Numbers And Film: OKC Offense Lacks Ball Movement Late

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — It’s hard to find fault in the way the Oklahoma City Thunder played offense last season. They ranked second in efficiency, scoring 107.1 points per 100 possessions.

Lowest assist rate, 2011-12
Oklahoma City 2,462 1,224 49.7%
Sacramento 2,490 1,271 51.0%
Indiana 2,354 1,228 52.2%
Washington 2,414 1,262 52.3%
Memphis 2,425 1,290 53.2%

The only team that was more potent was the San Antonio Spurs (108.5). But the Thunder and Spurs were very different offensively. The Spurs’ offense was thought of as a work of hoops art, thriving on ball movement. The Thunder’s offense … not so much. In fact, OKC was the only team to assist on less than half of its field goals last season.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Historically, there’s no real correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency. The Thunder had the talent to thrive without ball movement, as described in this post from March. Russell Westbrook (452) and Kevin Durant (334) ranked first and fourth in unassisted field goals respectively. And when they fell short in The Finals, it was more about their defense than their offense.

Still, Thunder coach Scott Brooks talked a lot about ball movement this preseason, even before his team traded James Harden. For Brooks, it was as much about the abundance of turnovers (OKC ranked 29th in turnover rate) as it was about the lack of assists, as John Rohde of The Oklahoman wrote last month

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Brooks said. “It’s the willingness to pass, the decisions to make the correct pass, the ability to understand where the next pass (is) and also the receiver. In the past we had some spacing issues, but that picked up last season. Some of our turnovers were off of guys trying to make the pass and didn’t quite execute it the same way.

“I hope to see another step in that direction, but we have guys who get along and we have guys who play extremely hard and the next step is to try to figure out ways to get better offensively and help each other score more easily. We spend a lot of time on passing drills, just the basic fundamentals of passing.”

In the preseason, the Thunder ranked 10th in assist rate, 12th in turnover rate and second in efficiency. And through the first three quarters of Thursday’s game in San Antonio, while they weren’t scoring very efficiently, they had 17 assists on 23 field goals.

Here are a few examples of Thunder dimes in the first three quarters…

That third play, where a Westbrook post-up turned into an open 3-pointer for Kevin Martin on the opposite side, wasn’t all that dynamic, but it was a good example of how the Thunder can change things up by playing inside-out.

Then, in the fourth quarter, the Thunder ball movement just stopped. They had only one assist on their six field goals, and most of their missed shots would have been unassisted as well.

It wasn’t a straight iso-fest. There were pick and rolls with more than one player involved. But too often, the ball-handler had tunnel vision …

The second play above was OKC’s standard pin-down play, which results in an isolation for Durant. They ran the same play on their final possession of the game, executed it pretty lazily, and Kawhi Leonard stepped in and stole the pass, setting up Tony Parker‘s game-winner.

That can be the issue with a low-assist offense. While you can thrive with it over the course of 82 games, it can be easier to defend in the playoffs and in late-game situations.

Overall, Game 1 of the season was a pretty awful offensive performance for the Thunder, who scored just 84 points on 92 possessions. It would have ranked as one of their most anemic games of last season.

That could make great fodder for anyone who was critical of the Harden trade, especially since the second quarter (16 points on 22 possessions) and the fourth quarter (18 on 23), when Harden typically helped carry the offense, were particularly ugly. But it was just one game after just a couple of post-trade practices, and the Thunder will have another six months to integrate Martin.

What’s more disappointing is that, no matter who the third offensive option was, the ball movement was lacking and the OKC offense was typically predictable when the game was on the line.


  1. Lj says:

    Everyone needs to calm down it’s K-Marts first game with the team and it’s going to take a little while to get the ball rolling and the offense flowing like it needs to be. Give it some time for them to mesh together and get used to eachothers playstyles for a first showing of our new look and Maynor getting back into the mix losing last years western conference finals contender on a buzzer beater wasn’t a bad showing IMO.

  2. Mike smith says:

    Blah, blah, blah. Only lost by 2 pts. You know why they only lost by 2 pts? Because San Antonio was tired girl. Remember, they played a back to back without Ginobili? On top of that, missing 40% of their FT’s when they even got to the line, which is rare in this league. Also, the Spurs missed easy open Jumpers and 3 balls. The next time they play, the Spurs may well beat this WEAKENED OKC team by 20. That actually happened last year with Harden. But this is not a SA vs OKC fixation. OKC just proved they absolutely cannot compete for a championship with this team, especially with a reloaded Miami Heat with a RELAXED Lebron James, now that he has that monkey off his back. SLAM DUNK!

  3. Okc says:

    People always talk bad about westbrook but they forget without him thunder would not beaten the laker last year

  4. Okc says:

    Okc trade Harden because they have no choice. Harden wants more money that Okc can’t afford, anyway still a great trade made by Okc

  5. Arvin says:

    Harden wants to be a star and a starter and RW was the reason why the thunder lose on last season finals!

  6. cp10 says:

    Spurs will make the playoffs and get eliminated just like last year and the year before.. no disrespect

  7. JERBY says:

    they shud trade Russell Westbrook to Miami for Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony

  8. Jhonnie says:

    I’ve said this for 2 years. Westbrook’s an overrated version of Iverson that can dunk. They sealed up Westbrook’s contract and gambled on Harden’s contract forsseing the future lockout. They should have kept Harden and released Westbrook. Bad management decision which sent arguably the most complete guard in the league to Houston and left the Thunder bound for an NBA championship next season or next to one that’ll likely just get to the playoffs every year without a ring. This isn’t the Lakeshow which just needs time to mesh. Kevin Martin won’t get them a ring this season or the next 3. Smart decision by Harden. He gets more money and the chance to prove his elite status and skills. Good move by Houston which will be set for the next 5 years (with the rookies they picked up) or as long as LIn and Harden are both on contract.

    • yakitoko says:

      Like I always said Westbrook is the problem in OKC, he shouldn`t be a PG period. He is too selfish, He has to accept that OKC is KD’s team not his. Trading Harden was dumb, they should have trade Westbrook instead. I don`t care how much Westbrook scores it`s won`t bring a championship with the way he plays. OKC will keep making it to the playoff and not win a championship.

  9. anthony says:

    Lol…tunel vision russel…I love okc..but theres times when russel needs to past the ball

  10. Lujah says:

    They lost by two points :/ To the only team that was better than them in the West last year. This… is not a problem.

  11. Lujah says:

    They lost by two points :/ To the only team that was better than them in the West last year. This…. is not a problem.

  12. krespino says:

    OKC was my favorite for NBA championship, even last year, but now it’s a different story… It’s interesting that the OKC front office could not evaluate the role of Harden in OKC’s playing style, and the impact his absence would make, the way these columnists and commenters can do… Or maybe they did make the evaluations but could not afford Harden’s conract? I wonder if Harden insisted for max contract. Could he have accepted like $12-13m a year? A saving of $2-3m /yr is worthless if you are suddenly declining from the position of being a top two NBA contender…

  13. dayton says:

    wow. at least there are some other people who understand basketball here.. Russel Wilson is not a true point guard. KD needs a true point guard dishing him the ball if he is ever going to live up to his potential. not tunnel vision russel.

    • fail says:

      yea too bad thats not the way okc plays their game of basketball. maybe on teams like the clippers and spurs, sure. but the dude is at okc and thats the way they gonna play. if they wanted a “true” pg they wouldve gotten rid of westbrook by now. obviously he doing something right otherwise he wouldnt be there

    • PatPAtriot says:

      Youre right; Russell Wilson definitely is not a true point guard. For that matter, he’s not really a true basketball player unless Seattle lets him play in the NBA.

    • L Dribble says:

      Russel Wilson. Lol. At least there are some other people who understand basketball here.

  14. Bongoman55 says:

    That team does need russel to score. With Kevein averaging 30ps per, where would the rest of scoring come from? This is an opportunity to use Kmart at point and return RW to SG.

  15. Sampa says:

    OKC and the big mistake… given up Harden and going on with a point guard whose only interest is scoring.
    Having such an offensive weapon as KD and a point guard who can take more shoot that him is … well … weird!

  16. me says:

    rw is still immature as a point guard. the guy is a star because he can score a bunch. but as a point guard, more are required for him on the court, espacially now that harden is gone. besides, as they say, the spurs will always be the spurs.

  17. osty says:

    The Harden trade was the biggest mistake, James Harden can play both offensively and defensively and arguably he was the unknown anchor of OKC.

  18. Mike says:

    Nothing suprise,WB is alway outplayed by Tony Parker.

  19. steppx says:

    interesting article. Might it be better to play Maynor and westbrook together. RW has never been a point guard………and his tendency to take pull up jumpers is becoming a liability.