There’s an understandable euphoria for the Oklahoma City Thunder heading into this season. The front office has accumulated a wealth of talent at the top of the rotation. For the first time in its history, the Thunder have put together a Big 3 where all the players involved are in their prime. But like every other team in the league, the Thunder will still have their weaknesses. Here’s a look at 3 possible Achilles heel’s for the Thunder’s Big 3.
There are a ton of positives to having a Big 3. In the case of the Thunder, Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony each have similar characteristics that will help the Thunder improve upon their many weaknesses from last season, especially on the offensive end of the floor. All three have been go-to scorers throughout their careers and all three have been asked to be the leaders of their teams.
But now they are together. And that can have unintended consequences in terms of chemistry and fit. As we’ve seen with the Miami Big 3, there are growing pains in putting together such a talented collective. Even Golden State had its hiccups throughout the season last year. It would be foolish to think this trio would be any different.
Within the logistics of the Big 3, I think there are three possible problems that could rise to the surface.
Especially early in the season, there exists the possibility of members of the Big 3 being too passive. When a collective of scorers gets together, they tend to defer to each other in the beginning in order not to appear like the ball hog of the unit. Natural scorers tend to be very sensitive to the ball hog label and that leads to overpassing and unnecessary turnovers. Here’s an example of that from last night’s game.
Paul George had the lane to take the ball to the hole, but decided to pass it to a well-defended Anthony, which caused a turnover. I can see this being an issue early in the season for the Thunder. The team will still be talented enough to win most games, but the turnover numbers will be surprising early in the season. Last night, Carmelo Anthony mentioned this in a post-game interview.
B. Crunch-time Execution
The dreaded “Who takes the final shot?” question. On their own teams, there’s no question who takes the final shot in crunch-time situations. But when they are together, the answer to that question could affect chemistry and egos. Throughout his career, Carmelo Anthony has been one of the most clutch players in the league. Last season, Russell Westbrook was the clutchest player in the league. Conversely, Paul George has been one of the worst clutch players, going 2-32 on potential game-tying or game-winning shots in his career. The question on crunch-time execution likely leads to the next question:
C. Who’s the Alpha?
This is basically what it all leads to. For years, each of these players been the main guy on their own teams. But now, with them being together, who ends up taking the lead. And believe me when I say this: Someone has to take the lead. The old addage, “When you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks,” also applies to basketball. No matter how great the collective of talent is, someone has to be the clear cut leader.
When the Dream Team got together in 1992, they were a little shaky during their training camp. But after the loss to the team made up of college players, the team knew it needed a leader. And they knew who that guy had to be: Michael Jordan.
The first season of the Miami Big 3 was one that could be labeled successful, except for the fact they crumbled in the Finals. The team had no clear cut direction on who the leader of the team was and that caught up with them in the Finals. The next season, in the playoffs, there was no denying LeBron James was the leader on that team. Because of that, they had a much clearer direction, eventually winning two titles in a row.
Someone is going to eventually have to take the reins on the Thunder. The obvious choice is Westbrook due to his position on the floor. George has said one of the things he has to work on is leadership. And Anthony has always been more of a leader based on his talent, not necessarily because of his voice within the team. But things can change once everyone steps on the court. And they can change dramatically once one of these guys misses a potential game-winning shot.