Oklahoma City Thunder: Wildly Overreacting to Game 1 With SportVU


A look inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder. (Philadelphia 76ers/flickr.com)

As we all know, the Oklahoma City Thunder were the victors in their first regular season game. They beat the Utah Jazz 101-98, but it was closer than it seemed. Now, in traditional NBA fan fashion, it’s time to act like the first game was THE END OF THE WORLD (calm down, Sixers fans). Luckily for NBA stat nerds, the league finally publicly released stats tracked by SportVU. This has been used by NBA GMs for years and now it’s in the public domain. Basically, there are six cameras in the catwalk of each arena that track the movement of each player every 25 seconds. Due to this, we learn about previously unknown statistical categories like secondary assists and uncontested rebound chances.

Now let’s use these SportVU stats to take a deeeeeeep look into this hilariously small sample size of one game. But all the stats we will look at present a microcosm of everything Thunder-related. In only one game, these stats perfectly demonstrate all the positives and negatives of the 2013-14 OKC Thunder. Let’s get into it.


Due to the absence of Russell Westbrook, the offensive capabilities of the OKC Thunder come down to Kevin Durant. They rely on him quite heavily, but they can get away with that because their main scorer has won the scoring title three times. It became evident in last year’s playoffs that Durant can only carry a team for so long when he’s the only one scoring. They’ll hang tight, but cannot sustain long-term success with no real second option.

In the Utah game, Durant’s statistics perfectly represent how he plays when he’s the only one scoring. For example, Durant’s 42 points are the most scored by anyone so far. The offense clearly ran through him, but he didn’t waste time when he had the ball. He had 0.59 points per touch, which measures the amount of points a player scores per times they touch the ball. That’s excellent for a player who the defense schemes entirely around.

That’s only a small portion of the positives from Durant’s effort. He attempted 24 shots, but only six of his shots were catch-and-shoot attempts. You know what that means? His teammates aren’t setting him up for easy jumpers that he can simply step into. Interestingly enough, he didn’t make a single one of those catch-and-shoot attempts. This is just another testament to the insanity of Durant’s scoring prowess. He had to work for EVERY SINGLE BUCKET. He didn’t make a single shot where he came off a screen and hit a routine jump shot that he could make in his sleep. AND he scored 42 points! This proves Durant can create his own shot better than anyone in the league. When Russell Westbrook returns, this stat will change. Westbrook will demand attention from the defense, forcing wing defenders to collapse to the lane, leaving Durant open for catch-and-shoot jumpers from the outside. There’s not a player in the association I trust more to bury a easy jumper like that more than Kevin Durant.

What about those pesky teammates of his? How are they doing? Well, in the game against Utah, Reggie Jackson was the only one who made a notable impact with these stats. For example, Reggie Jackson passed the ball 62 times. But this only produced 14 assist opportunities. Ideally, there shouldn’t be such a large discrepancy between the amount of passes and passes that produce assist opportunities. And as you watched, Jackson only added three assists. In addition, Jackson only created 11.9 points by assist per 48 minutes. This is further evidence to the inefficiency of the OKC Thunder offense without Russell Westbrook. Jackson wasn’t making the most of his passing opportunities and because of it, he barely had any assists and the offense stagnated.

However, Reggie Jackson had a bafflingly impressive game with pull-up jumpers (SportVU defines a pull-up as “Any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took one or more dribbles before shooting”). He scored 12 of his 14 points off of pull-up jumpers. Goodness gracious, that’s unsustainable. In that game, he had an effective field goal percentage of 85.7 percent. Believe you me, I love pull-ups more than most. But I really hope that Jackson doesn’t think that’s a smart way to score.


These stats aren’t as sexy, but are worth a look. Utah has one of the youngest and most potent frontcourts in the league. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are both top draft picks that are bound to break out. They sure looked like top picks against the Thunder front line. To prove this, I looked at the stat for close touches per game, which measures the amount of touches a player gets within 12 feet of the rim. Favors was first in the league with 13 and Kanter wasn’t far behind with seven. Teams with strong big men will do this all year against the Thunder. They’ll keep feeding the low post until the Thunder stop it. Favors and Kanter combined for 29 points in Wednesday’s game. That’s not obscenely high, but the fact that they had so many attempts down low better make Scott Brooks worried that stronger teams will exploit the Thunder down low even further.

When I looked at rebounding, I learned something new: Kevin Durant is sneakily really effective on the boards. Durant had six rebounding chances, meaning that the ball was within 3.5 feet of him on a rebound. He ended the game with six rebounds. I did the math and that comes out to be a 100 percent rebounding percentage. If Durant can help clean the glass, that will take some major pressure off Serge Ibaka and whoever ends up playing the 5.

Wasn’t that fascinating? I know! These SportVU stats will be an invaluable resource for fans as the season progresses. While it’s a bit silly to extensively look at the Thunder after one game, the stats from Wednesday’s game against the Jazz paint a perfect picture of the OKC Thunder’s strengths and weaknesses. Kevin Durant is really, really good; no one else is. That’s the 2013-14 OKC Thunder. They’ll have plenty of success, don’t get me wrong. But Russell Westbrook will have to be in top form for them to contend for a championship this season.

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