The Bulls open their season tonight against the Thunder in Oklahoma City. And since both teams are currently undefeated at 0-0, it’s hard to identify any regular season trends.
So let’s consider last season.
In 2008-09, the Thunder won 23 games. In 2009-10, they won 50 games. For those of you who enjoy simple math, that’s a 27-game improvement, tops in the NBA last year. For the sake of comparison, the Memphis Grizzlies came in second with a 16-game improvement.
The Thunder did it with a stingy defense (1st in total blocked shots, 4th in Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage, 7th in Opponents Turnover Percentage, 9th in Defensive Rating) and Kevin Durant’s offense (a league-best 30.1 PPG).
At 21 years and197 days old, Durant became the youngest scoring champion in NBA history. Not surprisingly, he finished second (to LeBron James) in MVP voting. A distant second, but still. The kid is amazing. Although he didn’t do it alone.
When KD missed, his teammates were there to clean up the mess, as the Thunder ranked 3rd in Offensive Rebound Percentage. The Thunder also drew fouls, ranking 2nd in Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt and 3rd in Total Free Throw Attempts.
Durant was a major component of those foul shooting numbers. Last season, KD made 751 free throws. History lesson: That’s the sixth-highest total in NBA history and the most since Michael Jordan hit 833 in 1986-87. The only other players to convert more freebies than Durant were Oscar Robertson (800 in 1963-64), Adrian Dantley (813 in 1983-84), Wilt Chamberlain (835 in 1961-62) and Jerry West (840 in 1965-66).
That’s some pretty rare company.
Assuming things remain relatively constant, the Bulls must contain Kevin Durant as best they can (good luck, Luol), while keeping KD and his teammates off the free throw line. It’s also imperative that they take care of the ball and crash the defensive glass. Outside of Durant, the Thunder rely on points off turnovers andsecond-chance points to generate offense.
The Bulls can’t afford to give up garbage points. They need to make the Thunder earn everything. After all, the Thunder ranked only 20th in Effective Field Goal Percentage last season.
Note: All stats came from ESPN Stats and Information and Basketball-Reference.com.