Oklahoma City Thunder's Defense Is Biggest Winner of NBA Trade Deadline

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2013

January 5, 2013; Orlando FL, USA; New York Knicks small forward Ronnie Brewer (11) points against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. New York Knicks defeated the Orlando Magic 114-106. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder have already logged plenty of victories this year, but by bringing in Ronnie Brewer of the New York Knicks, they might also turn out to be the biggest winner of the NBA trade deadline.

The Thunder don't really have many weaknesses, but Brewer strengthens the team in an area that could prove particularly valuable down the stretch and in the postseason.

At present, OKC has the league's very best offense. Based on their current ability to put in about 110 points per 100 possessions, the Thunder have the whole scoring department pretty well shored up.

On D, Scott Brooks' club is almost as good, ranking eighth in defensive efficiency.

Much of that defensive fortitude is attributable to lockdown specialist Thabo Sefolosha, who has made OKC about seven points per 100 possessions stingier when he's been on the court. That's an elite figure.

But there's only one of him. And teams that OKC figures to see at some point in a postseason series will likely have more than one dangerous offensive player. The Miami Heat, for example, have two unstoppable wings in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade that give even the league's most dominant defenders trouble.

Which is where Brewer comes in.

Over the last three seasons, Brewer's defensive numbers have seen a marked decline. But much of that has had to do with playing time and the style of his team.

Just two seasons ago, Brewer rated as one of the single best defenders in the league, making the Chicago Bulls more than eight points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor. Anytime you improve a team's defense by a number that rivals what Sefolosha has done this year, you're doing something right.

Brewer's length and smarts are still there, but his athleticism has waned just a smidge since his dominant 2010-11 campaign.

Last year, he improved the Bulls' defense by just half of a point per 100 possessions. This season, he has played sparingly on a New York Knicks team that hasn't exactly embraced a defensive identity. As such, he's rated as a negative defensive influence in an admittedly small sample size.

But Brewer never looked like a fit on a Knicks team that hoisted threes and tried to outscore its opponents. The Thunder play at a pace that resembles the one New York employs, but unlike the Knicks, OKC is more than happy to have players on the floor whose only job is to defend.

So as a spot-used role player, Brewer makes a ton of sense for his new team. And when you consider that he'll theoretically be taking minutes from Kevin Martin when OKC needs a second elite wing defender, his skill set fits perfectly.

Martin has been a terrific offensive weapon, but teams relentlessly attack him when he's on the floor. As such, he's made the Thunder about three points per 100 possessions worse on D this season. Swapping Brewer into his spot would give OKC arguably the best wing-defending duo this side of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in San Antonio.

Look, it's impossible to argue that the acquisition of Brewer will suddenly change the way OKC plays. Chances are, he'll see only sporadic minutes throughout the rest of the regular season.

But when things slow down in the playoffs and stops matter more, he'll be immensely valuable. And if the Thunder make it far enough to have a return engagement with the Heat in this year's NBA Finals, you can bet he'll see plenty of time on the floor alongside Sefolosha.

James and Wade give everyone fits, but with Brewer on the roster, OKC is uniquely equipped to handle both of them (to whatever extent that's even possible.)

Having players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has made the Thunder extremely good for the past two-plus seasons. But if used properly, Brewer could make them great.

*Team stats via ESPN. Individual stats via 82games.com