The players haven't changed. And neither have the plays.
Only one thing is different about the Thunder's defense.
The wily assistant coach who was largely credited for revamping the Thunder's once ragged defense jetted to Chicago last summer. With his departure, Oklahoma City's defense has seen a drastic drop off.
Entering tonight's game at the Los Angeles Lakers, which marks the midway point of the season, the Thunder has regressed in opponent points, opponent field-goal percentage, opponent 3-point field goal percentage, blocked shots, opponent turnovers and defensive efficiency.
That's just about every major defensive category, with the lone exclusion being rebounding.
Several players admit that Adams' departure has been a significant factor.
“Ron Adams was a big part of our defense,” said Thunder center Nenad Krstic. “He was always talking about that. He was always getting on some guys if they don't play good defense. We really miss him.”
Practice sessions are said to be the same this season as last year's. And from a scheme standpoint, the Thunder hasn't changed anything. But having Adams harp on all the finer points made a major difference, players say.
“The way we drilled it and the way he explained it to some of the younger guys,” explained guard Thabo Sefolosha.
Thunder players have been careful to not use Adams' loss as an excuse. And they're not.
“It's not like he took what we we're doing when he was here with him,” said Nick Collison. “We're doing the same things. The players just have to do a better job of executing it. The game plan hasn't changed. We just haven't done it well. We just need to do the work.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks attributed this season's shortcomings to his team still being in the early stages of building good habits. Rather than blame defensive deficiencies on Adams' departure, Brooks chooses to focus on the fundamentals that the Thunder has found difficult to execute consistently.
Those areas include stopping the ball, playing better man-to-man defense, playing good help side defense, contesting shots and rebounding well.
“We have to improve on all those areas,” Brooks said. “We're not horrible on any of those areas. But there is room for improvement in all of those areas.”
Thunder defense, 2010-11 vs. 2009-10
Category; 2010-11 (rank); 2009-10 (rank)
Opp. points; 102.1 (20th); 98.0 (11th)
Opp. FG; .468 (23rd); .448 (T6th)
Opp. 3FG; .375 (25th); .340 (3rd)
Opp. rebounds; 40.7 (11th); 40.7 (T10th)
Steals; 8.4 (4th); 8.0 (6th)
Blocks; 5.5 (T8th); 5.9 (1st)
Opp. turnovers; 14.8 (T11th); 15.1 (T5th)
Opp. FT attempts; 24.9 (14th); 24.6 (T17th)
Def. efficiency; 104.6 (16th); 101.6 (8th)
By John Rohde