Playing 6 games without Kevin Durant went about as well as you would’ve expected. Last year without Durant, the team was essentially a .500 ball club, and wouldn’t you know it, in the 6 games without Durant, the Thunder went 3-3 (that’s .500 for those who aren’t very good at math).
That being said, in a loss to the Knicks and a win over the Mavericks, signs of life emerged. Against the Knicks, despite being Coors Light cold (the Thunder shot 38% from the field and a pitiful 10% from three), the Thunder managed to stay in the game with solid defense (the Thunder forced 20 turnovers) and some major work on the offensive glass (21 offensive rebounds). Really, if not for Lance Thomas going nuclear (12 points on 5-9 shooting, including 2-3 from deep), the Thunder probably would’ve escaped. That solid performance was followed up by an even better effort against the Mavericks, which watched the Thunder shoot 52% from the field, and 41% from three en route to a 3-point win.
Those positive feelings carried over to a match-up with the upstart Utah Jazz, where in Kevin Durant’s long-awaited return from his sprained hamstring, Durant’s pyrotechnics led the Thunder to a blowout victory.
So, with the Thunder trending up, I thought it would be interesting to look at the win-loss offensive statistical trends now that we are 15 games in to the season. (I’ve spent too much time on defense, I need a break.)
- Passing: In the Thunder’s 9 wins, the team averages 23 assists, and an adjusted assist average of 31.4 (this stat includes not only true assists, but “assists” on shots that lead to free throws and “hockey” or secondary assists). In losses, those numbers drop to just 19 assists per game, and an adjusted assist average of 24. Curiously, however, the number of passes is roughly the same in wins and losses (average of 273 in wins and 268 in losses).
- Shooting: In wins, the Thunder have a TS% of 58% against 53% in losses. Regardless of the outcome, roughly the same percentage of points are on 2-point shots versus 3-point shots, the difference being that in wins, the Thunder rely less on the midrange game (17% of points scored are off midrange shots in wins but 19% in losses). Oddly, though, the Thunder shoot a higher percentage of pull-up jumpers when they win (25 per game) than when they lose (22 per game). Also weird, the Thunder actually attack the basket less in wins, with 24 drives per game in wins versus 28 per game in losses.
- Rebounding: When the Thunder win, they pull in offensive rebounds at a higher rate. In wins, the team has an offensive rebounding rate of 33% and a 52% recovery rate. Compare that to losses, where the offensive rebounding rate drops to 30% and a 47% recovery rate.
- Pace: In wins, the Thunder play at a faster pace (103) than losses (98).
Disappointingly, these stats fail to show a clear recipe for success offensively. At first blush, you might say the Thunder take smarter shots when they win (evidenced by the fact that the Thunder rely less on mid-range shots in wins), but that theory is altered when you notice that the Thunder attack the basket fewer times when they win. You might also want to believe that the Thunder pass better in wins, and the team’s assist averages would bear that out. But, stymied again, the Thunder’s assist rate is same in wins and losses (53% of the Thunder’s baskets are assisted in both wins and losses).
Really, the only clear trend that I can discern from win/loss splits so far is that the Thunder shoot better and play faster when they win. That being said, maybe the offense really isn’t to blame for the Thunder’s struggles. Maybe it’s really just the defense.
Break’s over, folks.
- Win vs. the New Orleans Pelicans, 110-103 on November 18
- Loss vs. the New York Knicks, 90-93 on November 20
- Win vs. the Dallas Mavericks, 117-114 on November 22
- Win at the Utah Jazz, 111-89 on November 23 at 8:00 pm CT
THE BEST PLAYER
Nick Collison. I know, I know, many of you are wondering if I’ve lost my mind naming a guy who averaged a whopping 5 points per game as the MVP of the week. But, despite a sluggish start to the season where Collison looked every day of his 35 years, in the last four games, Collison has played FANTASTIC (all caps necessary). He has the highest total +/- on the team over the last week (sans Durant who only played in 1 game), highest net rating (offensive rating of 120, defensive rating of 87), and highest TS% at 72%. Half of his rebounds have been offensive rebounds, and he’s by far the Thunder’s best passing big (highest assist % of the Thunder’s big men at 12%; next closest is Steven Adams at just 5%). And Collison’s success isn’t skewed by limited minutes, he averaged 18 minutes a game over this stretch.
Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook is still really, really good. Just FYI.
THE WORST PLAYER
Kyle Singler. The clearest indication that Singler has been the Thunder’s worst rotation player, not just in the last week but over the season, is Donovan’s benching of Singler in the last two games. After just 3 minutes of play against the Mavericks in the first half, Donovan left Singler out of the rotation in the second half, and Singler didn’t get any more run until mop-up duty in the Thunder’s win over the Jazz.
And why would Singler get a lot of minutes? His shooting is still putrid (30% TS%, 14% from three), and he makes very little impact on the game (in addition to averaging just 2 points per game, Singler is good for about 1 rebound. That’s it). Oh, and Singler still has yet to record an assist in nearly 180 minutes of basketball.
THE BEST PERFORMANCE
Russell Westbrook against the Dallas Mavericks. I think I’d like to call Westbrook the human box score. Why? Because no one in the Western Conference can stuff a stat sheet like Westbrook. His uncanny ability to pile up stats was on fully display against the Mavericks. Points (31), rebounds (5), assists (11), steals (5), and turnovers (7)–Westbrook had them all in leading the Thunder to a victory over the Mavs.
Honorable mention: In Durant’s comeback against the Jazz, Durant played nearly perfect, scoring 27 points in 30 minutes on 10-13 shooting, including 3-6 from deep. He was so fire that after one particular lethal pull-up 3, Durant flashed a knowing grin, as if to say to the world, “Yeah, I’m still awesome.”
THE WORST PERFORMANCE
Kyle Singler against the New York Knicks. When it comes to stats, Westbrook and Singler could not be further apart on the spectrum. Westbrook basically fills in the blanks on the box score. Singler, on the other hand, quite literally fills in blanks on the score sheet. Singler’s game against the Knicks is just the latest in a long line of poor performances. In 14 minutes, Singler made just one basket (on four attempts) and missed both his free throws. And scene.
THE BEST PLAY
Kevin Durant’s one-handed alley oop finish against the Utah Jazz.
He’s back, y’all.
Honorable mention: This steal, drive, and dunk by Dion Waiters led the Jazz’s broadcast crew to exclaim, “Waiters is just so athletic.” I’m being serious.
THE WORST PLAY
Dion Waiters can’t finish. Waiters confuses me. Against the Jazz, Waiters had several nice finishes at the rim, including two powerful dunks in traffic. Yet somehow, Dion missed a wide-open breakwaway dunk against the Pelicans, and then followed that up with a severely botched attempt to finish an alley-oop against the Knicks. Oof.
WEEK IN PREVIEW
- Vs. the Brooklyn Nets on November 25 at 7:00 p.m. CT (FSOK). After starting 0-7 (and looking terrible in the process), the Nets have played some decent ball over their last 7, going 3-4, with wins over the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, as well as a signature loss to the Golden State Warriors.
- Vs. the Detroit Pistons on November 27 at 7:00 p.m. CT (FSOK). Reggie Jackson plays for the Pistons now. And he’s playing pretty decently, averaging 20 points and 6 assists per game.
- At the Atlanta Hawks on November 30 at 7:00 p.m. CT (FSOK). Unlike the Nets, the Hawks started the season off well, winning 7 straight after an opening night loss en route to a 7-1 record. Since then? Very Brooklyn-esque, going just 2-5, with the latest being a double-digit loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.