Durant and Company Miss For the Thunder

Posted on November 16, 2008 by


So far the history of the Oklahoma City Thunder consists of ten games, and exactly one win.  For those keeping score, that’s exactly one more win than the Seattle Super Sonics have managed this season.  And obviously Seattle – thanks to Oklahoma – doesn’t have a team anymore.

For Kevin Durant – the supposed star of the Thunder – it’s not clear why Oklahoma’s new team is not getting much better results.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Kevin Durant said. “I wish I could tell you. We just got to come out with that defensive mind-set and we’ll be OK.”

Locating the Problem

So the problem is team defense?  Really?

After ten games the Thunder have surrendered 100.4 points per 100 possessions.  Last year only four teams – Boston, Houston, San Antonio, and Detroit – had a better defensive efficiency.  In sum, the Thunder seem to be pretty good on defense.

On offense, though, it’s a very different story.  So far Oklahoma is only scoring 90.0 points per 100 possessions.  To find a team that had this much trouble scoring one has to go back to the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets. 

So the problem is on offense, not defense.  And to see why this team struggles so much on offense, one only has to look at the five players who lead this team in shot attempts.

  • Kevin Durant: 172 FGA, 43.9% adjusted field goal percentage
  • Russell Westbrook: 117 FGA, 33.3% adjusted field goal percentage
  • Jeff Green: 132 FGA, 46.6% adjusted field goal percentage
  • Earl Watson: 98 FGA, 36.2% adjusted field goal percentage
  • Desmond Mason: FGA, 40.0% adjusted field goal percentage

It appears that the players on the Thunder have figured out how to take shots.  But getting the shots to go in the basket appears to be a problem.  Unfortunately, scoring is really about getting the shots to go in the basket.  It’s this lesson that Durant – who again, seems to think playing even better defense would solve the problem – doesn’t seem to understand.

Durant Declines Further

Speaking of Durant, much has been made of his rookie performance.  According to the coaches and the media, Durant was the top rookie in 2007-08.  According to the Wages of Wins metrics, though, he was well below average.  Although Durant did not play well last season, there was hope he would get better.  After 10 games, though, that hope has not been realized.

Table One: Kevin Durant after 10 games in 2008-09

Last season Durant was above average with respect to taking shots, blocking shots, hitting free throws, and avoiding personal fouls.  He was also a little bit above average on the boards.  With respect to all other stats, though, he was below average.

After 10 games this season Durant has the same profile.  But now he has declined further with respect to every statistic except for shot attempts and personal fouls.   Yes, Durant went from bad to really bad (and yet, his Player Efficiency Rating is still above average).

In addition to reporting Durant’s performance, Table One also reports what George Gervin did in the NBA.  This comparison is made because of the following statement in Yahoo! Sports Thunder team report.

G Kevin Durant has often been compared to Hall of Famer George Gervin. It’s an easy comparison considering Durant’s build and scoring acumen.

When we look at the stats, we do see many similarities.  But the comparison breaks down with respect to one important facet of the game.  Gervin’s shots tended to go in the basket.  In other words, at the end of his famous finger rolls, the ball went through the net.  For Durant’s shots -as noted – this is not the common ending when he heaves the ball in the direction of the basket.

The Oklahoma Divide

Although Durant has played badly this year, it would be incorrect to say he’s the only problem in Oklahoma.  An average player will post a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.100.  The following players have posted marks in the negative range (yes, that’s bad): Damien Wilkins, Earl Watson, Chris Wilcox, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Desmond Mason. In sum, the inability of the Thunder to win can be linked to many players.

Table Two: Oklahoma City Thunder after 10 games in 2008-09

Despite a plethora of bad players, there are some bright spots on this team.  The first is Jeff Green.  Although his shooting efficiency has been below average, his overall player – as measured by WP48 – has been above average.  In fact, he leads this team in Wins Produced. 

And he’s not the only above average player.  Joe Smith, Johan Petro, and Robert Swift (in limited minutes) have also been above average.  One should note that the Thunder’s above average players tend to play in the frontcourt while the below average players are in the backcourt.  Perhaps this team’s big guys should have a heart-to-heart talk with the little guys, who are literally throwing the wins away.

Let me close this post with a simple question. Are we supposed to call this team the Oklahoma City Thunder, or the Oklahoma Thunder?  I vote for the latter.  After all, we don’t refer to the New York City Knicks or the New York City Yankees.

– DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.