At 8-11, the new-look Thunder clearly have problems. Many of their losses aren’t horrendous, with multiple to the young-pup Timberwolves, as well as a healthy Jazz team, and Detroit and San Antonio squads that are well above .500.
They also clearly have the talent to put it all together, as evidenced by the drubbing they gave the defending champion Golden State Warriors last week. So what works, and what doesn’t? Here is the lineup that OKC will need to rely on more heavily as well as the lineup they need to minimize or fix in order to compete for the Western Conference title this year.
The 4-man problem: Steven Adams
Lineup: Steven Adams, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George
The Thunder’s four best players do not fit exceptionally well together on average. In 328 minutes together, they have a net rating of -1.5 points (per 100 possessions). The key here is Adams, as the big three of Westbrook, Anthony, and George has a positive 5.2 net rating.
A few Thunder lineups with multiple All-Stars have an offensive rating below 100. The common, Bill Simmons-spitfire take on these lineups is that Andre Roberson is the cause, but the real common denominator is Adams. While he can provide some rim protection, he lacks a skill set that can space the floor. For Adams to ever earn the contract he’s under, he will have to add some semblance of shooting range to his game, so he no longer cramps the spacing of the Thunder’s offense.
Photo taken by Keith Allison
The 4-man solution: Andre Roberson
Lineup: Andre Roberson, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George
A common scapegoat for Thunder issues, Roberson is the one thing that has kept them truly competitive at the top of the conference nearly every year since he joined the team. His wingspan, athleticism, defense, and versatility provide nearly everything you’d want from a wing. He can’t shoot at all, which you’d obviously prefer, but you cannot always have what you want. At a +7.9 net rating over 299 minutes, this grouping has far and away the best rating of any 4-man lineup with real time. The next best hope replaces Anthony with Jerami Grant, but has only played 65 minutes (albeit at +15.4).
Roberson drags the previous Adams grouping to a positive rating as the most-played 5-man Thunder lineup. Roberson makes the defense 11 points per 100 possessions better when he plays than when he doesn’t. He is the key to the Thunder.