The Thunder have the best record in the NBA but they don’t necessarily play the best “team” basketball. The Thunder rely more on isolation scoring than any other team in the league and turn the ball over nearly 17 times per game.
Oklahoma City’s starting point guard, Russell Westbrook, averages just 5.5 assists per game, down from 8.2 last season and 8.0 two years ago. The assist numbers from Westbrook are something that needs to improve without question.
With Kevin Durant and James Harden both having the best seasons of their careers, the fourth option for Oklahoma City, Serge Ibaka, hasn’t improved as much as some thought he would.
Ibaka is leading the NBA averaging 3.2 blocks per game but is only scoring 8.2 points per game. Last season Ibaka averaged 9.9 points per game with that number really going up after the Jeff Green trade.
Not a lot has really changed in Ibaka’s game this year though. He still takes that 16-foot jump shot when he gets it and doesn’t have much of a game at the rim aside from finishing with dunks and layups.
It’s Westbrook’s playmaking that has gone down. Westbrook and Ibaka should be a lethal combination for Oklahoma City and it is when they do it. They just don’t do it enough.
SportVu Technology recently posted a study where they researched the highest field goal percentages by passer. They tracked every pass thrown by every NBA player so far this season.
Paul Pierce leads the league with his teammates shooting .568 percent off his passes. The top combination in the NBA is when Ricky Rubio sets up Nikola Pekovic who shoots .707 percent off Rubio’s passes.
Up there in the top combinations is Westbrook and Ibaka. Ibaka shoots .634 percent on passes from Westbrook. Most of those passes are Westbrook kicking out to Ibaka on pick-and-pops for midrange jumpers or Westbrook finding Ibaka on cuts for dunks and layups.
Using Westbrook and Ibaka together should really become more of a staple of the Thunder offense. Help can’t come easily when Durant and James Harden are also on the floor and by this point in the season, defenses are much more focused on Westbrook trying to score than Ibaka.
Ibaka has played great basketball the last two postseasons and will of course be another key component this year for the Thunder. As the games slow down into more of a halfcourt setting, Oklahoma City is going need a little bump in scoring from Ibaka if they want to make it to the NBA Finals.
It will be up to Westbrook to make this happen.