Passing the Key to Efficient Offense

Sometimes in the NBA, good half-court offense can be like trying to untie a knot. Poking here, prodding there and finding a weakness in the threads.

For the Thunder, it is important to have effective ways to attack opposing defenses and to find those weaknesses. Whether it’s matchup advantages, correct spacing or unselfish passing, there are many ways to be effective in the half-court offense. In 2011-12, the Thunder was one of the most efficient offensive teams in the NBA, averaging 103.1 points per game, good for third best in the league. Heading into this season, Head Coach Scott Brooks wants his team to replicate that offensive ability, and improve upon it, starting here in training camp by competing fiercely every day with one another to get better as a unit.

“We’re just going over some of our staples that we’ve had offensively and defensively,” Brooks said. “We haven’t put in too many new things. Some new drills, but eventually when we get everything down the way we want it, we will add things to our team. I just like the spirit of our guys. They’ve always have been a group that works, a group that challenges each other.”

At its core, the Thunder wants to be a team that hangs its hat on the defensive end of the floor. The ideal possession for the Thunder starts with a staunch defensive possession, good box outs and a strong defensive rebound. From there, Brooks wants his squad to push the tempo in hopes of scoring in the fast break or secondary break. If nothing is there in transition, Brooks tells his team to run quickly to their spots on the floor in order to space the half-court accordingly. This is done to create passing lanes and to force defenders to run further distances to defend ball screens and screens away from the ball.

The Thunder’s core philosophy won’t change this season, as fourth year man James Harden described. It’s all about concentrating on defense in training camp, but there is the opportunity to grow on the offensive end of the floor in time.

“We put a few different things in, but our main focus is defensively really locking in on teams and really trying to shut people down,” Harden said. “That’s going to be our background. Offensively we can score probably with anybody in the league, but defensively needs to be our mindset, and this training camp is what it’s for.”

The reason the Thunder trusts in its identity as a defensive-minded squad is because the players who have cemented that concept as the team’s focus are the ones performing every night on the floor. With a young, tightly-knit core of players who are team leaders, the Thunder has gotten to a point where practices have a certain rhythm. Instead of having to stop practices for coaching instruction, the drills and scrimmages go on fluidly – with players being responsible for helping one another until the coaches have the chance to pull them aside after practice.

“We’ve been together for a few years now, so we sort of know what to expect out of each other,” Harden said. “We know what offenses and defenses we run. It’s our job to go out there and execute. If they (the coaches) see something, they’ll mention it to us, but they don’t really stop practices. It’s up to us to control it and work hard, which we do a pretty good job of.”

Over the past four seasons that the Thunder has been in Oklahoma City, there has been a marked improvement across the board in all facets of the game. Going into this season, Brooks’ squad will try to continue to capitalize on the areas where it performs highly, like effective shooting percentage and true shooting percentage (both of which factor in point values of free throws and three-pointers). In addition, the team wants to continue to improve its passing and finding teammates in areas of the floor that are high percentage shot locations.

“I hope to see another step in that direction,” Brooks said. “We have guys that get along, we have guys that play extremely hard and the next step is try to figure out ways to get better offensively by helping each other score easier.”

If the preferred option of running in transition is not there, it is up to the players on the floor to pull back out into the half-court offense and find shots for teammates that are efficient. Corner three pointers and at the basket are the most desired shot locations because they yield high shooting percentages. As Brooks noted, it is imperative that the Thunder is able to do a variety of things on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, in order to make it more difficult for opponents to size them up.

“One of the things I like about our team is that we can defend and we can score,” Brooks said. “We’re not just a one-dimensional team. We can score in many ways and we can defend in many ways. In order to have success in this league, there are so many good teams and so many good players, you need to have that type of offense and defensive package on your team.”