Thunder’s Offense and Defense Connected
Oftentimes in NBA circles, offense and defense are spoken about as two separate entities, when in reality, performance on those two sides of the ball may be intrinsically tied to one another.
The Thunder tries to play every single possession with renewed energy and with a short memory, in that the result on the other end of the floor doesn’t prevent Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team from executing its game plan the way it desires.
The nuance exists, however, that strong defensive possessions can lead to easy offensive possessions. The Thunder shoots 46.7 percent from the field after an opponent’s miss compared to 45.9 percent after an opponent makes a shot. The flip side is true as well. The Thunder’s defense is holding opponents to just 39.1 percent shooting after its own made shots compared to 43.4 percent when the Thunder misses.
“We talk about that with the group all the time,” Brooks said. “It’s connected. Bad offense and bad spacing leads to bad transition defense, which leads to open threes and easy paint points. Bad defense leads to bad offense. You have to be able to be good at both of them if you want to be a good team in this league. We strive to be a good team and a consistent team.”
Team leaders like Kevin Durant and Nick Collison help the entire Thunder squad understand the inter-connected nature of all aspects of the game. From an emotional standpoint, when the Thunder’s defense makes consecutive stops, forces turnovers or completes defensive possessions with a strong rebound and an outlet pass, it leads to easy offensive opportunities. If the Thunder has to continually pull the ball out of the net, it then has to bring the ball up and start its offense later in the shot clock while facing a fully-ready half-court defense.
The Thunder’s offense has thrived when its defense has gotten stops this season, ranking fourth in the league in fast break points with 16.9 per game, while also racking up 17.1 points off opponent’s turnovers each game. As a result of its own prowess of turning defense into offense, the Thunder is also cognizant of how other teams’ scoring opportunities can be impacted by the quality of the Thunder’s own offensive possessions.
“The energy can carry over,” Collison said. “If we’re playing the right way on offense, with good movement and good energy and the ball is moving, it helps guys stay engaged on the other end… If we’re playing well on the defensive end, it can translate to offense, and vice-a-versa.”
The translation of solid defense into easy offense might be more transparent than the other way around, but the difference a strong offensive possession can make in dictating the quality of the ensuing defensive possession may be even more dramatic.
If the Thunder is creating good looks, getting to the rim or foul line and making jumpers, it forces the opponent to pull the ball out of the basket and in-bounds the ball, giving the Thunder time to set up its vaunted half-court defense and leaving the opponents with less time on the shot clock to find a good shot.
Even if the Thunder is missing shots, it’s the manner in which it gets them that can prove crucial. Instead of playing in isolation, which can lead to turnovers or disjointed shot attempts, the Thunder wants its shots to come out of the flow of the offense when the team has proper spacing and floor balance. That sound execution gives the Thunder a realistic chance to both be in position to fight for offensive rebounds and get back in transition to show a wall of defenders, preventing its opponent from getting a head of steam to the rim.
When the Thunder is protecting the ball, limiting turnovers and letting the pass find a shot in the rhythm of the offense, even misses can feel like positive possessions. When the Thunder does get shots to fall, those makes on the offensive end are energy-boosters and help build momentum on both sides of the ball.
“That’s almost like a make, because you feel good that if you get that shot again, you feel like it’s going to go in, especially with the way our guys work and the shooters we have,” Durant explained. “If Thabo (Sefolosha) misses a wide open three, (Jeremy) Lamb misses a wide open three or I miss one, so what? We just have to go back down and play defense, but if we get those shots again, we’re all confident they’ll go in.”
“Once you’re shooting well you get more energy and you play harder on defense,” Durant explained. “What has made us good is that most of the time our offense doesn’t dictate our defense. We just play solid on the defensive end no matter what.”
While the Thunder realizes that it can use the pace, tempo and confidence from both sides of the ball to fuel it on the other end, the team still realizes where it hangs its hat. When slippage occurs, which is natural during the course of the 82-game NBA regular season, the Thunder always knows that defense is where it can turn to get back on track. By regrouping and locking in on getting a stop, it can restart the cycle of positive possessions that can continually promote high levels of performance on both ends of the floor.
“(Defense is) what we talk about during timeouts, that’s what we talk about at halftime and that’s what they talk about amongst each other,” Brooks said. “That’s the sign of a good team – you work on the things that are important to you and try to get better.”
“That’s what I love about this group,” Brooks continued. “They’re never satisfied even when we hold a team to a low percentage. We want to get a stop every time down court.”