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Defense is Key to Progression of Thunder’s Young Core

Oklahoma City head coach Mark Daigneault named several players following Sunday's game whose defense will need to continue improving this season.

There are few off nights in the NBA, and even fewer for a guy like Darius Bazley.

With the starting role shored up at the moment, Bazley has the difficult task of guarding some of the hardest positions in the league. Tack on that he's now undersized on the Thunder’s small-ball roster, and it makes for a long season.

In the opener he guarded Utah's Bojan Bogdanovic. Against Houston it was Christian Wood and Philadelphia yielded Tobias Harris. In Tuesday and Wednesday’s back-to-back home games, it will be Draymond Green and then Anthony Davis, respectively.

And it’s not going to get easier.

The defensive adjustment will be key to Bazley’s progression as a longterm NBA piece.

“In terms of assignments in the league, in terms of night in night out, having a real dude lining up that they’re playing through — that spot is a load.” Daigneault said of Bazley’s matchups. “He is still learning on the defensive end of the floor how to insert himself and be an every possession defender when you’re guarding an every possession offensive player. And that takes time.”

“He’s got a lot on his shoulders there, there’s going to be ups and downs. But he’s going to improve as most of our guys have.”

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But defensive improvement isn’t just on Bazley’s radar. It will be key to nearly every player on the roster, specifically OKC’s four new rookies.

Josh Giddey, who’s been recently lauded for his offensive success and innate passing ability, has held his own in his three NBA contests thus far.

It’s been a progression, but it’s clear time spent in the NBL served him well.

“He improved there tonight,” Daigneault said of Giddey’s defensive side against the Sixers. “He was better tonight. He tracked forward, tonight was a good night for him.”

Outside of Giddey and Bazley, rookie Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was mentioned specifically by Daigneault.

“They need to learn to trust their feet, their pick up points are sometimes a little low. They need to learn that they’re quick enough and good enough to go all the way out there,” Daigneault said.

Oklahoma City will take on undefeated Golden State on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Paycom Center.