Derek J. Hernandez

Thunder can’t win the title since they don’t score inside (?)

It’s almost the most wonderful time of the year if you’re an NBA fan and you’ll be flooded with predictions from all corners (including us!). You’ll also be bombarded with everyone’s opinion on which “contender” is actually a “pretender” with fatal flaws.  The winner of this year’s most ridiculed team headed into the playoffs is surprisingly not the usual suspects in the Miami Heat. It’s actually NBA darling Oklahoma City.

Top to bottom you could argue that OKC has the most talented and balanced roster in the NBA. You have a championship center and enforcer in Kendrick Perkins. You have the Human Shot-Block in Ibaka. You have your dynamic duo in the Durantla and Westbrook. You have a sixth man that would start and probably star for any other NBA team in James Harden (assuming he found his block that Metta sent into space). You have your defensive stopper, big man role player and seasoned vet in Thabo, Collison and Fisher respectively.  They’re all young and hungry. What more could you want?

Last year it was understandable to say they needed more experience together in the playoffs and that would eventually be their downfall. In the Western Conference Finals last year you saw them fail in crunch time over and again against a seasoned, determined Dallas team that was fueled by the anger of past failures.  That Dallas team knew it was on borrowed time and their window was closing. They were desperate.

With a deep playoff run under their belt and what seems like 15 years with the same team I don’t think that criticism is as valid as in years past. Until a team actually hoists the trophy they are always going to be doubted and weaknesses will always be exaggerated. OKC is no different and the new excuse as to why they won’t win is that they “can’t score in the paint” and in the words of Charles Barkley, “They just pass the ball to Durant and he shoots 90 foot jumpers from the top of the key.” I didn’t make that quote up.

From the Inside the NBA crew to the B-team at ABC, you have probably heard over the last month that OKC shoots too many jumpers and their offense goes cold for long periods because of it. Although this isn’t totally untrue I decided to do a little research since they must be doing something right to win all those games. Here’s what I found.

Since 2003, all the NBA champions have been in the top 10 in points in the paint with the exception of 3 teams (see summary below). Dallas last year was the major outlier as they were actually 2nd to last in points in the paint and won the title.

Points in the Paint Rankings for NBA Champions since 2003

Source: http://www.teamrankings.com/nba/stat/points-in-paint-per-game?date=2011-06-12

2010-2011

Champion rank: 29th – Dallas Mavericks – 36.1

2009-2010

Champion rank: 10th – Los Angeles Lakers – 43.3

2008-2009

Champion rank: 2nd – Los Angeles Lakers – 45.4

2007-2008

Champion rank: 19th – Boston Celtics – 37.6

2006-2007

Champion rank: 14th – San Antonio Spurs – 39.6

2005-2006

Champion rank: 1st – Miami Heat – 45.5

2004-2005

Champion rank: 7th – San Antonio Spurs – 42.3

2003-2004

Champion rank: 2nd – Detroit Pistons – N/A

OKC will probably finish in the top 10 in points in the paint this year with an average just under 42 points in the game. That’s 9 spots ahead of Chicago, 11 ahead of the Clippers, 16 ahead of defending champ Dallas, and 19 spots ahead of Boston.  The only “contenders” that are ahead of them are San Antonio, Miami, and the Lakers and there’s only a little over a 3 point difference between them. Everyone’s spoiler team Memphis is scoring 3.3 more points in the paint than OKC. The Thunder are definitely up to par in terms of hanging with all the contenders in the paint – on the offensive end.

Where OKC should be worried and what the talking heads should be talking about is how they plan on stopping the other teams from scoring. They are on track to finish 17th in points per game defense which is not going to cut it if the last 8 seasons are any indication. Take a look at the last 8 NBA champions and where they finished the regular season in opponent points per game:

Opponent Points Per Game for NBA Champions since 2003

Source: http://www.teamrankings.com/nba/stat/opponent-points-per-game

Team (Rank)

Dallas – 10

LA – 10

LA – 13

Boston – 2

San Antonio – 1

Miami – 11

San Antonio – 2

Detroit – 1

Maybe everyone should stop trying to be creative in bashing the Thunder and stick to the old adage of “Defense wins championships”.

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