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One on one: Is OKC taking good shots but missing all of them?

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The Thunder offense has struggled to put the ball in the basket; are they generating good shots, but just missing?

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first 3 games of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have had an abysmal showing when shooting the basketball. At just 39% from the floor and 24% from 3, the Thunder are last in the league in shooting efficiency.

Jon Hamm pointed out on Twitter that, despite no results to show it, the Thunder are getting open looks.

Among shots characterized as open (defender 4-6 feet away) and wide open (defender more than 6 feet away), OKC is shooting 39% and 23% respectively. However, these shots account for 49% of the shots that OKC takes, a respectable volume.

This leads to the obvious question:

Are the Thunder actually generating good shots?

We present the cases for each side, so that you can decide if the shot quality belies this statistic.

Bobby: These shots are great!

From a simplistic viewpoint, it is pretty clear: open shots are good shots.

Of course, things aren’t actually that simple. It matters who is taking the shots and where they are taking them from. Looking over the data, though, there is one simple solution to fix the shooting issue: make shots.

Again, this all sounds simplistic. But the reality is that every single player that we have multiple years of data on (except Noel) is shooting a significantly worse percentage than they did last season. How stark is this? Look at the table below.

The two columns on the right show the differences in FG% on open shots and 3pt% on open shots. In case you couldn’t guess, red is not good. If every player could just shoot a normal percentage on open shots, it would do wonders for this offense.

Specifically, shooting better on threes could have an impact on the amount of open shots at the rim. To optimize three point shooting percentages, we should be looking to generate shots for Abrines, Patterson, and Paul George. Those guys are currently 1st, 4th, and 6th in quantity of threes per game (though hopefully Russ will slide down once we get past a single game sample size). Right now, PG and Abrines are still relatively close to last season’s percentages, though a 3-4% increase could be expected, but Patterson could see a large swing if he returned to his career numbers.

The other question is, where the shots are coming from? From the shot chart below, the location distribution is actually pretty good. The majority of shots are coming at the rim, and the Thunder are actually pretty efficient there. Midrange shots aren’t too prevalent, especially given the number of players who tend to pull up from there. The volume of shots from 3 is pretty high. Probably the biggest complaint here is the lack of corner 3s relative to those above the break. This is especially concerning when players like Jerami Grant are shooting from the wings. Those aren’t high efficiency shots, and should probably be nixed.

Overall, though, the results belie the quality of the shots. If the Thunder continues to get the looks they have, you can expect the efficiency to rise. The numbers relative to the elite offenses may stay low, but they should not remain at the bottom of the league, given how many open or wide open shots have been generated.

Dom: These shots are turrible!

Per NBA.com’s tracking data, the Thunder’s open shots per game consist of 11 3-point attempts and 10.3 2-point attempts, while wide open looks are 19 3-point shots per game and 3.7 2-point attempts. On the surface it seems like maybe they’re actually getting good shots, because they’re open. But when you really look closer, they’re not.

All open shots are not created equal. If you’re a defense, would you rather an open Paul George shot or an open Andre Roberson shot (get well ‘Dre!)? Obviously the latter.

Of the Thunder’s 19 wide open threes per game, 9.9 of those are being taken by Terrance Ferguson, Dennis Schroder, Ray Felton, or Jerami Grant. Of those 4 players, Felton is the “best” career shooter at 32.8 percent. These are the exact guys a defense wants taking these shots, and the players taking them are open for a reason. Using the same 4, of the 11 “open” looks per game, 3.5 are those same 4 players.

The only two players on the current roster who have a history of successful 3-point shooting are Paul George and Patrick Patterson, who are taking a combined 6.3 “wide open” threes a game and another 4 “open” looks. The issue here is, after last season, teams really don’t even have a big issue with Patterson who’s now shooting a dreadful 11.1 percent on wide open threes. This lack of spacing is totally killing the offense and not giving any spacing. When a team knows you can just pack the lane it makes defending a team predicated on driving and being aggressive that much easier.

Adding to this is the specific type of 2-point attempts being taken. Generally, teams want to try to either get to the rim or create a look for a good 3-point shooter. This team lacks an abundance of sharpshooters, so getting to the rim would help create open space.

However, per Cleaning the Glass OKC is currently getting to the rim at a rate ranking 21st in the league and is 10th in percentage of shots converted once they get there. From every other range, they’re 19th or worse. Teams know that you can play this team in a very simple way, and that way is just sitting low and packing the paint while waiting for the perimeter miss.

I’d expect at some point maybe Patterson’s shot comes back and having Abrines helps some, but unless there’s a trade on the horizon this issue seems more likely a long term one that Sam Presti either didn’t see or didn’t address. It was an offseason concern that’s translated in the worst possible way for the Thunder.

Poll

Are the Thunder generating good shots?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    Yes, they’re just missing them now, but the percentages will come around.
    (191 votes)
  • 44%
    No, they’re creating the kinds of shots defenses want them to create.
    (156 votes)
347 votes total Vote Now