25%: it’s more than just Kyle Singler’s field goal percentage. Somehow, it is the point the Oklahoma City Thunder have reached in their ever-crucial 2015-16 campaign. A lot has changed, for better or worse, and a lot has stayed the same – for better or worse.
The Thunder currently stand at 12-8 - good for third in the West - after being 7-13 at the same point a year ago. While last season’s circumstances might render this the most meaningless improvement in league history, Billy Donovan & Co. have at least come out of the season’s opening quarter having avoided any major pitfalls. No one is catching Golden State in the regular season at least, and assuming Kevin Durant’s hamstring is still intact, OKC has avoided serious, season-derailing injury. The team is still free of excuses, and if the season ended today they would be thrilled with the opportunity afforded by their seeding.
But it hasn’t looked very easy. The same old "Scott Books issues" have rebranded themselves as general "Thunder issues," and whatever the reason – be it the new system or nagging back pains or just plain bad luck – several key players have regressed. The defense is still a mess, the turnovers are as ugly and plentiful as ever, and the much-hyped second unit has caused more headaches for the Thunder coaching staff than for Thunder opponents.
That said, there is still promise in the form of a pair of teammates that was until recently both boasted PER’s over 30 (unprecedented over a full season), and Donovan has shown a willingness to adjust his rotations in the form of Anthony Morrow getting more run in recent contests. $25 million main Kyle Singler – he of the -1.1 PER – simply wasn’t cutting it as a full-time NBA player.
While numbers don’t tell the whole story, they certainly tell some of it. Here are some team per game stats:
|Points Scored||Points Allowed||FG%||Opponent FG%||Assists||Turnovers||3 Point Attempts||3 Point Makes|
If you go to a Thunder game this year, you’re going to see more points. That’s the good news. The bad news? You’ll see more points by both teams, and this is coming off a year in which unacceptable defense kept OKC out of the playoffs and basically got their head coach fired. Assists are up, which is good, but turnovers are also up – and by a much higher percentage. The best news is that the team is scoring more three point baskets on fewer attempts, and is shooting a higher field goal percentage overall. Look at these stats – do they not seem to tell the story of a 12-8 team?
Onto the players. These stats are all courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, and for those unfamiliar, Wikipedia has a great definition of PER:
PER strives to measure a player's per-minute performance, while adjusting for pace. A league-average PER is always 15.00, which permits comparisons of player performance across seasons.
PER takes into account accomplishments, such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative results, such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls. The formula adds positive stats and subtracts negative ones through a statistical point value system. The rating for each player is then adjusted to a per-minute basis so that, for example, substitutes can be compared with starters in playing time debates. It is also adjusted for the team's pace. In the end, one number sums up the players' statistical accomplishments for that season.
|Russell Westbrook||Per Game|
|Andre Roberson||Per Game|
|Kevin Durant||Per Game|
|Serge Ibaka||Per Game|
|Steven Adams||Per Game|
Westbrook and Durant are clearly playing out of their minds. Westbrook’s bump in shooting efficiency and Durant’s massive increase in blocked shots were both, frankly, unexpected. Good thing, too, because apart from the two franchise players there isn’t a ton of good news concerning the starting five.
Adams is not exactly living up to expectations, and when the OKC coaching staff says that Roberson’s impact doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, they’re right – it really, really doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Of most concern here is, of course, Serge. I was tough on Serge in my last column, but this year he is simply not playing like a core player. Most shocking about these numbers, though, might be the fact that this year isn’t really that much different than last year. His turnovers are down, but everything else is about the same. You don’t think of Serge Ibaka as a league average player, but his PER indicates that he just might be closer than we’d like to admit.
|D.J. Augustin||Per Game|
|Dion Waiters||Per Game|
|Anthony Morrow||Per Game|
|Nick Collison||Per Game|
|Enes Kanter||Per Game|
If the numbers here look pretty bleak, that’s because they are. The Thunder bench was widely expected to be among the league’s best this year, but so far it has been wildly inconsistent. Dion Waiters has, as expected, been the true X Factor. In a warped sense, Dion Waiters has a case for League MVP. He swings the outcome of nearly every game he plays in. Unfortunately, it’s not always towards the Thunder.
Enes Kanter has had some nice performances, but has not provided the stable low-post presence the team had hoped for when they matched Portland’s $70 million offer sheet. His numbers compared to last year are, of course, somewhat slanted due to a reduced role, but I was actually surprised to see that his blocked shot numbers were actually down from last year. Kanter’s infamous defense has actually seemed much improved this season, even if it is only in terms of pure effort. Kanter is a flawed player, and that has always been known, but he is far from the largest culprit on the Thunder bench.
That honor would fall to D.J. Augustin. D.J. was brought back to provide a steadying force, and a nice change of pace from Westbrook’s unique chaos. So far, though, he has given the Thunder anything but. His turnovers are down, but so are his minutes. His blocked shot numbers last year also broke the system. This has been a very unimpressive start to the season for D.J., and if it lasts longer there is a chance that Cameron Payne may get some extra minutes.
Nick Collison, sadly, has also finally hit the downside of his very respectable career. The once-automatic jumper has completely deserted him, and his numbers across the board generally tell a story of a proud veteran whose time is nearly up. Collison will always be one of the most respected players in Thunder history, and he deserves every minute he gets, but his play is absolutely in a state of serious decline.
The Forgotten Men
|Kyle Singler||Per Game|
|Cameron Payne||Per Game|
|Mitch McGary||Per Game|
Not a lot to say here, other than that I hope two of these guys get off the bench, and the other one is there for good. The demotion of Mitch McGary has to be considered one of the most disappointing developments of the still-young season.
The Most Improved Player
|Steve Novak||Per Game|
Stats can lie, yes, but not when they’re this overwhelming. When Steve Novak is on the floor, the Thunder are essentially playing 14-on-1. As a side note, this is why PER matters: finally, a stat that tells us why Steve Novak is five times better than Kevin Durant.