Thunder Big 3: La Barba

— December 14th 2017

Early returns from Alex Abrines as a starter, Steven Adams, and more.

By David Brandon

The Thunder have had an interesting week, going 2 and 2 on a road trip of negligible difficulty. They started out the trip losing to the Brooklyn Nets in a game that looked like they never really gave their opponent the respect they deserved. Then they stomped out the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies, lost in a mindbogglingly bad game to the Charlotte Hornets, and finished out with a too-close win over the Indiana Pacers.

The Thunder just look thoroughly discombobulated most of the time. They pass when they should shoot, shoot when they should pass, force everything, and play maddeningly inconsistent defense. The defense overall is excellent, but there are points during the game (particularly during the 3rd quarter, the bane of this team’s existence) that it seems practically nonexistent.

The team defensive scheme might be too complex for anyone who’s not part of the starters. With Roberson and George being out for several games, it’s exposed the lack of defensive acumen on the part of some of the reserves, who’ve been moved up a step or two in the rotation due to the absence of the Thunder’s two best defensive wings (George and Roberson).

Watch Melo miss the ICE and Abrines miss the X out:

BBALLBREAKDOWN on Twitter

Rare that #Thunder defense looks this bad. Melo doesn’t ICE, and everything is downhill from there. Abrines and PG guarding the same guy, no communication https://t.co/iFFwhJEO1L

This likely doesn’t happen with Roberson on the floor.

At the same time, though, there are other things that Roberson’s not good at. Namely, shooting. And that has been just as apparent in this stretch.

Let’s take a look at Alex Abrines, Andre Roberson’s replacement during this injury stretch.

La Barba

Abrines is a shooting guard out of Barcelona, a Spanish sharpshooter with limitless confidence and very little defensive prowess. He’s been mostly in a reserve role for the Thunder, shoring up bench units with his shooting. But with injuries to Paul George and Andre Roberson, Abrines has been thrust into the starting lineup, with varying degrees of success.

Watch how Abrines spaces to the corner and opens the floor for the Thunder in transition, giving them a kick-out option in the open floor:

And watch how he opens the floor for this drive:

If this were Roberson, his man would have no fear of helping on Westbrook. Kemba sticks with Abrines in the corner to avoid giving up the open shot one pass away.

Contrast that with this:

Klay Thompson and Zaza Pachulia don’t even look at Roberson, instead opting to clog the lane and force a bad miss for Westbrook.

Roberson brings incredible skill on the defensive end, but the offensive spacing suffers a lot. Abrines is the opposite. Watch Demarre Carroll just wreck him on that end here:

Defensive RPM is not the be all and end all of defensive statistics, but it’s notable that Roberson ranks first in the NBA for shooting guards, while Abrines ranks 44th. At the same time, though, Abrines ranks 39th in offensive RPM, while Roberson ranks 97th—2nd from last in the NBA.

Real Plus-Minus has its shortcomings, but in its broad strokes it’s indicative of the Thunder’s biggest non-big-3 problem: its two best non-star wings are both good at one end of the floor and awful at the other. Abrines’s spacing has helped open lanes for the rest of the Thunder’s players, but his missteps on the defensive end have caused just as many issues.

Roberson should be back soon enough, giving the rotations something approaching their original form. But Abrines has given solid minutes, albeit in a different way. Ideally, though, you’d have a guy that could provide something of what both Thunder wings bring to the table, instead of having to choose.

I Am Become Steven Adams, Destroyer of Worlds

There aren’t a lot of superlatives left for what Steven Adams has brought the last several games.

Against Brooklyn: 12 points, 14 rebounds.

Against Memphis: 21 points, 9 rebounds

Against Charlotte: 11 points, 10 rebounds

Against Indiana: 23 points, 13 rebounds

Steven Adams 21 Points Full Highlights (12/9/2017)

Once again, the unassuming Kiwi Steven Adams, together with fellow foreigner Alex Abrines outplayed the Thunder’s so-called “big three” and led the Thunder to a win against the Grizzlies. Okay, it’s more like the Grizzlies totally choked away their big lead because Marc Gasol is calling people out like he’s taking attendance, but Adams also played his part.

And while he’s putting up numbers, he’s also anchoring one of the best defenses in the NBA, smothering action at the rim and switching out to the perimeter. If you’re not on the Steven Adams train, now is the time to climb on board. Even if George and Anthony leave after the season, you could do worse than building around the Westbrook/Adams pick and roll.

Big 3 Keep on Turnin’

This is suboptimal.

Fred Katz on Twitter

This is truly amazing. After tonight’s 10 of 45 shooting performance from Russ, Melo and PG, the big three’s combined field-goal percentage has officially dipped below 40% for the season. It’s currently 39.9%. George 41.2%, Anthony 40.0% and Westbrook 38.9%.

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