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Oklahoma City relies heavily on All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
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StatsCube: To take next step, Thunder need to get defensive

Posted Dec 2 2011 1:18PM

To get ready for the 2011-12 season, StatsCube breaks down the critical numbers for all 30 teams.

The Oklahoma City Thunder took a huge step forward last season. They gained just five games in the regular season standings, but made it to the conference finals a season after being bounced in the first round.

Now, with two 23-year-old All-Stars, the Thunder looked primed to rule the Western Conference for the next few years. But to do that, they'll need to get back to playing top-10 defense.


2010-11 Basics
Record: 55-27
Pace: 95.3 (13)
OffRtg: 108.6 (4)
DefRtg: 104.0 (13)
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Though 91 percent of their minutes were logged by returning players, the 2010-11 Thunder were a lot different from the 2009-10 Thunder. Essentially, they went from being a defensive team to being an offensive team.

Only four teams improved more offensively from the previous season, when the Thunder had the 12th best offense, scoring 105.8 points per 100 possessions. And only three teams regressed more defensively from '09-10, when OKC was the eighth-best defense, allowing just 101.6.

The areas where the Thunder offense improved most were turnovers and free throws. Per 100 possessions, they committed one fewer turnover and made 2.4 more free throws than they did the previous season. The free throw increase proved incredibly useful, as they led the league by making 82.3 percent of them, the fifth-highest percentage in NBA history.

Highest free throw percentage, NBA history
Team Season FTM FTA FT%
Boston 1989-90 1,791 2,153 0.832
Dallas 2002-03 1,486 1,793 0.829
Toronto 2008-09 1,534 1,861 0.824
Boston 1990-91 1,646 1,997 0.824
Oklahoma City 2010-11 1,977 2,401 0.823

Russell Westbrook, with the way he relentlessly attacked the basket, was largely responsible for the free throw improvement. In virtually the same number of minutes, Westbrook attempted 209 more free throws (and made 202 more) than he did in '09-10.

Westbrook took 61 percent of his field goal attempts from the paint, the highest ratio among all guards who attempted at least 500 total shots. In fact, only four players -- Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James -- scored more total points from the restricted area and from the free throw line than Westbrook did.

Westbrook's teammates were more responsible for the turnover improvement. Six of the nine players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season committed fewer turnovers per 100 possessions than they did the previous year. Westbrook, Nick Collison and Nenad Krstic were the only rotation guys whose turnover ratio increased, but for each, it went up just slightly.

More Russ, less K.D.

Westbrook's total turnovers increased by 48, but mostly because he had the ball in his hands more. The point guard's usage rate (percentage of the team's possessions used while on the floor) of 30.4 percent was the third highest in the league, behind only Kobe Bryant (33.0 percent) and Derrick Rose (31.1 percent).

Kevin Durant led the league in scoring for the second straight season, but his usage rate decreased from the previous season, as Westbrook's increased pretty dramatically.

Usage rate, last two seasons
Player 2009-10 Rank 2010-11 Rank Diff.
Kevin Durant 29.0% 6 27.5% 8 -1.6%
Russell Westbrook 25.6% 15 30.4% 3 +4.8%

The two All-Stars didn't spend much time on the floor by themselves. Of their 5,885 total minutes, 89 percent were played together. As a comparison, only 76 percent of James' and Wade's total minutes were played together. Bryant and Pau Gasol? 83 percent.

Durant's usage rate was 35.3 percent in his 432 minutes with Westbrook on the bench, but just 26.5 percent when Westbrook was in the game. But both players scored more efficiently (had a higher true shooting percentage) when they were on the floor together.

When you rank third in usage rate and play almost all of your minutes with the league's leading scorer, you tend to rack up a lot of assists. Westbrook ranked ninth in the league at 8.2 assists per game, but no player in the league received more assists from a single teammate than Durant did from Westbrook.

Most assists from a single teammate
Player Assisted By FGM
Kevin Durant Russell Westbrook 279
David West Chris Paul 212
Ray Allen Rajon Rondo 201
Kevin Garnett Rajon Rondo 183
Luol Deng Derrick Rose 182
Grant Hill Steve Nash 166
Dirk Nowitzki Jason Kidd 162
Amar'e Stoudemire Raymond Felton 157
Paul Millsap Deron Williams 152

Overall, Durant (true shooting percentage of 58.9) was a more efficient scorer than Westbrook (53.8), but the simple facts are that Westbrook's usage went up and the Thunder offense improved.

Defensive gets new hope via trade

Interestingly, Westbrook picked up 47 more steals than he had in '09-10, but forcing turnovers was one of the areas where the Thunder dropped off defensively. They went from forcing 15.7 turnovers per 100 possessions in '09-10 (the sixth-highest rate in the league) to forcing just 14.5 last season (19th highest).

Their defensive problems started with their starters. The Thunder's most-used lineup of Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic allowed 107.4 points per 100 possessions in 541 minutes together last season. That's a rate equivalent to the sixth-worst defense in the league.

For almost two years, the Thunder starters' lack of success was one of the more interesting statistical storylines in the league. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, only five teams have had a better record than the Thunder. Yet in that time, the OKC lineup that played more than any other lineup in the league (and more than five times as many minutes than any other OKC lineup) barely outscored its opponents. In 1,847 minutes together, Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green and Krstic were just a plus-41.

The Thunder defense has always improved dramatically when Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor have come off the bench. But when Sam Presti traded Green and Krstic for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson, he gave coach Scott Brooks a starting lineup that works.

The lineup of Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka and Perkins was strong defensively, allowing less than a point per possession in almost 300 minutes together.

Thunder's most-used lineups, last two seasons
Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green, Krstic 111 1847 97.1 105.6 105.1 +0.6 +41
Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green, Ibaka 58 351 97.6 107.7 109.7 -2.0 -30
Maynor, Harden, Green, Ibaka, Collison 62 330 89.6 102.9 103.4 -0.5 -1
Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka, Perkins 17 271 96.4 103.0 97.6 +5.3 +31
Maynor, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, Collison 78 268 98.0 109.5 88.7 +20.8 +108

Record: 9-8
Pace: 93.7 (4)
OffRtg: 106.9 (2)
DefRtg: 103.3 (8)

The Thunder's new starting lineup was strong defensively in the postseason as well. But it really struggled on the other end of the floor, going from bad to much, much worse as the playoffs went on.

Thunder starters' efficiency, postseason
Round GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
First round 5 78 92.5 97.2 95.5 +1.7 +1
Conf. semis 7 93 87.3 89.5 94.1 -4.6 -9
Conf. finals 5 57 93.2 78.7 102.0 -23.2 -29
Total 17 228 90.6 89.4 96.6 -7.2 -37

The Thunder maintained the second-best postseason offense, because all other OKC lineups combined to score better than 113 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. James Harden and Nick Collison brought efficiency off the bench, with a combined effective field goal percentage of 58.4 percent.

Durant once again took a backseat to Westbrook when they were on the floor together, especially late in the game. In the fourth quarter and overtime in the playoffs, Westbrook had a usage rate of 38.5 percent when he was on the floor with Durant, who had a usage rate of 29.1 percent when he was on the floor with Westbrook.

But Durant was a much more efficient scorer in those minutes. He had a true shooting percentage of 62.3 percent in the fourth quarter or overtime in 158 postseason minutes with Westbrook on the floor, while Westbrook's true shooting percentage was a pretty inefficient 47.4 percent.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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