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Will This Oklahoma City Thunder Team Work?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook did something that many found surprising, by renegotiating his contract and tacking on an extra two years to his stay in Oklahoma City. The only thing is, if you have followed Westbrook's career at all and knew anything about his personality, him staying in OKC even after Kevin Durant betrayed him, shouldn't be a shock at all.

Despite the various reports about Westbrook packing his bags and getting ready to head elsewhere, Russell's competitiveness and will to win was never going to let him jump ship. This guy is as loyal as they come and loves a challenge, so even if his team is going to stink, there is no way in hell Westbrook would ever leave just because the Thunder may no longer be a title contender. He is simply too competitive to do that. 

Unlike Durant, rather than throwing in the towel and admitting that his team isn't good enough, Russ is inviting this challenge. He would rather be on the worst team in the league, but do it while playing at an intensity level that only Russell Westbrook knows, instead of giving up and joining a superteam. Westbrook never backs down from a fight and him signing this extension is a message to the collective NBA world that he is nothing like his former teammate. 

Westbrook is insane, so even if it doesn't make sense to stay in a situation where it is going to be unbelievably difficult to win, just remember that Russ doesn't care about what makes sense. He is unlike anything we have ever seen, not only in NBA, but sports in general. Remember the time he played an entire basketball game with a dent in his head?

So now that Westbrook is back, Sam Presti and his front office can stop worrying about potentially losing two of the best 5 players in the league in the same offseason. The pressure now shifts to Billy Donovan and the coaching staff, as they now have to try and figure out how to win games without a huge chunk of their core from last season. Rebuilding is not an option with Westbrook on your team. A player of his caliber needs to be in win now mode, so Billy Donovan needs to deliver results. 

But even with Westbrook on the squad for the foreseeable future, is this Thunder team any good? Are they even a playoff team in the cramped Western Conference? 

Even after losing a large chunk of last season's team, a heck of a lot of talent remains. Surrounding Westbrook, they've got a star in the making with Steven Adams, an incredibly talented big man in Enes Kanter, a defensive stopper in Andre Roberson and the young, athletic Victor Oladipo making up their new core group of players. Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis, are taking the departed Durant, Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters' roster spots and while they aren't nearly as talented, they are all at least serviceable players that all fill roles.

While this squad no longer has the immense star power it once has, talent isn't the thing that I would worry about if I were a Thunder fan. I would be worried that without Durant, Ibaka and Waiters, OKC's puzzle pieces probably don't fit together.

Remember the core that I described earlier of Westbrook, Adams, Kanter, Roberson and Oladipo? Well, those 5 players combined to make just 241 three-pointers last season, which is a hair less than 60% of the triples that Stephen Curry drained during his last campaign. Westbrook, Roberson and Oladipo, who combined to make 231 of those threes, made just 29.6%, 31.1% and 34.8% of their attempts respectively. So their five core players, who may end up playing crunch-time together, can't even remotely space the floor as a unit.

This may not have been a problem in the 90s, but it certainly is in the year 2016. There's a very good reason why no other team in the league's core five players all can't space the floor. Defenses are smarter now and they will murder an OKC group consisting of Russ, Adams, Kanter, Roberson and Oladipo. Other teams will give the Tony Allen treatment to the four men standing off-ball and clog the paint on every drive, post-up and pick and roll. 

OKC's key and most heavily relied upon sets will be hurt most. A majority of Thunder possessions either resulted in a simple 1-5 pick and roll with no prior motion or a stagnant isolation. While they don't sound complicated, both need spacing to live. On a Westbrook-Adams pick and roll, teams will now bring help defenders over with ease, without the threat of Kevin Durant getting a wide open three. Instead, the opposition will be more than happy that kick-outs to open threes, will result in bricklaying from Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson. A once deadly combination could now become obsolete without competent spacing.

A simple Westbrook isolation, will be cramped in the same way, as help defenders will clog the paint and urge Westbrook to dish to any of his problematic shooters.

This lack of spacing issue came close to hurting the Thunder last season, as even during the 2015-16 term, the Thunder roster was clogged with minus shooters. But Donovan was able to squeeze enough shooting into every lineup he trotted out, with a combination Durant, Ibaka and Waiters at just about every point of every game. Last season, according to NBAwowy, OKC played just a little over 200 minutes without Durant, Ibaka or Waiters on the floor, out of a total of over 4800. Meanwhile, out of those 200 minutes without Durant, Ibaka or Waiters, just 5 came with a group that had Westbrook, Adams, Kanter and Roberson on the floor at the same time. With these stats, there is very clear evidence that Donovan wanted no part of a spacing issue and was obviously aware that his team relied heavily on the shooting that his now absent trio brought to the table.

The problem is, that now without KD, Serge and Waiters, Donovan will have to look at using groupings that he barely played last year. Groupings that as I have mentioned, he didn't play for a reason. Those spacing issues that I detailed, instead of just being an issue for a couple of minutes every game, they now become concerns for the whole ball game. If this is the case, I highly doubt the Thunder will have a chance at making the playoffs or imposing any sort of will on the outcome of the season.

Billy Donovan may have to play guys like Ersan Ilyasova and Anthony Morrow (37% and 38% from deep last season respectively), to even have a show at spacing the floor. And since the Thunder have so few of these players, Ilyasova and Morrow might end up having to play starter-level minutes. But then the problem for Donovan becomes that you have players like Ersan Ilyasova and Anthony Morrow on the floor, who give up whatever they add shooting-wise in every other aspect of their games. 

Defensively, the Thunder will likely be solid, but will suffer from the length they have lost in Durant and Ibaka. Oklahoma City's defense was quite often fundamentally unsound. Their rotations were sometimes off, their positioning was out of place a bit too much, but their length was able cover up these shortcomings. By losing four arms of their rim barricade, the Thunder defense will suffer. 

OKC's athleticism has also taken a hit by losing Ibaka and Durant, which will hurt their switchability defensively -- a key component in their three wins against Golden State in the Conference Finals. Instead, the Thunder will now be running larger, slower-footed lineups that could get killed by smaller lineups.

The Thunder have obviously taken a hit this offseason and won't be the same team. But even with a talented roster, 

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