It’s been two years since the San Antonio Spurs lost in the Western Conference Finals in six games at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. With both teams returning with a majority of the same players from that series and also some new and developing ones, Wednesday’s first matchup between the two could be an early glimpse of what the Western Conference Finals could be like this coming season.
Here’s a look at some numbers the Spurs (13-1) and Thunder (9-3) are posting on average as they prepare to face each other in Oklahoma City.
Offensive Numbers, meet the Defensive Numbers
Points: Spurs 102.1 – 10th, Thunder 103.5 – 9th
Opponent Points: Spurs 90.1 – 2nd, Thunder 97.9 – 12th
Even though it’s still less than 20 games into the regular season, two of top-10 scoring offenses are about to meet and unlike most of the opponents they’ve played, both teams have shown by a points per game ability, they can play top 12 defense.
Assists: Spurs 25.0 – 3rd, Thunder 21.1 – 16th
Opponent Assists: Spurs 19.1 – 4th, Thunder 22.3 – 19th
As we go through these numbers, I’ll be referring to the Spurs as a ‘machine’ like team and the Thunder an ‘iso’ team. Why? Well, even though both teams score a lot of points, they do it in totally different types of ways. The Spurs’ offense is built around ball movement, constant player movement, screens, and cuts, which is why they’re the 3rd best passing team in the league. The Thunder on the other hand are built around three players who can create their own shot or create for others. We’ll get into more detail on who those three players are a bit later.
Field Goals Made: Spurs 40.5 – 1st, Thunder 36.9 – 18th
Opponent Field Goals Made: Spurs 35.9 – 9th, Thunder 36.0 – 10th
Field Goals Percentage: Spurs 49.2% – 2nd, Thunder 45.3% – 14th
Opponent Field Goals Percentage: Spurs 42.4% – 4th, Thunder 43.1% – 6th
The machine-like Spurs’ offense will finally see a test against the Thunder’s defense, which ranks 10th in opponent field goals made and 6th in opponent field goal percentage. San Antonio can really see what their offense will be like against a better defensive unit than they’ve seen in their last couple of blow-out games.
Percentage of Baskets assisted on: Spurs 62%, Thunder 57%
Opponent Percentage of Baskets assisted on: Spurs 53%, Thunder 62%
These numbers don’t fare well for the Thunder. The Spurs assist on 62% of their made baskets and the Thunder are allowing teams to assist on 62% of their made baskets. If basketball was just about numbers, then on paper, one could say the Spurs aren’t going to have any trouble moving the ball and making the shots they normally take.
3-Point Percentage: Spurs 40.5% – 5th, Thunder 32% – 25th
Opponent 3-Point Percentage: Spurs 33.3% – 4th, Thunder 35.5% – 11th
Here’s another stat that could really have some significance in the game. When the Spurs catch a rhythm, they can start draining 3-pointers with both their starters and bench players. The Thunder only have about four players who are currently their 3-point marksman, which we’ll discuss later in the post.
Free Throw Attempts: Spurs 17.4 – 28th, Thunder 29.1 – 2nd
Opponent Free Throw Attempts: Spurs 16.6 – 1st, Thunder 25.0 – 3rd
Personal Fouls Drawn: Spurs 18.1 – 27th, Thunder 21.8 – 10th
Opponent Personal Fouls Drawn: Spurs 17.7 – 1st, Thunder 22 – 10th
The free throw and foul numbers are what makes this matchup so unpredictable. On one side, you have one of the league’s top teams (the Spurs) who don’t foul or send their opponents to the line very often. Then on the other side, you have the Thunder whose offense is built around two of their star players consistently drawing fouls and getting the foul line.
Turnovers: Spurs 14.5 – 7th lowest, Thunder 16.8 – 10th highest
Opponent Turnovers: Spurs 15.8 – 12th, Thunder 16.2 – 8th
Offensive Rating: Spurs 106.1 – 6th, Thunder 104.2 – 7th
Defensive Rating: Spurs 92.3 – 2nd, Thunder 98 – 4th
Net Rating: Spurs 13.9 – 1st, Thunder 6.2 – 5th
More defensive factors
Defensive Rebounds: Spurs 34.6 – 3rd, Thunder 34.8 – 2nd
Steals: Spurs 8.1 – 15th, Thunder 8.3 – 12th
Blocks: Spurs 4.5 – 18th, Thunder 5.4 – 6th
Opponent Offensive Rebounds: Spurs 10.3 – 11th, Thunder 10.9 – 15th
Opponent Points in the Paint: Spurs 40 – 12th, Thunder 38.8 – 6th
Opponent Fast-Break points: Spurs 9.5 – 2nd, Thunder 16.8 – 26th
On paper, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Manu Ginobili would be salivating at the mouth if they knew the Thunder gave up 16.8 fast-break points per game. Don’t be surprised if you see a few Leonard breakaway dunks or Duncan quarterback outlet passes from the baseline. After watching some plays in the Thunder’s recent game with the Los Angeles Clippers, it was clear on a few transition buckets for the Clippers, the Thunder have lapses where they don’t communicate or get back on transition defense.
What about Depth?
Bench scoring: Spurs 44.0 – 3rd, Thunder 31.1 – 17th
Bench assists: Spurs 11.5 – 1st, Thunder 7.3 – 10th
Bench minutes: Spurs 21.8 – 1st, Thunder 18.9 – 9th
Bench shooting: Spurs 48% – 2nd, Thunder 44% – 8th
At the moment, the ‘Foreign Legion’ of Diaw, Ginobili, Belinelli, Patty Mills, and any insertable fifth player are rolling when they step on the court together. The Thunder’s bench is mainly built on Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb’s abilities to provide some production while Durant and Westbrook rest. It’ll be interesting to see if the Thunder’s bench can match the depth of San Antonio, who New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams recently called, “the deepest team in the league.”
An observation of the Thunder
With the NBA recently announcing they were going to provide video playback on specific stats, I took in some time to see how the Thunder are built on offense and defense.
Scoring – Russell Westbrook (18.6 FGA, 41% shooter, 21.6 points), Kevin Durant (17.4 FGA, 46% shooter, 28.6 points),and Reggie Jackson (8.8 FGA, 45% shooter, 9.8 points)are the Thunder’s three scorer’s who can generate their own offense and all play ‘iso’ or one-on-one type basketball. Specifically, Durant (12.5 FTA) and Westbrook (6.9 FTA) are the Thunder’s two main weapons at getting to the line. Westbrook and Jackson can be sporadic at times, as there’s footage of them taking contested jumpers early in the shot clock, or trying to score over two-to-three defenders. Durant mainly likes to start his offense out on the wing either first with his back-to-the basket or beyond the 3-point line where he uses a crossover to either shoot a long jumper or drive into the paint.
Serge Ibaka (14.5 points, 11.7 FGA, 54% shooter), Jeremy Lamb (9.1 points, 8.2 FGA, 43% shooter)and Thabo Sefolosha (7.5 points, 7 FGA, 39% shooter)are the Thunder’s three players who also contribute to the offensive scoring attack, but their way of scoring is usually predicated on where Durant, Westbrook, or Jackson give them the ball. Ibaka likes to take the mid-range jumper off pick-and-pop sequences while he’s also very active as a roll-man and in offensive rebounding. After Durant (4.9 3PT FGA) and Westbrook (4.0 3PT FGA), Lamb (3.4 3PT FGA, 37% shooter) and Sefolosha (3.0 3PT FGA, 27% shooter) play the role of 3-point gunners waiting for an open or lightly contested shot.
Passing – Though the Thunder’s offense won’t ever look like the Spurs’ ‘hockey’ type offense where at times all five players touch the ball in one possession, they still move the ball around because Durant (5.2 assists), Westbrook (5.1 assists), and Jackson (4.0 assists) have a good sense of when to throw out the ball when they see double-teams or open seams in the passing lane.
Rebounding – Like the Spurs, the Thunder are a team that like’s to rebound and head off down the court hoping to find a transition opportunity. Oklahoma City is led by Ibaka (7 defensive rebounds), Durant (6 defensive rebounds), Westbrook (4 defensive rebounds), Jackson (3.6 defensive rebounds), and Sefolosha (3.3 defensive rebounds)on the defensive boards.
On defense, the Spurs will need to be aware of where Ibaka (3.1 offensive rebounds) and rookie Steven Adams (2.3 offensive rebounds) are when boxing out, because those two like to stay around the glass for easy tip-ins or extra possessions.
Defense – Defensively, the Thunder are the type of team that will gamble on their athleticism and speed in trying to create turnovers and turn them into points. Westbrook (1.6 steals), Sefolosha (1.5 steals), Durant (1.4 steals), and Jackson (1.2 steals) will all be looking at taking chances and going for steals when the ball is being moved through the passing lanes.
Around the rim, the Spurs have to be aware of Ibaka (2.3 blocks) and Adams (1.3) who are both productive help defenders, and Ibaka has shown he can play one-on-one defense with consistency as well.
Again, this is just based off 14 and 12 games of data, and there’s even a chance Tiago Splitter might not play due to a minor sprained right ankle he injured against the Pelicans on Monday. But, it’s the Spurs and Thunder, and out of the gate, they look like two teams who could have a future meeting in the playoffs.