(Note: Having some issues embedding the gifs so that’s why they’re missing.-ed)
After the loss to the Atlanta Hawks on November 30, 2015, it looked like the Thunder figured out how to play defense. Ten of the Thunder’s next 11 opponents failed to score 100 points, and the Thunder rolled to an 11-2 record over that stretch.
But something went awry in the Thunder’s loss to the Chicago Bulls on Christmas day. Since Christmas, the Thunder have been in a giving mood. Including the 105-point game by the Bulls, Thunder opponents have hit the century mark in 10 out of 17 games played since December 25. As a result opponents are averaging 102.8 points per game since Christmas, and the Thunder’s defensive rating over this stretch is 104, good enough for 18th best in the league.
On the contrary, before Christmas, the Thunder held their opponents to 99 points per game and had a defensive rating of 98.8. As a result, opponents failed to reach the century mark in 16 of the 29 games played prior to December 25.
So what’s going on?
Well, a lot. Good defense is so much about the little things: positioning, help defense, schemes, defending the pick and roll, and matchups. But defense is also about rebounding and limiting opponents to one shot. And, wouldn’t you know it, post-Christmas, the Thunder’s defensive rebounding has tumbled from average to bad. Leading up to December 25, the Thunder held a very average defensive rebounding percentage of 76.3% (meaning, the Thunder grabbed 76.3% of available defensive rebounds), which ranked 17th in the NBA. Since Christmas, the Thunder’s defense rebounding percentage has dropped to 73%, which is the 5th worst (or 25th best for you optimists out there) in the league. The Thunder’s poor defensive rebounding has led to opponents scoring 15.4 second chance points per game since December 25, which is second worst in the league.
For the Thunder, scoring has never been an issue. The Thunder rank second in the NBA in points per game at 109.8. But this week’s loss against the Brooklyn Nets is microcosm of the problems of poor defense. Not only did the Nets score a season high in points scored in regulation with 116 (this from a team that has the worst scoring offense in the league), but the Nets scored 25 of those 116 points after an offensive rebound.
What this shows you is that you can’t just expect to outscore your opponent. Despite the Thunder having two elite scorers in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are just 12-11 when their opponent scores 100 or more. As the Thunder begin to enter the teeth of their schedule, their success this season will depend on their defense, not their offense.
- Win at the Denver Nuggets on January 19, 110-104
- Win vs. the Charlotte Hornets on January 20, 109-95
- Win at the Dallas Mavericks on January 22, 109-96
- Loss at the Brooklyn Nets on January 24, 106-116
THE BEST PLAYER
Kyle Singler. Okay, so maybe Singler wasn’t the best player, but his play was a total 180 from how he started the season, spending much of the first half on the list of players with a negative PER. In fact, over the last four games, Singler was by far the Thunder’s most consistent contributor. He shot the ball well (61% from the floor, 60% from three), scored a little (averaged 8.8 points per game), played defense, and generally looked like a competent basketball player. Importantly, Singler fit exactly what the Thunder needs–a guy who can hit the three, create space on offense, and defend on the wing. Keep it up, Kyle!
Side note: Singler didn’t have an assist all week and still has just a paltry 8 assists in 422 minutes this season.
THE WORST PLAYER
Dion Waiters. After dedicating my intro to Dion Waiters last week, Waiters goes out and shoots 2-10, scores just 9 points, and turns the ball over 3 times against the Nuggets. He followed that performance with another dud against the Hornets, going 2-9, scoring just 5 points, and turning the ball over 4 times. On the week, Waiters shot a horrific 31.6% from the field (but a very solid 38.9% from three).
The most condemning part of Waiters’s week is that he was out scored by Singler, 35 to 32, even though Waiters played 43 more minutes than Singler.
Anyway, thanks, Dion, for abusing my faith.
THE BEST PERFORMANCE
Kyle Singler against the Charlotte Hornets. Singler’s renaissance was epitomized by his dominant performance against the Hornets. Singler scored 11 points on 4-4 shooting, including 3-3 from beyond the arc. His one 2-point shot was this beauty of a sky hook.
THE WORST PERFORMANCE
Dion Waiters against the Denver Nuggets. Five points, on 2-10 shooting, to go along with 2 assists, 3 turnovers, and zero rebounds, in 23 minutes of play.
Dishonorable mention: Kevin Durant’s three-point shooting. Durant shot just 25% from three this week on 8 attempts per game, making Durant colder than Ice Cube in a Coors Light commercial.
THE BEST PLAY
Russell Westbrook spins right round, baby, right round. Against the Brooklyn Nets, Westbrook drives, spins, and somehow manages to finish at the rim, completing the most impressive pirouette by a Thunder player all season.
THE WORST PLAY
Dion Waiters drives into four defenders, gets his shot blocked, and yells “and one.” That’s so Dion.
WEEK IN PREVIEW
- At the New York Knicks on January 26 at 6:30 pm (NBATV)
Prediction: Thunder play with energy from the tip and pummel the Derek Fisher-coached Knicks.
- At the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 27 at 7:00 pm (FSOK)
Prediction: On the second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder need some late playmaking to pull away from the scrappy T-Wolves.
- Vs. the Houston Rockets on January 29 at 7:00 pm (NBATV)
Prediction: The Thunder avenge their early-season loss to the Rockets.
- Vs. the Washington Wizards on February 1 at 7:00 pm (FSOK)
Prediction: Another victory over the Wizards makes it four in a row.