By: J.M. Poulard @ShyneIV

The Oklahoma City Thunder (13-7) just finished a quick two game  road trip with a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday night as Kevin Durant missed his second straight game with a knee injury. At this moment, Durant’s status is still up in the air for tonight’s game against Golden State.

Although one would think that the Thunder are not much without their star, nothing could be further from the truth. The emergence of Russell Westbrook as an MVP candidate this season has helped the team become less dependent of Durant. Indeed, the former Bruins star has stepped up his scoring in KD’s absence and has continued to share the wealth with his teammates during games. With that said, let’s not kid ourselves, OKC is not the same team without the former Texas Longhorn.

For the most part, Oklahoma City has been good offensively this season as they have averaged 103.1 points per game on 44.6% field goal percentage. The reason they score at a higher rate than league average (NBA average is 100.0 points per game) is because they attack the basket ferociously.  According to Hoopdata, the Thunder are averaging 23.2 shot attempts at the rim (good for 9th in the league). The ability to get shots at the basket usually correlates with free throw attempts because of the pressure that gets put on opposing defenders to contest shots and avoid giving up easy baskets. And true to form, the Thunder are second in the league with 31.0 free throw attempts per game.

Needless to say, OKC can put up points on the board. Mind you, their Achilles heel currently is their defense. Unlike Johnnie Cochran, the Thunder do not always do a great job of providing any type of resistane. They are currently giving up 103.4 points per game on a blistering 47.1% field goal percentage. To put that field goal percentage into context for you, the Clippers (4-16) are surrendering the same exact shooting numbers to their opponents.

At first glance, when you observe Oklahoma City, you would think that they are a superb defensive team. Russell Westbrook picks up opposing guards full court and forces them to exert energy while Thabo Sefolosha does an excellent job of making perimeter players work for their points and Jeff Green defends post players as well as perimeter players very well (solid hybrid defender). So what gives? Two words: team defense. They do a poor job of rotating on pick and rolls (especially with Krstic on the floor)which leads to teams scoring in the paint against them. According to Team Rankings, OKC gives up an astounding 44.5 points in the paint per game, good for 25th in the league. Their inability to properly rotate on defense leads them to give up 25.1 free throw attempts per game (tied for 11th in NBA).

Also, Warriors fans might want to take note of this: if the guard running the pick and roll is quick enough (paging Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry), he can systematically split the pick and roll because Thunder defenders such as Ibaka and Collison tend to hedge really hard on ball screens thus giving the ball handler enough daylight to burn them through the middle and get to the basket or dish it to a teammate. Once teams get inside the paint against the Thunder, other than Serge Ibaka, they do not have anyone big enough or intimidating enough to change shots; thus resulting in giving up “easy” baskets.

Snoop Dogg, Kurupt and Warren G. once rapped: “It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none”. And when playing against the Thunder defense, it so happens that it is fun. There are points to be had against them and simply moving the ball even with a basic offense will result in points via assists as OKC gives us 22.1 per game. Oklahoma City has a solid team but until they solve their defensive problems, teams will always be able to remain in ball games with them and have a shot at winning. One of those teams should be the Golden State Warriors this Sunday.

4 Responses

  1. garrett

    I got a couple things from last nights failed comeback against okc jeff adrien needs to play more often and earlier .everytime the dubs come back from behind its partly because of this guys defensive play. He can score when given space and doesn’t have bad hands.if our starters are gettin out played or just cant get it done on offense,pull em. We have defensive players to collect fouls while our starters and reggie get re-collected , players like adrien and lin bring defense and stability to their positions and should be brought in before where down 20.

  2. bgalella

    Not a good showing last night, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry were able to score when they wanted, but the rest of the offense was pretty stagnent.

  3. Playoffbound

    I don’t know if Keith Smart has what it takes. Until the Phoenix game, he has not run pick and rolls. Our offense sucks and does not fit our players. It is hurting Curry the most. This style does not fit him. Plus, we have no bench. Keith Smart actually “ices” our players with his untimely time outs and questionable substitutions.. I hope Keith Smart adapts, because his offense has become pretty predictable and stagnant… Does he have what it takes to be a head coach? We will find out…