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Bricktown Blues: The Thunder’s Historic Shooting Woes

A look at the effect of the Thunder's historically bad shooting struggles.
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Shooting, particularly 3-point shooting, has never been more important than it is in the modern NBA.

Teams league-wide are paying a premium to fill their rosters with shooters, especially for teams whose stars aren’t threats from deep themselves.

This season’s iteration of the Thunder, unfortunately, are not one of those teams.

The Thunder are the league’s worst 3-point shooting team at 31%. Shooting numbers are down across the NBA, but the Thunder’s struggle’s aren’t just a small dip in a down year, this season’s Thunder roster is the worst shooting team in nearly a decade.

The 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves, led by a 24-year-old Kevin Love, shot 30.5% from behind the arc as a team. The Timberwolves went on to win 31 games that season.

The thing is, that’s nothing compared to where this Thunder team stacks up against the Thunder/Seattle SuperSonics teams of the past.

The Thunder/SuperSonics have never been an elite franchise when it comes to shooting. With most of its teams throughout the 2000s shooting somewhere close to 35% from three you have to back a little further to find the last time a team shot a lower percentage than 31%.

That’s how we find ourselves discussing the 1985-86 SuperSonics. Led by Jack Sikma and coached by Bernie Bickerstaff, the father of current Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff, those SuperSonics shot a whopping 26.3% from three.

Fastforwarding nearly 40 years, the current Thunder have started to lay the foundation of a future contender.

Shai Gilegous-Alexander is one of the league’s most dynamic guards and Josh Giddey is a gunslinger at point guard, but neither are true threats from deep.

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Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting 27.4% on threes this season, a significant drop form the 41.8% he posted a season ago, while Giddey is shooting 27.8% in his rookie campaign.

This, coupled with teammates such as Lu Dort, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Aaron Wiggins all shooting south of 35%, has given opposing defenses the luxury of being able to slack off from the corners and clog the lane on drives from the Thunder backcourt.

The lone member of the Thunder that’s been effective from deep is Mike Muscala. Muscala sits at No. 4 in the NBA in 3-point percentage, shooting 43.9% on 3.7 attempts per game.

The issue, however, is that Muscala is the thunder's third-string center. Playing behind both Derrick Favors and Robinson-Earl, Muscala has played far and away the fewest minutes of any of the NBA’s Top-15 shooters at just 512.

The Thunder seem to have opted for the J.R. Smith route to get out of its shooting problems. OKC is No. 8 in the NBA in 3-pointers per game with 37.3. It appears to be a calculated choice from the Thunder to let its top players shoot, keep shooting and hope that they will start to see shots go in.

Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey and Dort combine for an average of 17.2 3-points per game, and despite shooting a collective 29.7% on those shots the game plan doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

We’ve seen teams such as the 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks or the 2020-21 Philadelphia 76ers fail to surround their stars with the necessary shooting and it cost them when the playoffs came around.

Between now and the Thunder’s next attempt at contention plenty of things need to happen, but getting shooting around your stars shouldn’t be something that is overlooked along the way. And those stars getting shooting strokes of their own certainly doesn’t hurt.

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