Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
As Oklahoma City fought its way back to respectability in the third quarter against the Orlando Magic, I wondered, “Is this the Magic just going through the motions or are the Thunder playing their hearts out again like in Utah?”
I think the answer is a little of both.
Orlando had no need to keep up the intensity with a 30 point cushion, but some teams quit when down like that. The Thunder didn’t. They used the little light the Magic gave them and capitalized, outscoring Orlando 29-16 in the third cutting the Magic lead to 16. Orlando put up 71 points in the first half but then just 38 in the second. Of course, it wasn’t enough as the Magic (5-3) thumped the Thunder (1-7) 109-92 Wednesday night.
But about four minutes into the game it was clear: Oklahoma City was not going to win the game. Some may have figured that out before the game even started with Kevin Durant sitting this one out with a sore ankle.
This was just an absolute mismatch. An absolute recipe for disaster. Dwight Howard doesn’t let anyone in his lane and if they happen sneak in, he promptly throws their shot into the second row. The Thunder stinks at shooting jumpers. I think you can put two and two together there. And on top of it Orlando’s big man was unstoppable offensively too. Just check out Howard’s stat line – 30 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks. Yeah, pretty good game.
Nothing to really second guess or breakdown tonight. OKC was just overmatched in every way. Of all the games to miss, this may have been the worst one for Durant, because he’s really the one guy that can hit a consistent jumper.
A new-look Robert Swift actually played Howard relatively well. Swift blocked him twice and “sort” of slowed him down. Swift entered earlier (about eight minutes left in the first) and played his most minutes (18), pulling down seven boards and netting three. In a way, Big Robert’s haircut might have been the highlight of the night.
Potential reasons Big Rob cut his do:
- Somebody on the canal mistook him for Ronald McDonald
- He kept getting it caught in the rim.
- He thought a haircut might help his image.
- Too many people were getting him confused with a mascot.
- He felt it was affecting his upside.
- He actually saw himself in a mirror.
Jeff Green did his darndest to pick up the slack for Durant as Green had 25 and 10. And he kept up the good three point shooting hitting three of six. Maybe he’s coming around. I hate to be the “next year” guy, but if he’s starting to get it and Durant is moving forward, then things may really start to look up soon.
Russell Westbrook went 3-19 from the field but actually played better than those numbers indicate. I counted at least three shots that were tossed by Howard. So I guess, “potentially” those could have went in. But he made some nice passes in the lane once he figured out he couldn’t score over Superman. And how freakishly athletic is Westbrook? He really can go up with anyone. He has the ability. He just needs to put it together and he could be special.
And is it just me, or does Desmond Mason fade on every single jumpshot? I’m no jumpshot technique expert, but maybe that’s why he struggles so much with the jay. Maybe.
When teams are as young and inexperienced as the Thunder, games like this can potentially happen every night. Things start to snowball, you get overwhelmed by the other teams sheer talent and you’re in a 20 point hole before you know you tipped off. But the bright side is with a team this young and inexperienced, improvement happens at a rapid rate so by the end of the year these guys may be totally different than this. They’ll limit the hurried bad shots. Limit the dumb transition turnovers. Limit the feeble shots into the chest of the best shot blocker in the world.
Tomorrow off and then to the east coast for a couple games starting with the Running D’Antoni’s as OKC takes on the Knicks (5-3) Friday night in Madison Square Garden.
Orlando Magic (4-3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (1-6)
Wednesday, November 12
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CST
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
Oklahoma City returns home tonight to take on another singular nickname team, the Orlando Magic. The matchup problems are obvious – who is going to defend Dwight Howard?
Howard is an absolute animal in the paint and on the glass. With really the best guy that can match him physically and athletically out (Chris Wilcox) someone will have to fill that void. Nick Collison? Nah. Johan Petro? No thanks. Robert Swift? Yes sir.
Who knows if The Robert can defend Howard. Swift is no one near as athletic as Howard and probably not as strong. But Swift does have a size advantage and honestly, this is a great opportunity to show what the big guy can do and where he’s at physically. Expect more minutes from him – I’m guessing about 20-25.
And let me tell you something about The Robert – I hope he turns out to be a star because I desperately want him to be my favorite player. There’s nothing more that would satisfy my soul than to strut with a “Swift 31″ jersey on my back. But if he doesn’t pan out, a “Swift 31″ is likely to be headed straight to the Straight Cash Homey Hall of Fame.
In order to win… the Thunder will have to contain Howard and keep him off the glass – as much as possible. Kevin Durant lit the scoreboard for 37 Monday night, but hasn’t scored more than 20 at home. Hopefully, feeling a little bit of momentum from Monday, Durant can light the lamp like OG&E. But while KD scoring a bunch of points is needed for a win, he has to get some support from someone. Whether that’s Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook or someone else, somebody has to provide some supplementary scoring.
Here’s some perfect analysis from Third Quarter Collapse: “The Magic might be able to let Durant go off. They have no other reliable scorers. Of course, speedy rookie point guard Russell Westbrook is the sort of player who would light-up the Magic in the past, but he’s shooting poorly (32.4% from the field) to start the season. However, he seems to be the most likely Thunder player, other than Durant, to have a monster game. I’m afraid that speaks more to the Thunder’s talent than to the Magic’s defense, however.”
Tonight, the goal should be win or lose, four quarters of consistent basketball. No five minute stretch of no field goals and 10 consecutive missed shots. No 13-0 run for the Magic. No collapse in the final three minutes if the game is within reach. Focus on playing a full 48 and if you still lose, that’s alright, Orlando is a pretty darn good club. I know some think moral victories are dumb, but learning to win is something every team has to do. For a squad as young as the Thunder, you build from the ground up and you better take something with you every night.
Joe (Thunderguru.com) and I decided to try our hand at the other medium of sports blogs – podcasting. We’re not professionals and don’t claim to be slick on the mic, but it was fun to put together and try out. If it’s a hit, we’ll definitely do more. But keep in mind, this is the first one so it may be a little rough around the edges. And also, keep in mind we recorded Tuesday, November 11, so anything referred to as “tomorrow” or “last night” should be considered from there. Also, feel free to email questions or post questions in the comments and Joe and I would love to answer some in the next podcast.
In today’s episode:
- Discussion of what went right and what went wrong Monday night’s loss in Indiana
- Breakdown of the Thunder’s offensive struggles
- Should Russell Westbrook be starting?
- The potential impact of Robert Swift
The season is young, but there’s no hiding the fact that the Oklahoma City offense has struggled. Last night against the Pacers, the offense broke out a bit with 51 first half points (season high) and 97 points, but still shot only 38 percent from the field. The 97 points matches the highest total of the season and is only the second time in seven games the Thunder has topped 90.
Currently, the Thunder sits second to last in points per game (88.0) and dead last field goal percentage (40.4).
So what’s the deal? Why isn’t OKC scoring more and shooting better?
Brilliant, captain obvious answer: They aren’t good shooters.
The best teams know their strengths and weaknesses. A definite weakness for OKC is jump shooting. Other than Kevin Durant, there’s really no consistent jump shooter. Jeff Green has shot the ball from the outside a little better, but he’s not consistent. Earl Watson gets the gold star for shots that make you go, “That better effing go in. You just don’t take that only three seconds into the shot clock unless you make it. Which you didn’t.”
Compare OKC to the league’s best shooting team, the Phoenix Suns. Right now, the Suns are shooting over 51 percent from the field. First, it helps to have great shooters like they do. Steve Nash may be the purest shooter in the league, period. Second, it helps to have a dominant inside game with Amar’e Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal (especially when the bulk of those two’s shots are dunks). But most, it helps to be taking efficient shots.
(Disclaimer: Here comes a bunch of numbers.)
Through seven games, Oklahoma City is shooting an embarrassing 30.8 percent on jumpshots (118 for 383). That’s not good. For a comparison, the Suns are shooting 42 percent on jumpers and the league’s second best shooting team, the Utah Jazz, are at 48.5 percent. So that’s one aspect – OKC really just can’t hit a jumper with much regularity.
But what about the shots you’re supposed to make? The ones NBA players should be able to complete at a high rate? Well, the Suns are shooting over 72 percent on high percentage shots (layups and dunks), the Jazz 64.3 percent and the Thunder 59.9 percent. Not too bad, but not that great considering how poor OKC shoots the jay.
But here’s where it gets a little revealing – Oklahoma City is averaging 28.8 high percentage shots (HP) per game, while taking 54.7 jumpshots per game. It’s starting to make sense why they only shoot 40 percent. Phoenix takes just 22.8 high percentage shots a game (remember, making 72 percent of them), but also takes 47 jumpers per game. Utah takes 31.3 HP shots per game and 46.6 jumpers. So OKC is taking about seven or eight more low percentage shots a game than the two best shooting teams in the league. (A few more stats just because I spent the time calculating them: 32.2 percent of the Suns’ shots are HP, 40.1 percent for the Jazz and 34.5 percent for OKC.)
Phoenix converts such a high rate of their HP shots, meaning their high percent tries are typically better looks or they just plain have another dimension other than taking the jumper, whereas OKC does not. Both the Suns and the Jazz have post players that can cause defenses to sink into the lane a bit. Both have post players that can draw double-teams and open up wide-open kickouts. Right now, the Thunder has none of that. I don’t have the stat, but I would guess that guard Russell Westbrook has provided a substantial portion of the layup or dunk attempts.
Enter Robert Swift. As solid as he’s played in super limited minutes in two games, he gives us hope. Current starting center Johan Petro prefers to play outside of the lane and shoot 16 footers. Nick Collison shoots a lot of jumpers and gets most his points in the lane from put-backs. Swift is a true seven-foot post player with great hands and a solid inside game. If he can get healthy and get in solid game-shape, he could be something that helps this offense. OKC can dump to the post, kick out and shoot. Or Swift could potentially score from there.
The Thunder’s offense has been simple thus far: Set an on-the-ball screen, roll off; if the shot isn’t there, repeat. Or pass to Kevin Durant and hope he nails an 18-footer over and outstretched defender. There’s not a lot of ball movement. There’s rarely more than four passes. There’s not much slashing and penetrating. There’s not much motion or rotation. All symptoms of a poor scoring team.
Also, the Suns average 71 shots per game. Oklahoma City averages 83. And that’s the fast, free-wheeling Suns we’re talking about. But the fact is, Phoenix is much more selective and takes higher percentage shots. The Hornets take 76 per game, Utah 78 and the Lakers 81. One guess as to why OKC is taking so many more shots is the fact that its played from behind in all but two games and has been trying to catch up, therefore hoisting shots earlier in the shot clock. The Thunder takes 44 percent of their shots 10 seconds or less into the shot clock. That sounds like there’s a lot of “settling for a jumper.” (Likewise, the Suns are taking 31 percent 10 seconds or less in and the Jazz 34 percent.)
I really have no idea what we learned here today other than obviously, teams shoot better when dunking or laying it in. So when you shoot just 30.8 percent when pulling up outside the lane, maybe that should tell you to take more high percentage shots. Don’t settle for a 22 foot jumper six seconds into the shot clock. Utilize the post and see if it opens up more open looks. The offense isn’t this bad, it’s just not running like it’s supposed to. Good thing there’s 75 more games to figure it out.