The Thunder is winning, but is the team getting better?

NBA — Oklahoma City is 10-2, but are the Thunder improving or is it just young legs and having retained the top players from last year's roster?
BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: January 12, 2012

“Still, we're not where we need to be, and we have to keep improving. We have a long season to go.”

Is the Thunder better than a year ago after 12 games?

Brooks paused and whispered, “Good question.”

“I would say we're further along this year because even though we had a short training camp, guys came back in great shape so we didn't have to worry about the conditioning,” Brooks said. “We could focus on what we do and putting our system in.”

Statistically, results are mixed comparing last season to this season through the first dozen games. (See chart.)

The Thunder is up in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, rebounds, assists, blocked shots and turnovers, and down in free-throw percentage, scoring average and steals. Thunder opponents are up in free-throw percentage, rebounds, steals and blocks, and down in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, scoring, assists and turnovers.

Comparisons between last year and this year are flawed because Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic were traded from OKC to Boston, while Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed joined the Thunder.

Actually, comparing 2011-12 to any NBA season other than 1998-99 is ambiguous at best.

Two-time scoring champ Kevin Durant and defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha see a common flaw with OKC teams the past two years – slow starts in games.

“We still can get a lot better at opening up games stronger,” Durant said. “I think we're playing harder on the defensive end, we're passing the basketball and we're having fun out there. I think that's the most important thing.”

Sefolosha said the Thunder remains a work in progress.

“At times we are repeating our mistakes a little bit too much – just the way we start the game sometimes,” Sefolosha said. “You know we will make those kind of mistakes, but mentally we have to get a little bit better improving game after game.”

Asked to compare last year to this year through a dozen games, Durant smiled and said: “I really can't remember last year. That's a long time ago.”

Sure seems that way.


MISSING IN ACTION

The following players were missing when their teams faced the Thunder this season:

W-Orlando (12/25): None

W-Minnesota (12/26): Brad Miller (knee); Martell Webster (back)

W-Memphis (12/28): Mike Conley (sprained ankle 24 seconds into game); Darrell Arthur (Achilles tendon); Xavier Henry (ankle)

W-Dallas (12/29): None

W-Phoenix (12/31): Michael Redd (conditioning)

L-Dallas (1/2): None

L-Portland (1/3): Greg Oden (knee)

W-Houston (1/6): Kyle Lowry (foot); Courtney Lee (calf)

W-Houston (1/7): Kyle Lowry (foot); Courtney Lee (calf)

W-San Antonio (1/8): Manu Ginobili (broken left hand)

W-Memphis (1/10): Zach Randolph (knee); Darrell Arthur (Achilles tendon); Hamed Haddadi (personal)

W-New Orleans (1/11): Eric Gordon (bruised knee); Trevor Ariza (groin strain); Jason Smith (grandmother's funeral); Xavier Henry (ankle)

New York (1/14): Baron Davis (back)

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