Scouting the stats: Heat at Thunder

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LeBron James and Kevin Durant highlight a Sunday night matchup between two of the best teams in the NBA.

Sunday night at 8 ET on ESPN, the Heat and Thunder square off in the first of two head-to-head matchups this season.

So what can we expect?

With all the athletes on the floor, one might anticipate a track meet. And while the Thunder and Heat rank sixth and seventh in the NBA in fast-break points, it’s actually in the half court where they do the most damage.

According to our video-tracking friends at Synergy Sports, the Thunder average 0.93 points per play and have an effective field goal percentage of 50.2 percent in the half court, both of which rank second in the NBA.

Miami, which ranks third in both categories, is the only team which scores more often in the half court than Oklahoma City, scoring on nearly 45 percent of their half-court plays.

Half-Court Offense
NBA Ranks This Season

Perhaps most fascinating is that while both teams excel in the half court, they do so in much different ways.

While the Thunder runs a fairly balanced half-court offense, they are particularly strong in pick-and-roll and isolation situations.

With its outside-in trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden running the show, the Thunder are by far most efficient isolation team in the NBA. They rank first in the NBA in points per possession (0.92) and FG pct (45.0), easily exceeding the league averages of 0.79 and 37.2. Durant, Westbrook, and Harden rank fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in isolation points per play (min. 75 plays).

Additionally, Oklahoma City runs a higher volume of pick-and-rolls than any other team in the league, as its P&R ball handler accounts for just under 20 percent of the teams’ possessions in the half court.

Pct of Half-Court Possessions
By Play Type, This Season

The quality matches the quantity as the Thunder rank second in points per play from the P&R ball handler, with James Harden the primary facilitator. Of the 79 players with at least 75 plays as the P&R ball handler, Harden’s 1.07 points per play ranks first in the NBA.

The Heat meanwhile rely on spot-up shooting nearly 10 percent more than any other play in the half court, and for good reason, as they rank third in the NBA in points per play (1.01) and effective field goal percentage (51.7).

While Mike Miller leads the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage, the other supporting players have been no slouches either. Of the more than 225 players with at least 50 spot-up plays, Miller, Mario Chalmers and James Jones all rank in the top 15 in points per play.

The biggest difference between the two teams is their ability to score in the post. Whereas less than eight percent of the Thunder’s half-court possessions end in a post-up, it’s the Heat’s second-most utilized play type in the half court.

Miami ranks second in the NBA in points per play in post-up situations. Oklahoma City ranks 23rd.

While LeBron James has been lauded all season long for his new-found willingness to go in the post, Dwyane Wade is quietly doing the same. Among players with at least 100 post-ups, Wade and James rank second and fourth in points per play.

How each team executes in the half court will likely determine the outcome of this potential NBA Finals preview. Can Oklahoma City run its pick-and-roll and isolation sets with a high degree of efficiency? Can Miami spread the floor for its shooters and then pound the post with its physical wings?