Thunder Stars Do It Alone

OKLAHOMA CITY — Coach Norman Dale demanded that his Hickory Huskers pass the ball four times before taking a shot. And most of us have been led to believe that ball movement is the key to a good offense.

But this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder had the second-most efficient offense in the league, scoring 107.1 points per 100 possessions. And they did it with the league’s lowest assist ratio.

The Thunder were the only team in the regular season that assisted on less than half of its field goals. Even the iso-happy Kings assisted on a greater percentage of their buckets.

This wasn’t unprecedented. The 2005-06 Mavs had the second-most efficient offense in the league with an assist rate of slightly less than 50 percent. And over the last 15 seasons, there’s been no real correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency.

The Thunder’s top three scorers all have done most of their work without help.

Thunder assisted field goals, 2011-12 (incl. postseason)

Player FGM Assisted %Assisted
Kevin Durant 784 381 48.6%
Russell Westbrook 703 151 21.5%
James Harden 384 178 46.4%
Others 1,152 795 69.0%

Both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant ranked in the top five in unassisted field goals in the regular season, with Westbrook leading the league by a large margin. James Harden‘s 156 unassisted field goals ranked 55th.

Most unassisted field goals, regular season

Player FGM Assisted Unassisted % Unassisted
Russell Westbrook 578 126 452 78.2%
LeBron James 621 232 389 62.6%
Chris Paul 425 76 349 82.1%
Kevin Durant 643 309 334 51.9%
Tony Parker 427 98 329 77.0%
Kobe Bryant 574 255 319 55.6%
John Wall 378 83 295 78.0%
Brandon Jennings 469 182 287 61.2%
Carmelo Anthony 441 167 274 62.1%
Rudy Gay 485 214 271 55.9%

Durant, Westbrook and Harden are three different players. And they get their points in different ways.

Isolating Durant

According to Synergy Sports Technology, 20 percent of Durant’s regular season offense came from isolations, while only 14 percent came as the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls. Only Kobe Bryant (438) and Chris Paul (346) scored more points on isolation plays than Durant (333).

Of Durant’s 334 isolation plays in the regular season, 57 percent came from the middle of the floor. And according to Synergy he’s been much more effective from there (1.04 points per possession) than from the left (0.95) or right (0.94) sides.

The Thunder have changed things up a bit in the playoffs, with 23 percent of Durant’s possessions coming on pick-and-rolls, and only 14 percent coming on isolations.

Westbrook in transition

Durant ranked sixth in the regular season with 292 fast-break points. Westbrook (337) ranked third, behind only John Wall (375) and LeBron James (364). Of Westbrook’s total points, 22 percent came on the break.

But Westbrook doesn’t taking the ball all the way to the rim as often as James and Wall do. He seems to be a fan of the pull-up 15-footer in transition, with 72 (18 percent) of his 405 fast-break points (playoffs included) coming on shots from outside the paint.

In contrast, only six percent of Wall’s and seven percent of James’ fast-break points have come from outside the paint.

Harden off the screen

Now, a low assist rate doesn’t mean a team’s offense is iso-heavy. According to Synergy, less than 11 percent of Harden’s regular season offense came in isolation. But 32 percent of it came on the pick-and roll. And on 86 percent of those pick-and-roll plays, Harden dribbled off the screen or split the defenders.

Still clutch

In the past, we’ve focused on the Thunder’s lack of ball movement when they need a bucket on a late-game possession. It seemed like they struggled to get good shots on final-minute possessions, because they usually just gave Durant the ball on the perimeter and ask him to do it by himself.

The one possession that really stuck out last season was in the final seconds of regulation in Game 5 of the conference finals vs. Dallas. Durant got the ball more than 30 feet from the basket, went nowhere, and got blocked by Shawn Marion

This year, the Thunder have been in plenty of close games in both the regular season and postseason. Durant led the league with 145 clutch-time points in the regular season on 39 percent shooting, while Westbrook ranked fifth with 127 points on 42 percent shooting. But only 39 of the Thunder’s 103 “clutch-time” field goals (38 percent) were assisted in the regular season.

Clutch time = last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less.

Back in March, we saw OKC actually run a final-possession play that went beyond a simple down-screen to get Durant the ball on the perimeter. Harden got the ball at the top of the key this time, and he got the ball to Durant, who was open in the corner, thanks to a back-screen from Nick Collison

But plays like that have been few and far between. In the postseaon, only 10 of the Thunder’s 28 field goals have been assisted. Still, they’ve been very good in big moments, scoring 109 points per 100 possessions in clutch time over the course of the regular season and playoffs.

Durant is 12-for-20 in clutch time in the postseason, with only two of the 12 buckets coming via assist.


  1. Ryan C. says:

    Thunder in 5 games. done

  2. GOUncleDurante says:

    OKC WILL GET THIS YEAR TITLE because they have a new weapon OKD


  3. Basketballsukksazz says:

    I once watched paint dry. Though it was more exciting then a basketball game. Hoping to watch next paint dry session during game 2.

  4. Jbob says:

    It’s so hard for everyone to accept how superior the new kids on the block really are! The Thunder have already beat Miami once this year, and not by a small margin. It’s the same yack yack yack, over and over again. They beat Kobe and the Lakers. They beat Parker and the Spurs. And the chances are HIGH that they are gonna knock Miami out and win the finals. It will probably be a dog fight, but they are gonna come out better in the long run, 4th quarter magicians.

  5. dwight says:

    chalmers cant stick westbrook but sefolasha can d wade

  6. Travonne Hardy says:

    The Point that most people are avoiding is that none of that matters , This series is up for grabs. Home Court Advantage is definately useful , But These Two Teams have to grind out every victory , For the thunder the nba finals is untouched territory , but does that really matter even with their overwhelmingly unconventional offense that scored the most points in the nba , as For the Heat , this is their second final appearance in two years , According to the stats have been considerably better than their last year run at the title , Lebron is coming off his worst playoff performance ever in which he took all types of blame , Dont expect that to occur twice. Lebron Is Not the most clutch player as we all know , but one thing we know for sure is that things change , Not saying that it will this series, but this is an League where Anything can happen . In conclusion all i tell u is to be ready for a great series.

  7. tikboy says:

    i believe in destiny. this is it for the HEAT! Go Miami!

  8. sanjay says:

    wade holds the key people! he has to improve his shooting and play like he did as mvp in 2006! James alone cannot do it. I have no idea how good west coast defensive teams are. Miami is the best defensive team and may be celtics could match them. East coast defense is always better than west coast!
    Everybody saying OKC IN 4-1! Wade might have other ideas!

  9. Bob Jones says:

    It’s funny how you mention that “there are only 2 out of 27 teams in the past have won all 3 games at home, so don’t expect the Heat to do so either”, when the last team to win three straight home games was the dwyane wade lead Miami heat in 2006, just saying.

    • HeatH8r says:

      That was before he got LeBron James and The Invisible Bosh on the same team as him. I don’t think the Heat will take all three games at home any more than I think the Thunder will sweep this series. OKC will win Game 1 by a blowout, and then narrowly win Game 2. The series will go to Miami, and the Heat will win Game 3, lose Game 4, and then win Game 5, all by very close margins. The series will return to OKC with the Thunder leading 3-2, and the Thunder will close out the Heat in Game 6 with an energized home crowd helping them. That’s my prediction…Thunder in six.

  10. jay says:

    ibaka dont really play in the post he is a jump shooter so how could he get bosh in foul trouble. miami best line up for this series will be the no point line up with wade at the point battier g, bron haslem and bosh. because okc will not be able to patrol the paint. they will get burnt everytime.

  11. RaGe says:

    I hoped for a spurs vs celtics finals coz i still dont want them to fade away in bball world. but reality bites bball is for the younger quicker legs out there. OKC vs MIA hmm the 2 best younger teams out there OKC is solid except for a loose cannon PG. if westbrook accepts his role and be a pointguard penetrator and give durant the wheel then LBJ will wish to bring his talents to sooner country if he would like to get a ring after his MIA contract expires.

  12. Tony from Sydney says:

    guys get your facts right. When you talk about the heat, you only talk about Lebron. That’s is why ppl think the heat will win beacuse Lebron will eventually get his first title. But not this year i am sorry. The Thunders are unbeaten at home, not saying that they will not lose at home, but it will e very difficult for Miami to do so. Also the Heat is very vulnerable at home. there are only 2 out of 27 teams in the past have won all 3 games at home, so don’t expect the Heat to do so either. 20 out of 27 teams have won the finals with home court advantage. So the odds are all against the Heat. Talking about winning and to win in real life is 2 complete diferent things.

    • Willem says:

      The heat have a better home record…so please get your facts right to use your own words,,,,just saying…

    • ball dog says:

      … the odds were up against Dallas last year– and also up against Miami in 2006–but still they ran home with the trophy,.

  13. HeatKingOfEast says:

    as expected, no one is interested in this article, poor writer ahahhahha. if you want to draw attention to people, write articles regarding the heat. im sure many comments will come either positive or negative. ahahahha

    The heat has a good opportunity to win this series, i favor the team from away at 1st and 2nd game because miami just needed to split the home court of okc and then defend their home at 3 4 5. maybe end the series at 5 or 6. however, if this goes to game 7, okc has an advantage since its their home.

    • HeatH8r says:

      The odds of any team winning that three in a row at home stretch in the Finals are so bad that I’d be surprised if the Heat didn’t return to Oklahoma City down 3-2 in the series. The only shot the Heat have at winning this series is to push it to seven games, but Kevin Durant is more clutch than LeBron or D-Wade so it doesn’t matter, because the Thunder will win Game 7 if there even is one.

  14. peopleplease says:

    also, who does bosh go up against….. or will lebron play ibaka… 2nd runner up on defensive player of year…. sure let durant get his durant points…. ibaka get none….. or bosh gets ibaka and is toooooo tall and draws those bosh raptor like fouls…. either way this is the finals, watch the REAL miami fouls get called, these will not be flops people, please, okc is a foul heavy team specially with perkins….. and ibaka….. and ego westbrook…. cant u all see this first game coming to miami…. 2nd game to okc, third to miami, fourth a toss up, and 5ifth to miami as its last home game…. lets see outcome of 1st and 4th game… winner of these two will win….even if miami loses first game, nooooo adjustment, and i am a miami fan, will overpower the run okc will be on at home court… miami only hope is to win first game… me obi won kanobi winning this first game is our only hope….

  15. peopleplease says:

    lets see, the matchup to watch is all of them, watch miami ignore this home court the first game…. seriusly agter coming off boston, the crowd wont mean, dictionary…. lebron and durant equal, wessbrook chalmers equal…. with his attitude, bosh ibaka…. bosh baby…. and finally watch wade draw harden into foul trouble as easy as drawing in a colored number book…. watch it people, the only option is pull harden off the bench… wich they wont do, or will they??????? either way first game it will be tooooo late… watch miami d win this first game, and you will all you psychichs out there

    • Brandon says:

      Westbrook and Chalmers are equal?

      surely you meant Wade

      • Bball fan says:

        he must be joking, Westbrook equals to Chalmers. I put him next to D. Rose if he looks for his teammates and picks the right time to attack.

    • HeatH8r says:

      Except Miami can’t beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City…Games 1 and 2 will go to the Thunder.

  16. Renato says:

    The big problem is for Durant.He´s gonna face the toughest matchup of the season in Lebron James,and a good percentage of those isolation plays might not end well for him.On the other hand,Westbrook could get 30+ points per game,cause Chalmers is not Tony Parker.If Wade plays his fourth quarter level of basketball, Heat´s chances of winning are significantly increased.

  17. John From OKC says:

    This tendency worries me a bit. Having followed my adapted city’s Celtics as long as I have I’m a strong believer in ball movement. And that makes me much less interested in a Rondo/Westbrook trade than most online Celtics fans. If the Thunder could find themselves a Rondo clone somewhere they would probably be better of with him as the PG while Westbrook moved to SG.

    I’d be pulling for the Thunder against LBJ’s team even if I lived in Miami rather than Boston. However good LeBron may be on court, he is an inexcusable jerk off it. Red Auerbach would never want LBJ wearing a Celtics uniform, and he’d have good reason for it.