When people start talking about winning streaks, it makes me nervous. It just always seems that they come to an end right when everyone notices them.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com took a closer look at the Thunder’s last 11 games and what’s went so right.
First, the offense has been ridiculous. OKC’s scoring 115.9 points per 100 possessions during the last 11. (OKC’s first in offensive efficiency at 111.3/100.) Interesting thing about the offense though: The Thunder are actually playing a little bit slower right now than usual. In the first 13 games, OKC played at a 95.5 pace. Over the last 11, 93.5.
I asked Scott Brooks about why the team is playing slower following the game against the Kings. His answer:
“I really don’t understand it all together, the pace. But I know we play a style of play, whether it’s a couple paces slower than last year, I’m not sure. But I like what we’re doing. We’re more efficient. We’re shooting a higher percentage collectively as a team. And that’s where we go. We just want a good shot every time down court … I still think we can play faster, I like to play faster. I do like our pace. Transition is off of misses and blocks and steals and long rebounds. I still think we can push. Those wings need to push and get themselves into the corner and to establish better pace. But we talk about it and hopefully as the season goes along we get a little better.”
My takeaway from that: I don’t think Brooks understands what pace is (it’s the average number of possessions for a team over 48 minutes). But the fact remains, he prefers the Thunder to play fast. Not quick shots, but good shots. OKC’s idea of “playing with pace” is in transition — running off steals, long rebounds and turnovers.
Regardless of it, the Thunder are playing fantastically efficient offense — as Brooks noted — while playing a bit slower. Maybe coincidental, maybe not. As Schuhmann notes, the biggest difference in OKC’s offense has been the quell of turnovers.
The Thunder’s offensive improvement has been about taking care of the ball and crashing the glass. During the streak, they’ve turned the ball over 2.6 fewer times per 100 possessions than they did in their first 13 games. And their offensive rebounding percentage is up from 23 percent to 31 percent. Combine the two and they’re getting about six more shots per 100 possessions.
That could have something to do with playing a bit slower. Possibly not. Fact is, really the best way to stop the Thunder from scoring — other than just praying they miss — is to prevent them from getting a shot up. With offensive studs like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin, there’s just too much firepower to hold down. But you can’t score if you don’t shoot, so turning OKC over before they have that chance is the best way to lock them down. That goes for anyone, obviously, but more so for the Thunder.
(Side note: I’ve said it before, but maybe more than his assist numbers, Westbrook deserves a heap of credit for running the best offense in basketball. He’s managing three very good scorers in Durant, Ibaka and Martin, while still feeding his own need to score. He’s playing wonderful basketball this season, outside of his own stellar numbers.)
A few other notes about this winning streak:
The Thunder haven’t beat marquee teams during it, having played just three teams on the plus side of .500 — Pacers, Nets and Spurs. The combined record for the 11 teams they beat is just 119-154. And eight of the 11 have come at home.
Eight of the 11 have also been by double-digits though. And the Thunder are winning the games by an average of 14.4 points, which is very impressive. So while the schedule hasn’t been that challenging, the Thunder are consistently dominating, which isn’t easy to do in the NBA.
Obviously it gets tougher in the near future. Tonight’s game against the Hawks, then a 24-hour turnaround to take on the Wolves in Minnesota. And then a Christmas trip to Miami for a rematch against the Heat. Escaping this stretch with the streak intact won’t be easy. If it ends, it’ll probably have a lot more to do with the upcoming opponents and less about that we’re talking about it.