SportVU for you: Spurs vs. Thunder

Kevin DurantWe are unveiling a new pregame series at Project Spurs, where Quixem Ramirez dives into the Spurs' opposing team's SportVU data, mostly because he has no life. SportVU, powered by cameral technology in all 29 NBA arenas, tracks miles per hour, distance traveled, touches, where they touched the ball, how long they touch the ball, and lots of other basketball minutiae.

Today's team: the Oklahoma City Thunder. DISCLAIMER: If you do not like numbers, do not read ahead.

Something, something, Kevin Durant is good at basketball.

2012-13: 38.5 minutes, 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 51 percent shooting, 28.3 PER 2013-14: 38.5 minutes, 28.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 45.5 percent shooting, 27.2 PER

I'll keep this short. Durant is very good at basketball, and he's getting to the line 12.5 times per game. Just absurd. Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Shaquille O'Neal are the only players who have averaged more than 12.5 free throw attempts in one season.

One more thing: Durant is leading the league in points per touch (0.43) and he's scoring more than half a point each time he touches the ball in the halfcourt, according to SportVU.

Have mercy.


Westbrook gets a bad rap, which is not fair. He's easily the best guard at creating scoring opportunities in semi-transition, and he still assisted on 38.4 percent of Oklahoma City's possessions when he was on the floor, despite taking nearly 19 shots per game. He cut his turnover rate, too. While Westbrook was habitually beat on defense, the problem stems from diverting his attention to the ball a bit much and not anything particularly 

Westbrook's athleticism hasn't depreciated seven months removed from his torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, which is promising; he is still darting to the rim whenever the opposition rests on their laurels for a beat, careening into the paint and leaping into the bodies of much larger men. Westbrook's free throw rate this season is the highest since his 2010-11 season.

Westbrook is averaging 7.7 drives per game according to SportVU, and the Thunder are scoring 7.7 points per game as a result of his aggression. Westbrook, himself, hasn't been very efficient on drives; he's scored 0.45 points per drive, and his 26.5 field goal percentage on drives is last in the league, among players averaging at least four drives per game.

His 41.3 field goal percentage would be the second lowest mark of his career, though it isn't due to his shot selection. 44.3 percent of Westbrook's shots have been within eight feet of the rim, up from 42.4 percent. He's just missed them more often, particularly from the left side of the restricted area, where he's made just 40.6 percent of his shots according to Vorped. He's made 51 percent of his shots on the right side of the rim.

Looking at the tape, you'll see Westbrook crashing to the paint in semi-transition — a vast majority of his shots in the restricted area occur in these instances rather than in halfcourt sets. Typical Westbrook stuff. Oftentimes, these are very difficult shots for mere mortals. Westbrook is not a mere mortal, but taking a high volume of tough shots explains his declining field goal percentage. It doesn't appear related to his injury, he looks just fine, and a few of his shots have just rimmed out, leading to several tip-ins for his teammates.

His dives to the rim have came at the expense of his passing (and, subsequently, turnovers). Both his assist rate and turnover rate have went in the opposite direction. So he's just a selfish ball hog right? SportVU tells a different story. Westbrook is still creating shots. He's just not tallying assists. 

Westbrook is creating 11 assist opportunities per game according to SportVU and he's added 1.2 free throw assists each night (basically, passes that lead to free throw attempts). Westbrook leads the league in free throw assists, and he's also in the top 20 in secondary assists. 

I'm not a betting man, but I would bet that Westbrook starts making more shots closer to the basket.

Just let Westbrook be Westbrook.

Kendrick Perkins has been a disaster.

Kendrick Perkins' dead corpse is having a disastrous season. He's averaging 3.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.4 minutes, and Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks insists on starting him alongside Westbrook, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha.

Perkins is averaging the fewest minutes per game since the 2004-05 season. So that's good!

Instead, Brooks is distributing some of Perkins' minutes to Nick Collison and 2013 first-round pick Steven Adams. Adams filled in for Perkins in the starting lineup on two occasions (both losses, but whatever). 

Adams and Collison, at this point, are dramatically better basketball players than Perkins' dead corpse because A) they can run and chew gum at the same time and B) they make shots at a higher efficiency than middle school kids. 

Get this: 88.4 percent of Perkins' shots are within eight feet of the basket, a high percentage even for his standards, and he's making just 42.9 percent of his field goal attempts — a new low, even for a player who has regressed in each successive season with the Thunder. Only seven players in the entire league are making a lower percentage of shots in the restricted area. 

Perkins is no longer a capable defensive rebounder — one of his few positive contributions — and he's turning over the ball on a ghastly 27.1 percent of his possessions even though Oklahoma City's offense only relies on him to catch simple drop off passes when help defenders shade too far on Westrook and Durant's drives to the hoop.

Oklahoma City is 9.6 points per 100 possessions better when Perkins' dead corpse isn't meandering aimlessly in the paint.

Can it get much worse? Well, yes, actually.

The starting lineup has been a disaster, too.

Though Perkins hasn't been a particularly good player for awhile, Brooks has justified playing Perkins in the starting lineup because they were still blitzing their opponents by a wide margin.

Which isn't smart, but it worked so it almost doesn't matter.

Oklahoma City's starters outscored their opponents by 288 points in 1307 minutes last year — only Memphis' starting outfit decimated their opponents by more points per 100 possessions.

This season, these same five players have been among the very worst five-man combinations in the league.

Oklahoma City is coughing up more points than the last-ranked Brooklyn Nets in these minutes, while scoring about the same points per possession as the 27th-ranked Charlotte Bobcats. 

That's very, very bad and it's exacerbated because this lineup has played the largest share of minutes on the team. 

(One statistical quirk: If you replace Westbrook with Reggie Jackson, this lineup turns into world beaters, outscoring their opponents by 24.7 points per 100 possessions in 74 minutes. Very weird.)

And the Ibaka-Perkins pairing isn't very good either, compared to last season's lofty benchmark. 

There is quite a bit of morass to work through here, and these lineups have historically been very productive, primarily because it is difficult to be bad with Westbrook and Durant on the floor at the same time.

It's early. Maybe these lineups will regress to the mean or, you know, maybe they'll play guys better than Perkins' dead corpse. 

But that makes too much sense.

About Michael A. De Leon

Michael founded Project Spurs in 2004. He started The Spurscast, the first Spurs podcast on the Internet, in 2005. Michael has been interviewed by the BBC, SportTalk, the Sports Reporters Radio Show, MemphisSportLive, OKC Sports Wrap and ESPN radio among others. He is a credentialed member of the media for the San Antonio Spurs and Austin Toros. He is also the founder of Project Spurs' sister sites, Toros Nation and Stars Hoops.