Allow me to state the obvious: The Thunder are turning the ball over way too much. Not many middle school teams manage to turn the ball over 23 times in a game.
Giving a team 20 more shots than you in any game is a recipe for trouble. It doesn’t take John Hollinger to figure out that more shots equals more chances to score. The turnovers are ugly and do the worst thing — they take away an opportunity for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or James Harden to attempt a shot, three of the most dynamic and efficient offensive players in the league. Every player on the team has acknowledged them as an issue and Scott Brooks has said that they have to cut them down. He said this on Sacramento radio yesterday (via Sports Radio Interviews):
“I think that is one of the strengths of our team that we are not satisfied,” Brooks said. “I know I love our guys and I tell them that every day but I love the fact that they know they are not as good as they’re going to be if they keep working. We turn the ball over way too many times and defensively we give up too many offensive rebounds. Those are things we have talked about and will continue to talk about. We have to get better at those things.”
The Thunder are 30th in the league in turnovers per game at 17.0 a game. They’ve given it away a total of 369 times. They’ve had five games of 20 or more turnovers. They’re 30th in turnover ratio (27.5 percent of OKC’s possessions end in a turnover). It’s a problem.
But here’s a potentially misleading stat, but a stat all the same: In OKC’s 20 wins, they average 17.2 turnovers per game. In their six losses, 16.3. I’m not entirely sure it’s fair to say turnovers are directly tied to the Thunder’s six losses. In a couple games (Wizards, Kings), absolutely. But in others (Blazers, Mavericks), the Thunder didn’t turn it over much and lost because of poor offensive execution and a few defensive lapses.
Again, turnovers are a problem. No doubt about it. But reigning them in isn’t the magic cure for the Thunder. OKC has lost games where they turned it over only 10 times. There’s a fine line the Thunder have to toe between playing loose and free with the ball while also taking care of it and saying no occasionally to that forced pass or reckless drive at the basket.
But that median is a Thunder team that might be darn near unbeatable. Obviously that’s the goal and it’s evidence that this team still has room to grow. Which is good news. Being a finished product in February isn’t the idea. It’s about working to get better by April and May. That’s what the Mavericks did. They fixed their issues and played their very best basketball for a month and a half and won a trophy.
All elite teams have flaws. The Bulls struggle offensively at times. The Heat’s fourth quarter offense is stagnant and stale. Go down the line and you can pick out one, two, three or maybe four big things every team needs to improve on. But that’s why the playoffs don’t start today. It’s about the team that best corrects those issues by playoff time.
Again, again, turnovers are a problem. A big one. But with this Thunder team you want them playing confident. You want them trying to make a big pass or a big play. Otherwise you get a game like against Dallas where the Thunder scored just 87 points but turned it over only 13 times. Or like in the loss to the Blazers where the Thunder gave it away only 10 times but only scored 40 points in the second half. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in two of the worst offensive games the Thunder played that their turnovers were down. I know this sounds crazy, but the Thunder might be a bit better when they’re turning it over a little because that means they’re playing fast and free. Like I said, that middle ground is the ideal place, but the Thunder just don’t work in a slow-down halfcourt basketball game.
The Thunder are 27th in assists per game at just 18.1 a game. Routinely we’ll see games of 13 or 14 assists from the Thunder and yet they’re fourth in offensive efficiency and third in points per game. Part of the reason is because OKC has just too much offensive firepower not to be good. Between Durant, Westbrook and Harden, the Thunder can’t help but be a good offensive team. They do it without moving the ball much, but instead creating for themselves. That leads to a guy getting caught in traffic a lot and getting the ball taken away.
But I do think Russell Westbrook shoulders most of the blame. He’s the point guard and he’s by far the worst offender. He’s tied with Deron Williams for most turnovers per game (4.3, LeBron is third at 4.1, Durant fifth at 3.7), and has turned it over almost six times a game this month. He’s had 12 games of five or more turnovers and seven with seven or more. That’s an issue and something that needs fixing. You want Westbrook playing aggressive and in that attack dog manner, but he has to get things under control. He has to value the ball and quit giving it away with such ease.
There’s a certain amount of frustration that comes with losing and in a game like last night’s pointing directly at the sins of turning it over is where you start. Because of it, I saw people calling for Scott Brooks’ head, saying that some kind of personell decision needed to be made or that OKC isn’t championship worthy. Losing stinks and when it happens, there’s typically a reason. When you’re a team as good as the Thunder, you don’t often lose when you played really good. You normally lose because you beat yourself. So there typically is something to complain about.
Here’s the reality: There will be complaints throughout a season no matter how successful the team is. Nobody goes 82-0 (or 66-0) so there will be things to nitpick about, things to gripe about, things to argue about. There will be complaining, unless, the Thunder win the NBA title. Unless that happens, there will be something to harp on. That’s just the way it works. Because if they don’t win, obviously something held them back.
And right now, that thing really appears to be their ability to give the ball to the other team.