Tramel: OKC Thunder is taking more 3-point shots than even Houston
The Thunder launched 48 3-point shots Monday night in a 118-90 loss at Miami. Get accustomed to it. The Thunder appears to be set on becoming Houston North.
Through six games, the Thunder has averaged 40.8 3-point shots per game. That’s third in the NBA, behind only Toronto (44.8) and Portland (41.3).
The Thunder also is tied for last (out of 30 teams) in 3-point percentage (.314), which would be quite disconcerting if OKC wasn’t in tanking mode. As it is, victory isn’t paramount, so it’s quite fine if the Thunder becomes a bunch of Rocket launchers.
The Thunder historically does not reside in 3-point culture. In the Oklahoma City days of the franchise’s history, the Thunder never has finished in the NBA top 10 in 3-point attempts per game.
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During the two Paul George years, OKC was 11th and 13th in attempts, but a year ago, with Chris Paul quarterbacking and producing a variety of quality shots all over the court, the Thunder was 27th in 3-point attempts per game, 30.2.
So things have changed, but we already knew that. New roster. New coaching staff, led by Mark Daigneault. New focus, from short-term to long-term.
I asked Daigneault on Monday night what is fueling the new 3-point frequency. Personnel? Coaching preference? League-wide gravity to more 3-pointers?
“Probably a combination of those things,” Daigneault said. “Truth be told, we’d like to play through the paint with drives and cuts, get to the free-throw line, get to the front of the rim, but that’s what defenses want to take away, too.
“So we’ve played a lot of teams here that have loaded the box against us, so to speak. They force you to pitch it out to the perimeter and they force you to make perimeter jumpshots. We’re going to be willing to take those shots.
“Of course, not all 3’s are created equally. Some are plays where we should have drove it, and some of them are really high quality. We try to evaluate all that, and understand the nuances of that. We want to take what the defense gives, but we certainly want to have a balance.”
The Thunder has few holdovers from last season. But those few are much more likely to launch.
Lu Dort is averaging 6.7 3-point shots per 36 minutes this season. A year ago, he averaged 4.4 3-point shots per 36 minutes. Of course, Dort is making them this year -- his 3-point percentage has risen from .297 as a rookie to .452. Dort making 45 percent of his 3-point shots would produce one of the best players in the league, considering his defense, though that percentage likely isn’t sustainable.
Conversely, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has gone the other direction. Shooting more but making less. SGA attempted 3.7 3-point shots per 36 minutes last season but has increased that to 6.8 this season. His 3-point percentage has taken a hit, from .347 to .297.
It’s early. Percentages fluctuate wildly early in seasons. But the Thunder’s shot selections are interesting. OKC appears to be avoiding the mid-range; few long 2-pointers attempted.
Monday night, I counted six before Daigneault emptied the bench in the rout. Sometimes last season, Paul or SGA or Dennis Schroder might take six all by themselves.
The Thunder’s 3-point percentage is a little skewed by rookie Alexsej Pokusevski, who has made just one of 16 3-pointers. Poku has good form but hasn’t made beans. He might come around.
Take away Poku, and the Thunder is shooting .332 from 3-point range. Not good, but not the worst in the league.
Other Thunder 3-point percentages are to be expected.
George Hill is shooting 43.5 percent; he’s one of the league’s best. Mike Muscala is shooting 38.7; that’s excellent for a backup center. Al Horford and Darius Bazley each are making 32 percent; Horford needs to be better (as much for trade bait as anything) while Bazley made 34.8 percent as a rookie last season. Bazley should improve.
But don’t discount the general NBA migration to more 3-pointers. In 2009-10, the first good Thunder team, OKC averaged 15.0 3-point shots per game. That ranked 23rd in the league. Five years later, the Thunder averaged 22.7 3-point shots per game and ranked 14th in the NBA. By 2018-19, OKC shot 32.6 3-pointers a game and ranked 13th.
The previous three seasons, the Thunder has been shooting twice as many 3-pointers as it did when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were pups. That’s the way of basketball.
Shooting more and more 3-pointers isn’t the problem. Missing so many is the problem.
Truth is, the Thunder is not a good offensive team. Last in the league in points per game (100.5) and last in the league in offensive efficiency (97.4 points per 100 possessions). Sometimes, a 3-point shot is all you can get. It’s the new reality for OKC.