Oklahoma City fought back yet again in the fourth quarter after appearing defeated by the New Orleans Pelicans due to a subpar performance where fundamental basketball didn’t come easy. Although the Thunder shot the ball well overall, the multiple simple mistakes they made, cost them the game…on national television.
Defense wins championships and the Thunder are leading the NBA in that department. Their offense is just good enough to beat most teams as well, but what makes OKC so dangerous is their ability to turn that elite defense to offense with being in the league’s top three in fast-break points. OKC is an ideal championship contending team, but a few things can and if left unfixed, will keep them from winning an NBA Title.
Lack of free throw shooting:
Oklahoma City has underperformed severely with their free throw shooting this season. As a team, they’re shooting 70 percent from the line, which ranks 27th in the NBA. There are six players averaging less than 70 percent from the line, five of which being players in OKC’s regular rotation. More importantly, Russell Westbrook is one of those guys.
At 60.7 percent for the season, Westbrook is shooting a career-low and much lower than last season where he shot 73.7, which was a big drop off from the season before.
The Thunder are one of the best teams when it comes to getting to the free throw line, ninth to be exact, but it goes to waste when they’re only successful seven out of 10 times.
Westbrook is the leader of the Thunder and one thing that has been highly publicized is Westbrook’s knack of turning the ball over. Those that follow the Thunder have learned to live with that because when he isn’t doing that, he’s phenomenal. There are statistics to prove that as well.
The Thunder aren’t a deplorable team when it comes to turning the ball over, but they rank 16th in the NBA, which is the definition of average. But there are games where they’ll fall off a cliff and turn the ball over far past their season average.
Turnovers can put a damper on the Thunder’s elite defense because turnovers typically result in fast break points for the opposite teams.
This isn’t a huge problem for OKC, but it’s something that can get out of hand quickly as their strength of schedule is about to head down a competitive road.
Allowing offensive rebounds:
New Orleans nearly doubled OKC’s offensive rebounds. Randle and Davis led the charge with nine of the Pelicans 17 offensive boards, to OKC’s seven.
The Thunder leads the league in offensive rebounds, averaging 15.6 per game, but they also haven’t faced many elite teams or big men yet this season. Davis and Randle are the real deal and two players that are known for their elite play in the around the basket.
This certainly isn’t alarming because every team doesn’t have All-Star caliber big men that are known for rebounding the ball but on those nights where the Thunder are matched up with equal interior talent, they have to rise to the occasion.
Can’t allow season or career highs:
Yes, Anthony Davis is great and will get his points no matter what. Usually, in situations where you’re playing an All-Star, you usually try to contain them, while limiting the role players. With OKC’s defense, there’s no reason that even a star of Davis’ caliber should torch them for a season-high 44 points on 50 percent shooting.
More importantly, championship contending teams can’t allow role players to have big games. Weirdly enough, although OKC has a league-leading defensive rating, they have a knack for allowing role players to have their career or season-best game.
Wednesday night to be specific, Jrue Holiday and Randle combined for 42 points. Although both are solid role players, there is really no reason for them to have star-like games as they did against OKC’s defense.
Too many threes:
It has become crystal clear that the Thunder aren’t a good three-point shooting team. Until they learn to live with that and supplement threes with better shots, this may be OKC’s biggest kryptonite against New Orleans, they shot a season-high 43 threes and hit 30% of them.
Oklahoma City is an elite basketball team and exciting to watch. It’s clear they’ll be better than expected, especially as the core learns to play even better together.
It would be a shame if something as small as the things listed were the things to stop OKC from reaching their full potential.