After shattering all expectations last season and narrowly missing the playoffs, the OKC Thunder appear primed to make a leap this year. Despite their youth, they ranked 13th in Defensive Rating, and the Thunder still have plenty of room for improvement. What is needed for OKC to reach the upper echelons of team defense?
Three Dream Scenarios for the OKC Thunder on the defensive end of the floor this season.
Chet Holmgren Rim Protection & Rebounding
Despite not fielding a true center, the OKC Thunder actually defended the rim quite well last season. They allowed the 13th fewest restricted area field goal attempts when adjusted for pace and the eighth-lowest field goal percentage in this area.
The OKC Thunder also held roll men to the third-lowest points per possession. However, the Thunder managed these numbers because they were forced to constantly send help and double inside to compensate for their size disadvantage. As a result, opposing big men would often make the correct read and kick it out to an open shooter or an eventual swing to the corner. Unsurprisingly, the OKC Thunder gave up the third-most corner three-point attempts per 100 possessions (via BBall Index).
Holmgren has flashed an immense rim protection ceiling during his Gonzaga days and across Summer League. OKC desperately needs Holmgren to hold up against mammoth centers and teleport when opponents penetrate the perimeter.
If his rim protection occurs as expected, other OKC Thunder defenders can afford to stay attached to shooters and slash open three-point attempts.
In addition, opponents had the third-highest offensive rebound rate in the NBA against OKC, which was another casualty of their undersized roster. Holmgren’s 7’6” wingspan and desire to fight through contact will be a boon for OKC and stop opponents from poaching extra possessions.
Fewer opportunities mean fewer points, so Holmgren’s defensive rebounding tightens up the defense and indirectly boosts OKC’s offense through transition outlet passes.