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Why Are The Oklahoma City Thunder Underperforming?

Paul L. McCord, Jr.

The NBA season is about halfway over and the Oklahoma City Thunder are not performing as well as fans had hoped.


KGOU's Claire Donnelly spoke with Jon Hamm, who writes about the Thunder for Bleacher Report and co-hosts the Thunder podcast OKC Dream Team, about the team's struggles, playoff chances and more.  







Claire Donnelly: So the Thunder currently has a record of an almost equal number of wins and losses. That seems not great, especially considering we've got some pretty big names with expensive contracts like Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. What's tripping the team up?

Jon Hamm: Yeah, you know, this team was thrown together pretty much right before the regular season and it's not unusual for teams like this to have some growing pains when, you know, star players were kind of put together for the first time and sort of figure things out.

Russell Westbrook--you know, this is the league MVP last season--used to dominating the basketball, having it in his hands and sort of dictating everything. Well, Paul George had that similar role in Indiana last season. Carmelo Anthony has long had that role in New York, you know, sort of the feeling out process. It's not unusual, but it has I think taken a little bit longer than I think a lot of people probably anticipated.

Donnelly: I've read a team’s stats at the halfway point of the NBA season is a pretty good indicator of how it'll finish. Would you agree with that? And then is there any chance the Thunder can turn this around?

Hamm: Yeah, I mean a lot of times that is true. You know, there are teams that, you know, maybe they go on a hot streak after the halfway point. Now, the Thunder have had some injuries, you know, kept guys out like star defender Andre Roberson. And so when they get the team back together healthy, you know, there's an expectation they'll continue to improve and get better. But, you know, how much better-- in terms of wins and losses, you know, they're probably not going to hit the marks that a lot of people expected before the season. But if the team is playing at its best going into the playoffs that's kind of what the hope was with this team all along.

Donnelly: How would you describe what the mood is like among fans right now?

Hamm: You know, obviously, if you're in the Twitter world, it's, you know, that's a medium that allows you to express immediate frustration or, you know, gratification too. So sometimes it's kind of hard to filter through that. After a tough loss is when you really see people, you know, really frustrated and they're asking for change either with the head coach or with the players.

But I think, for the most part, you know, most of them that are down the middle like, understand, like, "you know what this is is probably, you know, disappointing overall probably not quite what I expected" but I do think that they are looking at the bigger picture. You know, this team has had key wins this season against Golden State, against Houston, against Toronto. Those are three of the best teams in the NBA. But yeah, I mean, there's definite frustration whenever the Thunder seem to play down to the level of competition which they've done plenty this season.

Donnelly: So is there any chance that there will be any repercussions here either for players on the team or for coach Billy Donovan?

Hamm: No, probably not. This is kind of a tricky situation because Paul George is in the last year of his contract. He could leave and, you know, go to another team this summer. And obviously there's a lot of pressure to sort of, you know, make the team as good as it possibly can be to sort of entice him to maybe want to stick around.

You know, and Carmelo Anthony can opt out of his contract but it's not likely that he will. So I mean, there is some of that. In terms of Billy Donovan, you know, he did get a lot of a lot of heat early this season and I'm not going to say it was, you know, not completely undeserved but, you know, I mentioned earlier some of those things that it took the team a while to kind of figure things out. He deserves a lot of credit for that. So I don't really expect there's going to be a change there.

Again, I think it's just the sort of thing where the Thunder front office kind of realize this might take all season to kind of really become the well oiled machine. And that's what they want.

Donnelly: NBA playoffs are in the spring. Where are we in terms of playoff chances?

Hamm: Right now, I mean the Thunder have been kind of alternating between like, you know, the fifth seed and the eighth seed and in a lot of that is going to move around a lot. There is an NBA trade deadline coming up in early February. It's expected the team will stay together, you know, after that point, probably even make make an addition or two afterwards. It does get a little frustrating at times but still it's reasonable to expect that this team is going to make the playoffs at the end of the season. You know, that seems very much in the cards for this team.

Donnelly: Alright, well we'll see what happens. The Thunder take on the Sacramento Kings tonight at 8:00. Thanks, Jon.

Hamm: Alright. Thanks for having me.

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Claire has previously worked at KGOU, where she helped create a podcast, How Curious, and hosted local news during Morning Edition. Previously, she was an intern on the city desk at WBEZ in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School. Claire has reported on street performers, temp workers, criminal court cases, police dogs, Christmas tree recycling and more.
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