Cleaning Up the Defensive Glass


Year after year in the NBA, undrafted players make team’s rosters and then an impact on the floor.

Identifying young players who could be a part of the program is an essential part of the Thunder’s process of developing players and integrating them into the system, and Rodney McGruder became one of the players when the team decided to bring in for training camp. It remains to be seen whether McGruder will make the Thunder’s roster or what his future holds, but it’s clear to him that Oklahoma City is a place that he wants to be.

“From the GM to the guys that are in the gym helping us get shots up and things like that, there are good people here,” McGruder said. “They care about us. We have good teammates. Everyone is just first class people.”

“Winning is a big thing here,” McGruder said. “It’s something that they’ve done over the past couple years. I want to be a part of that.”

McGruder was a standout at Kansas State for four seasons, including his senior year when he averaged 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and led the team in eight statistical categories. In fact, the Landover, Md. Native is one of only two players in Wildcats history to rank in the top 10 in career scoring and rebounding. Since joining the Thunder, McGruder pushed himself hard in voluntary workouts at the team’s practice facility, and that attitude has carried over into the preseason, where he hopes to find an avenue to impact winning.

“I’m just working on everything,” McGruder said. “I’ve been in the weight room and getting unlimited shots up every day. We’re just competing. We play open gym a lot, just go out there competing with one another, trying to push one another to make each other better.”

“My mentality is to go out there and try to make any play that I can in order to help my team,” McGruder continued.

Just 12 hours beforehand, the Thunder was putting its finishing touches on a 109-81 victory over the Denver Nuggets in its preseason home opener. Early Wednesday morning, the Thunder was back on the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena for a practice that lasted nearly two hours.

Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team typically practices at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center, but at least once a year the squad gets down to the court where it plays in front of its fans 41 times during the regular season. It was a nice opportunity for the team to both continue to build confidence playing in its own building and also visit with Thunder business staff.

“This is our building and this is a place where we are very comfortable,” Brooks explained. “We take pride playing in front of our crowd. It’s always nice to practice down here.”

One aspect of the game the Thunder worked diligently on at Wednesday’s practice is defensive rebounding, an area of focus over the past two seasons as well. During Tuesday night’s game the Thunder beat the Nuggets by a tally of 55-33 on the glass, including 21-10 on the offensive boards. That margin, against one of the league’s typically best rebounding teams, led to a 20-5 edge in second chance points. Through three games of the preseason, the Thunder has allowed an average of just 9.3 offensive rebounds per game, a facet of the game that team leaders like Kevin Durant have kept in mind.

“We put a body on them,” Durant said. “Bumping them, hitting them and boxing them out, allowing the smalls to come in and grab some rebounds, they did a lot for us. We just have to keep building and we know it’s preseason and we have to keep working on things that coach needs to do and next time we come out and play, we’ll just continue to keep getting better.”

Last year the Thunder made strides on the defensive glass, ranking third in the NBA with 33.2 defensive rebounds per game, but was in the middle of the pack by grabbing 73.4 of defensive rebounds, and allowed an above league average 12.0 offensive rebounds per game. The numbers are slightly skewed because the Thunder had the second best field goal percentage defense, meaning there were more opportunities for Thunder opponents to grab offensive rebounds than for other teams.

Regardless, boxing out, staying low and driving through towards the ball after it hits the rim are all aspects of ways Thunder coaches teaches their rebounders solid fundamentals. While there has been a bit of early progress this year, the team knows that it is a season-long process to be diligent and maintain focus on keeping opponents off the glass.

“It’s something that we talk about and it’s something we continue to work on,” Brooks said. “It’s like all of the things that we do. We break it down into real simple drills. Rebounding drills are very simple, just block your man out, and once you do that, go get the basketball.”

“We try to keep it simple and keep on the guys every day to focus on rebounding because rebounding is so important in this league,” Brooks continued. “We know that when we out-rebound teams, we always put ourselves in a good position to win.”

The ability for a team that is still young to assess an area that could use improvement and then go out and attack it is a sign of growth and maturity. Self-awareness is a crucial ingredient to development, but the following steps of diagnosing the path to improvement and then executing that plan shows a dedication to focusing on the details. Not only does the Thunder want to improve on the defensive glass, but it wants to set an example of relentlessness in its work ethic and problem solving moving forward into the regular season.

“We’re working hard at it,” guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “I think it’s a collective effort that we all have to make to stay focused all 48 minutes of the game.”

“We just want to continue to play with the physicality that it takes to win in this league night-in and night-out,” Brooks said. “We can’t take days off. It’s a mentality that we established a long time ago... We’re not a team that believes in days off. We’re not a team that believes in possessions off.”