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Thunder getting downright defensive

John Rohde Modified: April 12, 2013 at 6:47 pm •  Published: March 28, 2013
Kendrick Perkins, left, battles with San Antonio's Tim Duncan earlier this month.
Kendrick Perkins, left, battles with San Antonio's Tim Duncan earlier this month.

When you think about the Thunder, probably foremost on your mind are three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant and sidekick Russell Westbrook, who for the last two seasons have been the NBA’s highest-scoring tandem.

As a team, OKC’s offensive numbers are unmatched this season. The Thunder leads the league in scoring (106.2), free-throw percentage (.828), free throws made (22.8), free throws attempted (27.6), point differential (9.4) and points per shot (1.34). OKC also is third in field-goal percentage (.481) and tied for fourth in 3-point percentage.

And yet everyone associated with the Thunder spends at least 80 percent of their time discussing defense. OKC ranks second in field-goal percentage defense (.426) and adjusted field-goal percentage (4.70) and third in points per shot (1.14). “We’re probably one of the top three defensive teams in the NBA,” Westbrook said.

A couple of weeks ago, Durant casually mentioned teammate Kendrick Perkins warrants consideration for NBA all-defensive team. Fans are too busy ripping Perk’s offense to properly appreciate his defense, but Durant didn’t bring up the subject just for grins. Perk not only has solidfied his reputation as one of the league’s premier post defenders, he also has spent some time chasing around point guards to make them readjust their attack and drain the shot clock in the process.

“He definitely has to be considered,” Brooks said of Perkins being on the all-defensive team. “Obviously, I see him night in and night out. He guards the best (low-post) players every night. I don’t track the percentages of the guys that he does guard. My eye test tells me he’s one of the best at defending bigs in the league. He takes pride in it. He takes the challenge every night. He doesn’t duck it. He doesn’t run from it. He takes it every night.”

Reserve Nick Collison said of Perk: “I think he’s been really solid for us since he’s been here. He’s had a good year, for sure. I think physically he feels better. I’m sure that’s a big part of it. He’s battled through some injuries people haven’t paid much attention to. He’s always been good for us, but he’s healthier this year.”

Told he had the endorsements of Brooks, Durant and other teammates, Perk smiled and said: “That’s a pleasure. I just take pride in going out there and playing defense. It’s nothing new. I’ve always pretty much established my identity as a defensive player, especially on the lower block. I’m just trying to do what I can for us, playing the right way. That’s what I’m supposed to do as one of the defensive captains on this team.”

If Perk warrants consideration, Thabo Sefolosha also must be considered, as is the case every season. “He should (get his due),” Westbrook said of Sefolosha.

There’s also power forward Serge Ibaka, who last season finished runner-up to New York’s Tyson Chandler for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. If Ibaka’s all-around defense has improved this season — and it has — does that make him worthy of Defensive POY?

Even the scoring tandem has joined the act. Brooks earlier this season endorsed Westbrook as one of the league’s premier point guard defenders. With 10 games left, Durant is averaging his career-high in blocked shots, steals and defensive rebounds.

When is the last time a team leading the league in scoring and shooting also had three worthy all-defensive consideration? I’ll let you know when I find out.

- John Rohde

 

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