The most troubling aspect of the Thunder’s first 10 games is defense. It’s fallen mightily.
The Thunder ranked fourth in NBA defense last season, allowing 99.2 points per 100 possessions. Or 0.992 points per possession, which is how I like to figure it. That actually tied the Spurs for third. That’s how you remain in NBA title contention, with defense like that. The top five in the league were Indiana, Memphis, San Antonio, OKC and Chicago. Boston and Miami were next.
But after 10 games, the Thunder is 11th in NBA defense, averaging 1.0 point per possession. It’s early — too early to get wrapped up in statistics, which can be warped by strength of schedule, one excessively bad-or-good game, or a simple injury. For instance, the Thunder could have used Kendrick Perkins’ pick-and-roll defense when it played the Clippers. Chris Paul carved up OKC that night.
But still. The Thunder defense clearly is not in gear. And here’s the most alarming thing. The Thunder seems lackadaisical at the onset of games.
The Thunder’s first quarters have been awful defensively. The Thunder has allowed at least 30 first-quarter points in four of its 10 games, and Utah poked OKC for 29 points in the first quarter.
The Thunder is allowing an average of 28.3 points in the first quarter. Teams are shooting 44.1 percent against OKC in the first quarter.
Denver on Monday night was the most extreme example. In the first quarter, the Nuggets scored 39 points and made 16 of 27 shots. Then the rest of the game, OKC played some defense — 74 points, 42.1 percent shooting.
In the middle two quarters, the Thunder is allowing 40.1 percent shooting and 42.4 percent shooting, respectively. So the Thunder is playing some decent defense. Just not early in games.
And there’s no reason for it. The only major rotational differences from last season are Steven Adams playing backup center for Hasheem Thabeet, and Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones taking the minutes that went to Kevin Martin. Nothing there screams defensive alarm.
It seems clear that the Thunder is coming out of the gate slow in terms of commitment to defense and intensity. It hasn’t bitten the Thunder much. But over a course of a season, it most definitely will.