Among the many items to consume in the 106-99 Hawks loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder is whether the young upstarts from Oklahoma are really already beyond the Hawks in terms of their progression as a team.
Yes, as Mike Prada over at Bullets Forever noted to us over on Twitter after the game, the Hawks are further ahead in the standings than the Thunder, and while that calmed the veracity of our opinion, it didn't stop us from looking further into the numbers to change our minds for sure.
Looking into the Fabled Four Factors we see the following:
Team A: 102/100 Off/Def Efficiency, 48.63/47.33 EFG% (Own/Opp), 32.6/30.1 FT Rate, 14.58/14.21 Turnover Rate, 28.35/27.36 Offensive Rebounding Rate
Team B: 108.4/103.5 O/D Effic., 50.47/49.73 EFG%, 27.8/28.8 FTR, 11.38/13.72 TO Rate, 27.58/27.07 ORR
Pretty close, and those who watch the Hawks know that Team A is the Thunder and Team B, with the low own turnover rate, is Atlanta.
That turnover rate is the only thing, statistically, keeping the Hawks ahead of the Thunder at this current juncture, as it impacts both efficiencies. With the Thunder's age/experience difference, you might expect them to have a higher turnover rate than the more seasoned Hawks.
Weigh in that the Thunder are still rising this season, while the Hawks are tailing off a little bit from their league leading start. Even in the Basketball-Reference stat, SRS, the Thunder are closing in, ranking 10th while the Hawks have slipped from 1st to 5th.
Now look on the court, where OKC has taken care of the Hawks twice now. They are active and long defensively, out Hawks-ing the Hawks, giving ATL all kinds of fits inside, especially on the glass, where the Thunder outworked the Hawks for (17) offensive rebounds, including (5) from PG Russell Westbrook. The Hawks started the season faring better on the defensive glass, but have slipped back into the familiar twenties (21st before Tuesday's game) in that category.
Offensively, the Hawks, despite THHB's harping on sharing the ball more and working inside-out for better shots, still outpace the Thunder in Assist Rate, though OKC shoots a considerable lower percentage of three point shots per game than does ATL.
The Hawks have the great Joe Johnson, whose ability to score was on display again against OKC, under control for (37) points, with (4) of his (13) buckets assisted. Johnson hit on some iso, but the ball found him in good positions to score and Joe took advantage of a shifting defense to get in the lane and get higher percentage looks. All (4) of his assisted baskets occurred from the outside (16) feet.
They also have Al Horford who, while being recognized as one of the league's best as an All-Star, still plays timid at times around the rim. Horford shot 2-6 at the rim against OKC, and hasn't lost the habit of bringing the ball all the way down below his waist when preparing to hoist himself up around the rim. The process takes so long that the opponents can collapse on him and block his shot. This has caused Al to get into a habit of trying to sneak the ball into the basket, resulting in--on one occasion, sending the ball quickly and inaccurately way too high and hard off the glass versus trying to stuff it home or draw a foul.
Josh Smith, who became the youngest player in NBA history to reach (1000) blocked shots, had a nice game as well (15/6/3), gives the Hawks a nice triumvirate of talent, but neither he (5) nor Horford (2) got enough defensive rebounds to hold the Thunder in check. The (6) extra shots and (7) extra free throw attempts were enough to make the difference between winning and losing against the Thunder.
On the Thunder roster are a number of solid, young players. Jeff Green and James Harden provide toughness and shotmaking, and Westbrook is an energetic playmaker. But what has moved the Thunder so far, so fast, is the continued improvement of (surprise) Kevin Durant, and his ascent from potential to arrival.
Nobody has to be reminded that Durant is a superstar. His offensive prowess is evident, with his 100 rating stroke, but all of his rates are going up as well: rebounding, blocks, steals, etc. What we're seeing in OKC is the power of the superstar making the water rise to new levels. He's getting to the free throw line more and more, earning (14) throws against the Hawks.
It's the presence of the superstar that can lift franchises to greater heights than the team that is built around a number of fringe all-star caliber players. We've seen Cleveland go to greater heights than the roster around LeBron James would indicate---and OKC seems to be built much more efficiently than even that squad.
Looking back at the numbers, at this moment in time, the Hawks maintain an edge based on their ability to take care of the basketball. But the Thunder are right there statistically, and it won't be long before the star of Durant and the rest of the Thunder carries them above what even the talented Hawks can muster.