Wow...OKC Bench Stuns Mavs!

by Jeff Fogle 20. May 2011 00:52

Just when you think you've seen everything. On the verge of falling behind two games to none in the best-of-seven Western Conference championships, Oklahoma City let four backups join Kevin Durant on the floor for the fourth quarter...and that energetic, inspired lineup won the game.

The difference between the OKC backups and the starters is best seen in the plus/minuses. Remember that the Thunder won by six points...

OKC Plus/Minuses:
Maynor +18 (backup point guard...20 minutes)
Harden +14 (backup shooting guard...32 minutes)
Cook +11 (backup shooting guard...16 minutes)
Collison +10 (backup post...26 minutes)
Mohammed +5 (backup, but only 2 minutes)
Ibaka +3
Durant -2
Perkins -8
Sefolosha -9
Westbrook -12

Down at the bottom of the list, the player who needed to be humbled perhaps more than anyone. Russell Westbrook. He exited the court very late in the third quarter with that scowl we've seen on his face too many times. We've seen that arrogant glare aimed at teammates. This one was aimed at his head coach, along with a few choice words. From a 22-year old who's best helped his team in the playoffs BY STAYING OUT OF THE WAY of more consistent scorers. Perhaps sitting there while has backup helped engineer what may end up being one of the biggest wins in the franchise's OKC tenure will help bring some perspective. HoopData's expanded boxscore shows Westbrook's usage rate (ball-hogginess) was a ridiculously high 40.3 before he was benched. It was only 30.4 during that glorious Game Seven triple double against Memphis when he was more focused on the needs of the team.

It's frustrating following the Westbrook story because steps forward seem to be followed by steps backward. Just when you're ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, the immaturity rears its ugly head again. Fascinating that this continuing drama played out this way on this evening.

2-point pct: OKC 62%, Dallas 49%
3-pointers: OKC 7/18, Dallas 9/27
1's and 2's: OKC 85, Dallas 73

We talked about the issues Dallas was having with two-point defense in prior rounds. Clearly they haven't yet figured out what they can take away in this series. Oklahoma City is dynamic in all facets of play. Dallas isn't slowing down any of those facets.

TWO'S: Oklahoma City is shooting 55% on two-pointers, to 54% for Dallas. All those baskets Dirk Nowitzki made in the first game were followed by 10 of 17 tonight. Yet, OKC is still winning this stat.

THREE'S: Oklahoma City is 14 of 34 (41%, equivalent of 61.7% on two's), which is helping to neutralize what Dallas had hoped would be a big edge behind the arc. Dallas is 18 of 50 for 36% (equivalent of 54% on two's). That's more raw scoring volume for the Mavs, but on a lot more attempts.

ONE'S: Oklahoma City has more makes on more attempts...58 of 70 to 55 of 60. A better percentage from Dallas...but it's clear that Dallas is going to have trouble keeping OKC off the line (as do all OKC opponents!)

That's all there is...1's, 2's, and 3's. Dallas did create some dysfunction amongst the grouchy guys in the OKC starting lineup (Westbrook and Perkins). The Mavs were so surprised by the OKC bench taking command of the fourth quarter that there wasn't time for an effective on-the-fly adjustment.

Chess in sneakers. Except the rooks are pushing and shoving. And, one of the bishops turned around to yell before being sent to confession.

What do we have moving forward?

On the bright side for Dallas:

*It's still a series that goes every other day. That should favor Dallas. Is the OKC bench ready to do THIS every night?

*Dirk is still very difficult to stop, which is likely to matter late in close games no matter what city it's in. Don't assume OKC is going to sweep their home games.

*Jason Terry was only 0-2 on treys tonight, and 3-9 from the floor overall. He's going to be better than that most of the time.

*To the degree experience and maturity matters in the playoffs, that's likely to favor Dallas in later games. OKC was ironically helped by their blow-ups tonight. That's far from a sure thing to happen the next time there's a blow-up.

On the bright side for OKC:

*If sustained fatigue from the Memphis series was an issue, four starters were given extended rest tonight. That will help them deal with the every-other-day will what should be newfound confidence in the bench.

*Durant is just as difficult to stop as Dirk is.

*The refs have established that they're not going to favor the more veteran team in this series. OKC can expect to be rewarded for their aggression on a continuing basis. Especially at home. And, three of the next five games would be at home if it goes the distance (three of the next four as the crow flies). .

*The Thunder won rebounding in the first two games...on the road. That's usually a good indicator in a playoff series.

*They now have the courage to deal with Westbrook when he gets his "bull in a china shop who won't share the ball unless he absolutely has to" mentality.

No game Friday. Back late Saturday with numbers and notes from Game Three of this series in Oklahoma City. Chicago-Miami resumes Sunday.

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Home Sweet Home

by Jeff Fogle 27. April 2011 00:06

We had a respite from playoff style basketball in the first two Tuesday night games. In fact, we had the biggest blowouts of the postseason so far when Orlando topped Atlanta by 25 points to stay alive in their Eastern Conference series...and Chicago beat Indiana by 27 to bring that series to a close.

It wasn't a complete surprise that these vistors play so poorly in these schedule spots.

*Atlanta had every reason to save its energy and resources for Game Six at home on Thursday. And, we've seen often with this team already that they have no problems losing by 25-30 points once it's pretty clear they're going to lose! That's how they managed a negative margin differential this year (-0.8) with a 44-38 record. Memphis will be in the same schedule position Wednesday at San Antonio...bringing a 3-1 lead on the road knowing that a home game if needed is coming up two days later.

*Indiana finally broke through and got a win over Chicago this past Saturday. That only delayed the inevitable though in a #1 vs. #8 matchup. Top seeded Chicago was in high energy bounce back mode tonight after the embarrassment. It's rare for this big a series underdog to steal a Game Five road victory once the big favorite gets slapped. Philadelphia will be in Indiana's position Wednesday night in Miami...after stunning the Heat this past Sunday.

So, we may be telling the same stories Wednesday night we're telling Tuesday. Maybe, maybe not. You never know for sure what's going to happen in the playoffs.

There's no need to go in depth with the stats in either Orlando's 101-75 win over Atlanta, or Chicago's 116-89 win over Indiana. Both blowouts were keyed by success behind the three-point line.

Orlando 11 of 26, Atlanta 4 of 16 (+21 points)
Chicago 14 of 31, Indiana 7 of 16 (+21 points)

Atlanta's perimeter defense wasn't intense at the outset, and stayed softer than normal the rest of the night. Indiana hadn't been too concerned with perimeter defense through the series because Chicago was emphasizing the inside game. Tonight, the Bulls hit early open looks, and kept right on hitting them. Note that Derrick Rose was 3 of 8 on treys. The rest of the team was a sparkling 11 of 23.

The hosts both won treys by 7...and both won turnovers by 6.

Orlando 5, Atlanta 11
Chicago 14, Indiana 20

Orlando will face a much more aggressive Atlanta defense on the road Thursday. The winner of that series will move on to face well rested Chicago in the second round.

Promised an update on Monday's late starter in this report. Let's take care of that.

2-point Pct's: Oklahoma City 47%, Denver 36%
3-point shooting: Oklahoma City 7/19, Denver 9/19
Rebounds: Oklahoma City 50, Denver 44
Free Throws: Oklahoma City 24/31, Denver 31/44
Turnovers: Oklahoma City 15, Denver 8
1's and 2's: Oklahoma City 80, Denver 77

Oklahoma City won the stats most closely related to playoff success. Look at their "defense and rebounding" chops the last three games:

Game One: allowed 38% on 2-pointers, won rebounding 54-31
Game Two: allowed 42% on 2-pointers, won rebounding 49-43
Game Three: alowed 36% on 2-pointers, won rebounding 50-44

Denver won three-pointers for the first time in the series (OKC had been up 25-17 in makes coming in). Denver had the biggest edge in free throw makes and attempts we've seen so far in the series. It will be tough to win those categories three times in a row...and that may be what Denver HAS to do if they want to come back and win this series.

Turnovers were a problem for Oklahoma City. That's their second bad game in the stat (15-11 in Game Two). This could be an issue in later rounds. Gotta treasure those possessions!

A lot has been made already in the media of Russell Westbrook taking 30 shots in the loss. He was 0 for 7 on treys, in a game where his teammates were 7 of 12. We've talked in the past about the possibilities that Westbrook is being influenced by the hype that Derrick Rose has been getting this year. The fact that Chris Paul has come up huge vs. the Lakers may be weighing on his mind too. He doesn't want to be overshadowed in conversations about the best point guards.

It occurred to me tonight that there's a "perfect storm" here that may be good news or bad news this year for Thunder rooters. In addition to forcing up shots because other point guards are scoring so much...

*The 22-year-old Westbrook was born in Long Beach, and had his formative basketball years in the heart of Kobe Country.

*The Lakers won a three-peat from 1999-2002 when Westbrook was ages 11-14 and living nearby.

*On December 20, 2005, Kobe scored 62 points in three quarters vs. Portland. On January 6, 2006 (a couple weeks later), Westbrook scored 51 points in a high school game. On January 22, 2006, Kobe had that famous 81 point game vs. Toronto.  Hmm... (If this has all been pointed out before, I'll happily give credit where it's due. Discovered that sequence tonight by looking at the wiki pages of the two players. Westbrook was a high school star at a time when his local area was going gaga over big scoring totals).

*Kobe won the league MVP award in the 2007-2008 season, which was Westbrook's second and last year at UCLA.

I'm not aware of Westbrook pointing to Kobe as a direct influence on his play. But, he was in a side-by-side universe growing up. He had to be affected by watching a city chant "MVP" at the star who was taking all the shots in big games. For Westbrook's hometown team. In his formative basketball years through high school and college ball.

Now, the kid from California wants to show the world he's the best point guard in the league. That he measures up to the man who's going to win the league MVP award by most accounts...who also happened to win Rookie of the Year in 2008-09 when Westbrook finished fourth (Rose-Mayo-B. Lopez-Westbook). It may be this mix of ingredients that leads to a point guard launching 30 shots in 39 minutes for a team that has good shooters! When a player with a "Kobe mindset" thinks he's getting disrespected, he shoots.

This volatility may be what launches Oklahoma City to unexpected heights this year. Or, it may be what derails them in high pressure situations in later rounds. Kobe at 22 had Shaq on the floor with him and multi-time champion Phil Jackson on the sidelines. Let's see how Westbrook, his teammates, and his coach handle the hoopla regarding his over-shooting Wednesday night in Game Five. Playing in the city that's his new "home sweet home."

New Orleans/LA Lakers started too late to include commentary. Back late Wednesday with more numbers and notes...

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The Rise of Russell Westbrook

by 9. February 2011 13:49

After establishing himself as a legitimate star in his sophomore season, Russell Westbrook has exploded in his third year in the NBA, earning his first All-Star bid while posting some extremely impressive numbers all across the board. The clear cut second best player on one of the best teams in the Western Conference, Westbrook is already placing himself in the conversation with the best point guards in the league despite being just 22 years old.

Breaking down his numbers, Westbrook has improved in nearly every area this season, and ranks among the top players in the league in a few critical categories. The most noteworthy statistic for Westbrook this year is his Usage Rate, which measures the percentage of team possessions a players uses in his time on the floor. After posting a solid rate of 25.70 last year, Westbrook has skyrocketed to 31.12 this season, the eighth highest rate in the entire league. While this sounds impressive in and of itself, it helps to take a step back and look at the seven guys ahead of him: Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Amare Stoudemire, and Kevin Durant.

The interesting thing about Westbrook's drastic spike in possessions this season is that his scoring efficiency has actually gone up as much as his usage has, a strange occurrence in basketball. Typically, as one's usage increases, one's efficiency will decline, as at a certain point a player needs to start taking more difficult shots in order to add to his possessions. Seeing efficiency and usage both increase dramatically simultaneously is extremely rare, and it's remarkable Westbrook has managed to do it at this level.

Westbrook has managed to bump his True Shooting Percentage from 49.1% to 53.7% this season, compared to the league average of 54.2%. On first glance, this would appear to be a striking blow against Westbrook, but there are other factors to consider. For one, Westbrook is one of the most ball dominant players in the league, creating his own shot more than almost any player in the NBA. Westbrook is assisted on just 17.3% of his field goal makes. The only other player in the league averaging 20+ minutes per game who is assisted less? Steve Nash.

Beyond that, one must consider the effect Westbrook has on his teammates, as with him creating so much offense and accounting for many of the difficult shots the team has to take, it improves the efficiency of others. To illustrate this with some other examples, Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony both have comparable TS%'s to Westbrook, while he isn't far behind Kobe Bryant either.

Looking at where Westbrook is getting his shots on the floor, there is more reason why Westbrook's TS% has yet to reach elite levels: he doesn't have consistent three-point range (only 1.2 of his 17.3 FGA per game come from behind the arc, and he’s hitting at just 28.8%). For guards who can't stroke the long ball, it's very rare for players to eclipse league average scoring efficiency, especially when forced to create at the rate Westbrook does. With the spot-up three-pointer being one of the most efficient shots in basketball, not having it in your arsenal makes it very tough to reach elite scoring efficiency, as hitting a 23-foot jumper will give you 50% greater returns than hitting a 22-footer, something that can quickly add up.

On the positive side, Westbrook does get high efficiency shots in other ways, namely with his ability to fearlessly attack the rim both in the halfcourt and in transition. Averaging 6.8 FGA at the rim per game (5th most in the league) and 8.2 FTA per game (8th most in the league), Westbrook is already among the league's best at getting to the basket. Scoring on a strong 57.9% FG% at the rim and a scorching 84.8% on free throws, Westbrook is very efficient in this area, and it's worth noting his at-rim percentage his risen 5 percentage points in each of his seasons in the league, making you wonder where the 22-year-old's ceiling even is.

Looking beyond scoring to the rest of his game, Westbrook is dishing out 8.6 assists per game, 8th best in the NBA, and his Turnover Rate (turnovers per possession used) of 15.58 is below the league average of 16.03 and has declined steadily each of his three seasons in the league. Westbrook's 8.4 Rebound Rate is also best among every point guard in the league, partly by design in the Thunder's system, but no doubt due to Westbrook's rangy athletic abilities and excellent pursuit skills as well.

Given his remarkable learning curve (seeing where he is now compared to a freshman at UCLA five seasons ago, you would barely even recognize him), amazing work ethic, and superb free-throw shooting, the likelihood of him developing into a reliable three-point shooter is higher than would be for most third year players. And if he can do that, people may not end the discussion at Westbrook just being in the conversation of the best point guards in the league, as he's already among the league's best point guards in virtually every other facet of the game.

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