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The misfiring Thunder offense

Oklahoma City have been putrid when it comes to scoring the ball

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Detroit Pistons David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder’s first ten games have been relatively solid but the team’s performance has been very up and down. Oklahoma City have been excellent on the defensive end of the floor despite the absence of Chet Holmgren but early wins have masked some of the Thunder’s issues.

Outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the whole team has struggled to score the basketball efficiently. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 30.8 points per game on 55.7% effective field goal percentage. His scoring accounts for around 28% of the Thunder’s total points on a nightly basis.

When you account for SGA’s 5.8 assists per game, it is quite clear that his self creation drives the whole team. When Shai plays badly, the Thunder’s offense stutters and opposing teams start to build leads.

This should not be the case on a roster where shot creation and passing have been prioritised by the front office. Over the last few years, Sam Presti has focused on adding players who have good feel for the game and who bring others into play. Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort and Tre Mann should supplement SGA in an ideal world.

So far this season. Josh Giddey has struggled to find a rhythm and co-exist with Shai. The fit between the two players will never be perfect. Giddey needs constant motion to maximise his passing game whereas Gilgeous-Alexander is happier to drive and kick. Building an offense to accommodate both play-styles is very difficult but the balance has been off.

It does feel like Giddey is drifting through games and is not getting the best of out his opportunities. Some of the fit issues can be put down to coaching; I think that Daigneault needs to dip back into his playbook and run actions where cutters like Wiggins are moving off the ball. More motion usually equals better play from Josh.

The other portion of the fit issue relates to Giddey’s athletic ability. Josh Giddey dribbles the basketball in an upright stance and his stance impacts how Giddey moves off the court. Being upright helps him to survey the floor but it is harder for him to cover distance. His stance and lack of bend means he does not navigate through screens quickly and therefore struggles to create separation.

Improvements in his agility will come with time but at the moment, it is difficult for Coach Daigneault to deploy Giddey as the secondary playmaker. Josh is most valuable as the lead initiator; in this role, he has the time and space to walk his teammates into easy buckets. Making Giddey the lead guy would mean taking Shai off the ball more and this is a thornier topic for Daigneault to broach.

Gilgeous-Alexander is playing at an elite level and he is leading the Thunder to victories. He can make a convincing argument that he deserves to be the primary option on the Thunder and that the team benefits from his style of play. It would be undeserved to take the ball out of his hands in favour of a player who is not firing right now.

There are solutions available to Daigneault when it comes to fixing the Thunder’s offensive woes. The first being that Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey need to be staggered. Giddey is most comfortable running the offense and Daigneault should empower him to do so by running lineups where Giddey drives the team.

The other solution would be adjusting the Thunder’s system to play more east-west rather focusing on playing vertically. Josh Giddey is at his best when he is making cross-court passes and shifting the ball from strong-side to weak-side.

Coach Daigneault could look into side pick and rolls that get Josh closer to the basket and open up the possibility of more incisive, lateral passes. The clips below sum up Giddey’s strengths well. His processing and flair for the audacious catch teams out and get the Thunder’s offense into a good flow.

Changing the playbook may be drastic but I think this is the best way to invigorate Josh and get the best out of him. Giddey is an excellent shot-creator but he needs the right sort of play, the right sort of lineup for him to get the Thunder going.