OKC Thunder: Four questions for Sam Presti ahead of a critical offseason
Thunder general manager Sam Presti is entering another offseason with questions surrounding his roster, his coach and his franchise player.
When Presti speaks to the media Monday (11 a.m. on newsok.com), these are some of the key questions to be answered (keeping in mind that these are realistic questions, not "Who are you drafting at No. 21?"):
Is Billy Donovan coming back?
The first question to be answered. The Thunder professed belief in Donovan before last season and during it by picking up the fifth-year option on his contract in November. But Donovan’s option getting picked up is irrelevant if Presti and owner Clay Bennett don’t feel Donovan is the right fit following a third-consecutive first-round exit from the postseason.
Donovan’s $6 million salary shouldn’t matter, either. Presti did significant work via trades (Carmelo Anthony, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot) to get the Thunder’s luxury tax bill from north of $130 million last summer to less than $60 million to close the season. The Thunder is proud of being able to reinvest those savings into the team. Theoretically, that would apply to a coach as well, even if Presti ends up paying two coaches at once in Donovan and the next hire.
How do you fix Russell Westbrook’s jump shot?
"The other thing about Russell that I think is so promising about his future is that players that play in the backcourt like that, have that kind of success, once they hit 30, their shooting numbers become much better. That's how they become more efficient players."
That was Presti on Sept. 20, 2018. It was only the first season of Westbrook playing at age 30, but the early returns didn’t align with Presti’s prediction. Westbrook could come back as a more accurate shooter next season, but his shooting regressed from every level outside of the restricted area.
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The positive: Westbrook shot a career-best 65 percent at the rim. Now, Presti and the Thunder have to figure out how to get Westbrook hitting the mid-range and his free throws with more regularity.
How do you improve shooting around Westbrook?
In preseason, Presti had a three-pronged approach to improving the Thunder’s shooting: Finding better shooters, guys stepping up and making shots, and taking high-quality shots by distributing them to efficient places on the floor or players who are more efficient.
"Sometimes you can become a much better shooter by taking the ones that are really good for you," Presti said.
To the latter point, lost in the noise of Westbrook’s playoff shot selection was that he set up teammates extremely well in efficient spots. Westbrook can’t control Schroder shooting 30 percent from 3 on mostly wide-open looks or Grant starting a series 0-of-8 from 3 the same way Schroder can’t control Raymond Felton or Markieff Morris combining to shoot 4-of-15 from deep.
The Thunder projects to be more than $35 million above the salary cap of $109 million, which makes it tough to spend on elite shooters. Trades will be a factor in strengthening the roster, but another avenue to creating better shooting percentages is taking more quality shots and passing up low-quality ones.
Does the Thunder have to play this way?
The Thunder was married to the concept offensively of more shot attempts and offensive rebounds to offset its shooting deficiencies. On defensive, Donovan was committed to blitzing ball handlers with Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel in pick-and-roll in addition to a guard, and the Thunder was heavily reliant on forcing turnovers to create offense.
Despite a top-five defense, the aggressive defensive scheme often backfired, leaving the Thunder exposed to skilled big men or open shooters on the backside when rotations didn’t happen quickly enough. When the Thunder did switch defensively, it too often left mismatches from Adams against perimeter players to Schroder against post ups.
The Thunder felt this was the identity this particular group had to play with. Does that still apply after seeing Portland, and much of the league, dissect it post-All-Star break?