The Thunder Weren’t Built For The Modern NBA

Joey Zelenka

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Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder washed out of the playoffs Tuesday night in a 105-99 Game 5 loss, the last sigh of a frustrating 4-1 series loss to the Houston Rockets. The game followed a familiar script, with the Thunder rushing out to an early lead as Westbrook put a good and thorough thumping on the Rockets defense. But as the game wore on, Westbrook began to tire, the Houston defense began to tighten, and the OKC bench hemorrhaged an enormous number of points. As the Rockets pulled away, the Thunder had no means to make up that ground, because the Thunder cannot shoot.

Oklahoma City’s glaring lack of shooting is nothing new. The team shot just 31.1 percent from 3 in the series, and that’s humiliating, sure, but it’s also not too far off of the Thunder’s regular season average of 32.7. Westbrook himself threw up brick after brick, going 13 for 49 from 3 (26.5 percent), many in the desperate fourth-quarter scrums that always seem to wrap up Oklahoma City’s games. But this paucity of reliable shooters isn’t simply because Kevin Durant left town over the summer and the team traded Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo; it’s the result of a yearslong failure of the Thunder to find perimeter players who fit the modern NBA landscape.

For as long as there’s been an NBA analytics movement, the 3-and-D wing player has been one of the atomic units of the mathematically sound game. The role of perimeter defender and long-range specialist isn’t necessarily new. In the generation before Shane Battier was beatified by Michael Lewis in The New York Times Magazine, Bruce Bowen, Rick Fox and Doug Christie were manning the position, and before them, guys such as the Showtime Lakers’ Michael Cooper or the Bad Boy Pistons’ Joe Dumars filled the role. But now the 3-and-D guy is more in focus than ever. Which is why it might be a surprise that there are still relatively few players who fit the description.

 

By Kyle Wagner

 

 

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The Thunder Weren’t Built For The Modern NBA