Thunder players need to assist when the opportunity comes

Thunder coach Scott Brooks acknowledges his team's steady improvement despite its astonishing youth, but too few assists and too many turnovers have stuck in his craw the last two seasons.

BY JOHN ROHDE, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: December 12, 2011
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The Thunder won 55 regular-season games and advanced to the Western Conference Finals last year, yet ranked just 24th in the league in assists at 20.39 per game.

Surprisingly, that's not as odd a combination as one might think.

Miami won 58 games and made it to the NBA Finals, yet ranked 26th at 19.99 assists per game.

Orlando won 52 games and ranked 27th at 19.95 assists per.

Teams with superb one-on-one skills tend to find points off the dribble rather than off the pass, which explains the lack of assists.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks acknowledges his team's steady improvement despite its astonishing youth, but too few assists and too many turnovers have stuck in his craw the last two seasons.

Assists and turnovers have been stressed since the Thunder first convened at its new practice facility following the league's 149-day lockout.

A low assist total primarily suggests a lack of ball movement and/or selfishness.

Naturally, Brooks is extremely fond of ball movement. There's not a basketball coach worth a flip who doesn't like good ball movement.

As for selfishness, point guard Russell Westbrook became a lightning rod for criticism last season, primarily for taking too many shots and not making enough passes.

However, Westbrook ranked ninth in the league at 8.2 assists a game, which puts a serious dent in the selfishness allegation.

Thunder backup point guard Eric Maynor ranked ninth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.09.

“I don't think it's selfishness,” Brooks said when asked to explain his team's lack of assists. “We have to get everybody passing. It's not a point guard issue, it's a team issue. I've told all our guys. Kevin (Durant) has to raise his passing, his assists level. James (Harden) is the same way.”

Harden showed he is one of the league's elite players off the bench, averaging 13.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 31.6 minutes during the postseason last year, but Brooks is looking for even more from the third-year bearded lefty.

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