STH News - Off and Def Strat

Understanding the Offensive and Defensive Strategies of Top NBA Teams

When a coach organizes a basketball team, they must look at two significant components in forming their strategy: offense and defense. It becomes hard to post points and win games if they have no offensive strategy. If they have no defensive strategy, teams can exploit holes in the defense to score many points against them and potentially win the game. Performance in these areas are the most important when it comes to the NBA odds, if a team weak in just one of these, they’ll be the outsiders to win the championship.

Some would say a good defense is more important than a good offense. Others would say vice versa. And others would say they’re both equally important. Below is a look at some of the biggest teams in the NBA and the success of their offensive and defensive strategies. 

Sacramento Kings

No one would have given a dime for the Sacramento Kings a few seasons ago. In the 2021-22 season, they ranked a worse than mediocre 24th in offensive efficiency, 22nd in assists per game and 25th in threes per game. Fast forward to the following season, and they jumped to 1st in offensive efficiency, 4th in assists per game, and 7th in threes per game. A massive improvement.  

The Kings have formed highly efficient combinations for dribble handoffs and have focused heavily on ball movement and shooting. They dribble much less per touch, moving the ball around fast and creating space, which has allowed De’Aaron Fox to score more field goals at the rim. It’s a much more open, much more flowing offense. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma Thunder’s offensive style has been attacking the gaps and driving, collapsing the defense, and probing to locate open shooters while making the most of key man Shai Gilgeous Alexander. The Canadian is a shooting machine with an ever-patient playing style that combines fabulously with head coach Mark Daigneault’s offensive philosophy. 

OKC vs Memphis
The Thunder’s offensive success has come from hitting teams on the break. They’ve become adept at winning points off turnovers and, this season, have improved upon last season’s 8.1 for steals per game with 8.3. In 2023-24, they posted an average of 121 points per game, putting them at 2nd in the rankings. They’ve also jumped from outside of the top 20 in field goal percentage ranking on drives last season to inside the top three this season. 

Memphis Grizzlies

Last season saw the Memphis Grizzlies become dominant and enjoy newfound success within the Western Conference. Main man Ja Morant leapt and dunked all over games, including a spectacular dunk over 6’9” Jalen Smith of the Indiana Pacers, which certainly doesn’t happen every day. 

But despite all of Morant’s dunking and athleticism at the opponent’s end of the court, the Grizzlies had been letting themselves down defensively. Enter the defensive pairing of Jaren Jackson Jr and Dillon Brooks, and the team has gone from 18th place in the defensive rankings to 1st and has transformed itself into a playoff contender. 

This defensive strengthening has only been part of the team’s defensive strategy. The other? Bringing back the pairing of big players. Steve Adams is another big player with whom the team pairs Jackson. The Grizzlies and some other teams, including the New Orleans Pelicans, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Boston Celtics, have also used this approach. It gives them versatility and allows them to play different players in different positions while enabling the team to focus on its top defensive priority: defending at the rim. 

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics must have one of the most frustrating defensive styles ever for opponents. Playing two bigs together has been one strategy. The broader strategy has been to smother opponents defensively, tasking opposing teams with trying to find even a half-decent shot within the 24 rapidly passing seconds they have to do so. Opponents are being forced to shoot more from the perimeter and aren’t having much luck if they get closer to the rim. The Celtics are blocking at about 6.6 per game

At 43.6%, opposing teams aren’t having much luck obtaining rebounds either. They’re lucky if they can even get onto the ball. The steal stats against the Boston side are one of the lowest in the NBA this season at 6.4 per game. The Philadelphia 76ers are leaking even fewer steals and are the ones to watch if the Celtics want to tighten up their possessional play even further. 

NBA games are fast and furious, and players constantly need to work on both the offensive and defensive aspects of their game. Versatility is becoming a key factor in teams as coaches look more for players to play in all positions on the court. Then, the team can, in theory, remain consistently strong at the front and the back of the court.


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