Defensive Communication Key to Stifling Opponents

Racing back on defense in transition, there’s only a split second-or-two to get in position and matchup with the opponents charging down floor. One wrong step or wrong assignment and it could result in two easy points.

During the Thunder’s current four game winning streak and throughout the season, an area of focus for Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team has been communication on the defensive end, particularly when opponents try to push tempo.

By being vocal in those lightning-quick seconds where defenders must make decisions, the Thunder has gotten better and better this season about being on the same page, making sure that every opponent is accounted for out in the open floor.

“As the season goes along you find a way to get more comfortable and get back to Thunder basketball, and I think that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” guard Russell Westbrook said.

Coming out of the gates this season, the Thunder knew it would be challenged with a few changes to begin the year. As Russell Westbrook returned to the lineup and young players like Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Perry Jones joined the rotation, there would be a few wrinkles to be ironed out through practices at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center.

As the season has progressed, Brooks and his staff have seen a growing rapport between a number of different units and combinations of players. Most of all, it has been the drive and commitment to getting better both individually and as a group.

“If there is something I can say I’m really proud of, it’s the development and growth of our team in the short part of our season,” Brooks said. “We’ve seen plays that a lot of our guys are making that three weeks ago, we didn’t make. That tells me that they’re doing a great job of trying to get better in doing what we ask.”

Although some players’ roles have been adjusted this season, the vast majority of Thunder players returned from last year’s team, and there is a core in place that has set the standards for performance. The continuity that is in place with Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison guiding the team over the past few seasons helps everyone understand their place in the rotation. In addition, the familiarity with one another makes confronting challenges like communication in transition much easier for the entire squad.

“Just being together for a long period time and knowing each other’s games helps us out a lot,” Westbrook said.

The key for the Thunder is to be able to perform to its standards for a full 48 minutes, for 82 games a year. That all starts on the defensive end, where talking to one another, making sure everyone is aligned properly and knows their assignments are critical to success.

The tone each night is set by the starting unit, which has been together for over two full seasons, but what has been a core component to the Thunder’s success this season has been the way that the second unit has maintained that intensity. Regardless of who is on the floor and which combinations are playing together, Brooks and his staff feel confident that they will uphold the standards of Thunder basketball.

“We match up with every team in this league,” Brooks said. “We have flexibility. We can go small, we can go big, we can play fast and we can slow it down.”