The Oklahoma City Thunder finished the 2011-12 regular season with a 47-19 record, second-best in the Western Conference. Depending on what happens tonight, the Thunder will begin their postseason play at home on Saturday against either the Dallas Mavericks or Denver Nuggets.
The Thunder were of course led by their big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. All improved this season and put up some of the best numbers in their careers.
Here is a look at the offensive production for the Thunder this season in terms of points per possession (PPP).
Despite being a team that is given a hard time for not running complex offensive sets, they finish second in the league in overall PPP. You can see that their overall offensive talent is probably the best in the league as they were second and first in isolation and pick-and-roll offense, respectively.
The glaring weakness in the Oklahoma City offense was their post-up game. They only went to the post 6.7 percent of the time and were 23rd in the league in post-up PPP. Usually teams that win titles are very efficient in the post. This will be a tough thing for the Thunder to overcome in the playoffs.
It is also somewhat unfortunate that the Thunder have been unable to take advantage of one of their greatest strengths which is players who are elite at shooting coming off screens. The Thunder are second-best in the NBA in PPP off screens but go to that look only 6.2 percent of the time. Westbrook not being a true point guard also makes it hard for the Thunder to run an offense that excels in this area.
With the offense being so great this season, the Thunder seemed lax on defense at times. Their defensive efficiency numbers were down from the past two seasons but as you can see their defense in terms of PPP was still among the best in the NBA.
Durant led the league in points per game for the third straight season this year as we learned today Kobe Bryant would not be playing in the Lakers final regular season game in Sacramento tonight. Bryant would have needed 38 points to pass Durant as the points per game leader in the league.
Durant did not average a career-high in scoring this season but was the most efficient he ever has been. Below you can see the well-rounded efficiency that Durant brought to the table this season.
His greatest strength might be the catch-and-shoot with no dribble but as you can see he is just as efficient scoring off the dribble in isolation situations and in the pick-and-roll.
Durant is of course the player that Oklahoma City would love to see develop a deadly post-up game. He improved in that department this season and definitely went into the post more this season but it still doesn’t have the feel of an “automatic two points” for OKC and Durant is better suited to try and score on the perimeter at times.
Westbrook had a pretty up-and-down season when you really look at it. He started the year off in a sort of slump that included a 0-for-13 shooting night early in the season against Memphis. He started to come on strong though after signing the contract extension at the end of January and looked like a First Team All-NBA candidate until the final month.
Westbrook began to slump again with his jump shot and the Thunder started losing more as a team right at that time. His value is almost as important as Durant at times.
Westbrook is very one-dimensional in how he goes about scoring and that isn’t unlike a point guard. His predictability results in less efficiency though because he still takes a very high volume of shots. It’s almost always pick-and-roll from Westbrook and even the isolation moments usually come after failed pick-and-roll action.
Developing a post-up game is something Westbrook needs to develop as well and an area where he should have a lot of advantages.
You can also see that Westbrook is at his best (albeit a small sample size) when cutting. He is one of the best players in the NBA (underratedly) playing off the ball.
Harden simply had an incredible season in terms of efficiency. As you can see he is flat out one of the best scorers in the league in terms of PPP. He is a great spot-up shooter and gets a good amount of production that way but his pick-and-roll game is really where he shines.
With the loss of Eric Maynor earlier this season, Harden was forced into a larger role with the second unit in terms of handling the ball. When Durant and Westbrook are out it is Harden creating every time down the floor.
That is another reason why his efficiency was so special. Defenses had to know what was coming but he was so good at reading the defense in every situation that it didn’t matter. There were only a few instances all season that defenses really caught on to Harden.
The more Harden handles the ball these playoffs, the further the Thunder will go in the playoffs. It’s that simple.
The game will change on Saturday when the playoffs begin. The defense will be tougher and teams aren’t going to be getting the same looks they did in the regular season.
The Thunder might though.
The sneaky thing about not running much offense and looking to score so much in isolation situations is that it kind of prepares you for playoff basketball. We see it every year teams that don’t have someone who can create their own shot fall short in the playoffs. Even teams like Chicago last year who only had one player who could create their own shot can fall short.
The Thunder have three bonafide scorers. Durant and Westbrook won’t be enough though. Harden is definitely going to need to come close to their level and even exceed it at times.
We know he has the talent. He stepped up his game last year when the playoffs started too. If he does it again this year, we may be talking about the Thunder making it to the NBA Finals in a few weeks.