Kevin Durant may need to focus more on defense than offense to reach the Thunder's lofty expectations
Of all the hoopla that surrounded the start of the NBA season on Christmas Day, perhaps the most interesting was the arrival of a possible new favorite in the Western Conference this season: the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Due to Kevin Durant and the Thunder's run to the conference finals last year, many pundits claimed the team as favorites to reach the NBA Finals and Durant as a possible MVP.
However, what is being ignored is the fact that championships are won on the defensive end of the floor.
Whether it's the Mavericks, Lakers (pre- and post-Shaq) or the Celtics, the cliche that defense wins championships has held true to form.
Early in the season, the Thunder are off to a hot start with a 6-2 record, but I don't think anyone would have doubted their ability to put up a high win total given their roster full of offensive weapons.
The Thunder are the fifth highest scoring team in the NBA, but defensively, the team falls flat.
Through eight games, the Thunder give up the seventh most points and are ninth worst in defensive efficiency rating (points allowed per 100 possessions).
They are ahead of only six teams in defensive rebounding percentage (percentage of secured defensive rebounds available).
The only major defensive category they are not in the bottom third of the league in is opponent field goal percentage, but given the amount of points they give up, this statistic can be attributed to the rapid pace of any game the Thunder play in. (The Thunder are 14th in offensive pace this season.)
These type of defensive numbers cannot be something that Kevin Durant, widely considered a top five NBA player, is proud of as the leader of a franchise with high expectations.
Are the Thunder the favorites to come out of the Western Conference?
It is never fair to rely totally on stats when judging a team's capabilities, which is why we have to look at the Thunder's performance game by game, but more specifically, how well Kevin Durant defends his position.
The Thunder rely heavily on their ability to control the pace of the game, and when playing against a team who has playmakers that can inhibit that ability, the team struggles.
Their losses against the Mavericks and the Trail Blazers were due to giving up over 100 points and the fact that both teams didn't allow for a run-and-gun style of play the Thunder thrive at.
Kevin Durant is a tall, lank, athletic player...he can be a shot-blocking force.
His weakness is his slight frame...evidenced by by the fact that he only averages 5.6 defensive rebounds per game, even though he is much bigger at 6'10" than most of the guys he matches up with.
The Thunder may continue on their pace in the regular season and end up advancing to the NBA Finals.
However, I do believe it is too early to consider them the favorites to win the West.
In a grind-it-out seven game series, such as the one they had versus Dallas in the conference finals, defensive stops win games.
If they don't start now with an extreme focus on the defensive end like the '08 Celtics, this talented roaster could end up being very similar to the Mike D'Antoni-coached Phoenix Suns of years past.