The Oklahoma City Thunder are a really interesting team if you think about it. Despite running an offense that is so predictable and nothing close to as complex as the Spurs or Heat, they are right up there with them in efficiency.
I’m starting to view the Thunder as the basketball equivalent of an option running college football team.
Think about the similarities. Both are offenses where you know what’s coming but if you’re not prepared to defend it, or are overmatched personnel-wise then they can destroy you.
Russell Westbrook is like the quarterback who can create big runs out of seemingly nothing. Kevin Durant is the great running back who is always good for five yards. You can even draw the parallel in that a running back on an option team won’t carry the ball as much as a typical running back because there are so many options. And Westbrook gets the most carries as the quarterback because he is always keeping the ball and not pitching.
Is Kendrick Perkins the fullback that gets two carries for two yards every game? I think so.
Traditional option football is becoming extinct in college football today. Teams have shifted to the spread and almost everyone is no longer playing under center. In recent years, what was it that made option teams still able to be successful? They either needed elite defenses or just had to have more talent than their opponent.
The Thunder were on track to be a team that would just have way more talent than anyone before they traded James Harden. Now in terms of overall talent, they are closer to the field.
So defensively is where the Thunder need to get better. They have all of the tools to be a great defensive team. In terms of athletes, you can’t get much better than Westbrook, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. They still have a long ways to go though.
The Thunder finished tied for third in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season but they were exposed a little bit in the playoffs (albeit without Westbrook). Ibaka can still get lost at times, Perkins didn’t look right and the Grizzlies and Rockets were able to really hurt the Thunder with the pick-and-roll.
The Thunder are still young if you think about it and growing defensively when it comes to the things they need to improve upon is still achievable.
The ultimate point is this though: given the current offense that the Thunder run, they aren’t winning a title until they also have the best defense in the league.
That sounds like a bold statement because you wouldn’t say a team needs to have the best offense and the best defense to win a championship in the NBA and that’s surely what would happen if the Thunder become the best defensive team.
Scott Brooks cares about defense more than anything. If you wonder why rookies like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones didn’t get minutes this season, it’s because they’re not good enough defensively yet. Brooks won’t play you until you are.
The Thunder will get a little extra rest this offseason and try and figure things out next year. Will they be able to become an elite defense next season? Or will the Thunder be forced to go in another direction from Brooks to finally win a title?