Most of the Thunder’s game against the Nets was very ugly. But there one very pretty play: The little Russell Westbrook slip play.
I broke down this set last season, as it was clearly a new play Scott Brooks and his staff developed for crunchtime situations to get Kevin Durant the ball in a workable spot on the floor. And it’s been one of the most successful sets OKC has late in games. Excellent play, really. Very effective.
But the way the Thunder ran it Wednesday against Brooklyn had a small wrinkle: Normally Kevin Martin would be the player delivering the ball to Kevin Durant as Westbrook set a down screen on his man, but this time, it was Kendrick Perkins.
It’s not uncommon for Westbrook to slip on the down screen; he’s done that before. But the difference here was how much earlier the Thunder went to this set, and again, Perk being the delivery man. Also, a third change: Normally the Thunder run the set on the other side of the floor. I don’t know if last night was just happenstance, or an actual change in the set to maybe make it seem like a new play to the Nets.
Here’s how it starts: Westbrook hands the ball to Perk as Westbrook takes off to set a very obvious, demonstrative screen on Durant’s man. Another difference in using Perk as the delivery mechanism: He’s much closer to the basket. When Martin is doing the passing, he’s out past the 3-point line.
Key to the slip: Space. Look at the lane. It’s completely unobstructed. With Thabo in the corner and Serge Ibaka backed out near the 3-point line keeping Kris Humphries attention because of his ability at a spot-up jumpshooter, Westbrook has ample amount of space to dive down the lane.
Then it’s just a matter of timing and delivery. Lopez isn’t pressure the ball much because why would he, it’s Kendrick Perkins near the 3-point line and Deron Williams is caught in between trying to decide whether or not to hedge off and help on Durant as he comes off Westbrook’s pick, or stick to Westbrook.
Here’s what I find interesting about the way the Thunder ran this last night: They totally set it up the play before. They ran it with Durant receiving from Perk, to which KD turned the ball over by dribbling it off Gerald Wallace’s leg, but the play was definitely planted in Brooklyn’s mind. With the precise timing that Perk and Westbrook executed this, it makes me thing this wasn’t simply a read, but a straight call. Like a football team running a bubble screen a couple times before pumping it and going long.
(Also, how perfect was Perk’s pass? It was straight right on the money. He put it on Westbrook’s left hand, on time and in rhythm. He kind of passed Westbrook open. Manning-like.)
The Thunder ran the other variation of it with Martin passing against the Mavs in overtime the other night and it led to an easy Westbrook dunk. In that case, it clearly looked to be more of a read and react thing rather than a straight play call. Maybe not though.
Either way, it’s a very pretty option off of one of the Thunder’s go-to sets. With the little slip wrinkle, it keeps the defense honest from over-helping on Durant. Good stuff.
(Note: Since I wrote about the Thunder’a backcut lob play between Westbrook and Durant, they’ve connected on precisely zero of them. I take full responsibility.)