The Oklahoma City Thunder’s recent losses have made it much easier to determine how the team needs to improve in order to win a championship. New Year’s resolutions are what everyone else uses for inspiration; why can’t NBA teams use them as well?
Talent is helpful in winning championships, but it doesn't do the job on its own. Defense, efficiency and smart basketball are the areas this team really needs to improve in.
This has become a problem at every level of basketball. Too many times, we see players who drive to the hole with the obvious intention of drawing a foul.
Here is a little secret: that mentality does not lead to success. Eventually, referees figure out that you are pandering to their whistle, and they stop blowing it. The Thunder have this problem, and it is particularly evident with Russell Westbrook.
He drives the ball to the hole better than most players, but he often expects to be bailed out by the officials. Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder need to focus on putting the ball in the hoop when they drive. The calls will follow.
When you have playmakers like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the offense can bog down by relying too much on their one-on-one abilities. The Thunder must learn to move the ball to their secondary scorers more often.
Ball movement has long been heralded as the best way to break down a defense. Notice I wrote “ball movement” there, and not “idle dribbling.” Granted, isolation plays have their place, especially when you have Westbrook and Durant.
However, moving the ball to players like Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha will not only force the defense to rotate, but it will also get even better shots for the team’s stars. It will benefit everyone involved, and the team must make it a priority in 2013 and beyond.
The Thunder defense is usually good enough to get OKC the win. Against Miami on Christmas Day, it was clear that the Thunder D is not good enough to beat the very best of the NBA.
The problem is the team’s rotations on defense. Too many times the Heat (and some other teams) are able to get wide open threes and point-blank dunks and layups by moving the ball around and confusing the Thunder defenders.
This is not just a “young players” problem. Even Kendrick Perkins, whom I have defended as an important part of this team, has been extremely lax in his defensive discipline in big games recently. When a player who is supposed to be a veteran leader and defender is having those problems, everyone else is going to as well.
As of December 27, the only team that averages more turnovers per game than the Oklahoma City Thunder is James Harden’s new team, the Houston Rockets. At 15.9 giveaways per game, the Thunder are killing their offense at critical times.
This is not a new problem, as the Thunder led the league in this same stat during the 2011-12 season. While they did get their turnover woes under control for the most part during the 2012 playoffs, there is no guarantee that will happen again in 2013.
While Russell Westbrook gets most of the blame for this problem as the point guard, it is by no means a one-player problem. Kevin Durant also throws an errant pass usually once or twice per game. Those issues have to be corrected if this team is going to win a title.
No one can blame the Oklahoma City Thunder for getting hung up offensively on talented players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin. However, they need to use Serge Ibaka more in their offense.
Ibaka is playing the best he ever has offensively, averaging 14.2 points per game on 56.7 percent field-goal shooting (both career-highs). If those wasn't enough, he is also shooting 82.5 percent from the free-throw line, a remarkable percentage for a big man.
There are never enough shots to go around on a team as offensively talented as Oklahoma City, but the Thunder need to make an effort to get the ball more to Ibaka. He is playing at a very high level and getting him the rock more will make the Thunder even tougher to defend than they are now.