There is no better free-throw shooting team in the NBA than the Thunder right now. Or ever, for that matter.
Heading into today's 8:30 p.m. contest against Portland inside Oklahoma City Arena, the Thunder is shooting 87.3 percent from the free-throw line, which easily leads the league.
That is a monumental 4.1 percent higher than the NBA season record of 83.2 percent by the Boston Celtics in 1989-90.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said it is unrealistic to expect his team to stay at such a lofty percentage, but he does expect a level of excellence to continue.
Brooks has set a standard of at least 80 percent for his team. The Thunder finished second in free-throw shooting last season at 80.5 percent.
â€œThat is the personality of our offense,â€ Brooks said. â€œWe want to get to the rim, attack the basket and get to the free-throw line. It's a great asset to have.â€
Not only is the Thunder's charity stripe prowess an asset, it's a weapon, particularly late in contests when an opponent fouls to stop the clock while playing catch-up.
â€œFree throws put pressure on everybody, especially when you start to make them,â€ small forward Kevin Durant said. â€œAgainst us, you've got to play a little different, knowing that if you foul us we will go to the line and make them, no matter who's at the line â€“ Russ (Westbrook), Jeff (Green), Thabo (Sefolosha), me, Nenad (Krstic) â€“ we're going to make them. We've got faith in anybody.â€
So far, the Thunder is living large at the line, where they are outscoring teams by an average of 11.1 points per game and their opponents are shooting just 72.9 percent.
â€œOur free-throw defense is pretty good, too,â€ said a smiling Brooks.
In Durant (.914) and Westbrook (.905), the Thunder not only has two of the league's premier free-throw shooters but also two nightmarish defensive assignments to contain.
â€œWe have some aggressive players who should be able to get the line,â€ Brooks said. â€œIn order to stop them, you have to foul. It's a very important part of our offense.â€
If a game comes down to a free-throw shooting contest, advantage Thunder. OKC has easily outshot every opponent at the line this season.
Take away free throws, however, and the 4-3 Thunder would still be winless. OKC has been outscored from the field in every game this season.
The Thunder has two one-point victories and is coming off a six-point victory over Philadelphia on Wednesday night, during which OKC converted 35 of 37 free throws (.946).
â€œWe have to get to the free-throw line for us to be successful,â€ Brooks said.
Maintaining a high free-throw percentage also depends on who is sent to the line. A steady diet of Durant and Westbrook would bring in a hefty income of free points.
Actually, every Thunder player in the usual rotation â€“ other than rookie Cole Aldrich (1 for 2) â€“ is a solid candidate. Serge Ibaka, the youngest player on the team, is shooting 89.5 percent (17 for 19).
Thunder players freely admit they are in competition among themselves from the line. No one wants to be the man who misses. No one, not even Durant, is off-limits to ridicule.
â€œWhen I missed one free throw, Russ called me Shaq,â€ Durant explained, shaking his head while referencing Shaquille O'Neal, a career 52.7-percent free-throw shooter. â€œNothing against Shaq, but I was thinking, â€˜Man, he called me Shaq.' So every time I step to the line, I think about that and try to sink them.â€
While the Thunder no doubt can hit an open 15-footer from the free-throw line, the same does not hold true from the 3-point line, where it convincingly ranks dead last at 20.3 percent.
â€œI'm pretty positive we're not as bad a 3-point shooting team that we've displayed,â€ Brooks said. â€œOur shots are going to start falling.â€
Team free-throw leaders
1. Boston (1989-90) .832
2. Dallas (2002-03) .829
3. Boston (1990-91) .824
3. Toronto (2008-09) .824
5. Milwaukee (1988-89) .821
5. K.C.-Omaha (1974-75) .821
1. Thunder .873
2. Houston .835
3. Denver .822
4. Charlotte .814
5. LA Lakers .812