As we look ahead to Sunday’s game 1 between the Thunder-Spurs series, let’s examine what each of these teams have been able to do or not do in the prior round against the Lakers and Clippers respectively.
Thunder and Lakers
In game one of this former rematch of 2011’s western conference final rivalry, there was essentially a flow to the Thunder’s offense. Westbrook credited points from basically anywhere on the court, the drive, the pull up, the post-bank shots, we seen it all. On westbrook’s part, with his jumper being so deadly from 17-19 feet, I just don’t quite understand why the Lakers didn’t collapse on Westbrook after they witnessed him go at such a high rate on those pull up jumpers. They tried to protect the drive so much that they left themselves at the mercy of the third year guard out of UCLA. I agree what Kenny said on TNT about forcing the drive and not allowing the pull up because Russ makes better decisions there. Yes..and no. He does make decent decisions off those screens. However, he pulls up way too blatantly off those Perkins or Ibaka screens as he very often does rush his pull up jumper. My conclusion on Russell westbrook is that the S must key in on him and force him to run side pick and rolls and trap him in those situations as Russell is most effective at the high screen and roll around the free throw line area. His decision is very on and off as he makes the correct reads sometimes which results in his 27 point effort in game one, as well as 37 in game four and 28 in game five.
In terms of Durant, he had some off nights against the Lakers where he struggled when relying too much on the jumpshot ala sizing up the defender from three, pulling up and forcing when coming off that screen when there is a clear double waiting to come. I feel that OKC should run more sets for him in the future like zipper for instance where u have a sort of pin down screen for Durant to the top of the key at the three point line (or closer) for that jumper. They can really use Westbrook as a decoy in the post and take advantage of the shorter Tony Parker just like he did to Steve Blake and Ramon Sessions. As well, I think that they can execute some Ray Allen series like pin down screens, down screen flares, misdirection screens, cross court screens, single doubles. All those plays should be ran for Kevin Durant coming off the ball and off screens.
I know what you’re thinking. Kevin Durant isn’t a pure shooter per se, and he needs the ball in his hands to create. I agree but on certain occasions. He is not credited enough for his ability to shoot the ball coming off screens to catch and fire. I really think scott brooks should explore these options as they can really expand their offensive strategies with these plays.
In accordance to the Lakers game though, there where certain times where the Thunder did effectively run Durant off curls to catch and shoot.
As well, off the screen, and catching does not necessarily mean he has to shoot. He can utilize those by means of getting to the basket or once off the catch, one two dribbles and pull up.
There are many options for this and it will be interesting to see where scott brooks goes with this.
In discussion about the former 6th man of the year, I think that he is superior to Durant or Westbrook in terms of creating off the bounce. I’m sure many of you heard that James should be more of a facilitator when he’s on the floor especially with Westbrook and or Durant as well. I totally agree. He makes the correct reads off the screen and rolls. He is most effective at the high screen and roll that extends beyond the three point line. Its more like a spaced out screen and roll set between Harden and Collison (whose combination I think is most effective as opposed to with Perkins and Ibaka). What James needs to improve though, is scoring coming off that screen and roll. Much like the situation with westbrook in that screen and roll, the big will always be reluctant to come out and guard the shot. Hence, Harden must take full advantage of that and pull up to shoot the midrange or three which is more effective at.
In the Lakers series, Harden struggled at times because he was indecisive on whether to drive all the way to the rim or pull up and shoot. Such an indecisive tendency caused James to poorly manuever himself in games like game 4 especially.
Westbrook, Durant, and Harden will be the only discussion, offensively because their plan of attack really focuses between the OKC big three where the rest of the team keys in time to time and on garbage points.
Again we begin with westbrook on defense. In the lakers series, he was matched up with sessions and blake.
Against sessions, russell sometimes makes the wrong reads on what sessions will do and how the screen will be utilized between ramon and bynum/gasol and tends to overplay ramon’s jumpshot. As a result, we see ramon get quite a number of timely floaters. He is more of a slashing type point guard hence russell shouldve been more reluctant to guard the jumpshot than the drive.
Blake is more of a guy who will slash less to the basket and will shoot the three more than sessions. Russell played him the opposite as he did sessions defensively. You want blake to drive to the rim because he isn’t good enough to finish at the basket. Once he gets into the paint he is much more flustered. With that being said, russell should trust more of his teammates to give the proper help on blakes drive.
Russ will need to adjust on how to play the offensive player better in the spurs series.
Off the ball, he seems to have a tendency to lose his man as well and does not keep him in his sight allowing wide open looks. Focus should be improved.
As a help defender, russell sometimes over commits, and as well commits at the wrong time and rotation as he may be one of the further help defenders who rotate over which causes a disruption in the defensive set because now you got the wrong people matched up and therefore would lead to semi-good looks for the opposing team.
Durant was matched with world peace and kobe a lot in this series and was exploited by the lack of strength. He will more than likely need backside help to cover his man. Kobe is a phenomenal player but only got good post positions because KD didn’t get him off the spot enough.
Ibaka was getting great blocks all over in the lakers thunder series as he is a great weakside defender. Most of his blocks are weakside. If he continues to do this, Thunder will be a fearful team to watch in the series.
More often than not when the perkins guards the pick and roll he is exploited because his hedge isn’t aggressive enough and leaves such a wide gap which allows for the split between. He also doesn’t have enough foot speed (I know he had a right hip injury, but still) to recover and guard. He needs to improve weakside help.
Thunder against the spurs
Westbrook needs to be assertive in his decision making and make the right reads off pick and roll coverages. If the spurs do in fact as a team collectively key in on his pull up, he needs to know where that next pass should be before he makes that potential pull up jumper.
He can also exploit the matchup against parker by playing in the post. He is overlooked for his effectiveness on the block (when he is under control of course)
I mentioned before that screening, and coming off screens will be essential to durants offensive expansion, personally he can be more effective coming off the screens like such versus being on the ball off isolation situations or short shot clock scenarios.
He needs to exploit that high screen and roll as much as possible against the spurs. At that two spot, danny green, gary neal, kawhi leonard will be matched up with james potentially. Besides kawhi leonard, the former two are not as great a defender than the latter and is therefore a matchup that can be taken full advantage of by James. I trust his decision making off the bounce if and when the spurs key in on his screen and roll usage.
The rest of the team
As for the rest of the thunder personnel, especially the bigs, they should set hard screens on and off the ball because that will be where most of the thunder offense. More often than not in the lakers series, the “screens” especially off the ball weren’t really screens but slight separation created between the cutter and the defender, which allowed for the defensive player to recover quickly.
Again we begin with the defense of the 1 which will be a major task by russell westbrook to contain penetration by tony parker into the painted area.
Tony parker is most effective at creating off the bounce off screens and the give and goes. For starters, russell must work with his fellow screen defenders ala ibaka, perkins, collison, mohammed, etc. in order to force parker to the sidelines where he is less effective at. This is more or less the same defensive philosophy for containing westbrook. With this defensive pressure occuring I can envision the spurs making correct reads off the ball and making the right cuts toward the basket (which might devastate the thunder if on the flipside westbrook is pressured).
As I mentioned, tony parker is good at give and goes..as well as coming off curls and cutting towards the basket. Russell westbrook has a tendency to lose his man within his vision and leaves him wide open (ala the steve blake scenario in game 2). He must key in on every possession whether tony is in the game or not. He must rotate better as a help defender as well, and understanding who should be the one helping, whether its him or someone else.
Durant should take advantage of his length in the denial of the ball against the shooters. Despite most of the shooters being spot up shooters on the spurs, time to time they do run single doubles and off those curls, kevins length will help as well as denying the spot ups.
Tim duncan’s favourite spot is more or less the left block going over that right shoulder and sometimes facing up and knocking that short jumper. Ibaka despite being a great weakside defender should force timmy D into the baseline more to effectively limit Duncans ability in that block. Tim also has a tendency to make that sweeping hook, and if ibaka chooses to expose that hook shot, there should be already quick strong side help from the guards to traffic that space to prevent that shot.
I will discuss about the spurs execution offensively and defensively in the prior round as well as the lookahead in their schemes against the thunder in the next post of the thunder-spurs preview.