After losing to the Atlanta Hawks 104-95, the Oklahoma City Thunder are 1-2 and look like anything but the cohesive unit that made it to the NBA Finals last season. Though the newly acquired Kevin Martin has been solid, team chemistry has run amok and it led to 20 turnovers committed against Atlanta. If this loss is an indication of what the Thunder's season is going to be like, they will not finish the season among the league's elite teams.
In his blog "Thunder Rumblings," Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman had some choice criticisms for the team's performance against Atlanta, from Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka exchanging words to Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook having to be separated. Last I checked, team infighting was not the recipe for a championship.
Look at it this way. The Thunder teams of the past few years have been defined by team play and constant improvement. Durant has established himself as the unquestioned leader in OKC, and he has no problem putting the team on his back night after night.
Sitting at Durant's right hand is point guard Russell Westbrook, who can put points on the board better than any other floor general and can also balance it with both his passing and defense. The only real mark against him is that when the team struggles, he tries to do too much and as a result takes bad shots.
Granted, the Thunder find themselves going through a major adjustment early in the season. Electrifying sixth man James Harden was unable to agree to terms on a contract extension with team management, and GM Sam Presti decided to trade him to the Houston Rockets for Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and draft picks. In the blink of an eye, the team's most consistent shooter and most underrated playmaker was gone and replaced with an overrated scorer.
Still, the core from last year's squad is still very much intact and there is no reason that the Thunder's performance against Atlanta should have been as bad as it was. Twenty turnovers is inexcusable no matter how good or bad a team is, and there is no reason that Kevin Martin should have led the team in scoring despite having a hot hand (8-of-11 shooting and 6-of-8 from long range, to be specific).
Can the Thunder fix their chemistry issues?
Of course, once the Thunder started struggling, which started with being outscored 30-22 in the first quarter, Westbrook started taking bad shots. He scored 14 points and had nine assists, but shot an atrocious 5-of-18 from the floor.
Long story short, the Thunder's offense should be in the hands of one of two men: either Durant or Westbrook. They are the team's two best players for a reason, and both played a key role in getting OKC to the NBA Finals last year. To place anyone else in charge would be flat out insulting.
Thus, unless Scott Brooks can reestablish the philosophy of team play run through either of these stars, not to mention that everyone else needs to know their role perfectly, the Thunder will be sunk for 2012-13. Team chemistry is the key to their success and unless that point can be driven home successfully for the rest of the season, they may as well kiss a championship goodbye right now.