Rebounding doomed OKC against the Pelicans; what can the Thunder do about it?

Rebounding doomed OKC against the Pelicans; what can the Thunder do about it?

Even with an undersized team, Mark Daigneault believes his team can be better on the boards than it was Wednesday.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Nov 2, 2023, 6:19am CDT

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Nov 2, 2023, 6:19am CDT

OKLAHOMA CITY — If it seemed sometimes like the Thunder was conceding the offensive glass Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans, just know that wasn’t the plan.  

Not entirely, at least. 

The Pels’ 22 offensive rebounds were the difference in a 110-106 come-from-behind win at the Paycom Center, and OKC was trying to prevent them. 

But at times, coach Mark Daignuealt said afterward, there’s a limit to just how much the Thunder can accomplish on the backboards. When 6-foot-6 wing Jalen Williams moves to center — which he did at times against New Orleans — “we’re accepting some tradeoffs,” Daigneault said. 

“Those are my decisions and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t,” Daigneault said. “But generally, we have to have a team mentality in every area of the game, including rebounding.”

Even with an undersized team — the Thunder effectively starts 7-1 center Chet Holmgren and four guards — Daigneault believes his team can be better on the boards than it was Wednesday, when the Pelicans outrebounded OKC 58-49 and had 27 second-chance points. 


It’d be hard to be much worse. 

But Daigneault makes a fair point: Two days prior to the Pelicans’ offensive rebounding dominance, the Thunder beat Detroit and out rebounded a Pistons team that ranks in the top five in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage.

“The same personnel that played that game played tonight,” Daigneault said. “So we were capable of doing the job there well enough on that night. We didn’t do it well enough tonight. It wasn’t any different players on the court for us.”

Soon there might be. 

Jaylin Williams, who’s yet to play this season with a hamstring injury, led the Thunder in defensive rebounding percentage last season, grabbing 23.3% of opponent misses when he was on the court. 

Jaylin Williams might not have won the game against the Pelicans, but having him couldn’t have hurt. 

Earlier on Wednesday the Thunder assigned Williams to the OKC Blue, the team’s G League affiliate, to get some five-on-five practice, which Daigneault called “the last box you gotta check” in getting Williams back on the court. 

The 6-10 forward is “progressing nicely,” Daigneault said, but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to play when the Thunder hosts the Warriors on Friday in the NBA In-Season Tournament. 

When he returns, the 6-foot-10 Williams will give the Thunder the option for a new look, playing another big man next to Chet Holmgren, perhaps for extended minutes. 

The only two-big lineup at Daigneault’s disposal now features Holmgren and two-way center Olivier Sarr, who’s given OKC solid minutes this season but isn’t the rebounder Jaylin Williams is. 

But even when Williams is available, OKC will play a lot of small ball, in lineups with and without Holmgren. It maximizes the Thunder’s strength: the ability to spread out defenses with perimeter playmakers. 

That didn’t work against New Orleans. Mostly because for much of the night the Thunder couldn’t make a shot. 

OKC shot 13 of 24 in the first quarter, building a 33-14 lead that ballooned to 22 early in the second quarter. But over the final three frames, the Thunder hit 25 of 64 shots, 39%. 

That allowed the Pelicans to win a game in which they made just 39.2% of their shots but — thanks to the 22 offensive rebounds — got up 102 of them. That’s about 12 more than the league average this season, and 14 more than OKC got Wednesday night. 

That edge is tough to beat. 

But the Thunder will have nights like this, when its perimeter-oriented, undersized team, struggles to make shots. When it does, and defense has to carry the day, it can ill afford to get battered on the glass. 

Basketball “isn’t a game of throw it off the backboard and see who gets it,” Holmgren said. There’s a team strategy to rebounding. He has responsibilities. His teammates have roles in assisting. 

Holmgren said he’ll start to address Wednesday’s issues by “looking at myself and being better on the glass,” but he had 11 rebounds, eight of them on the defensive end. 

Jalen Williams pitched in eight rebounds and Josh Giddey nine, but it wasn’t enough. Lu Dort got one defensive rebound. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — who scored 20 points but shot 8 for 20 from the floor — had five but figures he could have grabbed more. 

Moving forward, the Thunder’s guards might have to. Especially on nights when their own shots don’t drop. 

“Maybe be more physical, box out some more,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I know I missed a few of those assignments. There’s so many things you can do. Gang rebound. Whatever it was, we didn’t do enough of it, clearly, to win.”

 

 

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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