Sharing the Ball Key Component of Thunder Offense
On one occasion in last night’s 114-69 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, Kevin Durant posted up on the block, read the double-team coming his way and hit Kendrick Perkins with a pass in the lane. The big man squared to the basket, turned and fired a perfect diagonal pass into the corner to Thabo Sefolosha, who drained a three-pointer.
That was just one of 31 assists for the Thunder on Monday night, a number the team has reached three times this season thanks to proper floor spacing, being sure not to play in a crowd and unselfish, timely passing by all members of the squad. That type of effort is one that guard Kevin Martin and the Thunder wants to replicate every single night, including Wednesday night at home against the Houston Rockets.
“We know we’re a special team when we’re sharing the ball, and that’s one thing coach has been talking about the last couple weeks,” Martin said. “Just keep on sharing the ball and trusting each other, and that’s what we’ve been doing lately.”
The Thunder comes into the game averaging 22.7 assists per game, tied for sixth best in the NBA. There’s no surprise, then, that Head Coach Scott Brooks’ offensive formula has resulted in a 47.9 field goal percentage for the Thunder, which ranks second best in the NBA, backed up by an also second ranked 41.7 percent shooting from the three-point stripe. The Thunder’s drive and dish to three point shooters like Martin and Sefolosha has been key, as have well-executed bounce passes to bigs at the dunker spot.
“I think everybody is participating in that,” Brooks said. “Russell (Westbrook) has done a great job all year long at nearly nine assists a game and he’s still able to score at the level we need him at…I think when you get 31, everybody has to be able to touch the ball, move the ball and then we have to hit shots.”
The conductor of the Thunder’s offense, Russell Westbrook is one of the main reasons the Thunder’s offense has been so high powered this season, averaging 104.4 points per game, good for second highest in the NBA. While still averaging a ninth-best in the NBA 21.1 points per game, Westbrook’s 8.6 assists per game are a career-best and also sixth highest in the league, while his 2.9 turnovers a game are also a career low, and a smaller number than four of the five players who currently average more assists than he does.
Since he has shooters like Martin and Sefolosha on the wings shooting 49.3 percent and 46.7 percent respectively from three-point land, Westbrook’s ability to make plays becomes even more electric, which is something that has been in the making after years of hard work.
“I think sometimes we forget he’s only 24 years old,” Martin said. “That’s young being in this league as a point guard and pretty much having the keys to the team. Last year’s Finals helped him, this year the Olympics. He’s just growing as a player and he’s going to be a special one.”
For Westbrook, despite personal success like two straight All-NBA selections and All-Star appearances in addition to being a part of a Gold Medal winning US Olympic squad, the only thing that matters is helping his team improve. The relentlessness with which Westbrook attacks each practice, shootaround and even each possession within the game proves that the only numbers he really cares about are the ones on the scoreboard once the clock hits zero. For both him and the Thunder team in general, that starts on the defensive end.
“We’re doing a good job of winning and that’s the most important part,” Westbrook said. “Just focusing in and doing a better job of taking ownership (on defense). Guarding your man and guarding him one on one, then letting team defense help you out.”
While staunch defensive performances and offensive outbursts like the one the Thunder enjoyed on Monday night are special, veterans like Kendrick Perkins have ensured that the team doesn’t get distracted by one good outing. While it is trickier to do, responding appropriately to success is often more difficult than responding to adversity. The Thunder followed its consistent approach, which stays the same after wins and losses, today at practice at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center in advance of Wednesday night’s game at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“That’s what good teams do,” Brooks said. “You don’t get too happy with a good win and you don’t get too down with a tough loss… Practice wasn’t going to be long and tough, but it was going to be a thinking-man’s practice. We got some work done on the things we need to work on going into tomorrow night’s game.”