Through the first four games of their eight game regular season restart schedule, the Oklahoma City Thunder have had quite a few high and low points. With a record of 2-2 since entering the bubble, they’ve certainly learned a lot about how they look after so much time off.
All things considered, Oklahoma City has looked better than a team that has gone .500 in their last four games. For starters, they lost a very winnable game against a good Denver Nuggets team last week in overtime. Furthermore, every game they have played to this point has been against a current playoff team. To make things even more difficult, Oklahoma City has been without their NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Dennis Schroder in three of their four games.
Over the next week, the Thunder will play their final four games against the Washington Wizards, Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, and LA Clippers respectively. Until then, let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways thus far for this Oklahoma City Thunder team.
Defense is the key to success
With Oklahoma City’s slow pace of play, they are not built to outscore teams. Through 68 games this season, they have the the 5th slowest pace of any team in the bubble. Averaging 110.7 points per game this season, that puts them at 20th in the league. So far though their four games since the restart, that has fallen to 109.3 points per game, which is fifth worst of any team. This points to defense as one of the most important things for the Thunder.
Before their most recent game against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder’s defensive rating of 107.9 was good for eighth in the entire NBA. In both games Oklahoma City have won to this point in the bubble, they limited their opponents to under 100 points. They looked excellent defensively, holding the Utah Jazz to 94 points and the Los Angeles Lakers to 86. In the two games they lost, the Thunder allowed 121 points.
With no home court advantage, defense is especially important in these upcoming games. If Oklahoma City can focus on beating teams on that end of the court and stay away from shootout games, they should find success in their next four regular season games and into the playoffs.
Don’t rely on 3-pointers
To this point in the season restart, Oklahoma City has been one of the league’s lower 3-point shooting teams. In fact, they’re 14th out of the 22 teams at Walt Disney World at 34.9 percent from deep. This isn’t anything new for them, as prior to the NBA hiatus they shot 35.5 percent, good for 18th in the league.
With that being said, the Thunder have done a great job at limiting the amount of shots they take from deep. Among the 22 teams still playing this season, they shoot the fourth fewest. If Oklahoma City wants to be successful moving forward, they should probably try to keep things that way.
With how many explosive guards they have that can get to the paint with ease, the Thunder might find success attacking the rim more throughout games. Although they were 21st in the NBA before entering the bubble in points in the paint, that is certainly an area they could improve in without having to make many major changes. They’ve also got some of the best mid-range scorers in the NBA in Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander.
Focus on sharing the ball
Prior to the season kicking back off, the Thunder were 28th in the league in assists per game (21.7). Over their past four games, they are dead last with only 18.7 per contest. Sure, this is largely due to Dennis Schroder’s absence, but it still isn’t very promising. Oklahoma City does pass the eye test when it comes to ball movement. They are one of the better teams in the league at sharing their shots on offense and having an even distribution of points among their best players on that side of the ball.
If Oklahoma City is going to continue to have success offensively, they need to generate more quality shots and score off of assists. This goes back to attacking the rim and dishing out to shooters or drawing double teams and feeding it to their bigs inside.
One player who may look to improve in this area is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even with how talented he is, his assist numbers have been lower than some might like to see this season (3.3 per game) due to playing alongside other great passers. With it still being uncertain how long Schroder will remain outside of the bubble, look for Gilgeous-Alexander to do a better job at facilitating the offense and finding his teammates for good looks off of his assists.