Yesterday, I wrote about how the Thunder has several stars that the team can rely on to carry them to a win. Just yesterday, Russell Westbrook and Paul George scored 27 points each, and Westbrook specifically hit some clutch free throws to seal the 132-126 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. But even with playmaking stars, every good team has role players who show up when needed most.
Oklahoma City has a number of players that could fall into this category, but when it comes down to it, there are three players that could easily be argued as the most important member of the Thunder headed into the playoffs. Yesterday, I argued the case for Dennis Schröder. Today, I’ll make the case for starting shooting guard Terrance Ferguson.
Terrance Ferguson has had somewhat of a roller coaster season—maybe a kiddie coaster, but a roller coaster, nonetheless.
To start the year, Thunder fans were obviously disappointed that Andre Roberson was not yet ready to return from injury and resume his role in the starting lineup. With Roberson out, Billy Donovan gave the spot to Terrance Ferguson, a 20-year-old in just his second season of NBA basketball.
Ferguson struggled to start the year. Through his first 7 games, he was averaging a mere 3.7 points per game, and he made just 1 of his 14 attempts from 3. Fans wanted him gone—benched or traded—and even though the Thunder had picked up a couple of wins after an 0-4 start, it looked like the defense was going to struggle until Roberson was able to return to the lineup.
Then a sudden shift occurred. Slowly, Terrance Ferguson started knocking down shots. First, it was a 3-5 (60.0%) performance from 3 in a 134-111 win over the Washington Wizards on November 2nd. Then it was a 4-9 (44.4%) outing in a 98-80 win over the Houston Rockets on November 8th.
As it turns out, Russell Westbrook had met up with Ferguson following one of the losses in the 0-4 start. It was late, after midnight, but Westbrook essentially told Ferguson to stop worrying about his shot and just let it fly.
Over the course of the next few months, Ferguson saw his numbers improve. Through November and December Ferguson was only averaging 5 points per game, but his 3-point shot had improved steadily. In the month of December, he shot 36.7% from deep. And not only had his shot improved, but his defense was also coming around as well.
January was his best month yet as his scoring increased to 10.8 points per game on 49.5% from the field and 47.9% from three. As a result, he was playing nearly 10 minutes more per game. He continued his strong performance through the All-Star Break, but then he struggled for a while after All-Star Weekend.
Like the rest of his teammate after All-Star Weekend, Ferguson’s numbers dropped, and his role on the court was being questioned once again. The entire month of March was his worst shooting month of the season since October, and it looked like he was slowing down at the worst possible time.
With Andre Roberson ruled out for the remainder of the season, Terrance Ferguson is the starter for good, and there is no time for him to be in a slump. After a pretty pathetic March, where he shot just 29.9% from three, he seems to have turned the corner over the last few games.
Last Tuesday at home against the Los Angeles Lakers, Ferguson scored 15 points in just 22 minutes, knocking down 3 of his 7 attempts from three. Then yesterday in Minnesota against the Timberwolves, he had 11 points in 26 minutes as he shot 2-3 from deep. 8 of those points came in the first 4 minutes of the game.
The Thunder does not need a lot of out Terrance Ferguson. He has proven himself throughout the season that he is a capable defender—not quite on Andre Roberson’s level, but still solid. On the offensive end, he is not going to go out and drop 20 points on a regular basis. The good news is that OKC does not need him to drop 20 points. If Ferguson can stand in the corner and hit open threes, or even pump fake and drive, then he’s already a step ahead of where Roberson was after years of being in the starting line up.
While Terrance Ferguson is obviously the least-noticed of the Thunder’s five starters, and though he rarely gets credit for the little things that he does, specifically his defense, he very well could be the Thunder’s most important player headed into the playoffs.
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