5 min read

Week in Review: Hot or Not

Week in Review: Hot or Not
AP Photo

AP Photo

After Saturday’s victory over the Indiana Pacers, the Thunder have chalked up four wins in a row. Which is good news, after a 4-8 record after the All-Star Break left many wondering if the wheels of the Thunder’s playoff wagon were about to fall off.

Now a very symmetrical 8-8 post All-Star Break, the statistical trends in wins versus losses are perplexing. Rather than present these in a verbose narrative form, I’m going to condense them into bullets.

  • Points per game
    • Wins: 119.4
    • Losses: 101.5
  • Opponent points per game
    • Wins: 104.3
    • Losses: 109.5
  • Offensive rating
    • Wins: 117.5
    • Losses: 99.9
  • Defensive rating
    • Wins: 104.7
    • Losses: 109.6

So these stats are pretty clear. When the Thunder win, they score more points and allow less points, Pretty simple formula, right? Well, that’s sort of what makes this analysis so perplexing.

  • Total rebounding percentage
    • Wins: 57.4%
    • Losses: 55%
  • Pace
    • Wins: 100.6
    • Losses: 99.4
  • Turnovers
    • Wins: 16.8
    • Losses: 16.8
  • Shot attempts
    • Wins: 85.8
    • Losses: 89.6

Really, as these stats attest, in wins and losses, the Thunder are virtually the same team. They play at the same pace, they rebound at the same rate, they turn the ball over just as often. Thus, while the spectator in me sees a bi-polar team that looks utterly awful in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but equally awesome in a shellacking of the Boston Celtics, the stats seem to imply that’s not the case. The team that got de-pantsed by the T’Wolves is the same team that walloped the Celtics, just for one key difference: the Thunder made shots.

That’s right.  In the Thunder’s 8 post-ASG wins versus losses, the Thunder’s TS% is 10 percentage points higher, FG% is 7.1 percentage points higher, and 3P% is 12.2 percentage points higher.

So for all the hand-ringing when a player or coach offers the lamest of excuses for another team’s victory over the Thunder–that the other team just got hot–the difference between winning and losing for the Thunder so often comes down to whether the Thunder got hot or whether they did not. And before you throw stones at me with notes that say “RPM,” “BPM,” and “Dion Waiters,” the point I’m trying to make isn’t to advocate for an oversimplification of statistical analysis. The point I’m trying to make is that, the Thunder have a very clear identity. And game in and game out, they often play with that same identity. They take similar shots. They turn the ball over at similar rates. They rebound about the same. Sure there is variance, but the statistical consistency in the team’s performance indicates that this team basically is what it is.

Which means, the difference between a team that can go toe-to-toe with the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors versus a team that can lose to the New Orleans Pelicans is less about scheme, and mostly about making shots.

Funny how that works out.


  • Win at the Boston Celtics on March 16, 130-109
  • Win at the Philadelphia 76ers on March 18, 111-97
  • Win at the Indiana Pacers on March 19, 115-111


Kevin Durant. One very big reason the Thunder have played much better as of late is because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have played extraordinary. Not only did Westbrook notch two more triple doubles this week, but Durant threatened a triple double in every game, just 7 assists and 3 rebounds shy of three straight. Durant ended up averaging a beastly 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 7.7 assists on 56.4% shooting. He also averaged just 3 turnovers a game despite a 30.2% usage rate.


Cameron Payne. The rookie seems to have been reinserted into the rotation as Billy Donovan plays more small ball with the bench, relying less on two bigs. Payne, however, underperformed statistically. In 13.2 minutes per game, Payne averaged just 3.3 points and 1.7 assists on very poor shooting–27.3% from the floor and a TS% of just 39.2%. Payne also had the worst net rating (and only negative rating) on the team among players who appeared in all 3 games (net rating of negative 9.4).


Kevin Durant against the Indiana Pacers. Durant made things look pretty easy against the Pacers, scoring 33 points on 55% from the field and 37.5% from three. He also added 13 rebounds and 8 assists with just 3 turnovers.

Honorable mention: You know you’re good when you have two triple doubles and you don’t win “best player” or “best performance” in the Week in Review. That being said, Westbrook’s name should be mentioned because he is probably the only player in the NBA right now who makes a 14 point, 14 assist, and 11 rebound performance (as he did against the Pacers) seem pretty ho-hum.


Dion Waiters against the Indiana Pacers. Although Waiters shot the ball much better than the two previous games (4-6 for 9 points), Waiters turned the ball over 5 times. For a bench player who played just 19 minutes, turning the ball over 5 times in a single game is an achievement of the most dubious variety. In fact, against the Pacers, Waiters had a turnover rate of almost 42%, which is like really bad.


Best Play-7

Jerami Grant gets a highlight play. Too bad for him the highlight is him being on the receiving end of a ferocious posterizing dunk by Westbrook.


Worst Play-7

I mean, it’s a lazy pass. It was Waiters’s third turnover in the last 4:15 of the third quarter (his fifth in the game) which saw an 80-76 lead turn into an 87-85 deficit. But the most notable aspect of this is the body language of Durant. When Durant looks that disappointed, we should all be disappointed.


  • Vs. the Houston Rockets on March 22 at 7:00 pm (TNT)
    Prediction: There’s a reason the Rockets are battling for a playoff spot and not among the Western Conference elite: they aren’t very good. The Thunder win this one.
  • Vs. the Utah Jazz on March 24 at 7:00 pm (FSOK)
    Prediction: Make it 6 in a row as the Thunder beat another fringe playoff team.
  • Vs. the San Antonio Spurs on March 26 at 7:00 pm (NBATV)
    Prediction: I’m going to go all in on the sunshine pumping and predict this as a Thunder win.
  • At the Toronto Raptors on March 28 at 6:30 pm (FSOK)
    Prediction: Can the Thunder make it 8 in a row? Nope. Not quite.