Five straight playoff appearances, three Western Conference Finals, one NBA Finals, four finishes in the top eight of offensive rating, four finishes in the top 10 of defensive rating, a career .620 winning percentage in the regular season, a career .534 winning percentage in the playoffs and it was still time for Scott Brooks to find a different job, according to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Scott Brooks isn’t a bad coach. In fact, Scott Brooks is a good coach. Drafting a player who turns out not to be a bust is an impressive feat, but developing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden takes a coach with patience and incredible knowledge. Although he faced deserved criticism for some of his in-game (or lack thereof) adjustments, Brooks made his fair share of in-series adjustments that helped OKC on several different occasions.
However, the everlasting memory of Scott Brooks for Thunder fans will be his reluctance to sit Kendrick Perkins when the situation called for it. Playing Derek Fisher had its benefits throughout the years, but only for Phil Jackson during Fisher’s Laker years, not his Thunder years. And his end of game play calling was interesting, to say the very least.
The frustration continued this year as Dion Waiters was acquired during the season. Waiters arrived and was immediately slotted into the shooting guard position playing more than 30 minutes per night, which was more minutes than he was playing for a rebuilding team last season. Waiters responded by shooting 32 percent from three, 42 percent from inside the arc, shooting under 63 percent from the free throw line and averaging 1.9 assists compared to 1.3 turnovers.
Defensively, Waiters was slightly above average so long as he wasn’t forced to fight around a screen or provide any help side defense. In today’s NBA where most entire offenses are built around some variation of a pick-and-roll, that’s not ideal. Meanwhile, Anthony Morrow (a much better offensive player) and Andre Roberson (a much better defensive player) waited for Brooks to decide enough was enough and play them in favor of Waiters.
The most damning piece of evidence is a play readily on the minds of all those against Brooks:
With the Thunder down three points in the 77th game of the season, Brooks draws up a play for Westbrook – a 30 percent three-point shooter – to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left. Meanwhile, Morrow – who was 6-8 from three and shot 43 percent from three-point land on the season – inbounded the ball and then stood out of bounds as Westbrook hoisted the 35-footer.
Now, it looks as though the play could have had a secondary option with Steve Novak curling around a screen at the top of the screen, but the fact that the best three-point shooter was inbounding the ball and had no clear instructions to do anything else was frustrating.
This play is similar in many ways to the end-of-game plays the Thunder ran in last year’s playoffs:
OKC’s infamous “pindown” actually gives KD the ball in one of his most dangerous spots on the floor, and in terms of Oklahoma City’s set plays, this one is rather efficient. The problem with the play is it’s the only play the Thunder ran in clutch situations last season:
It didn’t take long to find the same play from last year’s playoffs. Tony Allen knows the play is coming, and even though Serge Ibaka sets a good screen on Allen, he forces KD high enough to take a contested mid-range jumper. These simplistic plays don’t work as well in the playoffs against good defenses as they do in meaningless situations in the regular season.
It wasn’t “fair” to fire Brooks when the Thunder decided to do it. The Thunder missed more than a season’s worth of games from its three highest paid players (88 games, in total), which is enough to force any team – even the Spurs – to fall short of preseason expectations. But Oklahoma City isn’t firing Brooks based on what he did this season – the 2014-2015 season was probably one of Brooks’s best coaching performances in his seven-year coaching stint – the team decided to relieve him of his duties because of how the team looked when everyone was healthy.
If the win total was the only measuring stick in the NBA, then Kevin McHale would be a better coach than Gregg Popovich, Randy Wittman would be forever loved in Washington and Brad Stevens would be looked at as just an average coach. With so many tools at our disposal, it’s lazy to look at the finished product to make a final decision without considering everything that happened beforehand. Brooks had many moments that make Thunder fans reminisce with tears of joy, and those are the moments that’ll make him a fantastic candidate for Orlando or any other rebuilding team. However, his days in Oklahoma City are over as a new man will be looked at to lead the Thunder to the promised land.