As Charles Barkley remains steadfast in his criticism of the Thunder, one obvious question remains: If OKC has such little hope of winning a championship, how does it keep winning so many games?
With Thursday night’s 105-102 victory at Orlando, the Thunder has the best record in the NBA (29-7), the best record at home (15-1) and is within one game of having the league’s best record on the road (14-6).
Barkley sees many flaws in the Thunder, the most prevalent being that OKC is a jump-shooting team that struggles with its half-court offense. The Thunder indeed relies heavily on the jump shot and at times struggles with ball movement in its half-court sets. This will come to the forefront in the playoffs when the pace slows, play becomes more physical and the half-court game takes on added importance.
But what if your jump shots keep going in? OKC is second in the the NBA in field-goal percentage (.474) behind Miami (.487), the overwhelming favorite to win this year’s title. Because a half-court offense becomes more important in the playoffs, wouldn’t this be advantageous to good jump-shooting teams like OKC?
Kevin Durant is shooting a career-high percentage from the field (.512), as are Russell Westbrook (.469), James Harden (.475) and Nick Collison (.656) – and all by substantial percentages. The last time the Thunder/Sonics franchise shot this well from the field was 1995-96 when it finished the season 64-18 and lost 4-2 in the NBA Finals to the 72-10 Chicago Bulls, the winningest team in league history.
Barkely also criticizes OKC for having only three scorers in Durant (28.0), Westbrook (23.6) and Harden (16.7). This trio ranks second to the league’s most heralded threesome of Miami’s LeBron James (27.7), Dwyane Wade (22.8) and Chris Bosh (18.4), and trails by just 0.6 combined points (68.9-68.3). Isn’t having three prolific scorers a good thing?
OKC’s inside combination of Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nazr Mohammed is arguably the league’s best defensive frontcourt, and prides itself as such. They don’t demand the ball, but will gladly mop up misses and accept any open looks. Terrific Karma underneath. Again, a good thing.
During TNT’s pregame show on Thursday night, Barkley twice said of OKC, “This (Orlando) is not a good matchup for them” and he repeated it again at halftime. An hour later, the Thunder completed a season sweep over the Magic and won for the first time in Orlando since 2004.
Barkley credited Westbrook for his Wednesday performance at Philiadelphia (22 points, season-high 13 rebounds) and co-analysts Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal also shared how Westbrook could improve. It was accurate and helpful criticism without trashing Westbrook, as many have been prone to do.
Barkley: “One of the keys to being a great player, you can always get your shot. The key for him (Westbrook) is, ‘How can I get Kendrick Perkins six points? How can I get (Thabo) Sefolosha (out with a foot injury) six points?’ That’s when you become a great player, when you make the players around you better. When you make the players around you better, it makes the game easier.”
Smith: “There’s five ways to be a superstar — points, scoring and assists, but the others things are leadership and tempo of the game. He (Westbrook) can create a tempo of the game … that he can get those guys easy baskets. Kendrick Perkins should just be laying it in. He can do that. The issue is, he (Westbrook) is so good at scoring he says, ‘Why should I, because I could get by my guy, too.’ But sometimes that will make you go over the top and be a championship team.”
O’Neal: “Those guys (Durant, Westbrook and Harden) score 66 percent of the team’s scoring and the big guys only score 12 percent. The question is, do the big guys need to score more? Do you want to trade what they’re doing on offense for defense? I think they’re doing well, but the question remains, ‘Will they play this way in the postseason?’ Chuck said it, I said it, you said it, ‘You live by the jump shot, you die by the jump shot.’ ”
Until the playoffs arrive, it appears a team with many flaws will somehow keep winning many games.