The Thunder won 55 regular-season games and advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year, yet ranked just 24th in the league in assists at 20.39 per game.
Surprisingly, that's not as odd a combination as one might think.
Miami won 58 games and made it to the NBA Finals, yet ranked 26th at 19.99 assists per game.
Orlando won 52 games and ranked 27th at 19.95 assists per.
Teams with superb one-on-one skills tend to find points off the dribble rather than off the pass, which explains the lack of assists.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks acknowledges his team's steady improvement despite its astonishing youth, but too few assists and too many turnovers have stuck in his craw the last two seasons.
Assists and turnovers have been stressed since the Thunder first convened at its new practice facility following the league's 149-day lockout.
A low assist total primarily suggests a lack of ball movement and/or selfishness.
Naturally, Brooks is extremely fond of ball movement. There's not a basketball coach worth a flip who doesn't like good ball movement.
As for selfishness, point guard Russell Westbrook became a lightning rod for criticism last season, primarily for taking too many shots and not making enough passes.
However, Westbrook ranked ninth in the league at 8.2 assists a game, which puts a serious dent in the selfishness allegation.
Thunder backup point guard Eric Maynor ranked ninth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.09.
“I don't think it's selfishness,” Brooks said when asked to explain his team's lack of assists. “We have to get everybody passing. It's not a point guard issue, it's a team issue. I've told all our guys. Kevin (Durant) has to raise his passing, his assists level. James (Harden) is the same way.”
Harden showed he is one of the league's elite players off the bench, averaging 13.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 31.6 minutes during the postseason last year, but Brooks is looking for even more from the third-year bearded lefty.
“James is a terrific playmaker,” Brooks said. “He can make a lot of good plays and make some tough passes for us. It's a team thing. That's my approach, focusing in on making each play for each other. It doesn't matter who scores, all that matters is that we score.”
What might have irked Brooks most of all last season was his team's frequent inability to finish the task. The Thunder would cause a turnover or get out on a break, but failed to convert.
“And it's about converting,” Brooks said, “making the simple pass and converting the easy buckets. It's just a style of play.
“We played good basketball last year. We just want to get more from our guys, want to get more from our team. Those are areas, as we mature as a group, we can see different situations much better. Yes, we've gotten better. We've definitely improved in a lot of areas, but we want more and that's always been our approach.”
Veteran forward Nick Collison knows what's missing and where to find it.
“What's going to make us an elite team is being able to play together and share the ball,” Collison said. “We're one of the worst teams in the league in terms of assists and I think the higher we go in that statistic will be good for us – being able to get more wins in a tough playoff series when the defense is really good. You have to be able to move the ball and that's what we have to focus on.”
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.