If the Miami Heat are the villains of this season in the NBA, than the Oklahoma City Thunder would most likely play the role of the good guy. They are basically known as the most exciting team in the NBA right now. They are the youngest most electric group of players in the league and they can go off for a play of the night, steal and fast-break alley-oop at any moment.
That is what they are known for but it is not at all why they win games. If you really knew the reason the Thunder have beat the Bulls, the Blazers, and last night's impressive win at Utah on the second night of back to back games, you may not consider the Thunder such an exciting team. The fact is the Thunder have began this season on pace to be the best free throw shooting team in league history.
The Thunder were certainly a good free throw shooting team last season but I first noticed how unbelievably consistent they are this season in an exhibition game. I was in Kansas City watching the Thunder play LeBron and the Miami Heat at the Sprint Center. Half way through the fourth quarter I looked at the stats and saw that OKC was something like 25 of 26 from the free throw line. It is not just the teams ability to shoot free throws so accurately that is impressive, but their ability to get to the line consistently every night.
After the win over the Jazz (in which they shot 33 for 34 on the game) The Thunder are shooting 88.1% on free throws. That number makes the record look silly, a measly 83.2% by the Celtics in '89-90.
The rookie Cole Aldrich is the only player on the team shooting under 80% from the line and he has only had 6 attempts this season. The two best players on the team also lead the way in the Free throw category, Russell Westbrook is shooting 91.2% while Kevin Durant shoots a league leading 92.6%. The combination of Durant and Westbrook is hard enough to defend against but teams cannot afford to foul either one because they are both two of the best free throw shooters in the league. When those are the guys who have the ball in their hands most of the game, coach Scott Brooks can feel comfortable with a close lead at the end of games.
It is the equivalent of having the league's best closer in your bullpen in baseball. There is very little chance to make a come back late in games against teams that do not miss free throws. In the Thunder's case there is not even one player you can go for to put on the line in that situation.
There countless stories of teams being doomed by free throws in huge games or entire seasons. That will be the complete opposite for the Thunder. They can feel confident as a team that they will have the advantage of getting fouls and making those shots every game. With the style that both Durant and Westbrook play it is inevitable that they get fouled a lot. With the others they can still have confidence in their ability to make the shots.
Free throws may not be the most exciting way to win but the Thunder make up for it with steals from Westbrook, dunks from Durant, or blocks from Serge Ibaka. There is no shortage of excitement to the Thunder's style of play, but they win in the part of the game that is most often forgotten. In tough stretches the Thunder will get by with their free throws keeping them in games. In good stretches they will be very tough to beat because they can pull away and keep knocking down foul shots. Even if it is the time they use check their text messages or get a beer from the vendor, Oklahoma City Thunder fans will not be forgetting about free throws this season.