You can pretty much count on it: At some point during the Thunder’s 48 minutes on the floor, Russell Westbrook will find Kevin Durant on that subtle backcut lob. It’s an incredibly simple read and react thing between Durant and Westbrook, one of those plays that comes from knowing each other and having a mental connection.
My question is: Why does it always seem to work?
When you break down the play, it’s pretty clear the lob is just an improvisation off of the actual called set. The Thunder run countless pindown screens for Durant throughout a game and as Grant Long perfectly points out, at some point you can catch a defender cheating a bit and get him with a little backdoor move.
Two big keys to this play working:
Look at all that room along the baseline. Both Thunder bigs — Perk and Ibaka — are 15 feet away from the basket. They’re setting up to set screens, but it also clears out opposing defenders.
And you’ll notice too how much room Westbrook has to throw the lob. That’s not an easy pass to put on target if he’s getting severe on-ball pressure. But he gets a pick from Serge Ibaka, and Tyreke Evans lazily gets through it and closes out without any urgency, leaving Westbrook ample amounts of space to throw it.
Spacing has been a massive focus for the Thunder this season and it’s been a pretty significant key to their offensive success. Wider passing lanes, more room to see, less traffic to play in. Spacing is great not just for shooting and one-on-one isolating matchups. It’s great for passing too.
Really, that’s all this play is. It’s an eye contact thing, where Westbrook and Durant connect and make that split second decision to go for it. What’s amazing, and I think this speaks to Westbrook and Durant’s incredible chemistry, is that they don’t screw this up all the time. I can’t think of too many times where Westbrook has thrown a lob to no one.
Westbrook delivers the pass perfectly on time, right as Durant gets John Salmons leaning the wrong way. There’s no time to recover at all.
You can’t blame Salmons. Because if you try and guess and cheat thinking this is coming, you’re going to be late trailing Durant around that pindown screen. And then he’ll drop one on you from 18 like it’s a layup. But if you’re picking your poison, you’d at least rather him have to shoot one from 18 than lay it in point blank.
It’s almost something that keeps the defense mindful. Get burned backdoor once and you’re not going to try and jump any pindown curls.
Honestly, I’ve watched this set roll now about 30 times, and the only ways I could recommend the Kings stop this is to sag much more off of Perk, who isn’t a jumpshooting threat from 20 feet, pressure the ball better and don’t overplay Durant. But that’s way easier said than done. Because when the Thunder execute this thing, it’s not easy to defend.
It’s pretty much a guarantee: They’ll get it once a game. So the new question I’m left asking is, why just once?