Thunder Offense Too Reliant on Isolation Plays

After another uninspiring performance against a Kristaps Porzingis-less New York Knicks team on Saturday, the Oklahoma City Thunder need to make a major change on offense.

Three ball dominant players — Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George — have struggled to coexist. As a result, the Thunder are below .500 at 14-15, barely hanging onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

But with Christmas Day nearing, Oklahoma City has had training camp, preseason games and almost three full months of regular season game to find chemistry. It is time for this team to stop making excuses and do what is necessary to win for a passionate fanbase.

Thunder Offense Too Reliant on Isolation Plays

A simple solution can cure what has ailed the league’s fifth-worst offense (102.2 points per 100 possessions) to this point in the season. The Thunder need to stop running so many isolation plays and share the ball more to find better shots.

Wake Up Billy Donovan

If you are looking to blame someone for the Thunder’s offensive struggles, look no further than head coach Billy Donovan.

He runs the plays, the team tries to implement his strategy and he is the leader. The players have to go out and execute but his isolation-heavy approach has not worked.

The Thunder are stagnant and hard to watch night after night. Most people have realized that OKC’s approach has not worked — except Donovan himself.

Here is what Donovan told The Norman Transcript in October:

There’s a balance from the standpoint of, OK, you want to be able to allow those guys to do some of those things because they’re really good at it. But are they doing it against two people? Is there two people on them? Are they shooting out of crowds? They, I think, understand that the importance is going to be how well can we move the basketball.

At this point, it is hard to believe that the Thunder’s big three grasps the importance of passing the basketball.

The Thunder have averaged the sixth-fewest assists per game (20.9) and as a result, have struggled to find open shots. Only the Chicago Bulls have a worse field goal percentage (42.7) than the Thunder (43.4).

Oklahoma City does not pass the ball a lot because they run the second-most isolation plays in the league (11.5 percent). The Rockets run the most iso plays in the league (12.5 percent).

Nobody would have an issue with iso after iso if it translated to a high frequency of made baskets.

But the difference is Houston puts the ball in the hoop 48.6 percent of the time they run an isolation play, the highest percentage in the league. The Thunder only have scored 40.2 percent of the time, the eighth-lowest percentage. This means 22 other teams run fewer isolation plays and at the same time, score at a higher rate.

Inefficient Big Three

When the Thunder made the extra pass against the Knicks on Saturday, Patrick Patterson for example thrived. He scored 12 points and made four of his six three-pointers. At least two of those were open looks in the left corner.

Just imagine what the Thunder could be if they were unselfish. But that is not reality. Instead, most Thunder possessions start with either Westbrook, Anthony or George with the ball and often end with them missing a shot early in the shot clock.

Anthony (22 percent), Westbrook (17.6 percent) and George (13.3 percent) all run a high percentage of isolation plays. Anthony runs the seventh most, but he is only shooting 39 percent on such plays. Westbrook (37 percent) and George (35 percent) have been worse.

The NBA is a make or miss league and all there are doing a lot more missing — and it is not just on isolation plays.

Westbrook (39 percent), Anthony (40 percent) and George (41 percent) are in the midst of a career-worst shooting season. In fact, they own the three worst field goal percentages among players with 15 attempts per game this season. That is astonishing.

Anthony has always been an isolation player. But he was the number one option in New York and had success. Now if he wants to win, he has to make finding the open man the priority and demand the ball when he is open and has a good look.

Steven Adams

Steven Adams has been a bright spot for the Thunder offense this season.

The 24-year-old seven-foot center has made 63.5 percent of his shots this season, the third-highest field goal percentage in the league this season.

Adams has easily been the Thunder’s most efficient offensive player. Yet, he only averages 9.2 field goal attempts per game, behind Westbrook, George and Anthony.

Donovan needs to run more of the offense through Adams. Adams should get the ball more because he finishes what he starts. The Thunder would be more efficient as a result.

It is not just Adams either. Andre Roberson, who is not known for his offense, has shot a higher percentage from the field then the big three. Roberson has not attempted a high number of shots but like Patterson and Adams, the ball usually goes through the hoop when he does.

Adams is the best example of why Donovan needs to get other guys more touches.


The Thunder are 6-3 in nine games this month, but their offense still is not where it needs to be.

If the Thunder are to go on a bigger run and actually make a big jump in the standings, Oklahoma City run an offense similar to what the Golden State Warriors do. The Warriors also have two superstars and one fringe star who want the ball, but they pass the ball and are the most efficient offense as a result.

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