Two-Way Thunder: The Reasons OKC Has Such Good Defense

Teams in the NBA need to be efficient on both sides of the court in order to play at their best.

History indicates that a strong defense is also necessary for a squad to be considered a top team, even though a strong offense can lead to a lot of wins.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have performed admirably on both sides of the court thus far this season, going 11-4.

Oklahoma City has the seventh-best offensive and the fifth-best defense in the NBA, and they have the best net rating of any team.

The Thunder’s defensive stability has been their most noteworthy quality. This has shown to be crucial since in the 2023–24 season, the squad has won six of its seven away games.

It is common knowledge that attack is more difficult to maintain while traveling, but defense moves. Over the course of a season, you may rely on one floor somewhat more than the other.

Numerous elements have contributed to the defense’s effectiveness. Oklahoma City employs some somewhat unusual lineups, particularly when it comes to playing small.

Four guards usually make up lineups surrounding 7-footer Chet Holmgren, even when he is on the floor guarding the paint.

This enables OKC to play flexible and interchangeable defense-side basketball. All five players on the floor spend a significant amount of time situationally guarding all five spots over extended game periods.

In related news, Holmgren has proven to be among the league’s top defenders thus far this campaign.

He’s really been among the league’s top five individual defenders in terms of stats so far.

He is fourth in the NBA in blocks per game (2.2) despite being a rookie, and he is noticeable even when he isn’t actually blocking shots.

Due to his numerous shot modifications, opposition teams are shooting less than they should have been in the paint.

Furthermore, when Holmgren is on the court, teams sometimes need to completely alter the way they run their attack. Several times, an opponent player has driven to apply pressure on the rim but has to change direction and kick the ball.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort have excelled defensively in the backcourt. Dort has been regarded as one of the league’s best wing defenders for many years.

For the previous several seasons, his main responsibility has been to slow down the top scorer on the other team almost every night.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s play is a more recent development in that regard. He improved last season and displayed glimpses of his potential as a very strong defender.

He has continuously been among the top defensive guards in the NBA this season. In actuality, he leads the league in thefts per game with 2.4.

This season, the group of players surrounding these three guys has really solidified the defense as a unit.

Oklahoma City forces the seventh-most turnovers per game (15.9) and ranks in the top 10 in the NBA in deflections per game (15.9).

The Thunder have also improved over the last few games to rank among the best teams in the league in terms of drawing charges and total offensive fouls.

In terms of defensive loose balls recovered per game (3.4), our defense ranks fourth, which further attests to their commitment and effort.

Being disruptive is not the only thing that makes a defensive squad good. It’s fantastic to force turnovers in different ways, but it really needs to make the other team uncomfortable.

The Thunder’s defense is intriguing since it gives up 91.9 field goal attempts per game, which is the fifth-highest of any club this season.

In light of this, opponents’ shooting percentage against OKC is just 43.2%, which is now the second-worst in the NBA.

The main strategies for this are to challenge shots, elicit tough looks, and influence the kinds of shots that opponents take.

In defense, efficiency can be highly variable, and even a small deviation can have a significant effect.

Oklahoma City now leads the league in disputed shots per game (53.9), which guarantees its opponents fewer quality, open looks.

For a young squad like this one, the distribution of these contested shots across the court is exceptional.

The Thunder is adept at blocking shots from all around the floor; they are not only effective at stopping paint shots or threes.

Teams are shooting poor percentages from all around the court as a result of this. When playing inside five feet of the basket, Oklahoma City’s opponents rank sixth in terms of efficiency.

They rank among the bottom five in terms of midrange shooting % from five to nineteen feet.

Teams also make a lot of 3-pointers against OKC—37.7 per game, fifth most in the NBA—but their efficiency percentage (34.1%) is the fifth lowest.

Oklahoma City allows the third fewest transition points in the league, even when defending on the break.

Even with how strong their defense has been so far this season, the Thunder can still be better.

Oklahoma City has been among the worst in the NBA at rebounding, so it has been a major challenge for them this season.

Due to this, the Thunder are surrendering the second-highest number of second chance points in the league—17.5—per game this season.

This defense is capable of placing in the top five in the NBA if that can be fixed.

Nevertheless, the Thunder’s strong start may be attributed in large part to the defensive setup that head coach Mark Daigneault has been able to put in place this season.

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