Ball Pressure and Offensive Rebounding Important for Thunder

Being processed-based as opposed to outcome-driven is how the Thunder strives for success each day as an organization.

That doesn’t just happen in the basketball operations offices at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center, but on the basketball court and in the film room each day. Led by Head Coach Scott Brooks and veterans like Nick Collison, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder looks to each opportunity it can to self-assess and determine, regardless of outcome, what it is doing well and how it can improve as a unit.

“I think the best thing for us to do is look at what really happened in the game,” Collison said. “We can’t let the scoreboard dictate how we feel about our play. If we would have lost that game by one, we basically had the same 48 minutes of play as if we won the game.”

The Thunder won an exhilarating, intense 111-105 dogfight on Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena over the Dallas Mavericks, but admittedly didn’t play their best basketball of the season in certain areas. As a result, players like Collison point to the importance of how the team played as opposed to what the scoreboard read at the end of the night. In order to keep an even keel throughout the season, that is the measured, focused approach the Thunder takes each day.

“We have to look at our level of play, what we did, if we were good or if we were bad,” Collison said. “That’s what we need to focus on and not just let ourselves off the hook with a win if we feel like we didn’t play well. And vice-a-versa, not get too down with a loss. That’s how you kind of just keep it steady the whole season. We’ll have to watch the film and find out what we struggled with and try to get better at it.”

One specific area in which the Thunder saw room for improvement but also success in Thursday night’s victory was its perimeter defense. While the Mavericks seemed to find the paint in the first three quarters, Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha buckled down in the fourth quarter and in overtime to help force five turnovers that led to 13 of the Thunder’s 23 points off turnovers on the night. By being physical on the ball and preventing the ball-handler from getting an easy pass off, the Thunder tries to find ways to turn defense into offense.

“It always starts with ball pressure,” Brooks said. “If you have ball pressure you have a chance to get a deflection or you have a chance to get a steal in the passing lane because the passes aren’t crisp and they’re not on time or on target.”

Another part of the game that the Thunder focuses in on is the offensive glass, where last night Brooks’ squad snagged 17 of its season-high 56 rebounds. Serge Ibaka had a season-high-tying 17 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. His continued development and commitment to tracking the flight of the ball, hustling to the correct spot and using his instincts are essential to helping the Thunder get second chance opportunities. Along with the physical Kendrick Perkins offensive rebound and hustle specialist Collison, the Thunder tries each and every night to gain an advantage on the glass.

“I think just the effort to chase them every time and to get off of box outs and pursue the ball,” Collison said. “It’s something that you might get one out of five, or probably less than that, one-out-of ten, but you have to continue to chase them and get those rebounds.”

The correct balance must be found on the offensive glass, however, because it comes with the risk of giving up fast break opportunities. The Thunder is one of the better teams in the league at preventing transition points, and it starts with having good offensive spacing. A player must always rotate up to the top of the key at the end of an offensive possession to be in position to stop an opposing fast break.

Crashing the offensive glass can put a strain on that transition defense, but if the Thunder is efficient in its offense and doesn’t give the ball away, it makes it much more difficult for opponents to get out into the open floor.

“First of all, not turning the ball over,” Collison said. “I think live ball turnovers, they’re really tough to get any stops if they’re running off live ball turnovers. If they’re having to take it out of the net, that’s better. Then it has to be a priority to get back and to change directions… Those first two or three steps getting back, getting turned and having them run into you is big. If they can look at four or five guys in the paint all night, we’ll be much better off.”