OKC’s net offensive rating doesn’t feel like a fluke. And then there’s the rebounding. ...
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder is off to a 6-4 start. It’s the team’s best since the 2018-19 season.
Coincidentally, that season ended by kicking off the current era of Thunder basketball. It’s another sign that the rebuild is over.
Throughout the season, I will take a look back at the previous 10 games and look at some stats, both good and bad. That might slide a game or two depending on the flow of the season. Ten games is still a small sample size, so don’t necessarily take any of these as signs of what to expect going forward. But there will be interesting nuggets of info and we can see how these areas progress or regress throughout the season.
Offensive, defensive, and net ratings are a statistical measure per 100 possessions. To wit, offensive rating is a measure of points scored, and defensive rating shows how many points are allowed per 100 possessions. Net rating is the difference between the two. The best teams in the league have large positive net ratings.
Through 10 games, OKC ranks seventh in the NBA in offensive rating at 113.6. On the defensive end, the Thunder ranks 17th overall at 112.0. The result is a net rating of 1.7, which is 12th best.
The offensive number doesn’t feel like a fluke so far. Some players are shooting at an unsustainable rate, but they are creating good offense even though integrating Chet Holmgren is a work in progress. Josh Giddey is still finding his way, but he had a slow start to last season. And any team with a player of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s caliber has a solid foundation to create a top-10 offense.
The Thunder’s defensive rating has a lot of room to improve. The team has surrendered 120 points or more three times, including when Golden State dropped 141 points. There have been more good defensive nights than poor, and Holmgren has already flashed major potential defensively.
One big reason why OKC’s offense has hummed early on has been its three-point shooting. They are the 4th-best three-point shooting team so far, connecting on 37.5% shots from deep.
Don’t bet on either number holding up for the entire season.
The Thunder’s three best shooters from long range so far — minimum four games played — are Cason Wallace (52.6%), Holmgren (50%), and Lu Dort (47.9%). Expecting those numbers to sustain for even 10 more games is a big ask.
But the way these players are taking these shots has been very good so far. Wallace is taking what the defense is giving him and making them pay so far. Holmgren has been good at picking his spots to launch from deep. Dort is showing excellent restraint so far. He hasn’t forced the low-percentage shots he’s been criticized for in previous seasons.
Drives per game and free-throw rate
OKC’s offensive identity revolves around relentless drives to the basket. Since coach Mark Daigneault took over before the 2020-21 season, OKC has ranked first in drives per game every season. Once again, the Thunder is first in the league with 62.7 drives per game.
The Thunder is a bit more turnover-prone on these plays compared to last season, coughing up the ball 7.5% of the time. But again, adjustments are in progress.
The whammy so far is something out of the Thunder’s control: free-throw attempts. Drives tend to lead to trips to the line. Last season, OKC averaged 9.4 attempts on its 64 drives per game. That has sunk to 6.6 attempts on a similar number of drives this season. The Thunder may need to adjust to how games are called or have Daigneault make another reasoned public statement about how his team deserves more calls, as he did last season.
It’s starting to feel like beating a dead horse, but the Thunder is not a good rebounding team. Nor does it necessarily have to be. Nor is it built to do so. But there’s a lot of work to resolve this from within.
I already wrote about OKC’s rebounding and some of the tradeoffs the team is willing to make. But for posterity, let the record officially show that the Thunder is league average in total defensive rebounds and dead last in total offensive rebounds. It ranks 29th in defensive rebounding percentage — right behind the 8-2 Dallas Mavericks, for what it’s worth.
OKC is also giving up a league-worst 14.7 offensive rebounds per game, which leads to opponents getting 17.2 points per game on second-chance opportunities. That last stat, amazingly, is not the worst in the league but it’s close.