PACE : #13 95.0 OFFENSE: #4 108.6 DEFENSE: #18 104.0
The improvement of the Oklahoma City Thunder through the last few years has been amazing. We all know that their roster is full of talented young players, but going from a 23-59 record in the 2008/09 season to a 55-27 record and a conference final in just two seasons was something that very few people were expecting, including people within the organization.
Offensively, the team was the 4th most efficient in the league, but the way they achieved such efficiency wasn’t in the most orthodox way possible, as they were just 13th in the league in terms of eFG% with 50,8%. So, how were they so efficient last season in the offense? The answer is through the free throw line! They were the 2nd best team in the league with more free throw attempts with 29.3 per game and the 1st team in the league in FT% with 82,4%! That was possible with the big contribute of both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who were in the top 10 of players with more FT attempts last season. Durant was 2nd with 8.7 FT attempts per game (only Howard has more attempts than him), while Westbrook was 8th with 7.7 FT attempts per game. This explains quite well how aggressive are the Thunder in their offensive movements, always trying to get easy points from the line.
Kevin Durant was the scoring champion with 27.7ppg last season and there are people who already consider him as the best player in the league. Not so fast, please! In comparison with the previous season, Durant regressed in FG%, 3PTS% and FT%! He shot 46,2% from the field and that’s not enough for a player like him, especially considering his size, as a 6’9 player, Durant should look for better spots to shoot the ball and not continuing to insist to make himself a perimeter player. He shot just 3.6 FGA per game at the rim (vs 5.3 FGA per game in the previous season), 1.8 FGA per game from 3-9 feet and 2.2 FGA per game from 10-15 feet. This means that from his overall 19.7 FGA per game, about 61% of his attempted shots were from 16 feet or more! That was quite visible in the playoffs vs Memphis, when a 6 ft 4 Tony Allen was able to slow him down. In normal conditions in that matchup, Durant should have used his size advantage to punish Allen down low, but as he is so perimeter oriented, OKC struggled to beat MEM and was only able to do it in the 7th game of the series.
In order to be the best player in the league, Durant needs to develop his post up game! Besides that, every year on my previews, I criticize Durant’s A/TO ratio and this year is no exception to that. For a player who is constantly double teamed and has great hands and speed, Durant can’t finish a season with 2.7 APG and 2.8 TO per game!
Durant’s problem with the turnovers is amplified by the fact that Westbrook led the league last season in turnovers with 3.9 TO/game! During the playoffs, we saw the Thunder making innumerous mistakes down the stretch, but the team was bringing this track record from the regular season. Unlike Durant, Westbrook was able to improve his shooting numbers, with 44,2% FG and 33% 3PTS. These numbers aren’t exactly elite numbers, but at least he improved them in comparison to his first two seasons as a pro. So, in order for the team to improve even more, they need to be more careful in handling the ball.
The team’s frontcourt isn’t offensive minded at all. Perkins is worthless offensively and Ibaka is the only offensive threat in the frontcourt. Ibaka played more 10mpg last season in comparison with the previous season and he managed to finish the season with 54.3% FG, which is an acceptable number considering he attempted 7.5 shots per game. With a reliable mid-jumper, Ibaka may be a contender to have a breakout season.
Also stay tune for Harden, who is a contender for the 6th man award if he keeps improving!
Defensively, OKC stopped being an elite team, which is weird considering they had been 8th (101.6) in defensive efficiency in the previous season. Last season, the Thunder were just 18th (104.0) in this department and maybe because of that, the Thunder needed to go for the market and trade for Perkins.
So, the key question in here is to know if Perkins was an X factor on the defensive end, because if he wasn’t and due to his lack of offensive skills, he would be practically useless on the team. And the answer is yes! On February 25, OKC was allowing 102.27 ppg. But since Perkins joined the team, the Thunder allowed just 97.92 ppg, having the 2nd best mark of the league during this span, only worse than the Bulls, allowing almost less 5ppg! During the season, OKC was just 25th in the league in points in the paint allowed with 44.9 ppg. So, a full season with Perkins anchoring the paint will help the team in this department.
Westbrook and Durant should keep improving and with that, OKC will continue to be one of the best offensive teams in the league. The X factor will remain on the defensive end. If OKC is capable of showing the level of defense they started showing since Perkins joined the team, then OKC will surely be one of the major forces of the Western conference this season.