By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
The numbers being put up night after night by the Thunder defense appear impressive. The team is first in 3-point field goal percentage defense (27.9), fourth in overall shooting percentage defense (42.1) and fourth in defensive rating (the number of opponent points allowed per 100 possessions) at 94.6.
But head coach Billy Donovan tapped the brakes with reporters after his team’s Tuesday practice saying “there’s still a lot of areas I feel we need to improve.”
Make no mistake, Donovan likes a lot of what he’s been seeing from the defense but he pointed out some of those shooting percentage numbers are because teams have just missed some open shots. Those are opportunities he feels the Thunder need to work harder on denying.
“Our transition defense has been inconsistent, our defensive rebounding has been inconsistent, there’s been games where we’ve kind of given up the middle of the floor too much. It’s just a point of consistency where we need to do it for longer stretches and having more stamina in doing it.”
It will take some stamina on defense to slow down Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, who is now leading the NBA in scoring at 33.7 points a game on 52.4 percent shooting.
“He’s hot,” Thunder defensive whiz Andre Roberson admitted. Roberson, who generally guards an opponent’s best shooter, will also take the lead on defending DeRozan.
“He’s come out with a lot of confidence this year. We’re just going to do our best to come out and shut him down a little bit. We have to get in our coverages, get back in transition, stick a hand in his face.”
DeRozan is actually coming off his lowest scoring and worst shooting game of the season (23 points on 7-for-20) in Toronto’s 96-91 Sunday loss at home to Sacramento.
DeRozan is most dangerous on mid-range jumpers and at the free throw line. According to NBA.com/stats 36.6 percent of DeRozan’s points come on mid-range jumpers (the most of any Raptors player) and 22.8 percent of his points come at the free throw line.
He goes to the line so much because defenders have a tendency to fall for his pump fakes. Roberson knows the feeling, it’s happened to him too. But having watched lots of film and going up against DeRozan several times now, he knows DeRozan’s moves and fakes.
“He’s so good at it he tries to show the ref he gets touched and he shows it more than others, kinda like a James Harden type of guy. So just staying down on those pump fakes and try to be physical from the jump, let the referees know you’re trying to set a tone. That’s what we need from everybody.”
The Thunder may get a break, Raptors center Jonas Valanciunis is listed as questionable for tonight’s game with a bruised knee.
He was held out of that Sacramento game and the Kings exploited his absence inside. If Valanciunis can’t go rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam would try to take up the slack.
Valanciunis is likely a game time decision for Raps coach Dwane Casey. Follow me on Twitter, @RandyRenner for live updates from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Tonight’s game is set for a 7:10 tipoff, you can see it on Fox Sports Oklahoma.