Why the OKC Thunder will have a top 10 defense in 2024

Braxton Key #36 of the Dallas Mavericks and Chet Holmgren #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images)
Braxton Key #36 of the Dallas Mavericks and Chet Holmgren #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder have plenty of hype surrounding them heading into the 2023-24 NBA season. The major sportsbooks have set their over-under win total at 44.5 games, a marked improvement from their 40 wins last season. Mark Daigneault is the betting favorite to win Coach of the Year according to Fanduel, while superstar guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is receiving MVP buzz after finishing in fifth place season.

The OKC Thunder deserve the hype with their wealth of young talent and excellent coaching. Yet when people think of OKC Thunder basketball, they tend to picture Shai Gilgeous-Alexander breaking down defenders in the midrange or Josh Giddey dropping dimes in transition.

The team’s defensive identity is often overlooked. The Thunder are quietly primed to have one of the best defenses in the NBA in 2024.

Last season, the Thunder finished with a defensive rating of 113.2, ranking 13th in the league. They finished in the top five in half-court defense, allowing only 96 points per 100 half-court plays (per Cleaning the Glass). And they did so without a true rim protector.

Chet Holmgren will lift the OKC Thunder defensive unit

The OKC Thunder’s big-man rotation in 2023 was a game of musical chairs. Kenrich Williams was the only big to eclipse the 1,000-minute mark, despite missing the final stretch of the season with a wrist injury. Jaylin Williams and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl completed the team’s core interior trio.

While Lu Dort, Jaylin Williams, and Kenrich Williams offered their own form of rim protection by drawing charges at an elite rate, Chet Holmgren will take the OKC Thunder’s defense to new heights.


The OKC Thunder defense that finished second in turnover rate last season and will generate even more transition offense from Holmgren’s swats.

As a young rim protector who hasn’t even played in an official NBA game yet, Holmgren has the awareness to keep his blocks in bounds. Note how he opts for the two-hand block again to keep the ball within reach, allowing him to create a transition layup for his teammate:

Last year, the OKC Thunder generated steals at an elite level. Aggressive wings like Lu Dort and Jalen Williams, along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wreaked havoc on the perimeter.

This year, the team drafted a point-of-attack aggressor in Cason Wallace, further boosting its perimeter defensive playmaking.

With Holmgren blocking multiple shots a night at the rim, the OKC Thunder’s guards and wings may feel even more secure taking risks on the perimeter. The steals can increase alongside the blocks. And OKC should once again finish at the top of the league in forced turnovers.

The OKC Thunder should improve on the glass defensively.

The OKC Thunder’s small rotation in 2022-23 failed to secure defensive rebounds. The team ranked 28th in the league in defensive rebounding, allowing opponents to recover nearly 30 percent of their misses.

Opponents converted at a league-high rate when they were given put back opportunities. This was often because the paint had no size to deter put back layups. Holmgren will immediately mollify these issues.

The OKC Thunder finished top five in half court defense while giving up eight second-chance points per game. Simply inserting Holmgren into the lineup allows them to finish with the best half-court defense in 2024.

When one looks at the league’s defensive ratings from 2023 and sees the margin between OKC and the top 10 was a mere 0.2 points per 100 possessions, a top 10 defense in 2024 looks like a certainty. Even a top-five defense in Bricktown looks like a real possibility.

Next. Former Thunder star tabs Holmgren as Rookie of the Year. dark