It’s hard to learn much about a team by watching it play a terrible opponent. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Saturday foe, the New York Knicks with Bill Walker starting in the injured Carmelo Anthony’s place, qualified handily. The home team looked great and won easily, but chicken-egg dynamics made meaningful analysis difficult.
To illustrate the misleading nature of such a game, imagine watching the game with someone who hadn’t watched the Thunder this year, and having to correct your friend’s mistaken impressions.
9:51, 1st quarter. Your Friend: “Serge Ibaka from 20 – good! That guy’s jumper looks like a real weapon.”
You: “Actually, he inexplicably attempts 2.9 shots per game from 16-23 feet and hits 37% of them, per hoopdata.com. The Thunder coaching staff is either trying to make him a better shooter through simple muscle-memory repetition, or they don’t care about giving away two possessions a game, especially against this lousy Knick team.”
0:37, 2nd. Your Friend: “Perkins from 14! With big guys this accurate from the perimeter, the Thunder are impossible to match up with.”
You: “That’s the fifth shot he’s attempted from beyond 10 feet this season. And his form remains hideous. Doesn’t matter right now because his team is up 20.”
9:00, 3rd quarter. Your Friend: “Westbrook from the top of the key again – wet! That’s twice tonight – this guy should be in the 3-Point Shootout.”
You: “That’s the second one he’s hit tonight – and the sixth on the season, out of 26 attempts. You tell me why a guy who shoots 23% from long range this season, and 26.7% for his career, hoists up nearly two a game, because I’m lost.”
6:16, 4th quarter. Your Friend: “James Harden knocks down all three free throws – doesn’t he have like 100 points tonight in 12 minutes?”
You: “The actual numbers were 24 in 27 minutes, and for the season he averages 0.55 points per minute, which is comparable to guys like Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade and better than Dwight Howard. It helps that he and Nazr Mohammed are the only Thunder bench players with any semblance of offensive talent, so it’s pretty much his show when the second unit’s out there, but he’s probably the most effective bench scorer in the league. And he’s even more effective when being moronically fouled by the likes of Jared Jeffries.”
Post-game, looking at the shot chart. Your Friend: “So, Durant was 10-13 from the field, and all three of his misses came from the right side of the floor. Doesn’t that suggest that it should be simple to defend him – just force him right?”
You: “It’s true he seems to prefer the left side, but both Minnesota and Memphis forced him right plenty earlier this season, and he carved up both of them. You’re really picking your poison against him – he doesn’t even have to attack the basket except in transition right now, because he shoots 47% on long 2s and threes. This wasn’t just a function of his playing the Knicks – he’s making his case as the most accurate shooter currently playing.”
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.