When Charles Barkley talks about the Oklahoma City Thunder, he always says the same things: They’re a jump shooting team, a jump shooting team can’t win an NBA championship.
Barkley isn’t alone in this belief. Most people do think that a team needs to be able to throw it into the post to get offense to win a title. There’s plenty of dominant centers through the years who were centerpieces in championship teams. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen posted up a lot during their title runs. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade began posting up more as the Heat have won the last two championships.
The idea behind posting up is simple. It’s supposed to get you easier baskets. The closer to the rim, typically the higher percentage of a shot you will get. As long as the player’s you have posting up are skilled, this should be the case.
Posting up is hardly ever an element of the Thunder’s offense. This season, they post up just six percent of the time on offense, which ranks them near the bottom of the league.
The Thunder are actually sixth in the league in efficiency when they do post up, scoring 0.90 points per possession on those plays. Kevin Durant is of course the most efficient post-up player for the Thunder, accounting for 40.57 percent of OKC’s post-ups on the year and scoring 1.09 points per possession on those plays.
Serge Ibaka doesn’t post up often and is below average scoring 0.84 points per possession on post-ups. Russell Westbrook is good for one or two post-ups per game and he is average scoring 0.88 points per possession on those plays.
The offense for the Thunder is almost always perimeter oriented. Over 23 percent of their offense comes in the pick-and-roll, about 10 percent comes from isolations, 15 percent in transition and 16 percent comes on spot-up jump shots.
The Thunder are still able to get easy shots without posting up against most opponents. They’re still one of the best teams in the league at getting to the rim to take close shots, those shots just come more typically on drives than on post-ups. Durant is always a monster and on drives, he shoots 58.9 percent. Reggie Jackson is particularly good on drives as well, shooting 46.9 percent. Westbrook’s erratic-ness is most evident when you look at his drives, where he shoots just 34.8 percent while driving more than any player on the team.
When they’re not getting to the rim, the Thunder are pulling up for jumpers, as much as any team in the league. As always, this is fine when it’s Durant (really anything he does is efficient). Durant has an effective field goal percentage of 50.0 on pull-up jumpers (which takes into account those which are threes) and he averages 8.0 pull-up field goal attempts per game.
We all know about Westbrook’s pull-up jump shots in transition that he loves so much, and of course Russ is near the top of the league in pull-up field goal attempts as well. He only hits 38.4 percent of them overall and his 34.7 percent rate on pull-up three-pointers has actually made him somewhat efficient with these shots, but you still don’t really want pull-up threes from Westbrook to be something the Thunder rely on to win games.
Westbrook has been hot since returning from injury. In the 10 games, he’s shooting over 42 percent from three, a mark much higher than his career 30.9 percent from behind the arc. This season, he’s attempting 4.6 threes per game, 0.9 more per game than his previous career-high of 3.7 last season. And 3.4 of those 4.6 attempts per game are of the pull-up variety.
One thing no one can question when it comes to pull-up jumpers is that they are typically somewhat unexpected. That’s the point, to take the defense off guard a little by pulling up. Not only will this take the defense off guard, but it can create a situation where your teammates are not in position to get an offensive rebound. Westbrook’s threes almost always appear out of offensive rhythm and often his jumpers come when Ibaka is coming up to set a screen. This is a problem when the Thunder are playing small with Ibaka at the five. In those lineups, Ibaka is by far the best offensive rebounder for the Thunder with Westbrook probably being the second best.
If you’re going to shoot a lot of jump shots like the Thunder, you’re going to want to be a good offensive rebounding team. The Thunder rank 12th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, which is decent. But that number could be better if they weren’t taking so many shots that aren’t likely to result in offensive rebound opportunities.
That brings us back to the post-ups. Offensive rebounds from shots from post-ups are a very high likelihood. Especially when it’s someone like Durant taking the post-up shot, you know he’s going to have one or two defenders trying to block his shot. A shot from the post provides Ibaka the opportunity to get into offensive rebounding position and even for Westbrook to slash to the rim for a rebound when the shot goes up.
The biggest issue the Thunder have in not getting enough post-up attempts is the way in which they try and get them. We’ve all seen the set they run where Durant starts off in the opposite corner and then comes across the court to try and get in post-up position. Every NBA team knows when this is coming. For all Durant is so great at, getting position on the block may be the thing he is least great at.
Every Thunder fan (myself included) is guilty of looking the other way when it’s brought up that the Thunder don’t post up enough. OKC has still been one of the most efficient offenses in the league the past three years while very rarely posting up. But it hasn’t been good enough to win a title yet. The time is now for Durant to start getting on the block more.