OKC Thunder: Thunder tries to 'pass' the test

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said his team must improve its passing if it's going to return to the NBA Finals this season.
BY JOHN ROHDE Published: October 6, 2012
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photo - Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball past New Orleans Hornets forward DaJuan Summers (22) during the NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Hornets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, in Oklahoma City, Okla. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball past New Orleans Hornets forward DaJuan Summers (22) during the NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Hornets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, in Oklahoma City, Okla. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said his team must improve its passing if it's going to return to the NBA Finals this season.

OKC convincingly finished last (30th) in the NBA for most turnovers during the 2011-12 regular season, averaging 16.3 per game while opponents committed just 14.2.

“It's a combination of a lot of things,” Brooks said. “It's the willingness to pass, the decisions to make the correct pass, the ability to understand where the next pass (is) and also the receiver. In the past we had some spacing issues, but that picked up last season. Some of our turnovers were off of guys trying to make the pass and didn't quite execute it the same way.

“I hope to see another step in that direction, but we have guys who get along and we have guys who play extremely hard and the next step is to try to figure out ways to get better offensively and help each other score more easily. We spend a lot of time on passing drills, just the basic fundamentals of passing.”

On a positive note, OKC improved dramatically in committing fewer turnovers during the postseason. The Thunder ranked third in the playoffs in fewest turnovers with 11.6 per game and fifth in opponent turnovers, again at 14.2.

“In the playoffs, I thought we really made a major step in the right direction,” Brooks said. “Hopefully that carries over into the regular season.”

HANDY HARDEN

NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden ranked second in assists for the Thunder last season at 3.7 per game, nearly double the 2.1 assists he averaged in 2010-11.

One explanation for Harden's statistical jump was the season-ending knee injury suffered by backup point guard Eric Maynor at Houston on Jan. 7. Maynor has returned and now being pressed by Reggie Jackson for the backup point guard spot.

“We have three very good point guards on our team,” Harden said. “They're playing very well. I just try to fit in where I can and make plays. They run the team. I just go off them.”

Though Harden often handles the ball, he does not consider himself a point guard. “No, not at all,” Harden said with conviction. “I'm a shooting guard who can make plays and score the ball as well.”

Brooks agreed with Harden's assessment.

“You know what, it's just kind of progressed to him (Harden) handling the ball more,” Brooks said. “I look at James and our guards as guards. We're kind of a throwback backcourt. Both guards can make plays. Both guards can handle the ball in that second unit — Eric, Reggie and James. It definitely is a luxury having that. If you get trapped, you can always have the off-guard bring up the ball. We should never have problems in the backcourt bringing up the ball if they trap us.

“James is a terrific decision-maker. He can get to where he wants to with pressure and make decisions with pressure.”

LENGTHY ISSUES

Thunder rookie forward Perry Jones III stands 6-foot-11, weighs 234 pounds and has a wingspan of 7-foot-2. These are attributes Brooks finds particularly appealing when it comes to defending Kevin Durant, or at least trying to defend the NBA's three-time scoring champ.

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