Work at Foul Line Key to Thunder Success

There are certain habits of highly successful NBA teams and organizations, and the Thunder is constantly striving to pick up more and more of those tendencies. One of those inclinations is the ability to get to the free-throw line and its productivity once it gets there.

The Thunder ranks second in the NBA in free-throw attempts (1,049) but first in both free-throws made (837) and free-throw percentage (79.8). Head Coach Scott Brooks recognizes that he has three "breakdown" perimeter players -- Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant -- who can get to the lane and draw fouls or dish to teammates.

"We spend time every day in practice on free throws," Brooks said. "Shoot-arounds, practices, it doesn't matter;, we always spend between seven to eight minutes every day working on our free throws. It's an important part of the game because they're free. You have to take advantage of those free points. Anytime any of our guys step up to the line I have confidence in them, because I've seen them make it a thousand times. It's helped us the last three years or so of winning close games. We're going to get to the free-throw line because we're an aggressive, attack team. We're going to get to the line because we know we can make them once we get up there."

The Thunder has seven players on its roster who are shooting above 80 percent this season from the line, most of whom are guards. However, it is also imperative for big men like Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to knock down their free throws. Perkins is shooting 71.2 percent from the line, a dramatic jump from his career average of 60.8 percent. With perimeter players driving and dishing, the Thunder bigs are getting a lot of opportunities to get to the basket with defenders rotating over late, and eventually fouling them on layup attempts.

"It's huge, I think you have to knock down all your freebies," Perkins said. "We try to make all the points we can. I know guys on our team try to get every bucket they possibly can. So we work on it every day and we just try to translate it into the game. ... It's repetition, being comfortable and being on the Thunder, these guys make you make free throws. I don't want to be the one that isn't making mine."

As for tonight's game against the Phoenix Suns, Perkins said he believes the offense will take care of itself, and the Thunder must concentrate on the defensive end. In recent days both Perkins and forward Nick Collison, two of the team's elder statesmen, have described a desire for the Thunder to put together a full 48 minutes of solid defensive basketball. The team will have an opportunity and a challenge tonight as it faces the Steve Nash-led Suns. Nash, the two-time NBA MVP, is known for his quickness, unique passing ability and proclivity for running a high-paced, up-tempo style.

"I think it's going to be a defensive transition game tonight," Perkins said. "Phoenix still likes to get out and run, they like to put up a lot of points. Our pick-and-roll defense has to be on point tonight because you know they have a four that stretches the floor and shoots threes in Channing Frye. (Marcin) Gortat is playing well, Nash just makes plays. Our pick-and-roll defense and transition defense is going to be a key."

Wednesday marked the second consecutive day that the Thunder has been able to get onto the practice court, a nice change from having to get work in at practice facilities in Philadelphia and Atlanta last week. In this shortened season, practice time has been at a premium, so the Thunder has been trying to take full advantage of the time it can spend improving as a unit. As Thunder players continued to spend time working on those ever-important free throws at the end of practice, Brooks discussed the key elements of tonight's matchup against the Suns that the Thunder addressed during today's morning shoot-around.

"We just went over some of their sets and their tendencies," Brooks said. "They're one of the best pick-and-roll teams in basketball. They spread you out with some great 3-point shooters and smart players. Nash finds guys. He locates and searches out and traces and finds guys all the time. We just worked on our coverages and hopefully we can tighten that up and be able to guard that particular play tonight because we're going to see it 60 times tonight."


Also read yesterday's story, Thunder Utilizing Home Practice to Continue Development.