Thunder in Stride on Offense
The Thunder has reeled off six wins in its past seven games, and while the defense has continued improving over a tough stretch in February, the offense has been humming right along.
Watching it play out on the court, the evidence is clearly there of a team that is playing with precision, selflessness and trust. Looking at the numbers only further prove that Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team is operating at an extremely high level.
Over the past four games, three of which were wins with the other an overtime loss, the Thunder has shot 49.8 percent from the field, including 44.8 percent from the three-point line. Led by Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, along with ballhandlers like Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher and Jeremy Lamb, the Thunder has gotten production with great ball distribution.
“It’s just really trying to remain committed to what we said to start the season,” Fisher said. “We’re going to continue to show the type of trust as a team with our teammates that successful teams have to show. No guys can really do it alone or by themselves. We’ve just been trying to build on those habits since the beginning of the season.”
Perhaps the biggest key to those incredibly high shooting percentages has been the 27.8 assists per game that the Thunder has been racking up over that stretch. Passes to teammates have been on time and on target, and screens from players like Nick Collison and Steven Adams have freed up players for easy looks at the rim.
Playing with pace, tempo and spacing has created larger gaps in the defense and wider passing lanes, and one of the biggest beneficiaries has been Durant, who has now scored 25-or-more points in 38 straight games, just two short of Michael Jordan’s career-best mark of 40.
In fact, Durant has averaged 36.2 points on 55.8 percent shooting, including 50 percent from the three-point line over the past five games. A major factor in Durant’s success has been the ease of his catches, which get him in his preferred spots on the floor, which can be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
“That’s the key to offense in general,” Collison said. “Where are you making the catches? For him, if he can get a screen and get free inside the three-point line, he’s really tough to stop. If we were defending him or anybody, we’d want to make his catches out past the three-point line. It makes every part of your job easier defensively.”
The continuity the Thunder has had over the years has helped Durant and his teammates be in sync on both ends of the floor, and fans are seeing more and more examples of that play out during the games.
The eye-contact communication that goes on between Westbrook and Durant, the perfectly placed passes from Jackson and the perfectly timed and executed screens have helped get Durant to the elbow, the nail and other spots near the paint that allow him to just go to work one-on-one, with plenty of space to operate.
“The closer he is to the basket, the more likely we're going to get a better shot, not only from him but for his teammates,” Brooks explained. “The defense is going to have to help out on him and there are longer closeouts to their man.”
“Kevin has improved in that area so much over the last three or four years,” Brooks said. “One, he understands how important that is, and two his body is much stronger and he's able to absorb the contact, the holding and pushing guys do on him.”