Revealing the True Thunder Plan

Proponents of tanking often talk about the “Thunder Plan”.   From 2007 to 2009, the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise (originally the Sonics franchise) held the 2nd pick, 4th pick, and 3rd pick in the draft.  With these three picks, the Thunder added Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.   These players have thus far appeared in eight All-Star games. And in the early voting for the 2013-14 All-Star game, Durant currently ranks first in voting for the Western Conference frontcourt while Harden and Westbrook rank 5th and 6th respectively in the backcourt.

Beyond All-Star appearances, the Thunder has enjoyed a substantial amount of team success.  In the team’s first season with all three players (2009-10) the team won 50 games and had and an efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) of 3.6.  This differential improved to 3.9 in 2010-11 and 6.3 in 2011-12.  And after the 2011-12 season, the Thunder reached the NBA Finals.

But in the Finals the Thunder lost to the Heat.  And before the 2012-13 season began, the Thunder decided it could not afford Harden.  Consequently Harden was sent to the Rockets and the dream of an NBA title in Oklahoma apparently vanished.

Despite the break-up of the three lottery picks, though, the Thunder were not silenced. In 2012-13 the Thunder posted an efficiency differential of 9.6.  This mark led the NBA.  This season the Thunder are once again among the league leaders in efficiency differential.  So it appears Oklahoma City is still a title contender.

And if we look at the team this year – and the elements of the Harden trade — it appears we got the Thunder’s drafting strategy all wrong.  Again, the “Thunder Plan” was supposed to be

a. lose a bunch of games

b. build around the amazing lottery talents the league gives you for losing a bunch of games

When we look at who is producing wins for the Thunder in 2013-14, it appears the actual “Thunder Plan” is quite different.  As the following table indicates, Kevin Durant leads the Thunder this season with 6.5 Wins Produced.  But Westbrook is actually below average this season.  Consequently, 11 of the team’s 19 Wins Produced are being offered by players NOT taken with the first five picks in the draft.

Thunder

Draft

Pick

Min.

WP48

12-13

Wins

Projected

WP48

Wins

Difference**

across 82 games

Kevin Durant

2

947

0.331

6.5

0.313

6.2

-1.2

Serge Ibaka

24

810

0.180

3.0

0.184

3.1

0.2

Thabo Sefolosha

13

549

0.173

2.0

0.167

1.9

-0.2

Reggie Jackson

24

618

0.132

1.7

0.136

1.8

0.2

Jeremy Lamb

12

521

0.136

1.5

0.152

1.6

0.6

Steven Adams*

12

408

0.173

1.5

0.173

1.5

0.0

Russell Westbrook

4

723

0.079

1.2

0.074

1.1

-0.2

Perry Jones

28

155

0.243

0.8

0.248

0.8

0.0

Nick Collison

12

417

0.076

0.7

0.073

0.6

-0.1

Andre Roberson*

26

96

0.174

0.4

0.174

0.3

0.0

Derek Fisher

24

327

0.010

0.1

0.022

0.1

0.3

Hasheem Thabeet

2

32

-0.009

0.0

-0.007

0.0

0.0

Kendrick Perkins

27

419

-0.016

-0.1

-0.014

-0.1

0.1

Ryan Gomes

20

28

-0.246

-0.1

-0.245

-0.1

0.0

Summation

19.0

18.8

Summation per 82 games

62.2

61.8

-0.4

*- Adams and Roberson are rookies, so their numbers are the same in 12-13 and 13-14; **- Difference across 82 games is simply [WINS – WINS Projected] * 82/25.  WP48 12-13 numbers are my own calculation.  WP48 13-14 come from boxscoregeeks.com

In looking at these numbers it is important to remember that numbers always tell the truth.  With that in mind, let’s look back at that Harden trade.   Back in October of 2012, Harden was sent to the Rockets for Kevin Martin and two draft picks.  Martin has since left for Minnesota.  The two draft picks, though, remain.  And those two draft picks – Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams were a) both taken with the 12th pick in the draft and b) both are above average this season (average WP48 is 0.100).

The Thunder do not just focus on the 12th pick.  They also seem to like the 24th pick (or the 12th pick after the 12th pick!).  Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson – two players taken with the 12th pick after the 12th pick – are also above average this season.

Of course not every player taken with the 12th or 24th pick is above average this season.  The Thunder also employ Nick Collison (a 12th pick who has been above average for much of his career) and Derek Fisher (a 24th pick who was below average in the distant past).  Yes, the Thunder have three players taken with the 12th pick and three more taken with the 12th pick after the 12th pick (so 6 of the 14 players on this team were taken with these picks).

Despite the lack of production from Collison and Fisher, the Thunder are getting 8.4 wins from the 12th and 24th picks this season.  In contrast, the team is only getting 7.7 wins from players taken in the top five of the draft.

So there you have it.  Again, numbers never, ever, ever mislead us (that is why we must always believe whatever plus-minus or Player Efficiency Rating numbers tell us!).  And now that we see the numbers, we now know the “true” Thunder plan.  Make sure your team gets the 12th and 24th pick!

Let me close by noting that according to the latest mock draft at NBAdraft.net,  the 12th pick in 2014 is currently going to the Minnesota Timberwolves.  And the 24th pick is held by the LA Clippers.  For a team to take these coveted slots, it needs to either just miss the playoffs or become a team that is just outside the ranks of the primary title contenders.  Yes, getting these slots is harder than just losing a bunch of games.  But if you really want your team to follow the true “Thunder Plan”, that is what your team will have to do!

- DJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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