In today’s modern NBA, the 3-point shot is king. The Houston Rockets averaged almost 45 long-distance attempts per game this season, good for most in the league, while the Indiana Pacers took around 28 for the least amount. In the last decade, the league average for 3-point attempts has almost doubled, going from 18 per game to 34.
Quality perimeter defense is instrumental in countering the array of long-distance shots. For some teams, success will be dictated by the effort on the defensive end, especially the Oklahoma City Thunder if they want to continue down a winning path.
Not to say that scoring points is unimportant because, well, if you don’t score enough you lose — BUT keeping your opponents offensive scheme and rhythm off balance with a commitment on the defensive end helps dictate the flow of the game in your favor.
The keyword is commitment. No need to name names (cough*Russ*cough) but in years past some Thunder players were known to freestyle a bit on the defensive end which in turn would sometimes jeopardize the set. A team’s commitment to recognizing assignments while sticking to each individual’s responsibility on that end of the court makes it more difficult for opponents to fire off those 28 to 45 three-point attempts.
Don’t get it twisted — NBA teams in today’s game are going to get buckets. Basketball is a game of runs but it’s also a game of stops. Applying pressure, contesting shots, and closing out on the perimeter are instrumental in slowing down these high powered/high-efficiency offensive teams. The Thunder have played some under the radar quality defense in spurts this season but will need to do it on a more consistent basis if the team has a deep playoff run in them.
As a group, OKC ranks 10th overall with a 108.2 defensive rating per NBA.com. Having a top-10 ranking in the league is always good but if you look at some of the teams in front of them such as the Jazz, Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers, and Lakers, it basically puts OKC as the 6th best defensive team statistically in the West. Again not bad at all but those teams ahead of them are playoff teams that the Thunder will have to deal with moving forward. With the Rockets, Clippers, and Lakers ability to generate offense at a higher rate than OKC, the Thunder will need to find another level on the defensive side to slow those top tier teams down.
The Thunder has shown signs throughout the regular season that they have the capabilities to be a defensive force:
- The length and athleticism of guys like Bazley and Noel
- The work ethic and fearlessness of Lu Dort and Dennis Scroder
- Andre Roberson was a perennial shutdown wingman pre-injury; any quality minutes he can contribute is a bonus
- Steven Adams is the toughest player in the league and can stand his ground against anyone in the paint
- SGA has just started to scratch the surface of the all-around player he can be — specifically on the defensive side where potentially he has the tools to be a top two-way player
- Chris Paul is a 9x All NBA Defensive player and although his best years are behind him is still one of the better defensive guards in the Association
The pieces are there for the Thunder to give opponents fits. As we quickly approach the post-season this team must make that commitment on the defensive end of the court. Going forward, it won’t be the endless shooting from beyond the arc that determines this team’s fate; it will be the effort on the other side that will be the key to success.