One key issue in OKC Thunder losses

Head coach MarkDaigneault of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Head coach MarkDaigneault of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

There was a time when rebounding was not much of a problem for the OKC Thunder. From 2014 to the 2017 season, the Thunder led the league on rebounds per game. For a nine-year stretch until the 2018-19 season, OKC was a top-10 team on rebounds. As the playoff hunt intensifies, the young Thunder’s rebounding may have morphed into a liability.

There is one key issue in all of the OKC Thunder losses this season, how can they fix their rebounding woes?

On Thursday, the Thunder found themselves on the wrong end of a 20-rebound disparity against the Raptors en route to a 111-128 loss in Toronto. The Raptors corralled 59 boards against the Thunder’s 39.

The OKC Thunder has allowed 46 rebounds per game on their opponents this season, three more than their own average of 43 per night. On losses, the Thunder opponents’ enjoyed about 50 rebounds a game — a far cry from what they let on their wins which stands at about 43 rebounds.

Additionally, the Thunder ranks 26th on rebounding percentage this year. They also ranked 29th on defensive rebounding percentage in the season. From which, nevertheless, they gave up the third-least fast break points in the league with 12 per game.

As teams dominate the boards, the Thunder’s lack of interior presence throughout the season should be the leading culprit.

Thunder have lost centers Aleksej Pokusevski, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl for a significant stretch of the season. They have also nursed the season-ending injury of workhorse Kenrich Williams, who averaged the second-most rebounds per game for the Thunder at five.

On the Thunder’s most used lineup of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams, Oklahoma City was still often out rebounded by about 1.9 rebounds on a total of 171 minutes played together.

The effort, however, cannot be understated. The Thunder is right at the middle of the league in terms of box outs per game at five while being at the top-eight in defensive box outs at four per tilt.

The Thunder is also ranked second at loose balls recovered at five per game, helping to bump the number of OKC’s cracks at the basket. These hustle stats that offset the Thunder’s lack of a rebounding monster inside can be attributed to the team’s 102 possessions per game, which ranked third in the league.

Unlike the previous iterations of the Thunder, this young OKC squad doesn’t have a rebounding machine like Steven Adams and doesn’t have a guard that comes close at the level of Russell Westbrook’s ball gravity.

Yet, the promises of a seven-foot-one young star in Chet Holmgren, who averaged nine rebounds in college, is still waiting in the wings, all the while Josh Giddey — a six-foot-eight guard — leads the team in rebounding with seven a game, providing the Thunder a huge boost of optimism for the future.

In the short term, the Thunder’s rebounding woes could hurt the team for the remainder of this season. In the long term, OKC has the potential to build on these shortcomings, as the organization continues to have .

Knowing the Thunder, the culture of hustle and grit — two of the most important elements of rebounding — should foster more in this young crew as the season progresses and reps pile up.

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