Areas OKC Thunder should refine in the season’s home stretch

Dennis Schroder, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dennis Schroder, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With 14 games remaining, the OKC Thunder must tighten up both their offense and defense to secure home court advantage and build momentum.

Having nabbed only three wins in their last 10 games, the OKC Thunder are battling to maintain homecourt. In just the last week they’ve lost and recaptured the third seed in the Western Conference. With only a ±3.5 game difference between the third and eighth seed, consistent production is a necessity for this OKC Thunder squad.

Although they missed Paul George for three of their last six games, there is too much reliance on both George and Russell Westbrook to squeak out wins. There have been apparent flaws in their execution on both ends of the court, which can be illustrated based on their advanced statistics.

Shot Output and Ball Distribution

Since the NBA All-Star Break, the OKC Thunder have under-performed in their last nine games, exhibiting some glaring deficiencies. Given the team ranks in the bottom of the league (23rd) in 3-point percentage, the OKC Thunder have to rely on creating open driving lanes and going to the line to maintain an efficient offense.

Unfortunately, that has been opposite of the case lately. In terms of free throws, five of their last nine games have ranked in the bottom 15 (out of 66) in free throws per field goal attempt. Not coincidentally, six of those games have ranked in the bottom third of total games in true shooting percentage, with only one win. Although free throws are so interdependent with the nature of each game, they are indicative of the poor shooting from the Thunder as a result.

Additionally, ball sharing has also suffered. When the whistle is not blowing in the team’s favor, the ball movement is crucial to compensate. In five of their last nine games, the OKC Thunder have ranked in the bottom 12 (of 66) of their games played in assist percentage. The OKC Thunder depend heavily on the shot creation of Westbrook and George to generate open shots for the team, but the rock has stagnated lately. This makes the offense predictable to defend, putting more stress on the superstars.

Lack of Perimeter Defense

Because the OKC Thunder live by their strong defensive identity (5th in the NBA), the latest struggles on the less glamorous end are of concern. Since the break, six of their games have resulted with the highest opponent 3-point percentage in 20 of the 66 games played.

Teams are susceptible to having hot shooting nights, but the OKC Thunder have also played 4 games since the break which rank in the bottom six in terms of opponent turnover percentage. Forcing mistakes and deflections is crucial to score easily on the break, and the OKC Thunder have struggled with concentration. The interior defense has fared g

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reat all season thanks to the gargantuan frames of Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel, but the perimeter needs to hold up.

Assertiveness on defense has been lacking as well, as four of their games have ranked within the top 6 of their game total in most opponent free-throw attempts. Some games have been called unfavorably against the Thunder, but the overall lack of discipline has cost them precious victories.

Utilizing their athleticism and length with effectiveness will be crucial to reduce the amount of freebies given to their opponents, and maintain a steady momentum to their game plan going forward.

This article and statistics utilized drew from games played prior to the matches against the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets where the OKC Thunder showcased precisely why the above items matter. More importantly, the associated wins demonstrated how the defense, ball movement, and shot choice can lead to easier victories.

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Moving forward, let’s hope the Thunder concentrate of those same fundamentals to secure that home court seed for the first round.