Playing with Defensive Force on the Perimeter

A hand up contesting a shot or out in the passing lane can disrupt an entire possession.

Serge Ibaka and the Thunder’s interior defenders are roaming in the lane to help, but on the perimeter, the Thunder wants its defense to be so stifling that those big men only have to be concerned with being in position to get a defensive rebound.

Head Coach Scott Brooks wants his perimeter defenders to play with force on every possession, not allowing easy entry passes or open looks at the rim to opposing point guards and wings.

“It’s important because the ball is the only thing that scores,” Brooks said. “You have to have good pressure on the basketball. You can’t let the player with the ball make easy decisions. If you’re soft on the basketball, he’s allowed to play and go wherever he wants.”

Being locked in on opposing ball-handlers in both isolation and screen-and-roll plays is crucial to keeping the ball away from the rim and putting opponents in inefficient shooting locations.

The steps to get there are difficult, but Thunder guards like Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson hope to consistently fight through screens, communicate with teammates and prevent dribble penetration. If that happens for a full 48 minutes, the Thunder will be rewarded with defensive stops, which often result in easy transition opportunities.

“It’s being gritty, being tough nosed, wanting to get stops, taking pride in stopping your own man and keeping them in front of you,” Jackson said. “The perimeter has to be better with just stopping our man and keeping people out of the paint. (That will keep) our bigs to get in foul trouble and keep them well rested.”

“Normally teams end up turning it over or getting bad shots,” Jackson said. “It leads to us getting out and doing what we want to do, being young and athletic, getting out running and getting easy baskets.”

Fighting through screens, chasing shooters around the floor and closing out with proper technique are all ways that Thunder defenders must be both mentally and physically tough. With over 60 pick-and-roll plays run in each NBA game, guards must be ready to both be aggressive physically and in communicating with others on the floor each time.

“We want to have better focus on guarding the ball and staying in front of the ball by putting pressure on the ball and making him feel you on the defensive end,” Brooks explained. “That’s what I mean by force. When we do that, our activity and our length and our athleticism can really help our defense.”

Having the toughness to fight through screens is not just a bonus attribute, it’s a requirement for Thunder perimeter defenders. Being ready at the point of attack is a critical aspect to the Thunder’s perimeter on-ball defense, but it is also essential that off-the-ball defenders be vigilant at all times as well. When the Thunder faces teams who utilize player movement and shooters who run off of screens to get open, the team’s defenders must have the wherewithal, consistent commitment and toughness to shadow their man’s path, step-for-step.

“Each and every man, especially myself, has to take pride in stopping their man and trying to get better in trying to guard pin downs and floppies,” Jackson said. “It’s all about desire. You look at a guy like Thabo (Sefolosha) and you realize how hard it is and how much pride you have to take to be good in this league.”

“We just have to make second and third efforts,” forward Kevin Durant said. “In this league, there are two, three or four passes to a shot. We have to be on point for 24 seconds of defense.”