Here at Blue Man Hoop, we’re gearing up for the 2012-13 season by looking around the NBA to see how each team matches up with the Golden State Warriors. We’ll give you an overview of each opponent, a matchup or stat to watch and a measure of just how big a threat each opposing squad represents for the Dubs. Be sure to check out the other previews we’ve done so far on Blue Man Hoop: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Hornets, New York Knicks.
Oklahoma City Thunder Overview
It’s hard to think of a team that’s got it better than the Thunder. They have two elite superstars, both of whom are likable, solid citizens, signed up for the long term. They’ve got a front court four-five combo that basically exists solely to defend, rebound and block shots. And they’ve already made an NBA finals, despite their best players being under 25. It certainly feels like they’ll either improve enough to really challenge the Heat for a handful of titles right away, or simply wait as Miami ages and then assume the throne in a few years.
The Thunder rate very highly in virtually every statistical category. They’re an exceedingly efficient offensive team and in the league’s top 10 in defensive efficiency. They rebound exceptionally well and can play at virtually any pace—though they’re best when they get up and down the floor.
However, there is one area in which OKC struggles mightily. They take the worst care of their possessions of any NBA team.
The Thunder have the highest turnover rate in the NBA, with a whopping 26.5 percent of their possessions ending in a TO. Compounding the problem, OKC also had the league’s lowest assist rate last year, with just 13.1 percent of the team’s possessions ending with an assisted basket.
The easy explanation for these staggering numbers would be to blame Russell Westbrook and his inability to be a true point guard. Despite playing the position for four seasons, Westrbook is simply not a point guard. He plays with his head down and is a born attacker. He’s caught a lot of flack for this, especially because his teammate, Kevin Durant, is about as efficient a scorer as there is in the league. Durant routinely leads the league in scoring, and there’s been a consistent call from critics for Westbrook to take a back seat and let Durant get even more touches.
But while Westbrook is probably partially to blame for the Thunder’s awful AST/TO situation, he’s not wholly at fault. The fact is that the Thunder are just a team that doesn’t play in a way that yields assists. Durant doesn’t need to be set up; he can isolate and score on his own. The same goes for Westbrook. And James Harden, OKC’s third-best option, also excels in isolation sets where he uses his strength to easily get to the free-throw line. Beyond those three, the team lacks scorers. So it’s easy to understand why OKC just doesn’t rack up the assists. And the turnovers are really just the product of aggressive players in isolation situations—those things happen more often in one-on-one situations.
Summation: OKC is great at almost everything, but they’re really bad in one area. That area of weakness will exist as long as OKC’s offense is based on three great players operating in isolation sets.
Who cares about the key matchup? I have more to say about the Thunder. This is not a democracy.
OKC’s contract situation with James Harden is exactly like the one the Warriors are going through with Stephen Curry. Both are set to become restricted free-agents at the end of the season, both will probably sign for a max contract, and both may or may not actually be worth said max contract.
The main difference is that the Thunder already have two players signed to max deals and another (Serge Ibaka) making almost max money. They can’t keep Harden for a max contract without hitting the luxury tax…hard.
Both the Thunder and Warriors now have 30 days to agree with Harden and Curry, respectively, on a deal. Once training camp ends, and the season kicks off, negotiations hit the pause button until after the season. For the Warriors’ sake, hopefully Harden signs for less than max money in the next month, setting Curry’s market rate a little lower.
Threat Level: 10/10
OKC is the class of the Western Conference, they’re younger than the Warriors and they’re pissed off after getting bounced by the Heat in last year’s NBA Finals. They’ll be hungrier than ever, and they might even see their window closing a little with Harden’s possible departure looming. If Golden State keeps any of this year’s contests with OKC close, they’ll be happy.