Finding fault in a coach who has won 50 games three times and 60 once in the last five years sounds a bit ridiculous. But if you’re Oklahoma City, the time is now to win a championship and Scott Brooks may not be the right guy to get the Thunder over the hump.
As good as the Thunder have been over the last five years under Brooks, they could be better. When you have the likely 2013-14 MVP in Kevin Durant and perennial All-Star in Russell Westbrook, winning 50 games and getting to the playoffs is not enough. It was OK back in 2010 when forcing a Game 7 against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the first round was considered a big deal. Now, losing in the first round may cost people’s jobs.
Brooks did get the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012 — losing to Miami —but the bar is set much higher now. Anything less than a championship would be considered a failure.
Brooks is a good coach, no doubt. But in order to win a championship, you have to make great decisions. And so far, we’ve seen too many questionable decisions from him.
A prime example of that was Monday’s playoff game against Memphis.
When the Thunder were struggling to bust the Grizzlies’ defensive alignment, he could have inserted Derek Fisher for Nick Collison down the stretch to open up the court. Fisher goes in on offense, then Collison returns on defense. It takes a slick coach to pull that off, and that’s not Brooks.
When Thabo Sefolosha stole the ball from Mike Conley with under a minute left in overtime, the Thunder had a possible fast break. But Brooks, micromanaging the situation, stifled that runout by calling a timeout. That allowed Memphis to set up its defense and Durant ended up missing a free throw on the possession.
And before we chastise Westbrook for taking too many shots and not getting the ball enough to Durant, watch Game 2 of the Memphis-OKC game and you’ll see that Durant couldn’t get open because Tony Allen was draped all over him. Westbrook tried to get him the ball, but the Grizzlies did a terrific job of denying KD the ball.
This is where the coach should step in. Brooks needed to get KD in spots where he could operate freely and get Allen off him. But he didn’t. Westbrook was left on an island and the Grizzlies forced him into bad shots.
Brooks went to the Rick Adelman school of coaching. He was an assistant under Adelman — who announced his retirement today — in Sacramento when the Kings were major title contenders. Adelman ran Pete Carril’s Princeton offense in Sacramento, and it’s the same offense Brooks runs in Oklahoma City.
Adelman had fantastic teams during his time in Sacramento. He had Vlade Divac at center and Chris Webber at power forward; Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu at small forward; Doug Christie at shooting guard; Bobby Jackson and Mike Bibby at point guard.
The Kings were an exciting team to watch, much like the Thunder today. But they could never get over the hump because they ran into roadblocks in the form of the Lakers and Spurs. Despite winning a ton of regular season games (1,042 to be exact), Adelman’s Kings never won a championship and didn’t even get a taste of the NBA Finals.
Adelman’s teams relied on the jump shot too much and were not stout enough on defense.
Brooks could be following a similar path in Oklahoma City.
The Princeton offense sets up two bigs at the elbows and that triggers multiple actions on either side. If a defender overplays his man, the offensive player has the freedom to cut backdoor for a layup.
It’s a beautiful offense to watch but it doesn’t bring to the table an inside-outside, low-post power game. It’s a perimeter-oriented, finesse scheme that serves jump shooters well. It doesn’t put pressure on a defense’s interior where most championships are won or lost.
In short. You live by the jump shot, you die by the jump shot.
Brooks lives and dies with Durant and Westbrook. He hardly deviates from his beloved Princeton offense, and he struggles with in-game adjustments. When teams take away the backdoor cut, the Thunder usually fall back into an isolation game that mostly relies on the one-on-one skills of Durant and Westbrook.
To win an NBA title, you have to do two things consistently: attack the paint and protect the paint.
As the Heat found out in 2011 when they lost to the Mavericks, you can’t win a championship shooting threes.
As good as Durant is he doesn’t impact the game in the paint. Westbrook is the only player on Oklahoma City capable of putting pressure on the defense by attacking the paint. But Westbrook is a 6-3 guard. It is nearly impossible for him to attack the paint on every possession. That would require super-human strength and stamina.
The Thunder are currently in a playoff dogfight with Memphis. An early exit in the postseason could trigger some changes in Oklahoma City, starting with the coach.
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.