OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City's offense is not stable enough to sustain a collapse from its second option.
The Thunder are desperate for shooting guard Victor Oladipo to perform during their first-round playoff series against Houston. But through the first two games, a couple of disappointing losses for OKC, that hasn’t happened.
Oladipo followed up a 1 of 12 performance in Game 1 with a 4 of 14 one in Game 2. He's 1 of 13 from deep, not exactly the way he’d hoped he would begin his playoff career after spending his first three NBA seasons in playoff-stripped Orlando.
“I gotta figure it out, man,” Oladipo said. “Simple as that.”
Russell Westbrook has dominated the Thunder offense in the meantime. More than half of the Thunder’s possessions are ending in one of Westbrook's shots, his turnovers or him getting fouled while he’s on the floor. It’s an almost incomprehensible ratio, one that's significantly higher than his regular-season “usage rate” of just under 41 percent, the highest for a single year in recorded history.
Even amidst Westbrook’s takeover, though, Oladipo hasn’t been able to complement with his shot. He’s defended, guarding capably on and off the ball heading into Friday night's Game 3. The shots have just rattled every which way — except into the hoop.
“There are certain players, in my opinion, they’re one dimensional,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “When you’re a one-dimensional player and that dimension is not working, it allows you to just totally focus on that one dimension and that one dimension can actually become worse. Victor is a two-way player…
“He can do a lot of different things and [he can take] his mindset and focus off of the ball going in or out of the basket and [realize] ‘I’m not going to allow myself to be defined by that, because there are too many other things I can do out there to help this team.’”
Oladipo churned out the best-shooting season of his career this year, especially from 3-point. But he wasn’t immune to slumping.
His efficiency from beyond the arc took a dip after he returned from sprain to his right wrist (his shooting one), which kept him out three weeks in December. After back spasms forced him to miss time later in the season, giving him rest for the wrist to heal back to 100 percent, he resumed his shot-making from earlier in the year.
He was splashing just about every opportunity at that time. He made 26 of 46 triples over a 10-game period after returning from the back spasms. Of course, he was due for a regression. Not even Golden State’s Stephen Curry is that effective from range. So, the regression came — predictably.
Oladipo ended the season in a shooting slump, maybe the most notable one of his year, shooting just 9 of 46 (19.6 percent) from 3 over the final nine games. And the misses have carried into the playoffs, where Westbrook, too, is missing his second-leading scorer.
“He played great, but he needs some help out there,” Oladipo said of Westbrook. “So everybody, including myself, gotta step up and play well.”
The Thunder offense has a different flow when Oladipo is knocking down looks, even just from the corners. He was one of the league’s most accurate corner 3-point shooters during the regular season. His catch-and-shoot numbers were impressive, as well, though they dipped from top-tier during that end-of-season clankfest.
“He wants to do good. He wants to be great like every player,” Westbrook said. “Everybody wants to come out and play great. It doesn’t always work out that way.”
Westbrook knows something about not being deterred. He took 43 shots during Game 2; 26 of them didn’t go in. Heck, he just finished a higher percentage of his team’s possessions than anyone ever. He doesn’t believe in discouragement. It’s not in his DNA.
He’s telling Oladipo to adopt the same philosophy.
“Your mindset has to keep going regardless of whether you miss or make shots,” Westbrook said. “He does so many more things for our team when he’s on the floor.”
Oladipo is doing his best to think that way. Getting down on himself is no option.
“Ain’t no point of doing that,” Oladipo said. “It makes matters worse.”