One Team, One Stat: Westbrook taking it inside

NBA.com Global on Jan 26, 2018 08:34 AM
One Team, One Stat: Westbrook taking it inside
FILE - NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 16: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes to the basket against the New York Knicks on December 16, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

The Oklahoma City Thunder are starting to look like the team we thought they'd be.

After an 8-12 start to the season that had them ranking 21st offensively through November, the Thunder have gone 19-8 since Dec. 1 (Dec. 2, PHL time), vastly improved offensively and still a top-10 team on defense. There have been some hiccups along the way, but the Thunder have climbed from ninth to fifth place in the Western Conference, and are just two games in the loss column behind the third-place San Antonio Spurs.

Entering Thursday (Friday, PHL time), the Thunder have a five-game winning streak and are on the brink of being one of four teams that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

They can get there by continuing their recent offensive surge (123 points scored per 100 possessions over their last three games) when they host the Washington Wizards tonight in the first game of TNT's double-header.

Here are some numbers to know about the Thunder through 47 games...

THUNDER BASICS

Pace: 98.0 (21st)
OffRtg: 106.4 (11th)
DefRtg: 102.8 (5th)
NetRtg: +3.5 (7th)

THE STAT

Over his last 22 games, Westbrook has taken 11 percent of his shots from three-point range.

THE CONTEXT

That rate ranks 48th among 51 guards who have attempted at least 200 shots since Dec. 11 (Dec. 12, PHL time), higher than only those of Ben Simmons (1 percent), Ish Smith (6 percent) and Elfrid Payton (11 percent), and less than half the rate of Ricky Rubio (29 percent).

Westbrook wasn't nearly as reticent to shoot three-pointers through the Thunder's first 25 games. Through Dec. 9 (Dec. 10, PHL time), Westbrook had taken 29 percent of his shots from three-point range, a rate in line with the one he registered last season (30 percent). With the game within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Westbrook's shot selection was more heavy on three-pointers. Through those first 25 games, 21 (45 percent) of his 47 clutch shots came from three-point range.

But he was shooting just 31 percent from beyond the arc, a mark which ranked 72nd among 81 players who had attempted at least 100 3-pointers through Dec. 9 (Dec. 10, PHL time). And on those clutch three-pointers, he was 4-for-21 (19 percent).

Game 25 was an overtime win over Memphis on Dec. 9 (Dec. 10, PHL time) in which Westbrook hit the game-winning free throws after drawing a foul on a drive to the basket. Prior to that, he shot 1-for-12 from beyond the arc, including 0-for-4 in the clutch.

And at some point in the next 48 hours, Westbrook clearly made a conscious decision to shoot fewer three-pointers.

Against Charlotte on Dec. 11 (Dec. 12, PHL time), Westbrook took only two of his 22 shots from three-point range. The trend continued, with three or fewer three-point attempts in nine of his next 10 games. Over the last three seasons, Westbrook has had just 17 games in which he attempted one or zero three-pointers, and eight of the 17 have come in the last six weeks.

Three is greater than two and a player can generally increase his effective field goal percentage by shooting less from inside the arc and more from beyond it. Even when Westbrook was shooting 31 percent from three-point range, those shots were worth a lot more (0.9 points per attempt) than his *mid-range shots (0.6), on which he was shooting 30 percent through Dec. 9.

* Mid-range = Between the paint and the three-point line.

But after that 1-for-12 performance from deep, Westbrook started shooting more from mid-range. He made just 2-of-13 mid-range attempts in the next two games, but started shooting better after that.

And the shot selection change has worked out. Over the last 22 games, Westbrook has shot 48 percent, up from 39 percent over those first 25. And the difference has been almost completely from mid-range.

Since Dec. 11, Westbrook has scored 42 more points from mid-range than any other player and his 46 percent on mid-range shots ranks 11th among 28 players who have attempted at least 75 in that timeframe. He also leads the league in points scored in the restricted area since Dec. 11 (Dec. 12, PHL time).

Westbrook's shot chart late in close games has changed as well. Only 14 (29 percent) of his 48 clutch shots since Dec. 11 (Dec. 12, PHL time) have been three-point attempts. His game-winner against Brooklyn on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) was a drive to the basket.

Some of his mid-range shots have actually been off the catch. As you'd expect, the vast majority of Westbrook's two-point jumpers are off the dribble, but he's 9-for-15 on catch-and-shoot two-point jumpers since Dec. 11 (Dec. 12, PHL time) after attempting just three prior to that.

His effective field goal percentage of 50.1 percent over the last 22 games is still below the league average. Westbrook's free throw rate has actually dropped over that time, even though he has taken a greater percentage of his shots at the basket. And his career-low free throw percentage (71 percent, down from 82 percent over the first nine years of his career) has his true shooting percentage at just 51.2 percent, also below the league average and his lowest mark since his second season in the league.

But it's been climbing since he changed his shot selection, and the Thunder offense has improved with its point guard. It didn't exactly break out on Dec. 11 (Dec. 12, PHL time), but the Thunder rank fourth offensively (111 points scored per 100 possessions) since then after ranking 24th (102) prior.

NBA.com/stats Video: Watch Westbrook shoot 10-for-14 from mid-range against Dallas on Dec. 31 (Jan. 1, PHL time)

TWO MORE THUNDER NOTES

1. The Thunder have allowed just 94.3 points per 100 possessions in 549 minutes with Steven Adams, Paul George and Andre Roberson on the floor together.

That's the lowest on-court DefRtg among the league's 250 most-used three-man combinations, with George, Roberson, Westbrook (95.1) ranking second and four other combinations of OKC starters in the top 12.

Roberson has been the biggest key to the Thunder's defense. They've allowed 11 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (96.6) than they have with him on the floor (107.7). That on-off DefRtg differential ranks *fourth among 292 players who have played at least 500 minutes this season. The Thunder went 4-4 and ranked 12th defensively over an eight-game stretch (from Jan. 1-16, PHL time) that Roberson missed with patellar tendinitis in his left knee.

* The three players with a bigger on-off DefRtg differential -- Detroit's Langston Galloway (-12.8), Dallas' Yogi Ferrell (-12.3) and Houston's Luc Mbah a Moute (-11.4) -- are all reserves, typically playing more minutes against opposing reserves.

George, meanwhile, leads the league (by a pretty wide margin) with 4.3 deflections per game. With George and Roberson on the floor together, Thunder opponents have committed 19.2 turnovers per 100 possessions, the highest opponent turnover ratio of the league's 250 most-used two-man combinations. And *64 percent (180/283) of those turnovers have been live balls.

* On average, just 53 percent of the league's turnovers have been live balls.

The Thunder defense is in the middle of the pack in opponent effective field goal percentage (15th), defensive rebounding percentage (14th), and opponent free throw rate (17th). But OKC leads the league in opponent turnover rate, thanks to its two wings that will both deserve First Team All-Defense consideration at the end of the season.

2. Adams has 57 more offensive rebounds (216) than defensive rebounds (159).

No other player that has grabbed at least 30 total rebounds this season has more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds. And since the league started tracking offensive and defensive rebounds in 1973-74, only one player has ever averaged at least 7.5 rebounds per game (Adams has averaged 8.9), with more on the offensive end than on the defensive end. That was the Nets' Jayson Williams in 1997-98, who had three more offensive boards (443) than defensive boards (440). So Adams is on pace for maybe the most unique rebounding season ever.

Adams is a force on the offensive glass. He's the reason the Thunder lead the league in offensive rebounding percentage for a third straight season, despite the departure of Enes Kanter, who led the league in offensive rebounding percentage in 2015-16 and ranked fourth last season. Adams leads the league this season at 17.3 percent, the highest mark for any player in the last three years.

If you take second chance points out of every offense in the league to determine how efficiently they score on initial possessions, the Thunder rank 18th (and below average) in that regard. But the second chances have pushed them up to 11th (and above average) in overall offensive efficiency.

They would get a bigger boost if they were better at converting second chances into points. The Thunder have scored just *1.17 second chance points per offensive rebound, the second lowest rate in the league, better than only that of the Chicago Bulls (1.14). Adams ranks second in put-back field goal attempts, but 19th in put-back field goal percentage among 26 players with at least 50 attempts.

* This is not a perfect metric, because it doesn't account for team offensive rebounds (when the rebound goes out of bounds off the defensive team or the defensive team commits a loose-ball foul on the rebound).

On the other end of the floor, Adams has seen a drop in his defensive rebounding percentage each of the last three seasons, with Thunder bigs often allowing Westbrook to grab the ball and start the break. But the discrepancy between Adams' offensive boards and defensive boards is more about the increase on the offensive end of the floor than the decrease on defense.

And throughout his career, the Thunder have been a better defensive rebounding team with him on the floor than with him off the floor. That's more important than his individual rebounding numbers.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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