Court Vision: Russell Westbrook injury offers window into Thunders’ weaknesses
• In discussing Russell Westbrook’s extended absence, Grantland’s Zach Lowe pinpointed the greater, perpetuating flaw of the Thunder in general: their fundamental lack of a cogent, underlying offense.
Westbrook’s injuries exposed Oklahoma City’s offense for what it has always been in this era: a stagnant collection of four or five set pieces with nothing behind them — no counters, no constant motion, few bits of exciting improvisation. Any halfway smart team could sniff out what was coming by the time the ball crossed midcourt. And if those set pieces failed, the Thunder would fall back on something even simpler — a one-on-one play for Durant or Westbrook, or perhaps a semi-improvised pick-and-roll, as the other players stood around.
The offense depended upon the individual brilliance of its two stars, and it worked well enough when both were there. Remove one, and it crumbled…
Crafting a broader offensive system is tedious, hard work. And it’s not like the Thunder have been totally static. Brooks has installed new, smart sets over the last two seasons, revamped the team’s defense, and gotten more players in motion on a few sets. The Thunder aren’t going to transform into the Spurs or the 2011 Mavs in one season, or maybe not even in two or three. But they have to start that process. Brooks is entering the second year of a big-money, four-year deal, and the budget-conscious Thunder would obviously prefer Brooks finish out that contract so they don’t have to pay two coaches at once. Brooks isn’t on the hot seat. He’s not even on a tepid seat. But he has to prove he’s the right coach to take this team over the top.
• A related thought that has to frighten Thunder fans a bit: What happens if, as some medical specialists have suggested, Russell Westbrook isn’t capable of the same athletic explosion as before?
• Derrick Williams hasn’t yet found his positional home, but comes into this season lighter, sporting a new neck beard, and ready to give it a go as an NBA wing. (Van Damme bonus points to Zach Harper for sneaking in a Double Team reference.)
• NBA legend Isiah Thomas posits that Karl Malone — a career 74-percent foul shooter — was the weak link of the 90s Jazz precisely due to his inability to hit free throws. Okay.
• The story of Celtics legend Bob Cousy and his late wife, “Missie”, is both terribly sweet and terribly sad. This bit, in particular, killed me (via Dianne Williamson of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette):
Missie’s cognitive decline was gradual and began a dozen years ago, Cousy said. She would ask him the same question, over and over. She hallucinated, grew disoriented and struggled with balance. But she always knew her husband, and she bristled at any suggestion that she suffered from dementia.
So Cousy worked hard to create the perception that his once-independent wife was vital and healthy. Because she believed she could still drive, he shipped her station wagon to their place in Florida each winter so she could see it in the driveway. Artificial red flowers were planted in her garden. He did all the household chores and let her think she performed them herself.
“My dad provided an environment that allowed her, in her mind, to be a fully functioning adult,” said daughter Marie. “It was amazing to watch.”
The piece is a beautiful tribute to their loving relationship, which you owe it to yourself to read.
• An interesting note in Scott Cacciola’s catch-up with Tyson Chandler for the New York Times: the Knicks center has been working on his mid-range jumper. That might seem odd to those accustomed to seeing Chandler attempt shots almost exclusively around the basket, but the emphasis isn’t without reason. Three seasons ago, Dallas used Chandler as a spot-up option at the right elbow within their flex-style sets. His jumper was a single option among many, mind you, but one that resulted in 46 mid-range attempts for the season on a solid 47.8-percent clip, according to NBA.com. That’s more than three-times the frequency of attempts that Chandler managed last season with the Knicks, leaving open the possibility that he could periodically help to space the floor for New York as needed.
• Really sharp work here from Andrew Han of ClipperBlog, who examines the defensive trajectory of DeAndre Jordan in comparison to that of Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah, among others.
• Wizards forward Chris Singleton takes a crack at imitating a classic Randy Whitman facial expression.
• Evan Turner cannot be stopped…from dribbling a possession to death.
• A brutal bit of honesty from Indiana’s David West regarding former teammate (and current Raptor) D.J. Augustin (via Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star):
“D.J. Augustin, respect him to death, but D.J. was never in a winning situation,” West said. “He was put in a tough spot last year. With 40 games to go, we had conversations (that) he’s used to his season being over. He wasn’t used to playing so late in the year.”
• Per Blake Griffin, Lob City is no more.
• How did Shane Battier go from shooting 22 percent on three-pointers in the first 20 games of the postseason to nailing nine of 12 threes in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals? By moving his aim away from the center of the basket, naturally (via Couper Moorhead of HEAT.com):
After you won the championship, you mentioned you had made some quick adjustments to your shot during the Spurs series. What were they?
I was missing right. When you shoot you have good misses and bad misses. You don’t really fret about good misses.
I had a lot of good misses when I was going through a little slump there. The way it was coming off my hand, the shot was going to the right. It was drifting to the right for whatever reason. So, instead of messing with hand position, which can get a little dicey, and finger position, I said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to aim a little left.’ It sounds to stupidly simple, but it worked. I think I did that for Game 3 of the Spurs series and I went to practice the next day and shot lights out after practice and I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to roll with it.’ It’s a Band-Aid, but all I needed the Band-Aid for was two weeks. It proved to stop the bleeding pretty well.
So you were just aiming for the left side of the rim?
Yep. I usually go right over the midpoint, right over the center of the rim. So I was trying to put it right over the left side and it would drift back to the right and be dead on.
I actually got it from my golf swing. I have a tendency to leave my clubface open and instead of messing around with my wrists or my hips, thinking about that, I say, ‘screw it. I’m just going to keep my same swing, I’m just going to aim more left.’ And it works. In the long run can you get away with it? Probably not. But in a short term situation, in the middle of a round, I just took that thinking to a basketball court.
• Doc Rivers just cannot help himself.
• A fun game: NBA rookies attempting to guess their player ratings in NBA 2k14. Cheers to Dallas’ Ricky Ledo, the one rookie interviewed who actually undershot his game rating. (via r/NBA)
• Greg Oden took part in his first (half-)practice in four years. Progress!