The Oklahoma City Thunder have reached a point where they are now expected to compete for a championship year after year, so it's crucial for the offseasons to be full of rest, but also full of making improvements.
Even with 60 wins under their belt for last season, there were still some areas that the Thunder could have used some help in. There are the obvious holes like Kendrick Perkins' slowed production as a starting center or Kevin Martin leaving a gaping hole as Oklahoma City's sixth man. However, there are also some more subtle issues that the Thunder need to address in order to stay on track to push for an NBA title.
Of these underlying areas, perhaps the most glaring need is for OKC to cut down on turnovers.
It sounds simple enough that the Thunder should stop giving the ball away to the opponent, but wanting to do something and actually executing in the NBA can be two very different things. Turnovers are often overlooked in the box score but can also often be key indicators of how the final score was reached.
Turnovers can absolutely cripple a team throughout the game by disrupting offensive flow or killing momentum and confidence. The Thunder certainly learned about this the hard way in last season's playoff game against the Memphis Grizzlies when Derek Fisher had a poorly timed mental lapse.
The entire series against Memphis was a great example for just how negatively affected a team can be by too many turnovers. Though the Thunder were already playing without star guard Russell Westbrook, the odds were stacked even higher due to the fact that they were giving the ball away at high rates against the Grizzlies while also not forcing many takeaways of their own.
Not counting OKC's Game 1 victory, the Thunder averaged 15.7 turnovers over the next four games which were all not-so-coincidentally won by the Grizzlies. Meanwhile, Memphis averaged just 10 turnovers in the same four-game stretch, which certainly factored into its handling of Oklahoma City.
More important than just the turnovers is how many points the opponent actually converts off of said turnovers.
Throughout last season, the Thunder averaged 14.6 turnovers (27th in the NBA) and also allowed opponents to score 16.7 points per game off of those turnovers.
Just think about that for a second. When your team has control of the ball, they are actively attempting to score. But when they turn the ball over, they are not only missing out on potential shots for points but giving the opponent more (and sometimes easier) opportunities to score.
It sounds really simplistic, but the truth remains: the Thunder basically gave away almost 17 points per game last season that could have been points in their favor.
While it's definitely impossible to cut out turnovers completely, making it a habit to take better care of the ball really makes a difference in almost every area of the game. The offense has a better chance of establishing some rhythm and momentum and the pressure to stop fast breaks is decreased for the defense.
For Oklahoma City specifically, the teams that are likely to challenge them the most on their path to a championship (San Antonio and Miami) are teams that thrive on forcing turnovers while also not committing many of their own.
We see highlights all the time of the Heat turning a steal into an explosive, demoralizing dunk or alley-oop at the other end. Even though the Spurs are a bit less flashy about it, they convert on turnovers in their own way and have made that a part of their continued success in the Gregg Popovich era.
Making a deep run in the playoffs certainly entails treating each possession with special care, especially with how close a lot of games end up being. When the final score difference is just four or five points, it can often lead teams to ponder if they could have come out on top if they had just prevented some of the turnovers.
The Thunder might have felt that a lot during their series against the Grizzlies, where they were already at a big disadvantage without Westbrook.
Fortunately, Westbrook is on the road to recovery but Oklahoma City still has to make a conscious effort to lower the number of giveaways to maximize offensive opportunities while also limiting the opponents' chances to turn those turnovers into points.
If the Thunder decrease team turnovers, how much will the team improve?
Winning an NBA championship starts in the offseason and happens when teams make the necessary adjustments to make themselves better than any given opponent. The Thunder are a very good basketball team, but the high amount of turnovers and resulting points given up is unacceptable.
Oklahoma City luckily has a strong core of players dedicated to their crafts who strive to get better and better every season in any way they can. For this next season specifically, though, taking care of the basketball should be one of their top concerns.