While offense is flashy and typically is what fans come to watch, defense is ultimately what wins championships. When taking a look at a defense, it can be challenging to track statistically what makes up a good one aside from obvious stats like steals and blocks. A typical statistic used in the NBA to define a team’s overall defensive prowess is what is known as defensive rating, which is an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions.
Last season, the Thunder finished 13th overall with a defensive rating of 106.22. While this was decent, it could have, and probably should have, been much better. Playing in the Western Conference against offensive juggernauts like the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Portland Trailblazers, the Houston Rockets, etc. can make defending easier said than done.
Oklahoma City excelled in certain areas of defense like defensive rebounds (2nd in the NBA) and blocks (4th), but the Thunder struggled in key areas like steals (21st), personal fouls (16th), and forcing turnovers (26th). To an extent, defensive success has to do with the potential of players and their ability to execute. However, defensive strategy and effort can be coached, so when an opposing team’s offense is scoring at will, proper adjustments need to be made.
A couple weeks ago at Media Day, Russell Westbrook talked about playing with Thunder newcomer Victor Oladipo and said, “Defensively I think we can be the best defensive backcourt in the league, because we can do different things with our size and using our length and our speed and I think that’s the biggest part of it.” That is a bold statement coming from a guy who has been criticized for being lazy on defense at times, especially when Westbrook and Oladipo have not even played a regular season game together.
If Billy Donovan can find a way to force the issue that defense is imperative, the Thunder could find themselves in a position to win some close games. Even more, if Russell Westbrook puts into action what he is saying about him and Oladipo, the Thunder could look defensively like some of the earlier Thunder teams that were elite more because of how they could stop opponents from scoring rather than just putting up points.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter.