Practice Roundup – Nov. 27, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

The Thunder is always focused on its shot selection, how to get more looks at the rim and more opportunities to draw fouls, but there’s so much more that goes into that than just deciding to do it.

After a day of rest following the Thunder’s home-road, back-to-back down I-35 over the weekend, Head Coach Billy Donovan and the crew got back to work at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center to hone in on some of those small details on offense that can trip teams up in the half court. Steven Adams explained that even his footwork and the angle he uses on a screen can be the difference between a wide open three for a teammate, or a busted possession that results in a tough, contested shot.

“If you execute the play well and really set up your guy, do all the little things, then that’ll allow for the passes,” Adams explained. “Obviously we need to move the ball more, but setting up your guy to get a nice, open pass – a crisp, easy one – that makes a big difference, too.”

“All those small things really add up into the offense and really make us have a better shot, a better percentage shot,” Adams continued. “It ain’t so much like ‘aww, we messed up the play.’ It’s those real tiny things that build up that make the play what it is.””

The other thing that would really help the Thunder’s offense would be if shots that have typically gone in for these players actually start falling for them. Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have shooting numbers from the field, three-point line and other specific spots on the floor that are down significantly from prior seasons and with their history in the league.

As an example, Westbrook is shooting just 14.3 percent on shots between 3 and 14 feet from the rim, and just 23.9 percent from the mid-range, or 10-to-16 feet. Those are shots that he’s made at around 40 percent or better for the past six seasons.

“If you look at the fact of the raw numbers of our shooting, we haven’t shot the ball like we’re potentially capable of,” Donovan said. “That’s the optimism that I have going forward because I think that we can get to that point.”

Despite the struggles on offense in the early weeks of the season, the Thunder hasn’t allowed that to impact the way it is playing on the defensive end. Donovan’s club still has the number two rated defense in the NBA in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions. The key for the Thunder has been that even after missed shots or poor possessions on either end of the floor, it hasn’t crept into the focus and concentration on the other end of the floor.

“We’ve been good to play the next possession and just forget about the next play, forget about the last play until we get to timeouts and talk about it,” Adams said.

Watch: Thunder Talk - Nov. 27

The Thunder defense has limited its opponents' scoring in part because it has forced misses on the sixth-highest percentage of occasions on field goal attempts, but more so because of the sheer numbers of turnovers it has forced. The Thunder is by far and away the league’s leaders in steals and points off turnovers. With Paul George and Andre Roberson disrupting passing lanes on the wing, that should be no surprise. But it’s the five-man defense that has to hold up, for an entire 48 minutes. Donovan thinks the Thunder can still get better.

“The defensive numbers are good, but I still think we can get better and tighten things up and clean things up,” Donovan said. “(We’ve) forced so many turnovers because we can get our length involved. When we start getting spread out where our pickup point is way too high or we’re lunging out there for the ball to get a deflection or a steal and we take our length and open the floor up, all the sudden our length isn’t as much of a factor. Our pickup point is really important. Our communication and coverage and switching is important.”

Ferguson Brought It In His Dallas Minutes

Rookie guard Terrance Ferguson hadn’t played more than five minutes since the Thunder’s second game of the season, on the road against Utah. But last week he had an energetic and productive performance for the OKC Blue, as he scored 24 points. In practice, he competed at an impressive level. That earned him some minutes in Dallas, where he went to high school, and he performed nicely by scoring seven points while notching a rebound, assist and a steal in 21 minutes.

Donovan had noticed that Andre Roberson played 41 minutes the night before against Detroit and that Dallas likes to use multiple quick, shifty guards to attack. That made it a perfect recipe to give Ferguson a shot.

“You’re always trying to look at different ways — our staff, myself — to try to help the group,” Donovan said. “And I think you’ve got to keep the whole roster engaged. And it’s gotta make sense when you engage a guy that a guy could potentially go in there and have success.

The reason the rookie has been able to gain the trust of the Thunder’s coaching staff is because he only has to be told what to do once. Then he goes out and does it. Most players retain information through visual means like watching film or physically by getting first-hand experience. It’s rare that players can retain information so well through verbal and auditory means. Ferguson, however, has that gift.

“He’s really good at the verbal instruction. I’ve really been impressed with him just when you talk to him about something, how well he can apply it,” Donovan reported. “Certainly, going out there and experiencing is always the No. 1 way to learn and grow to go out there and experience it for yourself. But he’s been really good at retaining information.”

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