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Oklahoma City Thunder have some defensive holes to fix

From NBA media reports

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Not many experts had the Thunder No. 1 in the league (per NBA.com/Stats) in steals per game, No. 1 in deflections per game and No. 2 in Defensive Rating coming into the season. That’s where the Thunder find themselves this morning, all of which are the signs of a good defensive team and a particularly bright indicator for a squad packed with offensive firepower.

Like all stats, though, they don’t tell the full story of where Oklahoma City is shining — or struggling — on defense. Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman digs into three key areas where the Thunder need work, the first of which are their switching principles on defense:

The Thunder’s frequent defensive approach is to switch on pick-and-roll plays. That is, when an opponent’s big man sets a screen for a ballhandling guard, the Thunder defenders on those two players switch assignments.

The big man defends the guard, and the smaller player guards a big.

The strategy keeps one defender on the ball, and Donovan favors it “because so much of offense is predicated on getting two on the ball,” he said, as teams look to move the ball and create situations where off-the-ball defenders have to scramble to find shooters.

The switch is a product of “the way the game is going right now,” Donovan said. There are fewer traditional big men, more spacing of the court. Center Steven Adams is a good rim protector, but when an opponent has five players positioned on the perimeter, “you can’t have him standing in there guarding nobody,” Donovan said.

At times, though, point guards are seeking out the switch for the chance to be isolated one-on-one against Adams on the perimeter. That allowed Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Portland’s Damian Lillard to get a head of steam on key plays late in the past two games.

The other issue that needs addressing for OKC, per Dawson, is rebounding …

Defense, as a basketball adage goes, is a sentence. And rebounding is the punctuation. A possession isn’t over until the rebound is in hand.

And the Thunder isn’t exactly finishing with exclamation.

Oklahoma City is rebounding 75.3 percent of its opponents’ misses. Only three teams in the NBA have a lower rebounding rate. The Thunder’s opponents are scoring 12.2 second-chance points per game, which ranks 15th in the league.

Finally, the Thunder could stand to work on fouling less on defense, too …

The Thunder’s opponents are shooting 24.4 free throws per game. That’s the ninth-highest number in the NBA. That number has spiked slightly, to 26 per game, during this two-game losing streak.

Donovan called it “concerning” that opponents have shot 220 free throws to the Thunder’s 171 this season and said that against Portland, “the biggest difference in the game was the free-throw disparity, the makes.”

And though the Thunder had defensive shortcomings over the past two games, George took comfort in holding the Blazers to 40 percent shooting in the fourth, showing “great fight and grit.”

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