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.”
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.”
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.
The 6-foot-9 Durant has a ridiculous 7-foot-5 wingspan, which makes his jumper almost impossible to block for forwards of similar height. Facing Jones in practice offers a challenge in length that Durant rarely sees.
“He's a guy that can play multiple positions, and he can guard multiple players,” Brooks said. “And that's always a big asset to our team.”
How has Jones done defensively against Durant?
“I try the best that I can to use my length and just try to stay in front of him and just make it hard for him to make shots,” Jones said.
How many of Durant's shots has Jones blocked?
“I blocked one,” Jones said with a smile. “One out of like … 80.”
Durant's free-throw percentage dipped to .860 last season, the lowest of his five-year NBA career. He shot .900 in 2009-10 and has a career percentage of .878.
Brooks agreed that it was nitpicking to discuss Durant's free-throw percentage.
“I like to nitpick Kevin,” Brooks said. “You have to because he's a great player right now. If you don't nitpick him, who knows how much better he can become, so we always do it. He wants the coaches to do it. We look for ways to challenge him and ways for him to get better.”
Reserve guard Daequan Cook twisted his ankle at Friday's practice, but participated in Saturday's workout. … Sunday will be the Thunder's first off day of training camp. OKC's preseason opener is Thursday against the Houston Rockets in Hidalgo, Texas, near the Mexican border. … Brooks called Saturday's practice a “developmental” day. “Just a lot of individual development and a lot of team concepts and we had some agility drills,” Brooks said. “It was an hour and 15 minutes, but it was a lot of activity and the intensity was pretty high.” … Jones prefers to be referred to as Perry Jones III rather than Perry Jones and that's why he chose jersey No. 3. However, the NBA does not allow Roman numerals on uniforms, so he will simply have “Jones” on the back of his jersey. … Harden is a shooting guard and apparently wants Jones to be a shooting forward. “Every time I'm on James' team, as soon as I catch it he says, ‘Shoot it,' “ Jones said. “Confidence from my team gives me confidence.”
“Our transition offense has improved every year. Four or five years ago, you didn't really know what you were going to get. You just knew we had a bunch of athletes running the floor and a lot of times it didn't look good and it ended up in a turnover, but now you know what you're going to get. You're going to get a guy that's going to attack the basket, you're going to get a wide-open 3 or you're going to get a pick-and-roll.” – Brooks