By J.M. Poulard
After getting blown out in the desert Thursday night against the Suns, the Golden State Warriors (23-29) will be looking to get back on track when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight (34-18) at Oracle Arena. The Dubs need a win in the worst way possible, while the Thunder are coming off a 99-97 win in Sacramento last night that keeps them in the hunt for a shot at the second or third seed in the Western Conference standings. How is this team doing it?
On offense, the Thunder average 104.5 points per game (fifth in the NBA) on 46.0% field goal shooting (15th in the league). Oklahoma City’s ability to put up points stems from their ability to simply attack the basket and generate shots at the rim. Indeed, according to Hoopdata, the Thunder manufacture 24.7 shots at the rim per game (11th in the association) and convert 66.6% of those field goal attempts (sixth in the NBA).
This Scott Brooks led team gets to rim for a variety of reasons. One of them is their team speed allows them to get out in transition where they score 15.8 fast break points per game (fourth in the NBA). Also, players such as Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and Kevin Durant are good in isolation situations at taking their defenders off the dribble to create scoring attempts for themselves or for a teammate at the basket.
And given the fact that Oklahoma City does such a good job of getting in the paint and at the basket, they put pressure on opposing defenses and force them to commit fouls to prevent easy attempts at the rim. Consequently, the Thunder shoot a staggering 30.3 free throw attempts per game (second in the NBA).
This Thunder team is good at getting to the rim, but they also compliment that ability with a good midrange game. Between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, they have two players that do a great job of getting good open looks from 10 to 15 feet, but in different ways. Westbrook does it in the pick and roll, when opponents sag off him and dare him to shoot while Durant runs through a series of screens to create enough separation for him to shoot over the top of defenses. The end result is that Oklahoma City shoots 8.2 shots per game from 10 to 15 feet (seventh in the NBA) and converts them at a 39.4% rate (14th in the league).
The one area of concern for this team is their ability to make shots from deep as evidenced by their 33.3% three point field goal shooting (28th in the association). The Thunder will get by against most opponents but if teams cut off the driving lanes and dare them to shoot it from deep they might be in some trouble. Especially because…
On defense the Thunder surrender 102.6 points per game (21st in the NBA) on 46.8% field goal shooting (21st in the league). At first glance, one would think that this OKC team is at least a good defensive team. Indeed, with players such as Westbrook to pick up opposing point guards full court, Thabo Sefolosha to guard scoring wings, Jeff Green who guards multiple positions and Serge Ibaka that keeps post players away from the basket and intimidates players from driving; it sounds like a great defensive team on paper. Except for one thing: their team defense is quite poor.
The Thunder struggle to recover to the screener in pick and roll situations (especially with Krstic on the floor) and thus give him an opportunity to roll to the basket unimpeded. Also, when their big men hedge on screens, they tend to do so really hard and thus allow for bal handlers to split the defenders and get all the way to the basket (hopefully Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis are reading this). The end result is that only the Toronto Raptors allow more shots at the rim than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Read that phrase again.
The Thunder yield 27.3 shots at the basket per game (second to last in the NBA) and allow opponents to convert 64.7% of those shots (18th in the league). Because they allow so many attempts at the rim, they are often caught in situations where they have to foul opponents to prevent easy baskets; as a result Oklahoma City surrenders 25.4 free throw attempts per game (20th in the association).
Although the Thunder surrender a lot of points, opponents should not take them lightly. Their ball pressure helps them generate 7.7 steals per game (13th in the NBA), which allows them to get out in transition and they also reject 5.5 shots per game (ninth in the league).
If a team is patient and executes (not the Dubs strength by the way) properly against Oklahoma City, they should get some high percentage shots against their defense.
Oklahoma City game notes: In his last four trips to the Bay area, Russell Westbrook is averaging 25.5 points per game, 9.3 assists per game, 5.3 rebounds per game and 3.3 steals per game on 49.4% field goal shooting.
Golden State game notes: In his last three home games against the Thunder, Monta Ellis is averaging 18.6 points per game, 4.3 assists per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 2.3 steals per game on 41.1% field goal shooting.
Extra nugget: In six career games versus the Thunder (hence excluding games against the Supersonics), Monta Ellis has turned the ball over 29 times, which translates to 4.8 per game.