Thunder Big 3: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

— November 9th 2017

This week in Thunder, we look at the bright side.

By David Brandon

Welcome to the Thunder Big 3! Each week I’m going to be breaking down three of the trends that we’ve been seeing from the Thunder, both things that are going well and things that aren’t going so well.

This week’s is going to be a little different. It’s been a rough week for the Thunder faithful, as the team has swooned against both comparable and inferior competition. The string of putrid games culminated in an absolute mess of a game against Sacramento where the Thunder barfed up isolation shot after isolation shot, losing in awful fashion against what might be the worst team in the league.

The Thunder’s 3 best players (Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in that order) haven’t had the best of weeks. But who have been the consistent presences that have buoyed the team even when the main scorers have been off? Let’s take a look at the 3 pillars of the Thunder supporting cast: Steven Adams, Raymond Felton and Jerami Grant.

Steven Adams

What can I say about Steven Adams that hasn’t already been said?

He’s a capable rebounder and a tough presence inside. Over the past few years he’s refined his hands and his scoring to be a threat in a properly-spaced lineup. This year he’s anchored one of the stingiest defenses in the league so far, calling the shots in a manner reminiscent of former Thunder veteran Kendrick Perkins. With feet nimble enough to switch onto wings and guards at the perimeter and the bulk to bang with the biggest bodies in the league, Adams is a rarity.

Scott Rafferty brought up one of the most underappreciated abilities that Adams has this week: his speed up the floor in transition. Westbrook’s rebounding and outlet passing ability lets Adams get early post position and abuse smaller defenders before the defense has a chance to get set, as seen here:

Scott Rafferty on Twitter

Seems like the Thunder get this at least once per game nowadays. Adams does a great job of running the floor, creating early offense for himself with deep post-ups.

Whether or not he gets a lot of touches, Adams is always running the floor, setting great screens, and doing the little things. If Westbrook is the heart of the team, Adams is its backbone.

Raymond Felton

The Thunder’s backup point guard is a bulldog. Though he’s fallen from the once-lofty expectations he came into the league with, he’s carved out a role as an excellent backup point guard—in Dallas, in Los Angeles, and now in Oklahoma City, Felton has been a steady hand on the reins and a force multiplier for benches that needed every ounce of help they could get.

When Westbrook gets a little wild and Felton comes in, there’s an immediate effect on the floor. His patience in setting up the offense is a change of pace from the mercurial and explosive Westbrook, and paired with Carmelo Anthony he’s helped carry a bench unit that’s been surprisingly capable through the early season.

Watch Felton’s patience here on the High Post Twist play as he slips a nifty bounce pass to the rolling Jerami Grant:

On a run-and-gun team, Felton’s steadiness is a valuable attribute.

Jerami Grant

I’ll cop to something here: I’ve never been a Jerami Grant fan. Last year’s numbers didn’t indicate that Grant was an impact player, and though he was a capable one-on-one defender, the team defense and offense didn’t see much effect from his work on the floor.

That’s changed this year. Grant’s been smoother and more patient, picking his spots and doing whatever’s asked of him with a will. Since the Thunder has no true backup center right now, Grant has been mopping up many of the center minutes behind Steven Adams. He’s battled admirably.

With tighter ball handling and increased strength, Grant’s been a rock-solid member of the Thunder rotation. The improved shooting he flashed last season seems like it’s for real, and his positional versatility has been a godsend for a team short on big men.

The Week in Review

The Thunder chalked up a good win against the Bucks, but haven’t looked right since halftime of the Boston Celtics game which they lost. With consecutive close losses to the Blazers and the Kings, the Thunder will look to right themselves next week against a softer slate of teams. Here’s hoping they can get something going.

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