The resigning of Kevin Durant was the biggest noise made in Oklahoma City this offseason. However, there was another move that went under the radar, yet has the most uncertainty—the departure of assistant coach Ron Adams. Many attribute the quick turnaround from twenty three to fifty wins to having a talented trio of players, but having one of the league’s best defensive coaches was the main reason for the Thunder's rise to the upper tier of NBA teams. The old saying with every sports team is that "defense wins championships", and while the Thunder did not expect to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy, they did want to play together as a more cohesive unit.
Defense has been a top priority of General Manager Sam Presti since he joined the team before the '08-'09 season. He has made roster moves to bolster the defense such trading for Thabo Sefolosha, drafting Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, and retaining the services of Nick Collison. The final piece to the puzzle was bringing in Ron Adams, a long time assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls. He joined the team on December 31st and the team finished the season allowing opponents to shoot 47.5% (27th worst in the NBA) and allowed 103.1 ppg (23rd worst in the NBA). However, with a full training camp to work with, Adams transformed the Thunder into one of the stingiest units in the NBA; the team ranked 7th in field goal percentage at 44.8% and held teams to 98.0 ppg, which was good for 11th.
Adams has returned to Chicago to join former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, who is widely regarded as the best defensive mind in the game. How will Adams' departure affect the Thunder? Nick Collison, who led the league in charges taken, called Adams’ departure “a big loss for us". Collison then gave insight into Adams’ methodology: “We don’t really change what we do, we do the same thing, but we really work at it, I think with a young team that’s a good way to go. We’ve been real solid.”
While the absence of Coach Adams will be noticed at times during the course of the season, the Thunder have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the defensive mindset stays intact. Westbrook is a ferocious on the ball defender, Sefolosha still remains the player in charge of shutting down the opposition's best player, Ibaka will anchor the back line with his shot blocking and shot altering ability, wily veteran Collison will do the dirty work on the glass, and the versatile Jeff Green can guard multiple positions. Former Kansas standout rookie Cole Aldrich will provide another big body to guard the paint. The Thunder have the offensive firepower to contend, but we will have to wait and see if the defensive intensity can keep up.
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