and deck Golden State the next. They’ll ruin Toronto and then contribute to a season-long theme which includes losses to the dregs of the NBA, such as Orlando, Dallas, Phoenix, Brooklyn, New York, Sacramento, Charlotte and the Lakers.
Basketball fans are used to the way almost any player handles the lead-up to free agency.
They've invented the "moral loss" along the way, too.
“We haven’t found the consistency to get up and think, what makes it easier if we match the level against the really good teams and if we match the level against the sub-.500 teams,” Paul George said. “We’ve just got to find a base of where we want to be when that ball is tipped up.”
It’s the Thunder Paradox.
It’s confused basketball philosophers into asking questions to which no one could possibly know the answers.
Could all the bad losses be a sign that the Thunder are incapable of sustaining high-level play for an extended period, and if so, could that mean trouble come the postseason — if they were to get there? Or is the other approach true? Could OKC be the exact type of team that squeaks into the playoffs only to outplay its seed because it’s simply able to maintain intensity against top-notch squads?
The NBA season has less than two months to go. Here is where The Transcript’s hypothetical award ballots stand.
Do the Thunder have an on-off switch? Teams in the past certainly have. It’s just that those groups are usually ones with pedigrees, not a cluster of stars in their first year together. Of course, there’s never been an assemblage put together quite in the way OKC general manager Sam Presti did so with this one.
“There’s not a concern. We got a whole other half of the season left,” George said just before the All-Star break. “We’re in great position right now. We’ve fared very well against the good teams. Not much of a concern.”
The problem, of course, is that even when George said that, there wasn't actually a full half of the season left. Now, it's less than a quarter. The Thunder don't have much time.
George is, however, correct that the team has fared respectably against the top ones in both conferences.
Maybe the Thunder’s difficult schedule for the stretch run is a good thing.
It's beaten Golden State multiple times. It's 1-0 against Houston, 1-1 against San Antonio, 1-3 against Minnesota, 1-0 against Toronto, 0-1 against Boston, 1-1 against Cleveland and 1-1 against Washington
The offense has climbed from 25th in points per possession on Dec. 16 to the top half of the league today. The defense has maintained inside the top 10, though it’s slid since perimeter stifler Andre Roberson’s season-ending knee injury. The Thunder are one of just four teams (along with Golden State, Houston and Toronto) with a realistic chance to end the year top 10 in both offense and defense.
They have the profile of a team that can make noise.
They also have the profile of a team that may not.
The Thunder Paradox. It's real.
“You’ve got to come out and play consistently…It’s about, how do we come out and perform when we play tonight?” coach Billy Donovan said. “How do we play and how to we get better moving forward?”
Unfortunately, no one knows for certain.