Mid-Range Game Important Aspect of Thunder Offense

In Wednesday night's victory over the Phoenix Suns, the Thunder shot 50 percent on mid-range two-point jump shots, using those high-efficiency attempts to make a 16-point comeback. For the season, the Thunder is shooting 41.5 percent on mid-range jumpers, thanks to drive-and-dish opportunities and players creating their own shots at the elbows. One player in particular who has helped make a big impact in the mid-range part of the court is forward Serge Ibaka, who is shooting 43.2 percent on shots between 16-and-24 feet. Against the Suns, he went 4-for-7 on his mid-range jumpers on his way to 18 points, which was something Head Coach Scott Brooks enjoyed seeing.

"It's really important that we Serge involved offensively," Brooks said. "He's really, I keep saying this, from 16-to-17 feet, when he misses it, you're surprised. He has good rhythm. He has a lot of confidence in that area... We have to do a better job of implementing him throughout the game and by doing that, he will gain more confidence."

Two other players who have been utilizing mid-range jumpers are point guards Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Jackson, a rookie from Boston College, has been learning the ropes of the pull-up elbow jumper from Westbrook. It has become the two-time All-Star's go-to move, and with his ability to rise up high in the air after stopping on a dime, Westbrook has been able to be effective when he beats his man from the perimeter. Westbrook shoots 41.4 percent on mid-range jumpers this season, and the Thunder as a whole shoots a staggering 59.9 percent on those pull-up jumpers. Jackson is shooting 44.4 percent from 16-to-24 feet, but says that he is still learning from Westbrook and others when he should pull-up and when he should drive or kick the ball out to a teammate.

"I'm still trying to learn the ropes of when to pull up and when not to, but just that being a threat really helps and opens up everything," Jackson said. "Not only for yourself, but for everyone. Russ is one of the best I've seen at it. His elevation, his focus, his confidence, he really knocks down some tough ones. And then he starts getting to the basket and it really shows his athleticism. He starts getting other people involved. I believe he had ten assists last game, so it definitely opens up the floor for everyone."

While Westbrook and Jackson will be trying to knock down their own shots and find Ibaka for some short-corner jumpshots, the Thunder will also be focusing on the defensive end of the floor tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers. After collecting two of the top four picks in the 2011 NBA Draft and nabbing Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers have made a turnaround from last season and are currently only a few games out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Thanks to new head coach Byron Scott's, the Cavaliers will be a tough test as the 2011 number one overall draft pick, Irving, and the rest of the Cleveland squad comes to town.

"They keep it simple," Jackson said. "They let him (Irving) make decisions, I believe he's grown into that role and done a great job. They really play off him and Ramon Sessions and they just share the ball. Very team oriented, it doesn't matter who gets going. That's what they're going to do tonight, keep it with simple plays and are just really going to compete."

Irving has been a revelation thus far, and is one of the top candidates for the Rookie of the Year award. Coach Brooks lauded the youngster and said that he would definitely be a major focus of the Thunder's heading into tonight's game. The Thunder coaching staff even had a chance to get a sneak preview of the rookie, as assistant coach Maurice Cheeks had the opportunity to coach Irving over All-Star Weekend in the Rising Stars Challenge. Irving won MVP of the game by scoring 34 points and helped lead Cheeks' team to victory.

"He's really good," Brooks said. "He really shows a lot of poise and I just heard that he's only 19. He plays like a 25-year old, he's a very heady point guard. He's a great shooter, he's shooting 42 percent from threes. I think he even made eight-out-of-eight in Maurice (Cheeks)'s Rising Stars Challenge. So Maurice is a good 3-point shooting coach. He's good, he gets to the basket."