Thursday, December 4, 2008

John Hollinger says OKC won't be the worst ever - but may get close

Is this good news? Like, is this supposed to be encouraging? (Hollinger's column and Worst Team Watch, a delightful little thing ESPN has to track where OKC ranks worst all-time.)

At this point, I guess we take what we can get.

The league's worst ever record is held by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, a club that went 9-73. Hollinger writes that OKC is actually one ahead (or behind, however you want to look at it) of the Sixers pace. In one of the 5,000 season simulations they ran, the Thunder finished with just one more win - 3-79.

But here's the key statement: "But all these scenarios depend on whether the Thunder continue to play as badly during the next 63 games as they've played in the first 19," Hollinger writes. "And for a variety of reasons, I don't expect that to happen."


One thing I'm happy Hollinger pointed out was the clear improvement under Scott Brooks. While OKC has won exactly the same amount of games under Brooks as P.J. Carlesimo, the team is visibly different. Other than that, Hollinger ticked off a few reasons:

- "Oklahoma City's best players are young. This is important, as they can be expected to improve throughout the course of the season. Although there's the so-called rookie wall, most rookies (and second-year players) play better statistically as the season goes on."

- "The Thunder's veterans have pretty seriously underperformed their career norms, to the point that one has to think they'll bounce back sharply in the next 63 games. Most of these guys aren't old, either -- they're mid-20s types such as Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison, Damien Wilkins and Earl Watson ... It's possible that all four players suddenly became awful, but it's far more likely that it's just a 20-game fluke and their numbers will return to something more normal. Because those four are likely to see their numbers rebound, and the three youngsters also are likely to put up better numbers as the season goes on, that gives us seven key rotation players who are likely to play a lot better than they've done so far."

So that's good, right? Durant, Green and Westbrook are just going to get better (which they clearly have - just look at Jeff Green's numbers over the last five), the veterans are sure to stop sucking as much as they have and the team *should* win more than nine games. Yay! Thunder basketball! But as deflating as it may seem that our goal is the not be the worst team ever, OKC can play better. And I think it will.

One thing I couldn't help but wonder is why is only Oklahoma City being tossed about in this regard? Why not the 3-13 Wizards? Why not the 3-15 Clippers? Heck, how about the 4-14 Grizzlies who OKC beat last week?

A three part answer: 1) Because of the eye test. Oklahoma City has just looked worse than those other teams. For some reason, whatever it is, it seems like the Thunder have lost with a little bit different, flavor, if you will, than the those other squads. 2) Because of the average losing margin of the four teams; OKC: 11.1, Washington: 4.8, LAC: 8.1 and Memphis: 6.9. And 3) because of the rosters. The Thunder doesn't really have any eye-catching guys that people around the league know are staples. No Baron Davis or Marcus Camby. No Caron Butler, Gilbert Arenas (though injured) or Antwan Jamison. The assumption is those teams can't be as bad as their record shows because they're supposed to be better.

The hope is the team continues to improve under Coach Scotty and that OKC wins a game here or there until February and March when other out-of-contention teams and players start mailing it in. Seven more wins isn't that far off. If the Thunder had blown it and lost in Memphis last week and was sitting at 1-18, I might be a little more worried. But remember, the 2003-04 Magic started 1-19.

And while they clearly still count as losses, the Phoenix game (where OKC led by double-digits and lost by one) and the second Minnesota game (where OKC led by double-digits and lost on a last second shot) were within a hair of being wins. Not to mention the Atlanta game where the Thunder led most the night and last night's game against Charlotte. With a few breaks and a little better play, OKC could be at 6-13. Which is... better. I think. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, though. Decent teams win those. And the Thunder just aren't even decent.

Hollinger wraps up by saying, "Historic awfulness always requires a confluence of factors -- a perfect storm of horrendous play. In this case, it probably would take multiple injuries, as well as trades of several veterans, for the Thunder to truly threaten the Sixers' mark. So far we've seen just about the worst-case scenario for the Thunder. Unless it continues, they'll be able to escape the notoriety of becoming known as the NBA's worst team ever." Thanks John. I guess.


Crow said...

It is probably a common misimpression but Collison is 28, Wilkins almost 29 and Watson 29 1/2. Not mid20s. Probably all on the decline for minutes and production from here so this slippage is only part fluke or perhaps even mostly not fluke.

Crow said...

I just went off your snippet and I now see Hollinger mentioned the ages already but I still don't think using "mid20s" stretching up from Wilcox at 26 (barely mid20s to my thinking) was the best way to say it. I'd say late 20s. Peak or past peak.

Steve H said...

Yeah, I wasn't sure how to take Hollinger's article either- but it really doesn't matter. The Thunder are in the middle of a remodeling project. Having somebody tell you your house looks like shit while while you are having the Bathrooms gutted and carpeting ripped out doesn't sting so bad- just wait till they see the finished product. Our young core of Durant, Green and Westbrook should all be playing in the Rookie/Sophmore all-star game this year. Swift has looked good in the few moments he has been healthy, and Collison looks like a solid back up for the next several years. Everybody else on the roster represents an expiring contract that won't be here in two years time.

Crow said...

Useful analogy. How much does Presti know about remodeling? And really isn't what you describe a total tear- down? How much does he know about total tear-downs? At the Spurs he knew a team on or near the top the entire time he was there. Yeah there were adjustments but I'd say it was at a different level.

Anonymous said...

Another brutal day in the stock market for Aubrey and Tom Ward. How much longer can they afford to hold this losing team?

Steve H said...

Crow- Presti is, I think, the youngest GM in the league. He can't have any experience rebuilding from scratch- but I am certainly impressed with the moves he has made so far. As I noted- should have 3 players in rookie/sophmore all-star game this year. Four first round picks over next 2 years, with a possible #1 this June. More cap space to pursue free agents than any other team in the league starting next year. We should field a descent team next year, and an honest to God playoff contender the year after that. Not Celtic turn around fast- but pretty impressive none the less.

Anonymous said...

Here's a great column completely ripping apart Royce's asinine Westbrook-Rose comparison:

Anonymous said...

Don't kid yourself. Your team is the worst. Your city is the worst. Your bloggers are the worst. Bush Leaguers!

slade the gay blade said...

Royce, your blog is excellent...keep up the good work. It's unfortunate that your comment section is infested with rodents.

Anonymous said...

"Meanwhile, Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett resurrected the team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics, trading in a half-empty arena with a crummy lease in Seattle for a sold-out building in Oklahoma City where he keeps all of the revenues. The value of the Thunder is $300 million, 12% more than last year."

Does anyone else find this absurd??? OK, sure, the team is worth 12% more than last year...but $50 million LESS than Bennett paid for it!

Anonymous said...

Be careful. You are going to confuse the Okies with all that math.