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The Thunder may finally be figuring out their offense

Not a moment too soon either.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder edged out the Houston Rockets, 112-107, on Christmas with a seemingly more fluent offense than what they’ve shown in the season’s opening weeks. Houston may have been without Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Chris Paul on the defensive end, but OKC’s slightly improved offense began its trend weeks before Monday night’s game.

After spending some time in the lower third of the NBA in terms of offensive efficiency, OKC is creeping into the top half with the No. 16 offensive rating in the league, per Basketball Reference. That has a lot to do with the Thunder’s shooting hierarchy falling into place. Russell Westbrook is returning to Russell Westbrook form, completely unleashed, and his supporting cast is finding its niche under him.

The Thunder’s win over the Rockets saw their Big 3 shoot an efficient 28-of-51 (55 percent) from the field and turn the ball over a combined 10 times. Russell Westbrook scored 31 points on 24 shots while Anthony and George had 44 points on 27 shots. Steven Adams, (who makes a Big 3.5), had 15 points on nine shots. That’s beginning to feel like what the blueprint of a successful Thunder offensive night looks like on the stat sheet.

The Thunder are best when Westbrook is top dog

Westbrook has both a brilliant and flawed game that demands he handle the ball to put up his outrageous stats. He can’t really play off the ball, as he isn’t much of a spot-up shooter, and his game thrives on attacks to the basket or kick-outs. He can’t defer to Anthony and George often if OKC wants to get its money’s worth.

So in the month of December, he’s been given the green light to fire more, and it’s no coincidence the team is 11-3 in the month in which he’s taken the most shots.

Through seven games in October, he averaged 15 attempts per game. In November, it was 21 per game, and now in December, 23. Re-establishing his lead role has made for less confusion in OKC’s offense, and in turn, helped a struggling on-court chemistry. The Thunder are shooting 3 percent better from the field month-over-month and average 1.5 assists more on three less turnovers.

That’s huge, and it has helped the team bounce back from a 4-9 month of November.

What else has changed?

George and Anthony are finding their comfort in a secondary role

Anthony and George struggled as much as Westbrook through the opening month and a half of play. But a slight step back is helping them as well.

Anthony went from 16 attempts last month to 15, and George has dropped from 17.5 to 15.5. Although it may not benefit their individual numbers, it’s working for the team as a whole. The more under control the Thunder’s high-volume shooters are, the better their offense will run on nights they aren’t shooting well.

Steven Adams is reaping the benefits of an offense in sync

The shots Anthony and George are sacrificing have opened opportunities for Steven Adams, who’s having a breakout year.

Going from 7.6 attempts last month to 10.3 tries in December, Adams has scored 16 points per night in 11 games, up from 10 points in November. Unlike the contested jumpers Anthony and George often settle for, Adams is almost exclusively dunking or finishing layups. That’s why he’s shooting 66 percent from the field.

Secretly, Adams is one of OKC’s biggest offensive weapons despite his inability to create off the dribble. He’s one of the league’s best offensive rebounders (averaging six per game this month), so he’s able to create for himself off others’ misses.

With less of those misses coming off long jumpers from the team’s forwards, and more off short Westbrook misses, that makes life that much simpler for him.

OKC’s offense is slowly finding itself after a dreadful start to the season, and it’s come from a less democratic system. All three superstars shouldn’t hold a similar offensive workload, and it’s a good sign that they’re reinventing their approach before the halfway point in the season.

It’s way too soon to cap what their ceiling might be come May.


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