The Thunder sit at a mediocre 3-3 going into the weekend. The main theme for OKC thus far has been the overwhelming presence of Westbrook and Durant. Many make the claim that OKC's duo are going back to the two-man game and simply ignoring their teammates. This is a hard case to make, because Westbrook is leading the league in assists at 10.5 per game. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant is shooting an efficient 45% from the field and 48% from beyond the arc.
But let's dig deeper. How are Westbrook and Durant performing when it matters?
I went to NBA.com and got the fourth quarter averages for the top 8 Thunder players. I then compared those averages to the team's overall averages and made a few graphs. Here's what I found:
- Serge Ibaka is the first player that jumps out at you. Despite averaging 12.5 points per game, Ibaka is doing very little of his scoring in the fourth quarter. This is due to a lack of opportunity, as Ibaka has only averaged 1.2 field goal attempts per fourth quarter.
- Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters have been very effective. Obviously the Denver blowout skews things a bit. But Kanter has been great at kickstarting the offense early in the fourth. Meanwhile, Waiters has provided support for Durant and Westbrook on the weak side late in the game.
- This chart mostly illustrates the fact that Billy Donovan doesn't trust Steven Adams or Andre Roberson in the clutch, at all. Adams got time in the Orlando double overtime game, but that was only because Kanter fouled out.
- Billy Donovan definitely likes to go offense-first during the fourth quarter.
- Durant and Westbrook aren't moving the ball enough in the fourth quarter. In both of their cases, their fourth quarter assist total is less than a fourth of their total assists. Meanwhile, both Durant and Westbrook's total time spent in the fourth quarter is more than a fourth of their total time spent on the floor.
- Despite the fact that Westbrook and Durant aren't moving the ball, Waiters and Kanter score roughly half of their points during the fourth quarter.
It's easy to blame everything on Russell Westbrook, because he has the ball in his hands so much. But KD is just as guilty of trying to put the team on his back late. During fourth quarters this year, KD is shooting 38.5% from the field. Check out these two plays down the stretch of the Chicago loss. KD just soloed it into a double team, ignoring his teammates:
Both of these plays were unsuccessful, as you can probably guess. But the lack of late passing doesn't stop there. Check out these three crucial plays at the end of the Toronto loss. KD and Westbrook continue to take difficult shots:
I know that all of these passes aren't easy to make. But if KD and Westbrook would recognize the double team just a bit earlier, they wouldn't have to make the pass difficult. Teams are zeroing in on the fact that KD and Westbrook use all of the Thunder's clutch possessions, and they're adjusting defensively. The result is a Thunder club that can't score when it matters.
I could excuse this kind of offense if Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, or Nick Collison were on the floor. But we're looking at Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, and D.J. Augustin. All three of the players Donovan is using are more skilled on the offensive side of the ball. So it's absolutely crucial that the Thunder take good shots down the stretch, because they're not going to make up for it defensively.
Billy Donovan has his work cut out for him. Does he continue to go offense first, and hope that KD and Westbrook play like they did during the first three quarters? Or does Donovan emphasize defense and go back to the ways of Scott Brooks? The first option might be more sustainable come April, but the second option might win more games now.
Given the Thunder's past, I'd expect Donovan to continue to go offense-first late in the game. Hopefully KD and Westbrook will recognize that they have more options now than they ever have before.