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The Thunder Face Fundamental Issues

The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks addresses the real issues builing a team around Russell Westbrook and an adjustment they should make against the Blazers.

Portland Trail Blazers v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Yet again, things aren’t going well for Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. After struggling against James Harden and Donovan Mitchell in consecutive first-round series, it’s Damian Lillard doing the damage this year.

The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks believes that the Thunder front office needs to put players around Westbrook that better fit his play style:

Westbrook needs a supporting cast that can space the floor for him on offense and cover for him on defense. He has never had that in the three seasons since Durant’s departure. The Thunder were dead last in the NBA in 3-point percentage in 2016-17, no. 24 in 2017-18, and no. 22 in 2018-19. While Westbrook’s poor 3-point shooting percentages has typically brought down his team’s averages, he has still not been playing with enough players who can punish the defense for packing the paint to stop him. He needs bigger driving lanes to the rim and more space to finish once he gets there. This will only become more important as he moves into his 30s and his athleticism starts to decline. His postseason performance is already trending in the wrong direction. He is averaging his second-lowest scoring average (21.3) and lowest field goal percentage (36.3) of his playoff career this season.

Tjarks offers a suggestion for the immediate term; one they could employ against the Blazers tonight:

The best chance for the Thunder to get back in the series is to play smaller with Jerami Grant at the 5. That lineup had a net rating of plus-22.2 in eight minutes when they finally went to it in the fourth quarter of Game 4. While they were helped by the Blazers taking their foot off the gas, small ball also changed the dynamic of the matchup. Lillard and McCollum didn’t have as much room to maneuver coming around screens. They were met by two 6-foot-9 and 220-pound forwards (George and Grant) with the length and athleticism to stay in front of them at the 3-point line. And since George and Grant could also step out and knock down 3s, there was more room for Westbrook and Dennis Schröder to attack on offense

The entire piece is full of analysis of the Blazers/Thunder match-up to this point. What do you think? Is there any adjustment OKC can make against the Blazers, or has that ship sailed? Let us know in the comments!