The Thunder are still very early into their rebuild, but the defensive foundation is being laid for success in years to come.
Though they’re just 6-9, Oklahoma City clocks in with the 13th best defensive rating in the league despite lacking a traditional center on the roster.
Sam Presti has built a roster of lengthy ball handlers, who pair nicely with the lengthy Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort’s physical defensive style to form a budding defense, despite being the youngest group in the NBA.
Mark Daigneault and his coaching staff deserve plenty of credit, as they’ve quickly implemented their defense and have fit it to the roster, allowing either Derrick Favors, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl or Mike Muscala to succeed as the defensive anchor down low.
It hasn’t always been easy sailing for the Thunder defense, however.
Oklahoma City started with an incredibly rough stretch, allowing 113.4 points per game over their first five games.
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Since OKC’s first victory over the Lakers in Game 5, the Thunder have ratcheted things down on the defensive end of the floor. The Thunder have allowed just 101.1 points per contest over the past 10 games, and Oklahoma City has boasted the third best defensive rating in the league over that span.
Even more impressive, five of OKC’s 15 games this season have been played against the Utah Jazz, the Golden State Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat, who all rank in the top four in offensive rating in the NBA this season.
Oklahoma City’s roster still lacks firepower, which is to be expected out of the team Las Vegas oddsmakers had pegged as the second worst team in the league via preseason win totals, but an excellent defense will pave the way for success down the road as the Thunder core ages into playoff contention.
It wasn’t that long ago that a young, plucky underdog Oklahoma City team bursting at the seams with youthful enthusiasm was led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. And while that core possessed way more offensive firepower than OKC’s current big three of Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort and Josh Giddey, they too wanted to lead with defense, allowing defensive stops to make way to much easier offense on the other end of the floor.
OKC will have a brief reprieve as they now head to Boston, who ranked No. 20 in the league in offensive rating, before getting tested once again against Trae Young and his No. 5-ranked Atlanta Hawks offense.
Still, the Thunder defense can get better as they continue to gel and understand how each other want to play within the system, which could be an exciting thought for the franchise once they find another scorer to add into the mix.