Monday, March 9, 2009

Thunder Bring The D without KD

The Oklahoma City Thunder franchise is defined by Kevin Durant. When they picked up 'Durantula' (hehe.. is that seriously going to stick?) as the #2 pick in last year's draft they immediately decided to build around him. The then-Seattle Supersonics traded away Ray Allen for someone who could fit better (essentially, Jeff Green) and let Rashard Lewis walk for nothing. So the fact that KD is their franchise guy probably needs no further establishing.

And the kid has responded, averaging 26 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this year. He's in the running for Most Improved honors this year, which is rare for players as highly regarded as this guy. Just goes to show how good he's been this year.

But advanced stats pundits have noticed that, well, for someone who's so important to his team, he's been kind of a detriment, especially on defense.

So I guess it's interesting to note that since he went down with an injury during the OKC-Dallas game last February 27, the Thunder have gone 4-1 without him. How? Well, they've held opponents down to 92, 87, 83 and 74 points in their four wins. That probably says good defense about as much as it says that the teams they beat kind of sucked (included Memphis, Washington and Philadelphia, a team that hasn't been very good of late).

They also played the last four without Durant's running mate Green (OKC is 3-1 without him on this stretch). The one loss was an 18 point blowout by the Hornets. Why? Chris Paul, probably. But here's another reason. Recent acquisition Thabo Sefolosha sat out the game.

I'm not saying Thabo is the savior of this squad (even though I've been a fan of his from his Bulls days), but he does have a rep for being a defensive stopper. And the team has been playing better defense of late. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Well, he has averaged a respectable 13.5 points and 7 boards, with 3 assists, 2 steals and 1.75 blocks. More importantly (maybe), he's accumulated a plus-minus of +58 in Durant's absence. That says something that the team plays so well when he's on the court.

Still KD is undoubtedly the cornerstone of this franchise. But two things could be worth noting. Thabo Sefolosha was a darn good pickup for the Thunder. And if Durant starts playing more defense, this could be a very dangerous team.

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