After shipping away Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonas and Enes Kanter and gaining Paul George and Carmelo Anthony this past summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder were expected to improve on their 47-35 regular-season record from last year.
With PG-13 and Melo alongside reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, the Thunder were immediately recognized as a contender in the wildly-tough Western Conference.
Then, the season started.
Through 26 games, Oklahoma City is 12-14 and has endured some embarrassing losses, including a 116-103 home defeat at the hands of the 10-16 Charlotte Hornets on Monday night. They also lost to the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks in recent weeks.
Beyond the wins and losses, the Thunder have been a terrible offensive team, ranking 24th in the NBA in points per game (101.8), 29th in field goal percentage (43.6), 28th in three-point percentage (33.9), 29th in free throw shooting percentage (73.2) and 25th in assists per contest (20.6) as of Tuesday night.
The three stars have clearly not meshed and an isolation-based scheme has resulted in a lack of efficiency.
Oddly enough, the team has been one of the better squads in the league defensively, even ranking first overall in steals per game (10.0) and even own a plus-minus of plus-2.2, which ranks ninth in the NBA. Therefore, the fact that they’ve been in a number of close games is encouraging, even if they’ve come at the wrong end of many of them, going 4-9 on the season in games decided by eight points or fewer. Cohesion doesn't seem to be an issue on the defensive end of the floor.
Head coach Billy Donovan downplayed the wins and losses and expressed some optimism, even after Monday’s loss.
"As crazy as this may sound, I was really, really, really excited with the way we played offense tonight. I really was," Donovan said, via Royce Young of ESPN. "I thought we generated really good shots tonight. It wasn't a great shooting night for us, but I think the guys' intentions of trying to do the things we've asked them to do -- in terms of ball movement -- I thought they really stayed with it for 48 minutes. I was really encouraged by that part of it.”
He thinks it will be a work in progress.
"I think sometimes people look at players, or look at a team, and they kind of say what they're forecasting for it not even knowing all the dynamics it takes to even be a good team," Donovan noted. "And I think when you've got half the roster that's different, these guys have done a really good job sacrificing, they've done a really good job building relationships and communicating, they've done a really good job working, and they're trying to get to know each other on the court."
The Thunder are embarking on a three-game road trip, starting with Wednesday’s contest against the Indiana Pacers. They will then take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday before Saturday’s tilt against the New York Knicks.