After 38 games into the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder are 6 games above .500 and winning at a 57.9% clip. Interestingly enough however, the Thunder are slightly better when a player that was considered an off-season afterthought gets minutes. That player is Joffrey Lauvergne. When he plays, the Thunder’s record is 20 and 12, or 62.5%. When he doesn’t, the Thunder are 2 and 4.
The thing is, I can’t even definitively pinpoint why. Joffrey’s numbers are solid from the field, 46.2% overall and 35.3% from long distance, while his free throw shooting has been oddly awful at 55.9%. At only 14 minutes per game, Lauvergne is averaging a pedestrian 5.3 pts to go along with 1 asst and 3.6 rebounds.
The only stat that seems to jump out about Joffrey is his PER, which stands at 14.0. Clearly not an earth shattering number when one considers that 15.0 is considered average, but still good enough to sit at number 5 on this Thunder roster.
PER is not the most popular advanced stat because, as the critics argue, a player’s PER can be inflated by taking a large number of 2 point attempts. But in Lauvergne’s case, his 2 point attempt ranking falls perfectly in line with his shooting rank on the team, 6th in both the 36 minute and 100 possession adjusted rate categories.
Still, a 14 in John Hollinger’s all-in-one basketball rating is a middle of the pack rotation player:
Teams’ winning percentages generally don’t fall almost 30% in the absence of a role player, but such is the case when Lauvergne doesn’t get off the bench. Why? I suppose one could point to his offensive diversity....
Not a horrible spread...but hardly game changing. Lauvergne has good hands and does a fair job of taking care of the ball. He can play above the rim but not by much, and he isn’t particularly quick. So why does his absence have such a negative effect?
Since nothing tangible explains it, then the answer must be something intangible, and my observations of Joffrey points to one specific trait: his confidence. From day one, I have never sensed anything indecisive about him. He may not do everything right, but he does it with conviction. My Dad would have loved Joffrey. He would have said, “Lauvergne may be doing something wrong, but at least it’s a moving violation.”
Check out these highlights of Joffery’s first two months in Thunder blue:
I sense no hesitation. If he’s open, he takes the shot and does so with vigor. There is nothing tentative about Joffrey’s game. He’s never idle when he doesn’t have the ball, and is always moving to whatever gaps he finds in the defense and making himself available to whoever has the ball.
Take the game against Denver, for example. Lauvergne scored 4 points in only 5 minutes playing time. Both baskets were lay-ups, and both were assisted, one from Alex Abrines and the other from Cameron Payne (Cam’s 1st and only assist this season). Lauvergne also assisted on Payne’s first 3 point make of the season. Doing the math...in only five minutes, Lauvergne had a direct hand in 7 Thunder points.
Payne played an additional 8 minutes and hit 3 out of his 4 shot attempts, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc. It is my opinion that Joffrey’s presence during those first 5 minutes of Payne’s NBA season was instrumental in Cameron’s success in returning from his foot injury.
Lauvergne isn’t fancy or flashy. He’s like a good Cabernet Sauvignon house wine. A no nonsense player that enters a game ready to go. Who can be productive in a variety of lineups, and when used in moderation, can be good for what ails you because you know what to expect every time he steps on the floor. His confidence has a calming affect that helps the team find a balance and I can’t help but wonder if a glass of Joffrey, even a small one at some point, might have helped curtail the free-fall the Thunder experienced in the final minutes in Charlotte on January 5th.