We all know Oklahoma City has had some offensive issues this season. OKC ranks 20th in offensive efficiency (105.9), which is an improvement from last year where OKC finished ranked 29th (102.9). So it’s gotten better. But at times, the Thunder’s offensive execution can be extremely elementary. To be honest, the entire offensive scheme isn’t complicated. I would say it hinges on three general principles: 1) Get Kevin Durant the ball in a position to score 2) Create off a drive and score/kick out to a shooter and 3) Get Kevin Durant the ball in a position to score.
But in more than one circumstance, bad execution has cost them late in the fourth quarter. Kevin Arnovitz detailed some of this in far better fashion than I could, but I wanted to dip my toe in the water and take a closer look.
So against Denver, I wanted to highlight five different possessions, all from the second quarter (thanks to reader Johnny for the grabs). Let’s take a peek.
Play 1: Second quarter, 9:38:
This possession really zeroes in on a lot of the Thunder’s issues on offense at times. We see far too much of this. Too much dribbling, too much hesitation. On the floor is Maynor, Harden, Green, Collison and Ibaka. So part of the problem is no Kevin Durant. And when there is no Kevin Durant, the offense stalls sometimes because there’s no bailout option.
The original play here appears to be to give Collison the ball in the high post and let Jeff Green back-cut off the left wing. That gets shut down. So the second option is to swing the ball to Harden on the right wing and let Collison follow his pass for an on-ball screen. Here’s where the issues start. Collison accomplishes his goal with his screen – he gets a switch. Now Chris Andersen is on James Harden in a total iso play. And really it breaks down because Harden dribbles too much and there’s just too much standing around. Harden does have Collison cutting to the rim, or Ibaka at the free throw line or if he’s decisive, he can drive baseline on Andersen. Instead, he hesitates and holds his dribble. He backs out, picks up his dribble and with the shot clock bearing down, the play winds up as a turnover.
Play 2: Second quarter, 7:24:
This is one of OKC’s favorite sets. Run KD off a double-screen and let him get the ball moving toward the bucket with space at the elbow. It works relatively well, but Collison’s screen isn’t very good so Durant catches the ball in traffic and has to dish immediately. If you’ll notice, if KD has his head up, he’s got Collison wide open under the bucket for a layup. He misses him and kicks back out to Maynor.
What really throws this set off is the spacing. Maynor is too close to Durant so Ty Lawson is able to collapse in off the pass. Collison did a nice job rolling off the pick but still, everything is clustered at the elbow. After that’s shut down, the ball comes back to Durant at the top of the key in an isolation play as the shot clock ticks down. Durant’s hand is forced because of the 24. What’s overlooked here is that OKC’s offensive set really starts with 15 on the shot clock. So after the initial set is closed off, and then after getting the ball back to Durant, KD only has five seconds to make a play. So the timing was off, spacing was off and open men were missed.
Play 3: Second quarter 5:24:
Durant misses the shot here, but this is a crisp set and KD knocks this one down with regularity. Russell Westbrook comes and gets the ball from Serge Ibaka at the top of the key. But here’s where you appreciate Durant moving without the ball. Watch his perfect hesitation on the baseline under the rim. It sets up his man beautifully for the double-screen from Nenad Krstic (who sets a very nice pick) and Serge Ibaka.
So much of OKC’s offense is reliant on quality screens. And Krstic sets a good one here. But if the screen is poor or it’s set up poorly, the set fail. Durant is excellent at setting his defender up for a pick. Joey Graham really never sees it coming because he’s trying to trail KD. There’s really nothing wrong with this execution other than the fact Durant missed the shot. The screens were good, the ball was delivered on time and in a good spot from Westbrook and the look was open. Just missed it.
Play 4: Second quarter, 1:52:
This is one of my favorite possessions of the night. The initial play is shut down, but Westbrook does an excellent job of resetting a play with Krstic and then making a good decision. The ball is supposed to go to Durant off a screen initially, but Krstic’s screen catches all air. So Westbrook backs out and goes to his next option.
He calls for the high pick-and-pop with Krstic. It’s executed nicely, as Nenad has a nice look from about 20-feet. But Krstic makes a great choice as he sees Jeff Green’s man, Kenyon Martin come to guard him. Krstic could have launched here, but he makes the right decision and swings the ball to Green. Everything is in perfect rhythm. In all honesty, Green could have swung the ball once more to Durant in the corner, who is the higher percentage 3-point shooter. But Green launches and hits.
I like this play because after the original set is shut off, Westbrook calls for his bread and butter play. And through that second option, a good look comes out of it. So much of good offense is making a defense rotate and help-defend, and after that happens, hitting the open shot. The ball found its way to a good shooter with an open look. That’s quality offense.
Play 5: Second quarter, 6:08:
This last one is a great example of an athletic player making a play. This wasn’t a good offensive possession. Durant’s drive is shut off, he picks up his dribble with nowhere to go, but through it, the Thunder scores two points. So many times, that’s all it takes. When a guy just makes an aggressive, athletic play and scores two points, it’s good offense. But what makes it work is how decisive Ibaka is. If he catches the ball and hesitates or looks to pass, Andersen recovers and Ibaka’s lane to drive isn’t there. But he receives the pass and goes right away and has an open path to the bucket.
Oklahoma City can be a very good offensive team. In transition, the Thunder’s very good. It’s just that the offensive sets sometimes rely on a good screen and if that whiffs, then all goes to heck and things have to start over with the shot clock on their back. But that’s where a good point guard resets the offense, calls for a new play and makes it happen, much like Russ did with the fourth play I showed.
The Thunder has a bunch of offensive weapons. Too much dribbling and indecisiveness can kill a possession (as shown in the first play). It’s just about attacking with open lanes to hoop, finding open creases for a good look and most importantly, making the open shot.
Or… just have Kevin Durant make everything he takes like he did last night against Golden State. Either way.