The Thunder’s offense has come out in full throttle on this shortened lock out season. Many people point to Durant’s improved scoring efficiency (61% true shooting), Harden’s amazing points per shot stats (best in the league), and Westbrook’s continued improved shooting percentages. Everyone looks at Thunder’s big three on offense, which they should, as they continue to improve on what is already the 4th most efficient offense in the NBA. However, Thabo is much improved in his limited offensive role, which should not be overlooked.
Known primarily as a great wing defender, Thabo is the shooting guard in a starting lineup that has glaring offensive weaknesses. Perkins and Ibaka are great on the defensive end, and combined pull down about four offensive boards per game, but have a very limited scoring ability on offense to say the least. The Thunder starting five is also not very good behind the arc either. Westbrook is taking over 2 threes a game and shooting 26%, while Durant is taking 4.5 threes a game and only shooting 33%. This really creates some offensive problems since teams can help off the bigs down low, and don’t have to worry about any true three point threat behind the arc.
Thabo does a great job of spacing the floor while still deferring to Durant and Westbrook for the majority of the shots. I am not saying I want Thabo to shoot the ball ten times a game, but just the threat of the improved Thabo gives Durant and Westbrook more space to work. Thabo has one job and one job only on offense, catch the ball and shoot. For all his three point shots this year, 92% are assisted. But unlike most years, Thabo is making them. Thabo is shooting at a blistering 50% from three, a 23% increase from last year.
While Thabo has improved his shooting this year, his minutes and FGA are both down this year (about 15%) to make more minutes for Harden. With less minutes and attempts, Thabo is producing almost exactly the same points per game as he did last year. This is a big sacrifice for Thabo to give up minutes and shots that many players in the NBA would not be willing to make. It shows Thabo understands his role with the team, and Durant needs to be taking the majority of the shots on offense. Also he understands that good as he has been this year, he still doesn’t hold a candle to Harden’s production on offense and this role will continue to shrink with the emergence of Harden.
While Thabo is never going to make an all-star game, win any awards, or make any game winning shots, his hard work to perform better in the specific role he is assigned on the team helps the Thunder improve. Just looking at Thabo’s points per game this year you would never notice his great improvement, and sacrifice of minutes. These are the small things a defensive role player must do to change a team from making the western conference finals, to winning an NBA championship.