Ok, stop laughing. I am not talking about next year, but about a long term approach to team building that puts the Thunder into the upper crust of NBA teams competing for the golden trophy. The concept is very simplistic, but in some regards that’s the beauty of it. Keep it simple right? Easy to understand is always better than complex for me.
The idea is first that we have to put players on the team that can get it done. This isn’t as easy as it might seem. There is a lot to team building. You have to get pieces that fit, that compliment each other, that produce as a team, and that can grow together to form a multi-year run at the title. Few teams have been able to “buy” a championship, but it has been done. Sam Presti hasn’t shown any inclination to build a team through a series of big time free agent signings or trades, but he isn’t beyond trying to pluck that special player that is the missing ingredient (Tyson Chandler…). So I am concentrating on players that are in the nucleus now, and the upcoming draft.
I borrowed the concept from a paragraph or two in a blog post over at Hornets 24/7. The way the author (Ryan Schwan) suggests nearly every team that wins a championship has their team structured is around the concept of “A” and “B” scorers (here with reference to the Hornet’s roster):
“it seems to me that there are two ways to contend for a title in the NBA: Field a team with two Class A scorers, and surround them with specialists(see Shaq-Kobe or Shaq-Wade, 2nd Three-Peat Bulls) or field a team with one Class A scorer, and two Class B scorers, then fill in around the edges.(Ginobili-Duncan-Parker, Jordan-Pippen-Grant, Dantley-Thomas-Dumars, Hamilton-Billups-Sheed) The Hornets are currently built around a Class A scorer(Paul) and one Class B scorer(West), and one scorer(Peja) who they hoped would be Class B, but has fallen to Class C. To me, they either need to find another class B scorer on the cheap or try and upgrade their Class B scorer to a Class A one. The question is, however, who do I classify as a Class A or Class B Scorer? Class A are those players who are not only efficient scorers(points per shot of 1.3 or better) but whom retain that efficiency while taking around a dozen shots or more. Class B are those scorers who average between 1.2 and 1.3 points per shot, while taking the same number of shots per game.”
I crunched some of the numbers from recent successful teams and it’s a decent starting point for team success.
Last year’s Boston Celtics had the big three of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and a nice blend of role players. Pierce was an A+ scorer at 1.42 pps, Garnett was an A scorer at 1.35 pps and Ray Allen was a B+ scorer at 1.29 pps. Two A’s, a B and a nice set of role players. This season the Celtics couldn’t get past Orlando, but Garnett’s class A offense was missing. Pierce was still phenomenal at 1.40 pps, Allen stepped up to 1.37 pps, but Garnett fell off during the regular season and was barely a class B scorer at 1.21 pps. In the playoffs without Garnett, Rondo and Big Baby Davis absorbed most of Garnett’s usual touches, but it wasn’t enough. Davis was a B scorer at 1.26 pps on 12.5 fga/gm, but Rondo was not so good at 1.05 pps on 15.9 fga/gm. They still had an A scorer and two B scorers, but they had Rondo shooting like he was an A scorer when he was in the D range.
Since the Thunder were one of the poorest scoring teams in the league last season, this formula has some application (we’ll talk about defense later). The points per shot calculation is as simple as pie. How many points a player scores divided by field goal attempts. It is a measure of offensive efficiency. Many players out there put up a lot of points, but at what cost? Volume scorers need a lot of shots to get their points, and hurt efficiency. Each team in a basketball gets a limited number of shots, so to waste them hampers the team’s chances of winning. Players that are class A or B scorers in the NBA are such because they either get most of their offense close to the basket (think Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’Neal), or they shoot and make a lot of threes (Ray Allen, Danny Granger), or they are good finishers who get to the line a lot and hit the freebies (Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin, Brandon Roy), or a combination of many of those things (Dwayne Wade). But to be considered an A or B scorer, a player has to be able to do it while being a main cog of the offense for the team. He has to do it while shooting a dozen or so times per game. That’s where the list begins to shrink. There are currently 29 players that are class A scorers in the league (at least 1.3 points per shot + > 11.2 shots per game).
The Thunder are blessed to have a bona fide class A scorer. A player that puts the ball in the hole and puts points on the board (at least 1.3 points per shot), while shooting a lot and being the focus of the opponent’s defense most nights. Kevin doesn’t currently shoot that many threes in the Thunder offense, but he is 7th in the NBA in field goal attempts, and 10th in the NBA in free throw attempts and he hits his freebies at 86.3%, just outside of the top 20 in the NBA. He does this in his second season as a pro, so there is lots of optimism.
But according to the formula posited by Ryan Schwan, we need either two more class B scorers (and the right mix of bench support) or another class A scorer. A quick peek at the men on the Thunder who shoot the ball frequently enough to be considered class A or class B scorers:
Durant: 1.34 pps-18.8 fga/gm
Green: 1.20 pps-13.7 fga/gm
Westbrook: 1.14 pps-13.4 fga/gm
Jeff Green qualifies (just barely) as a class B scorer in his second season (pps of 1.20-1.29). There is obviously good reason to think that his game will continue to improve along with his efficiency, and move him up closer to the ranks of a class A scorer, but for now he ranks out as a legitimate complimentary piece. Russell however doesn’t qualify. He is shooting a lot, but at 1.14 pps, he rates out as very average at best, and not somebody who should be shooting 13 times a game. Again, he was a rookie, and learning a new position, and there is hope that he will refine his efficiency.
So we need another class A scorer, or a solid class B scorer to pair with this group to move into more elite company. Let’s take a look at the candidates currently on the roster:
Krstic: 1.09 pps
Weaver: 1.21 pps
Mason: 1.03 pps
Collison: 1.36 pps
Wilkins: 1.02 pps
Thabo: 1.11 pps
Livingston: 1.19 pps
D.J.White: 1.24 pps
Collison qualifies as a class A scorer based on his points per shot of 1.36 (a team high), but he only shot the ball 6 times per game. Even if he got starters minutes, he would average about 8.4 shots per 36 minutes. Nick gets nearly all of his offense close to the basket with putbacks, dunks, cuts and very basic post moves. Having watched him his whole career, it’s a safe bet that his offensive efficiency would suffer if he forced it enough to get up to the 11 or 12 shots per game threshold.
D.J. White might be the best option of the players currently on the roster based on his efficiency and skill set. His pps of 1.24 is nicely in the middle of the class B range, although he only played a few games due to injury. He shows solid stroke facing the basket out to midrange and he has the tools around the basket. The problem is that he plays the same position as our two other class B candidates Jeff Green and Nick Collison. So to give D.J. the touches and minutes to allow him to reach the threshold would be taking away from Jeff Green.
Kyle Weaver is an efficient enough scorer to qualify as a class B candidate, but I don’t think you could get him to shoot enough. He’s extremely deferential on the court, and if he became a focus of the defense, his efficiency would definitely suffer. He is better suited to being one of the complimentary players.
So according to the formula, we need to re-arrange the pieces a bit, and get some class A or class B scoring from someplace else.
In part 2 I will look at some possible players we might want to look at in the draft with an eye towards the class A or B scorers.