The Thunder haven’t been good offensively so far this year. In fact, they’ve been bad. (How’s that for intelligent basketball analysis?) I don’t just mean statistically (last in assists and AST%), but just in a basketball sense. The offense has turned into an episode of Improv Everywhere. There’s no scheme. There’s no cohesion. It’s mostly one-on-one and a total reliance on shots going in.
Oklahoma City isn’t running an offense conducive to producing open looks or easy baskets. It’s an offense based on shot-making and while the Thunder has a bunch of talented offensive players, even the best ones don’t hit much higher than 45 percent of their attempts.
Not that the Thunder had an excellent offense last season because truthfully, the Thunder won mostly on the defensive end, but what’s the problem right now? Why does the Thunder go through stretches of four or five minutes without a basket? Why are they missing 11 straight from the field? Why are they scoring 37 points in a half? Let’s look at a number of possessions from the Celtics game Sunday night.
Play 1: Westbrook and Krstic pick-and-pop
Really, there’s not a ton wrong with this. It’s something OKC loves to run and it’s something that’s often pretty successful. When the Thunder offense needs to get going, the Westbrook-Krstic pick-and-pop is kind of a decent fall-back plan. The problem I have here is that it comes with 15 still on the shot clock and after just one pass. Plus, it’s not like it’s a “you’ve got to take this” look for Krstic. It’s contested and it results in an empty possession.
Play 2: Durant tries to do it all himself
The funny thing about having a guy like Kevin Durant is that he’s an offense all to himself. You don’t really mind when he forces a shot because most of the time, even a forced shot from Durant is better than an open look for Thabo Sefolosha.
But for a team struggling to find some continuity and scheme, a play where Durant brings the ball up, dribbles and takes a contested long 2-pointer with 14 on the shot clock without one pass isn’t a good possession. I wouldn’t classify it as a bad shot, but it’s certainly not a good one.
Play 3: KD does do it himself
I stuck this one in here to make the point that a lot of times, good offense comes because a good player made a shot. This is truly a horrible offensive possession. OKC tries to free Durant after the ball is inbounded to Eric Maynor. Krstic sets a weak screen and KD never gets separation. Maynor stays locked on to Durant and finally gets a pass to him. There’s no spacing, no movement without the ball and no place for Durant to go other than heave a step-back jumper.
He swishes it and that’s the point. We all forget this possession and chalk it up as a good play simply because KD knocked it down. That’s largely what the Thunder bases the offense around is Durant, Westbrook and Green hitting shots. If KD clanks this one, this one looks like a bad set. It was a tough shot, contested and came off one pass and a bad screen. Except Durant made it, which makes everything OK.
Play 4: Thabo from the corner
This is the worst possession of the game in my mind. The Thunder is down 11 and needs a basket. More importantly, they need a good look.
Maynor brings the ball up and wants to go to the wing for Westbrook. Ray Allen doesn’t work very hard, but denies the pass. So option one is shut down. Maynor turns to do the same to Durant on the other wing. Paul Pierce cuts off that option by just standing there. So 12 seconds off the shot clock have been entirely wasted without anything productive happening. Basically, now Maynor has to try and create something by himself. Problem is, nobody is really moving and all there is, is dribbling.
So Maynor goes to Thabo in the corner. And guess what Thabo does? He hoists a contested 3 with nine on the 24. To recap: 12 wasted seconds of dribbling without progress. Then more dribbling. Then one pass to the 3-point line to a bad 3-point shooter who decides to take a contested 3-point shot with nine seconds left to make something happen. I wanted to drink a gallon of paint after that possession.
Play 5: Westbrook shoots from 20
Again, this one is an example. This was an open look. This is really a shot I have no problem with Westbrook taking. He’s open, he’s got room and with the way the Thunder offense has been operating, this might be the best look OKC gets in this trip. Kind of like how a baseball coach might say to swing at the first pitch if it’s a strike because it might be the best pitch you see that at-bat.
If the shot goes down, good work team. But since it doesn’t, it’s yet another trip without a pass and a long 2-pointer with 17 on the shot clock. Westbrook’s job as a point guard is to get his team into quality offensive sets and make sure each trip is valued. I can’t imagine Rajon Rondo shooting a jumper with 17 on the shot clock without a pass, but I can totally see Derrick Rose, Deron Williams or Chris Paul do it if they’re open. So again, not a bad shot but considering where the Thunder has been offensively, it becomes one.
Play 6: Durant is forced to force one
I don’t know why OKC is so in love with the iso-post-up sets with KD. Against the Blazers, the Thunder ran that nearly every trip down. I don’t even know if it’s a call or if it’s simply just something to get the ball to Durant to let him go to work.
The Thunder goes to KD and after one pass, a shot goes up. Not a horrible look, but where’s the curling and cutting from KD? I’m not opposed to these isolation plays because Durant is great at scoring over an isolated defender, but in terms of an offense working as a unit, this is just one guy trying to go against five.
Thing is, when OKC made a run in the third quarter, honestly, the offense didn’t really change. Shots just went in. Westbrook knocked down some jumpers, Durant hit a couple deep ones and they both got to the line. Maybe there was a change in their aggression and focus, but in terms of the offense, it was essentially the same stuff.
That might be where OKC’s offensive plan is though. Maybe Scott Brooks is content with playing good defense and then hoping his talented offensive players make plays. That can work to some degree – for instance, in Portland – but in most others, you’ll lose against good teams. Against bad teams, Durant, Westbrook and Green can carry the Thunder. But against teams where scoring is more difficult, OKC needs an offense that creates scoring opportunities for all five guys on the floor.
I can’t say if I think this will get worked out in terms of the Thunder running better offense, but I do think the team will play together a bit more as we go on. The team improved offensively last season and maybe they just need some time to calm down and start playing as a group rather than a one-pass-and-shoot unit as they are now.