Among many choices, one of the interesting things about the Thunder three games into the season is the way coach Billy Donovan appears to be talking up the first 0-3 team in Oklahoma City 11-year NBA history.
Indeed, is it alarming he doesn't sound alarmed?
Because, statistically, almost nothing’s going right for the Thunder. Nevertheless, Donovan complimented both his team’s offense and defense following Sunday’s 131-120 loss to Sacramento.
“I really thought our guys made some really positive strides offensively,” he said as he began his opening statement following the loss.
Later, though still going with his opening statement, he praised the defense, and then tried to explain why the stats don’t tell the story.
“I think we did a much better job defensively,” he said. “I think it was a little bit misleading, defensively, the number of points we gave up because [of] the number of non-paint 2s that they made and what we’re trying to do, in terms of forcing them into jump shots. They made them and you’ve got to give them credit. They shot the ball extremely well.”
The last part of that quote, at least, is very true. The Kings shot 54.9 percent overall and 45.5 percent from 3-point land, making 10 of 22, which isn’t a whole lot of 3-point attempts these days, yet an awfully strong hit rate.
“I thought their ability,” Donovan said of the Kings, “to make a lot of 15-, 18-, 10-, 12-foot jump shots … We had a chance to kind of have momentum. They broke the momentum making those kinds of shots.”
It’s unclear if Donovan’s choosing to go with a best-case-scenario interpretation of OKC’s third straight loss, or if he’s truly encouraged following a game Russell Westbrook returned to the lineup and finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, yet his team trailed virtually the entire game and lost by 11 points.
Even if it’s the latter, there’s no getting past the fact there are some trends that can’t continue if the Thunder plan to turn their season around any time soon.
Three games in and the Thunder rank dead last in field goal percentage at 39 percent, dead last in in 3-point shooting at 23.9 percent, next to last at the free-throw line at 66.7 percent and 22nd in the league in 2-point shooting at 41.8 percent.
Then there's "effective shooting percentage" which takes into account a made 3-point attempt being worth 50 percent more than a made 2. In that, OKC's not only dead last at 43.4 percent, but way back of 29th-place Orlando's 46.9 percent (to say nothing of league-leading New Orleans' 62.7 percent).
On the bright side, perhaps — or just the opposite — there is one shooting category in which the Thunder lead the league: attempts.
Oklahoma City’s taking an average 96.7 shots per game, which is testament to its second-in-the-league 16.3 offensive rebounds per outing, but maybe an indicator the Thunder’s new “play faster” mantra is serving to undermine its efficiency.
Nor does it help that the Thunder rank 21st in shooting-percentage defense at 47.7 percent.
Of course, if that’s just opponents hitting difficult and contested shots, everything should even out over the course of the season.
However, if it’s not, and the shooting woes continue, OKC could build itself an early hole that haunts it the rest of the season.
George called OKC’s offensive struggles, “the least of our worries,” adding, "defensively, as a group, we have to get better at that end.”
One or the other, at least.