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Thunder good enough to bounce back from slow start to season

It’s the seventh week of the NBA regular season, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are in Orlando facing off against the Orlando Magic (8-13). With one minute left in the game, Paul George has 22 points, Carmelo Anthony 16 and Russell Westbrook with a team high 37 points, but when the buzzer sounds, the Thunder lose by the score 121-108.

The Thunder have been doomed to fail since the offseason. Pundits said the Thunder would have chemistry problems. They said three ball-dominant players like Westbrook, Anthony and George could not play together, and they said they would not challenge Golden State.

Right now, they seem to be proving them right. Currently, the Thunder sit at 10-12 and their underwhelming start to the season has left many fans puzzled.

Not only are the Thunder losing games to teams like the Magic, but they are losing close games as well. With 22 games into the 2017-18 season, they have lost five games by fewer than five points.

This is a team with three of the best offensive players in today’s NBA. Their Big Three have singlehandedly carried teams into the playoffs but now look like they can’t work out playing on the same team. What is the problem? Why is this loaded team underachieving?

The fault for this loss, and the results of the season so far, rests with four people: Head coach Billy Donovan, Westbrook, Anthony and George. In the game against the Magic, the Thunder’s defense was horrible. They allowed the non-playoff contending Magic to score 121 points with Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton combining for 59 points. After the game, Donavan acknowledged that the Magic beat up on the Thunder in the first half and really “hurt [them] in the paint,” but made no adjustments to shut the Magic down and stem the bleeding. The Big Three, especially Westbrook and Anthony, need to contest more shots and not allow defenders to get by them so easily. If the Thunder want to win games, Donovan must buck this trend toward lackluster defense.

Additionally, commentator Stephen A. Smith noticed a moment where Donovan asks Carmelo to come out, but Melo waves him off and stays in the game. Clearly, there is an issue when it comes to coaching in Oklahoma City. Donovan is a successful coach, and to take this team to the next level, he needs to exert his authority in the locker room and on the court. Carmelo may be a 10-time All-Star, but Donovan should not tolerate defiance from his players.

The rest of the blame for the Thunder’s record goes to Westbrook, Anthony and George for their insufficient teamwork. Before the season, critics said that the three could not play well together because they all needed to have the ball in their hand. All three were primary ball handlers on their respective teams and its seems like they are struggling to mesh now.

During Thunder games, the three can often be seen playing iso-ball and recording few assists. As a team, the Thunder is one of the least pass-friendly teams in the NBA. This is due in no small part to their three primary ball handlers. Westbrook and Anthony are most guilty of this type of play, with George guilty to a lesser extent as he is comfortable in the role of a spot-up shooter. However, to improve their play, all three of them are going to have to get others involved.

Luckily for the Thunder, potential is one category they are not lacking in. If coach Donovan can exert more leadership and the Big Three play a bit less selfishly, they have a shot to beat any team in the West.

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