After a thrilling offseason that saw the team add Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Oklahoma City Thunder are off to a lackluster start.
The team currently sits in ninth place in the Western Conference with an 8-12 record. Teaming George and Anthony with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook was supposed to make OKC a legitimate Finals contender, but things aren't quite clicking yet. However, there's reason to believe they'll turn it around soon. Though the Thunder aren't reeling off wins the way we expected, there's evidence the team is playing hard. It's immediately apparent when you look at the NBA's Advanced Hustle stats.
OKC is currently averaging 18.6 deflections per game, which leads the league by a significant margin (the Toronto Raptors currently average the second-most deflections per game with 16.2). The Thunder also lead the league in loose balls recovered per game with 8.9.
George has been a defensive spark plug for the team, as his 5.0 deflections per game ranks first in the NBA. The next closest guy, Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young, is averaging 3.7 deflections per game. "He really takes a lot of pride (in his play) defensively," OKC head coach Billy Donovan recently told NEWSOK.com of George. "He really saves a lot of plays in a lot of ways." George spent much of the offseason grinding at Proactive Sports Performance, telling trainer Ryan Capretta he wanted to be pushed "harder than I've ever been pushed before." The amazing number of hustle plays he's making is proof the All-Star small forward is in terrific shape.
All that hustle is a big reason why OKC is leading the league in turnovers forced per game with 17.7. That's a big improvement from the 13.2 turnovers forced per game they tallied last season. OKC is also holding opponents to just 99.3 points per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA.
Despite the team's mediocre record, they're playing hard and putting up impressive defensive numbers. If they can get their offense in sync (they currently rank 24th in the league in points per game), the Thunder will have the formula of a team capable of making a deep playoff run.
Photo Credit: Layne Murdoch/Getty Images
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