Paint Protection Anchoring Thunder’s D

Thunder opponents are grabbing the ball off the rim or out of the bottom of the net and trying to race up floor to take early shots.

Instead of facing the Thunder’s fearsome half-court defense, opponents are choosing to do anything but allow Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club to set up in its five-man shell.

Throughout this season the Thunder’s defense has been one of the very best in the NBA, allowing opponents to shoot just 41.5 percent from the field, just behind Indiana for the lowest mark in the league. In addition, the Thunder ranks third in blocks-plus-steals per contest, with a league-best 6.3 blocks per game.

As the season progresses, however, team leaders like Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins won’t allow anyone to be satisfied, ensuring that the team avoids slippages and continues to improve in areas like transition defense and preventing shots within the first six seconds of the clock.

Every player on the roster, young and old, new and long-tenured is expected to get better and be a part of an ever-improving 14-man unit so that by the end of the season, the Thunder is playing its best basketball.

“We’re just locked in defensively,” Perkins said. “We’re hanging our hats on the defensive end. Overall we’re playing well on the defensive end, trusting each other and having each other’s back.”

“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Perkins continued. “Hopefully everybody will be clicking on all cylinders and bringing what they bring to the table at a high level. We’re still developing trust on the offensive and defensive end. We’re molding the young guys who are learning the game and picking up the little tricks.”

With specific regard to the Thunder’s interior defense, a key component to success has been its ability to effectively deter shots at the rim and in the paint. No matter which way the numbers are sliced, Brooks’ squad ranks in the top three in defending the painted area.

The Thunder is first in defending paint shots outside of the restricted area, allowing makes at just a 32.3 percent clip. The team is ranked second at defending both shots from less than five feet and less than eight feet, and third at defending shots in the restricted area and shots from between 5 and 9 feet.

Part of the reason opponents haven’t been able to find the bottom of the bucket from those parts of the floor is the Thunder’s rim protectors in Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Steven Adams and Kevin Durant, whose length and athleticism affects shots from all types of players.

Another factor, however, has been the Thunder’s commitment to solid defensive principles, meaning that help is coming from the correct places and on time. The next key for the Thunder will be deterring and preventing those shots in the paint from even happening in the first place.

“We like to get our guys over quickly so we can contest those shots,” Brooks explained. “The thing that we want to continue to work on and build on throughout the season is prevent those shots from even taking place. Those are opportunities for us to have growth in our defensive game plan by closing out better so those drives aren’t happening so consistently.”