The Oklahoma City Thunder had to have been happy with their position entering the All-Star break. Considering the precariousness of their 2018 offseason, sitting third in the West with an MVP candidate in Paul George and a legitimate path to the Western Conference Finals had to feel pretty good.
Over the past month, though, that outlook has gotten slightly more dreary.
The Thunder are just 7-11 since the break with the league's second-worst offensive rating (105.5) and third-worst assist/turnover ratio (1.59) in that span. Over that time they also have by far the worst eFG% in the league (48.7 percent) and, to put that in perspective, are as far behind the Knicks in 29th as the Knicks are behind the Pacers at 16th.
Oklahoma City clearly has offensive limitations. Their offence only goes as far as Russell Westbrook and George can carry it, but this isn't a new constraint. That dependency also existed in the first half of the season when they had an offence in the top half of the league. The Thunder will comfortably make the playoffs but as the postseason rapidly approaches, the need to find answers to these offensive problems becomes more and more urgent.
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The good news is that some of their ailments can be easily remedied. The Thunder have always struggled to find consistent shooting from role players and this season they rely heavily on Dennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson and Jerami Grant.
Grant has been a remarkably consistent shooter this season, but Ferguson and Schroder have gone ice cold since the break. They weren't lighting the world on fire early in the season - shooting 37.0 percent on 7.6 attempted threes per game - but since All-Star they've fallen to just 29.9 percent.
While spacing will always be tight for OKC's offence, the rest of the Thunder need Ferguson and Schroder to re-find their jumpers to open up the rest of the floor.
An area that should bounce back is Steven Adams' finishing. Since the break, Adams has shot just 57.5 percent from inside five feet. That comes after shooting 65.9 percent in the first half of the season and 66.9 percent last year.
As he has struggled to finish, Adams' offensive rebounding and rim protection numbers have both improved so his shooting doesn't appear connected to a sudden athletic decline. The Thunder vitally need him to be effective around the rim for easy dump-offs and put-backs, but given the seemingly random variance of this drop in efficiency, his finishing seems likely to return.
The secondary contributors are incredibly important to the Thunder offence, but the true litmus test for their overall effectiveness is George's shooting. After missing three games shortly after the break with a sore shoulder, George hasn't had the same level of production he was putting up early in the season.
George was shooting 49.8 percent on tightly contested looks in the first half of the season, right in line with his average last year of 48.1 percent. Since the break, that number has dropped to 42.2 percent.
Following a similar pattern, George was making 40.8 percent of his threes on a career-high 9.5 attempts per game before the break and is down to just 32.7 percent on 10.6 attempts since.
This dip could come down to the unsustainability of making difficult shots, but a sign George is just mired in a cold streak is his inability to make open shots either. George had a FG% of 42.3 percent on "open" looks before the All-Star break, a seemingly sustainable number. Since the break, his FG% on open shots has fallen to an abysmal 28.8 percent.
It's difficult to quantify just how important George is to the Thunder offence. With Westbrook stuck in a season-long shooting funk and putting up his lowest eFG% since 2015, the Thunder have become reliant on George to create and convert difficult shots. The correlation between George's ability to make those shots and OKC's offensive success is clear.
George was making difficult shots so consistently early in the season that he was rightfully earning MVP buzz. His candidacy has fallen off due partly to his recent struggles and partly to James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo having incredible seasons, but he can still get back to the incredible level he was playing.
As the playoffs near, these offensive problems get more and more concerning. Even with an elite defence, it's clear the Thunder will have a short postseason if they continue to have the league's second-worst offence.
This past month may have shown the severity of OKC's offensive problems, but many of those issues are fixable. The Thunder built a viable offence early in the season by putting role players in the best position to succeed and George being one of the best offensive players in the NBA.
The success of their postseason may come down to if George can become that player once again.
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