The Oklahoma City Thunder are a bottom 10 defensive team right now — ranked 22nd in the NBA in defensive rating allowing 103.3 points per 100 possessions. Teams are shooting fairly well against them (eFG% of 48.2 percent, 18th in the NBA) but the bigger issue is the team is dead last in the league at creating turnovers.
This roster has top 10 defense talent, so what gives? Kevin Durant said it’s not just the offensive schemes that changed and needed adjusting to, as reported by Royce Young at ESPN.
“It’s a different defense for us,” Kevin Durant said. “The schemes are great, it’s perfect for us. We just have to continue to figure out what we want to give up and what we want to take away and just keep working at it.”
Is the scheme that different? Sam Amick of the USA Today asked a scout about the Thunder defense, and he saw a lot of the same things that didn’t work well for them last season.
I haven’t seen much of a difference (from last season). You’ve got a couple of guys who are known as defenders on the team, and then everybody else is looking to score. I don’t see a difference….
“The guards are still pressing and fighting over screens and stuff, but as a team they’re not on the same page defensively. The bigs are too far back, sagging too far back I think. They’re not impacting the ball enough, because the other team’s guards are able to score and do what they want to do. It’s ‘You score, (they) score.’ And then whoever goes on the run in the fourth quarter wins the game. People talk about Kanter, and sure he’s a bad defensive player. But basketball is a team sport, and it takes everybody. I mean he’s not the one giving up all the points. It’s a joint effort.”
Enes Kanter is a bad defender, make no mistake. The weak Thunder defense is still 4.6 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court this season, and when you get to the playoffs he will get targeted. Kanter typifies the “you score, we score” mentality of this team mentioned by the scout.
That said, patience should be the word of the day in Oklahoma City.
OKC is a work in progress under Billy Donovan. Russell Westbrook praised the space he found in the new offense, and the Thunder have the second best offensive rating in the league (behind Golden State). But the defense has yet to catch up, and the bench play has varied from erratic to just plain bad. Donovan is still figuring out how to work the rotations, including who is the best two-guard to go with the starters/closers on this roster.
For OKC, it’s going to take some patience. The 3-3 start will be long forgotten if by Christmas (or even the All-Star break) they find their defensive groove and hit their stride entering the playoffs. That’s when the success or failure of all the changes will be judged. For now, just be patient.