Thunder Starting Lineup Built Through the Draft
In the Thunder organization’s recent history, the draft has been an integral part of the team-building process. For proof, look no further than the starting lineup. With General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and his staff meticulously at work behind the scenes, all five players joined the team on draft night.
Kevin Durant was selected number two overall in 2007, Russell Westbrook number four overall in 2008, Serge Ibaka number 24 overall in 2008, Steven Adams number 12 overall in 2013 and Andre Roberson was acquired in a draft-day trade after being selected number 26 overall in 2013. In this day and age of free agency, it’s exceedingly rare for an NBA team’s starting lineup to comprise entirely of players who have been with their team for their entire careers.
Although diverse in age, size and skills, the Thunder starting group has coalesced over the past few years into one of the post potent player combinations in the NBA. In fact, the Thunder used that starting lineup 62 times during the 2015-16 regular season, which is by far the most number of games this season that a team employed a starting lineup of players who were acquired on draft night.
The Thunder was also the only 2015-16 playoff team to use a lineup of five players who made their NBA debut with the same team. Head Coach Billy Donovan employed that starting group in all 18 of the Thunder’s postseason games this year. Over the past 20 years, those 18 games are the most postseason contests for a starting five who debuted for that same team.
In the playoffs, that group played 276 minutes together, by far the most of any Thunder lineup. Only one other lineup, the Cleveland Cavaliers starters, played more total minutes together in the postseason. In those 15.3 minutes per game together, the Thunder’s starting five scored 109.2 points per 100 possessions while allowing 103.8 points per 100 possessions, for a net rating of plus-5.5 points per 100 possessions.
The starters had a 1.72-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and grabbed 54.5 percent of all rebounds, including 29.3 percent of its own misses in the postseason. That lineup also outscored its opponents in four major categories: points off turnovers, second chance points, fast break points and points in the paint.
During the regular season, that lineup saw action together in 59 games, racking up 816 minutes together. That’s more than double the second most used lineup and the third most total minutes of any lineup in the NBA.
Against the Thunder’s starters, opponents shot just 40.9 percent from the field in the regular season, the lowest of the Donovan’s most frequent player combinations, including 34.8 percent from the three-point line.
On the offensive end, the Thunder starters shot 50.7 percent from the field. Overall, the Thunder had a net rating of plus-17.8 when the starters were on the floor, scoring 113.3 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 95.6 points per 100 possessions when the starting five was on the floor.
The starters had a 1.82-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and grabbed 56.9 percent of all rebounds, including 31.6 percent of offensive rebounds. The starters also outscored its opponents in points off turnovers, second chance points, fast break points and points in the paint.
Any way you slice it, the Thunder starting five was clearly one of the most valuable in the entire league, as a unit. The way the five players’ skill sets complement one another meshed nicely, and created one of the most productive offensive and defensive player groupings and allowed all five men to flourish.
In 2015-16, Durant excelled once again, putting up an incredible statistical season of 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game, levels last accomplished by Michael Jordan. Westbrook was sensational as a multi-dimensional force of nature, racking up the most triple-doubles since Magic Johnson.
Ibaka broadened his game, pushing himself to be a factor in all aspects of the defense and spread out his scoring into a variety of areas on the floor. Adams emerged as one of the brightest young players in the league, proving his status as an athletic, talented and physical two-way center. Roberson as well displayed his tenacity on defense and ability to impact the game on offense in transition and as a cutter, while knocking in the occasional three-pointer.
All in all, the starting lineup has had a major impact on the Thunder’s success, and each individual has progressed over time. It all comes back to draft night, when all five players were acquired, and the vision for what a Thunder team should look like, which Presti has followed since Day 1 in Oklahoma City.