Stop me if you’ve heard this before (though seriously, please don’t, or else this entire article will also have to be stopped), but I couldn’t help but rewatch the playoff series against the Lakers off of my DVR (yes, I’m that guy) a few nights back and was genuinely surprised at just how viciously one glaring weakness of the Thunder came screaming into view:
“Man these guys really don’t execute on offense very well.”
From the steady flow of dribbling turnovers to the lack of intentional movements to open up good looks to the general sense of confusion and aimlessness on the floor, the biggest area of improvement I think the Thunder could see next season that could take them to that next level as a contender is offensive execution.
So let’s take a look at the three things that the Thunder really need to improve upon for the offense to go from average (and below average without Kevin Durant on the floor) to a Top 10 level for next year.
Reduce the turnovers
This is not just a Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant statement, though clearly both of them really, really need to start taking better care of the ball. The entire Thunder team needs to value the ball throughout the entire game as much as they would if it were the last 20 seconds.
Fortunately for the Thunder and their fans, I think the turnover issue will be resolved a bit organically since all of the Thunder players who primarily handle the ball off of the bench will no longer be rookies and those who start will no longer be sophomores. As most of us know, turnovers and poor shot selection are synonymous with the word “rookie” in the NBA and there seems to be no cure like good old experience for those specific maladies.
But I also think another cause of the turnover bug is the fact that a lot of times the Thunder’s offense just looked—directionless. Somebody would have the ball in their hands with about 6-8 seconds left on the clock and either a set that they had run had failed or they didn’t have the time to do something else so (usually Westbrook, KD or Green) would get the ball and, in a flustered state, have to force something to the basket or to a teammate that just had trouble written all over it from the get-go.
So maybe there wouldn’t be as many turnovers if the Thunder would fix this next issue…
Run an effective offensive system tailored to the Thunder’s talent
Now please don’t take this as me bashing Brooks and his “offensive system” outright last year because I honestly think he only asked of the Thunder what he knew they could handle and execute to a sufficient degree. But that just leads me to believe that Brooks didn’t think they could do a whole heck of a lot on offense last year.
But on the bright side of this, the reins were loosened a bit more and more as the season went on and the Thunder’s offensive performance and rating continued to improve along with that new-found freedom. Yet on the darker side, moments of confusion, bewilderment, and recklessness still abounded when the chains were lifted.
And for such an athletic team, the Thunder really didn’t start pushing the pace to an above average level last year until the very end of the season, which honestly only makes sense if you come to the conclusion that Brooks was too worried about the turnovers, quick decision making that’s needed and defensive lapses that all come with the territory of an up-tempo game until later in the year.
That’s why I think we’ll see a more diverse half-court set next year, especially with the continued maturation of Westbrook, and a much more wide open tempo in the full-court in order to maximize the Thunder’s athletic advantage and interchangeable roster that they’ll have over most teams.
But the reason I think we’ll see even more offensive diversity to assist in improving the Thunder offensive execution is because Brooks and everyone else knows that they absolutely must…
Stop relying on Kevin Durant so much on the offensive end
We all get it; Kevin Durant is probably the deadliest and most unstoppable offensive force in the NBA (sorry, LeBron, but until you add a post-up game or improve your shot-selection from beyond the arc, Durant has already eclipsed you because of his versatility and almost other-worldly feel for scoring. Seriously, can you think of a shot, even something like a floater, that Durant can’t hit?).
Durant is one of only two players in the world right now who make scoring look absolutely effortless (the other is Kobe Bryant, who still has the prettiest jumpshot in the league). Sure other guys can score and pour in buckets, but just look at them and you’ll be able to see that they’re having to try at it. KD just looks like he’s shooting HORSE with some buddies in his driveway half the time. And then the next thing you know he has 25 points and you can’t fathom how you could have missed all those buckets.
And yet that’s the problem with the Thunder’s offense: When you have a guy like that on your team, one who can pick up the scoring slack to an almost absurd degree, guys can start relying on him too much. What happens when that offensive force of nature has an off night or gets into foul trouble or runs into a defender is skillful and tenacious enough to keep him under his average?
Did you notice that I didn’t say “if” in that scenario? Because it’s not a matter of if Durant will have a below average scoring game at some point during the season, but when. And when that does happen, the Thunder have to know that even though their best player and the focus of their offense is having a rough night, that they still have the ability to execute and the confidence to know that they can all get a crucial bucket on the offensive end to win a ball game.
That’s why I want to see those three things happen next season on the offensive side of the ball for the Thunder, so they can go from a solid offensive team that’s built around an elite, one-of-a-kind scorer, to an elite offensive team anchored by an elite, one-of-a-kind scorer in the 2010-11 NBA season.
And don’t think it’s just semantics and there’s not a significant difference between those two types of teams. The difference is as wide as the gap between a playoff contender—and a championship.