HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In our Q and A at All-Star weekend, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said that when his team is on defense, he’s “concerned about making sure that every shot is contested.”
Contesting every shot is impossible, but Brooks’ team certainly can do a better job. According to SportVU, no team has contested a lower percentage of its opponents’ jump shots than the Thunder . They’ve contested just 24 percent of opponent jumpers, a mark well below the league average of 31 percent.
|Perc. of opponent jump shots contested|
SportVU defines a jump shot as any shot out outside of 10 feet. It’s contested if a defender is within four feet of the shooter.
There’s a much stronger correlation between defensive efficiency and opponent effective field-goal percentage (EFG%) than between defensive efficiency and any of the other “four factors” (rebounding, forcing turnovers, keeping opponents off the free-throw line).
Here’s the thing, though. The Thunder rank fourth in opponent EFG% and fourth in defensive efficiency. They’ve been a great defensive team — even though they haven’t contested jump shots very well. There is a correlation between the percentage of jumpers a team contests and its opponents’ EFG% (and in turn, their defensive efficiency). The Thunder are an outlier.
They have defended the rim well. They rank fifth in opponent field-goal percentage in the restricted area, with Serge Ibaka ranking among the top individual rim protectors. That’s obviously important.
But, by itself, it doesn’t account for how high the Thunder rank in opponent EFG%. Not only do they not contest jumpers very well, but they don’t really force bad shots. About 61 percent of their opponents’ shots have come from the restricted area or 3-point range, the seventh highest rate in the league.
So how have they been so good defensively? They do rank in the top 10 in defensive rebounding percentage and are slightly above average at forcing turnovers. But you have to wonder if there’s a little luck involved. Take the following numbers into account…
- Thunder opponents have shot 38.7 percent on uncontested jumpers, the sixth lowest rate in the league.
- Thunder opponents have shot 30.5 percent on contested jumpers, the second lowest rate in the league.
- Thunder opponents have shot 72.2 percent from the free-throw line, the second lowest rate in the league. (What goes around comes around; they ranked 28th in free-throw defense last season.)
- Only one other defense (the Lakers) ranks in the top 10 in each of those three categories. Five other teams rank in the top 10 in two of the three.
Now, the definition of what’s contested (see above) allows for some leeway. It could mean that the defender is six inches from the shooter with his hand in his face, and it could mean that he’s 48 inches away with his hands down. Maybe the Thunder contest to a different degree than other teams. But they don’t contest a lot.
Eliminating the possible “luck” factor, the Thunder are still a good defensive team. If OKC opponents had shot the league average on contested jumpers, uncontested jumpers and free throws, the Thunder would have allowed 86 more points this season (about 1.5 more per 100 possessions) and would rank seventh in defensive efficiency (in part because there’s a dropoff after the top seven).
But they have had trouble slowing down Golden State, one of the league’s best jump-shooting teams, the team that has been the most efficient against the Thunder this season, and a possible first-round playoff opponent. In his three games against the Thunder, only 21 of Stephen Curry‘s 66 field goal attempts have been contested (just three of 22 on Nov. 14).
Some other good jump-shooting teams — Atlanta, Miami and Portland — also have had decent success against the Thunder. Others — Dallas and Phoenix — have not.
In this first full season of player tracking, there are still some things to figure out. And maybe things will be different defensively for the Thunder with a healthy Russell Westbrook. But if Brooks’ goal is to contest every shot, his team has some work to do.
FYI (because some readers have asked): While you can find contested and uncontested shots in the Player Tracking tab of our NBA.com/stats boxscores, we don’t yet have them on the season level. That’s in the works.