Defensive rebounding improvement.
Does anything more need to be said other than, no, this is not a shot at Serge Ibaka in any way (even if that one moment could be considered a great example of this needed improvement).
Some people have made the mistake of saying that the Thunder are not/were not a good rebounding team last year and that’s just not true. For starters, the Thunder were the third best offensive rebounding (rate) team in the league last year behind Memphis and Detroit and were the sixth best rebounding (rate) team in the NBA, ahead of teams like the Blazers, Lakers and Bulls. So those two statistics show how fictitious the assertion is that the Thunder were not a good rebounding team.
The problem with the Thunder’s rebounding is not what it wasn’t able to do last year as much as it was what it could have been last year if the defensive rebounding wasn’t just middle-to-below-average in the NBA. Well, and if anyone in the front court could grab more than six total rebounds a game.
Stats like those are why I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re SF, who rarely finds his way onto the block on defense, is your leading rebounder and your team leader for grabbing defensive rebounds, then there’s a legitimate problem that must be improved for next season.
Of Kevin Durant’s 7.6 rebound average last season, 6.3 of those were defensive rebounds. Now that’s a tremendous achievement for Durant, but it also sheds light on a rather troubling reality with the Thunder since the persons closest to Durant are Jeff Green, who grabbed 4.6 defensive rebounds, and Thabo Sefolosha, who grabbed 3.8 rebounds.
While you certainly want your starting PF to be high up on your defensive rebounding list, Green’s defensive rebounding production leaves quite a bit to be desired as he was 25th in the league last year in defensive rebounding rate for PF’s (to highlight this lack of production, Serge Ibaka grabbed only 1.1 less defensive rebounds per contest, 3.5 to Green’s 4.6, in almost 20 fewer minutes of action a game). But even that could maybe be excused away if the third leading defensive rebounder on the Thunder was anyone other than the team’s starting shooting guard who only averaged 28.6 minutes a game.
Can a legitimate post player really not crack the Top 3 in defensive rebounds on a 50 win team?
Apparently so. But that 50 win team is probably not finding its way out of the first round.
The Thunder were 16th in the league last season when it came to defensive rebounding rate, tied with the Western Conference cellar dweller, the Minnesota Timberwolves. And while many, many people all said that defensive rebounding and a lack of size in the post on the defensive end would be the Thunder’s downfall, none of us could have predicted a picture perfect representation of that fact like the first round playoff series with the Lakers provided us.
Take notice that I said “series” and not “the Lakers final offensive possession,” please. When the Lakers won against the Thunder, it was because of their post play and their rebounding. The Pau Gasol put-back simply served as the exclamation point to that fact.
Cue the Cole Aldrich trade, as Aldrich was one of the most prolific defensive rebounders per minute and post defenders in all of college basketball for the past two seasons (the guy averaged 8.0 defensive rebounds a game in 2009, playing 29.6 minutes a contest, and 6.7 defensive rebounds a game, playing only 26.8 minutes a contest in 2010. Yes, please). And cue all the clamoring for Jeff Green to eventually take on the sixth man, jack-of-all-trades role that so many people feel he is destined for and maybe even perfect for on the Thunder.
Now I’m not saying that I want Cole Aldrich to start from day one (not yet, at least) or that I want Serge Ibaka to start at PF over Green opening night (…okay so technically I’m not saying that right now, but the possibility of that happening has been thought of, discussed and possibly even concluded if Ibaka’s game can develop a bit more during his second season…so yeah, not on opening night…I think), but what I am saying is that somebody not named Kevin Durant needs to start hitting the defensive glass with a ferocity that makes wins come easier for the Thunder, instead of making a victory harder to grasp.
And it would be nice if that person wasn’t the starting point guard, shooting guard or backup power forward. You know, like a frontcourt starter.
Plus, it’s really hard to be considered one of the league’s best defenses when you’re giving up costly rebounds to the other team’s offense on every other possession. There’s a reason they’re called defensive rebounds.
If the Thunder are going to take that next leap and compete for home court in the playoffs and take aim at potential crowns, their ability to stop opposing teams from having second and third chance attempts at the basket has to improve considerably next season.