The Oklahoma City Thunder are turning into a terrible defensive rebounding team. It doesn't really seem to make any sense on the surface. The Thunder play a big lineup. According to Hispanos NBA, OKC is tied for the fourth tallest starting lineup in the NBA. And when it comes to weight, the Thunder have the fourth heaviest starting lineup in the NBA.
Furthermore, when you look at the season as a whole, the Thunder haven't been especially bad at securing defensive rebounds. If you measure defensive rebounds and offensive rebounds as percentages (which automatically adjusts for pace), the Thunder are the 10th best defensive rebounding team in the NBA. So you might think that I'm making a big hooplah over nothing.
Yet, despite these facts, the Thunder are really struggling to secure the ball in late December.
- Against the Suns on New Year's Eve, the Thunder gave up 13 second chance points on 11 offensive rebounds. (Phoenix averages 14 second chance points and 11 offensive rebounds.)
- Against the Bucks on December 29th, the Thunder gave up 15 second chance points on 18 offensive rebounds. (Milwaukee averages 12 second chance points and 10 offensive rebounds.)
- Against the Nuggets on December 27th, the Thunder gave up 20 second chance points on 17 offensive rebounds. (Denver averages 13 second chance points on 12 offensive rebounds.)
- Against the Bulls on Christmas Day, the Thunder gave up 14 second chance points on 16 offensive rebounds. (Chicago averages 14 second chance points on 12 offensive rebounds.)
- For perspective, on the year, Thunder opponents average 14 second chance points on 11 offensive rebounds. So this has been a problem all year, but it's accelerated in recent weeks.
- If all that data didn't convince you, consider that the Thunder have grabbed 65% of all available defensive rebounds in the past 4 games, but are averaging 75% on the season.
Basically, the Thunder allowed teams to hit at or above their averages of offensive rebounds, and managed to come away from it 3-1. But this isn't a trend that can continue if the Thunder are one of the better defensive rebounding teams on the season. Put simply, defensive rebounding is an important part of the Thunder's success.
Why are the Thunder starting to lose rebounding battles? The first thing you do is look at personnel.
We've been seeing more Durant, Westbrook, and Kanter. Less of Waiters, Morrow, Adams, and Collison. There are a number of ways you can look at this information. Mostly, I just see that Durant and Westbrook are getting more minutes, and as a result are more likely to be tired. KD and Westbrook have by far the most responsibility on the floor, so a couple of extra minutes for them might be more taxing than it would for another player.
I also consider that Durant, Westbrook, and Kanter are the most offensively-focused players on the team. With so much energy going to that end, it's no wonder defensive boards might have fallen by the wayside.
Nevertheless, you can't really make the argument that the rebounding lapse is due to a lack of good lineups. Durant and Kanter are supposedly the team's two best defensive rebounders, percentage-wise.
Anyway, to prove my point, here's two key plays from last night's game against Phoenix.
Brandon Knight gets around a Tyson Chandler screen, and Adams must move to cover the shot. This leaves Tyson Chandler free to roll to the rim, so KD must box out Chandler.
This doesn't happen, and Chandler is able to run in and tip the ball out to P.J. Tucker. Tucker proceeded to hit the three.
This play had Chandler setting a screen for two players. The first screen was set for T.J. Warren, who rolled to the wing and was covered by Singler. The second screen was for Brandon Knight, who ran to the baseline. Unfortunately, Westbrook was completely eliminated by Chandler's screen, and Ibaka was forced to switch defenders.
This allowed Chandler into a mismatch with Westbrook. Russ stood there like a tree trunk and stopped the initial dunk. But Chandler immediately grabbed the rebound and completed a And 1 play. (Luckily, Chandler missed the free throw.)
In the above plays, you see the same thing. The lineup is a bit smaller than usual, and Westbrook/Durant look tired when trying to play defense.
If the Thunder are to move forward, they've got to continue to look for ways to reduce Westbrook and Durant's minutes. We all know the reasons why. Cam Payne certainly provides some hope for the Thunder eventually doing so, but I believe that the Thunder's best long-term solution would be to plug in Mitch McGary.
I know that doesn't seem ideal at the moment. Nick Collison is teaching a lot of things to Enes Kanter on the floor, and Collison is usually good for one highlight play a night. But we all know that Collison has never been an ideal solution at the power forward position, simply because he's always been offensively limited.
In any case, McGary promises to offer so much more to the team at this point. Last year, in 33 games, he grabbed 24.4% of the available defensive rebounds on the floor. For comparison, Enes Kanter, the Thunder's best rebounder, is grabbing d-boards at a rate of 26.2% this year. Collison? 16.2%
Even if McGary could get, say a 20% rate this year, that would be a big improvement. Also, maybe the Thunder will have established a solid bench offense by the time McGary enters the rotation. That would make Mitch more of a complimentary player than a decision-maker. I think McGary wouldn't really struggle in that role, as he continues to adjust to the pace of the NBA game.
Obviously, I'm avoiding McGary's putrid defensive stats. But the Thunder's defense has gone down the tubes as well. The Thunder's defensive rating is 100.5 on the season, but 113.3 over the past four games. (A lower defensive rating is always better.) So if the Thunder aren't going to play defense anyway, they need to at least secure more rebounds. And it's not as if McGary's defense lacks energy or athleticism. McGary simply needs more time to study his opponents and learn the tricks of the trade. Supposedly McGary has short arms, but that hasn't hurt him as a rebounder.
Whatever way you look at it, the team we've seen is not the team we want to see come April. Scoring has improved and the bench is getting better, but there's still work to be done.
All uncited stats courtesy media.nba.com.
Is rebounding becoming a problem? What are your solutions? Let us know in the comments!