The Oklahoma City Thunder are on a roll, winning eight games in a row and keeping the Western Conference interesting.
Russell Westbrook continues to notch triple-doubles, while Kevin Durant quietly goes about his business as an unstoppable scorer.
Behind them, however, has been the improved play of Serge Ibaka, who’s averaging 13 points on 56% shooting during the win streak. The numbers are an improvement for Ibaka, who has seen a statistical drop-off this season for reasons unknown.
After a 119-100 drubbing of the Toronto Raptors on Monday, Ibaka, while praising the team’s improved play, aptly described their biggest flaw, and it’s what has trouble them for years (via The Oklahoman’s Anthony Slater):
“I’m gonna tell you the truth, it’s hard sometimes when you play hard, you play you’re (butt off). You play so hard on defence, then you come to offence and you’re going to be out there in the corner for 4, 5, 6, sometimes 8 minutes and you don’t touch the ball. We human, man. It’s hard.
“We’re playing great basketball. Russell and Kevin are doing a better job moving the ball, making us to feel a part of the team.”
Despite the otherworldly talent of Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder have frequently been criticised for a stagnant, unimaginative offence. It’s what partially led to Scott Brooks’ firing last season, and though new coach Billy Donovan has helped guide the team to the NBA’s second-most efficient offence, some of these problems still plague the Thunder.
The numbers show it, too. Yes, Westbrook and Durant average a combined 15 assists per game and the Thunder are ninth in assists per game, but that isn’t indicative of team ball movement. The Thunder are 21st in assist percentage (percentage of baskets that were assisted) and according to NBA.com/Stats’ tracking numbers, the Thunder are dead-last in passes made per game. They’re also only 23rd in “secondary” assists — that is, passes that lead to an assist — which shows a lack of ball movement.
Durant has addressed this issue before, saying:
“Look, we’re not the San Antonio Spurs. We’re not going to make 30 passes in a possession. We’re not that. Of course, people want us to be that. That’s great basketball, don’t get me wrong. But we’re not that. We’ve got guys that can score. We’ve got two guys on this team that can get a bucket. There’s going to be times we gotta iso, there’s going to be times we gotta be aggressive to look for our shot to make a play.”
That’s fine, but it’s also what’s bogged down the Thunder before. In the postseason, defences have much less work to do when they know one player is going to dribble from the perimeter and try to get their own shot.
The Thunder are as talented as any team in the NBA, and while they don’t have to replicate the Spurs or the Warriors, they’re far more dangerous when every player is getting involved.
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