After finishing with a record of 22-50 in the 2020-21 season, there are many things to point to when analyzing what went wrong for the Oklahoma City Thunder. One of the biggest issues they had all season was taking care of the ball and making smart decisions.
In fact, OKC led the entire NBA 16.1 with turnovers per game. They also had the seventh-fewest assists. This resulted in the Thunder having the NBA’s worst assist-to-turnover ratio (1.37).
Why did Oklahoma City struggle to take care of the ball?
As good as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was prior to his injury, he was the highest on the team in turnovers committed with 3.0 per game. As the season went on, rookie Theo Maledon was thrust into the starting point guard role and was frequently turning the ball over as well, committing 2.2 per contest. Maledon’s fellow rookie, Aleksej Pokusevski also contributed 2.2 turnovers per game.
While this all seems a bit worrisome for the future of the franchise, you have to put things into perspective. Many of the members of the Thunder roster were in the middle of a drastic transition in their careers.
For starters, Gilgeous-Alexander is in just his third season and was asked to be the teams best player and top playmaker on offense. While he did commit a high number of turnovers, it was likely due to the new role and playing on a team of primarily comprised of new players. Gilgeous-Alexander did average a team-high 5.9 assists per contest as well.
What might have been even more of a transition is what rookies Maledon and Pokusevski went through. Not only were they both 19 years old and asked to be starters for a good portion of the season, but they were also having to adjust off the court.
Both of these first year players moved from overseas to the United States less than a month before the start of the 2020-21 season. While it’s hard enough to adapt to the fast-paced style of the NBA, they were also having to adjust to life off the court as well.
This holds particularly true for Maledon, who finished the season as the starting point guard and had the ball in his hands a ton. Playing against the best players in the world every night while having to be the Thunder’s offensive playmaker and learn how to play at the pace of the NBA is no easy task.
For Pokusevski, learning to play four different positions in the NBA was impressive, but also a big reason for the turnovers. One game he’d start at power forward and the next he would start at shooting guard. Standing at 7-feet tall, Pokusevski was a facilitator and showed his excellent passing ability, but also has quite a ways to go taking care of the ball and making smarter decisions consistently.
Overall, it should be expected that the Oklahoma City Thunder had issues taking care of the ball in the 2020-21 season. They rolled out an extremely young team, built by a completely new roster that was filled with guys in their early twenties.