To anyone who has been watching the Oklahoma City Thunder struggle recently, it is clear that defense has been a major issue. Offensively, things are fine, with an Offensive Rating of 107.5 for the month of March. This, extrapolated over a season, would be good for 5th in the league, above the Hawks, Mavs, and Spurs, three teams known for good offense. This is also well above the Thunder average of 103.3.
However, over this same period, the Defensive Rating has been an astounding 108.4. For reference, Minnesota, the worst defensive team in the league, who starts defensive stalwarts Kevin Martin and Adreian Payne, has a season long DRtg of 108.4. Essentially, this tells us that, on the defensive end of the floor, OKC has been on par with the worst defense in the NBA.
Why has OKC been so bad on defense of late? There are a lot of differing opinions. Some say that it all starts with the big man, and that, with Adams having been injured and Kendrick Perkins traded, our big men don't know how to defend as well together. Others say that our wing defenders are overrated. I've said many times that Westbrook has been the biggest problem, putting no effort in on defense. So what is the real problem?
I re-watched all of the three point attempts from Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick, and Chris Paul in the game against the Clippers. In March, opponents have been shooting over 40% from 3 against OKC, good for 7th best (or worst) worst in the NBA. The Clipper trio shot 14-21 from deep, or 66.7%. While it may seem to be a narrow approach to focus on the 3 point shots, it allows us to see how the defense breaks down from start to finish.
In this picture, the defense has broken down just 5 seconds into the shot clock on a simple pick and roll. Westbrook is screened by Hawes, and Ibaka doesn't hedge, but rather allows Paul to use the screen. Kanter is wisely hanging back, as Jordan isn't involved yet. However, because Serge allows Paul to use the screen, and Russ is slow fighting over it, LAC now has 3 men with paths to the basket, and only one defender in their way. Russ is behind the play, Serge is facing the wrong direction to make a play, and Kanter is stuck in a 3 on 1.
On the same play, Singler has rotated over to help Kanter with contain. 4 defenders are occupied with Paul and Jordan, leaving Roberson to defend 3 shooters. Roberson makes the smart defensive choice, rotating to a hot Matt Barnes. This covers the easiest pass, and, should the pass get there anyways, he could try to follow the ball as it was swung around the perimeter. However, CP3 is obviously a great passer, and gets the ball to Redick for a wide open shot.
The entire breakdown started with the screen and roll. The big man (Serge, in this case) acted as if it was a switch, while the guard (Russ) behaved as if they were trapping. This points toward miscommunication. HOWEVER:
Again, the same pick and roll defense is used. Mitch McGary acts as if he is unsure whether to switch or not, and Russ acts as if they should be trapping Paul. Paul is given a path to the basket, because Mitch ends up slowing Russ down. Hawes pops out for a 3, receives the pass, and Morrow rotates to him, giving Redick, a >40% 3 point shooter, an open look from the corner.
Was this the scheme that Brooks planned out to stop LAC? Surely not, as it seems to be a indecisive, non-committing defense, which will always get eaten alive by NBA players. Is it simply a matter of effort? While some breakdowns (two that I will show later) are, the majority don't appear that way. This feels like something else entirely. It seems as if, with all the roster flux and inconsistency, that the team has no cohesion on defense. Guys don't know how to work with each other, and are really just getting in each other's way.
Again, a pick and roll breakdown of the same type leaves OKC with 2 defenders on 3 men, two of whom are 3 point shooters. Now, this wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the egregious moving screen set on Roberson, allowing Redick an open 3, but still, the same faulty PnR defense was to blame.
This is the last case I'll show, but there are many, many more cases. The pick and roll defense on Paul didn't trap well, allowing him to get the ball out. Barnes' defender rotated to Hawes, which was the smart choice, but Serge was slow to recover, allowing Barnes to sink another 3.
Since I brought it up earlier, I ought to back it up. Westbrook being lazy on defense has been a major contributor to the bad defense. He is giving everything to get rebounds and put points up, but his lack of effort is a major detriment on the other end.
Here, Russ was guarding Redick in the far corner. He starts ball watching, though, and Redick jogs to the other corner. See where Russ is? He is still trying to find his man. He doesn't even make it across the paint before the shot goes up.
Here, Russ just sags off by about 15 feet. Paul is too good of a shooter to fall off this far making this shot absolutely inexcusable. We've seen this of late, though, where Russ wants to get rebounds, so he sags off his man. Isaiah Canaan torched him because of it. While I'm not suggesting Russ is sacrificing the team for stats, I do believe that he wants the rebound so that he can push up the floor faster. Again, the offensive side of the floor takes precedent to him.
So, if you made it this far, it's time to try to answer the question of "Why?" Why is our starting lineup so bad defensively, when it has a top three defensive SG, a DPOY candidate in Serge, and Singler, who was known for solid defense? And don't forget, Russ was DPOY for the Pac-10 in college. There are plenty of capable defenders on the floor, and when KD and Adams were starting, the defense was very solid. Theoretically, Singler is a plus on defense over KD, and Kanter is a minus from Adams, so you would think it would be close to the same.
My conclusion, from what I saw, is that the defensive woes stem mainly from a lack of continuity, and thus harmony, and a poor amount of effort from Russ. This results in breakdowns early and often, on simple pick and roll plays. You would hope that with time, the defense will solidify. But as it stands, OKC's defense stands between them and the playoffs.