Sometime in the next few days, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has plans to perform a film study. He'll dial in on turnovers, dissecting each and every one his team has had this season with the hope of getting to the bottom of why ball security continues to be the Thunder's biggest bugaboo.
He'll have to allot plenty of time.
Through six games, the Thunder has averaged 18.2 turnovers. Only two teams have averaged more giveaways: Houston, with a league-worst 19.8 average, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who come to town Sunday night carrying an 18.3-turnover rate.
For the Thunder, it's a concerning continuation of the same chronic hiccups that held it back at times last season, when Oklahoma City finished last in the league in turnovers with 16.3 per game.
“Sooner or later, hopefully sooner, it comes together,” Brooks said. “But it definitely has to get better.”
No team in NBA history has ever won a championship after leading the league in turnovers in the regular season. That's why the issue is such a critical one. Though the Thunder last year came three wins shy of becoming the first team to do so, that success doesn't excuse the problem.
“That's not the way you want to play,” said reserve point guard Eric Maynor. “Just because we made it last year doing that; it doesn't happen often, put it like that.”
Whenever Brooks does dive in to break down the film, he'll likely be pleasantly surprised at his findings. A review of the Thunder's 109 turnovers thus far yields evidence of what's been evident in almost every game this season — many of the turnovers are the result of trying to make the right play.
For example, 41 turnovers are from bad passes. That accounts for 38 percent of the team's turnovers. While all of those bad passes weren't necessarily good passes, it's a statistic that illustrates the correct process has sometimes ended in the wrong result.
It's a reality that the Thunder ultimately can live with.
“This year's turnovers are guys trying to make the right play,” Maynor confirmed. “In the past, turnovers were from guys trying to do too much. And we all know that when you try to do too much you're going to turn the ball over sometimes. But when you're trying to make the play, Scotty's not getting mad at that.”
The unselfish play has come at a price but clearly is paying off. The Thunder's assists are up 3.3 per game, from 18.5 last season to 21.8 this year. As a result, more players are scoring threats. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin all are averaging at least 18 points, and Serge Ibaka, the biggest beneficiary of the ball movement, is averaging a career-high 14.7 points.
“There's always a process,” Brooks said. “There's going to be a lot of growing pains, and then there's going to be a lot of execution pains and eventually everything's going to work itself out and come together. We're still in the phase of we still have to continue to work on the execution and hopefully soon it will come together.
“It's like that old cartoon where you try to plug one hole and a bear or something has bullet holes in him. With our team, it's like you work on one thing and the next day another thing pops up. You try to fix that problem and the next day another thing pops up.”
It's the “sloppy” turnovers that Brooks wants his team to cut down. Those are most readily seen in the careless plays which end in a player losing the ball due to a steal (21 turnovers) or stepping out of bounds (12 turnovers).
In year's past, Brooks said he preferred his team to remain around 13 or 14 turnovers. Turns out that was a pipe dream.
“I think I've changed my opinion on that. I made a mistake and I'm moving on,” Brooks said, only half-jokingly. “I think 14 1/2 to 15 is a number we can (live with). I mean, we are a fast team, we're an athletic team, we're a creative team and we have multiple ballhandlers and decision-makers. So I think under 15 is a good number, and that's probably middle of the pack.”
In last year's postseason, the Thunder proved it could take care of the ball. OKC averaged just 11.6 turnovers, ranking third among the 16 playoff teams. Oddly enough, that's when Brooks stopped talking about turnovers — a trick he could revert to any day now.
“That's the only thing I haven't done this year,” Brooks said. “In the playoffs I didn't talk about it, obviously because we weren't turning it over. So maybe I should stop talking about it. So if you guys (in the media) would work with me a little bit and quit asking me questions.”
Kevin Durant, who leads the team with 4.8 turnovers, has another idea.
“As far as turnovers,” he said, “I think we've got the right intentions but we've just got to be stronger with the ball and make better passes — and keep the ball out of my hands.”
“That's not going to happen,” Brooks said. “I maybe not the smartest coach, but I'm not that dumb.”
A look at the various ways the Thunder has turned the ball over this season.
Bad pass: 41
Lost ball/stolen: 21
Offensive fouls: 18
Lost ball/out of bounds: 12
Shot clock violation: 4
Offensive goaltending: 2
Double dribble: 1
3-second violation: 1
Backcourt violation: 1