Since Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder, the organization has struggled to make much of an impact in the Western Conference.
Despite the record-setting individual play of superstar point guard Russell Westbrook, the team hasn’t moved past the first round of the playoffs in the post-Durant era. Last season, they went down in five games against the Houston Rockets after finishing 47-35 in the regular season. This year, they went 48-34 in the regular season despite adding both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony last summer and were eliminated by the Utah Jazz in six games.
Therefore, there are some major question marks in OKC.
Who’s at fault? Is Westbrook’s status as the team’s go-to scorer and ball-handler actually setting the team back? Did George and Anthony simply not fit into Billy Donovan’s system? Or, was there simply not enough depth?
The real answer is most likely a combination of all of those factors, but during an appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up”, Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard painted a clear picture of what he thought went wrong in Oklahoma City.
"I would say Russ because Russ has the ball more times in his hands," Howard said when asked who’s to blame for the team’s lack of success. "And I watched Carmelo and Paul George at times, and they were just standing there, watching. Late in the games, I think the ball should have been more in Carmelo’s hands because he’s more of a closer. Paul George, he’s that guy that’s going to get you the 20-30 points between the first and the third quarter.”
Westbrook’s usage rate trailed only James Harden and Joel Embiid this season as he continued to dominate the ball. As he showed in Games 5 and 6 of the recent series loss to the Jazz, he’s unafraid to keep shooting the ball. In Game 5, he scored 45 points, but went 17-of-39 shooting and also took six free throws. In Game 6, he dropped 46 of his team’s 91 points, but went 18-of-43 from the floor and also took six free throws.
Howard believes that Westbrook should look to get his teammates more involved.
"Russ, he should just facilitate, get everybody involved early in the game, and just let those guys play,” he added. “At this point in his career, he’s done everything as far as the individual. He has all the accolades. But now, it should just be about making everyone around him better."
Although Howard definitely isn’t always a voice of reason, it appears as though his analysis of Westbrook’s role is reasonable.
It remains to be seen whether or not George re-signs with the Thunder. If he does, OKC will look to build around him and Westbrook. If not, a rebuild around Westbrook could become a reality. Or, if the organization believes a complete rebuild is necessary, Westbrook could even be traded. The future is very much in their air right now.
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