One of the most frustrating things about the Thunder is the inconsistency of their halfcourt offensive execution. Sometimes, it stalls. It gets stagnant. It gets motionless. It gets isolation heavy.
But there are times when the Thunder execute at incredible levels, either because of an impressive individual effort, or because they just ran their set perfectly.
For instance, this set that caught my eye against the Pacers last Friday. They’ve run it quite a bit this season where two bigs come to set a double screen on the ball. Against Indiana though, whether by design, or by high intelligent improvisation, Kevin Durant backcut his man off it and got an easy dunk.
The setup is simple enough. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka both come out to screen Russell Westbrook’s man. Thabo’s in his corner, Durant’s on the wing. Because of the respect Westbrook gets as an attacker, both Ian Mahinmi and David West are paying really close attention to how Westbrook uses these screens.
With Ibaka and Perk coming out though, look at all the room cleared out in the paint. There’s no one home.
The spacing is super key. Because if KD is too close to Westbrook, the passing lane gets choked. Perk and Ibaka do a great job of coming out high enough to clear space for the pass too. So Westbrook basically just has to execute a simply lead bounce pass.
Obviously Paul George has to respect Durant’s outside shooting ability, and he’s also focused on trying to deny him the ball. One small little false step as if KD’s going to come for a dribble hand-ff and Durant’s got George wrong-footed and he’s behind him on a backcut.
It’s all about the timing of the two high screens, the backcut and the pass. Time it all up and you’ve got almost an automatic two points, at least the first time you run it. Because after the defense has seen it, they’re hip to it.
Against the Pacers, the Thunder came right back with the same exact set. George isn’t going to let Durant get that backcut and is sagging off a bit more. So Westbrook uses Ibaka’s screen, with Perk right behind to re-screen Westbrook’s man.
Westbrook splits David West’s hedge, and basically eliminates him from the play. Now Mahinmi has to make a decision. Because Westbrook’s jumper is something to fear, Mahinmi has to step up to respect it. You can see he has all his attention squarely on either contesting Westbrook’s jumper or cutting off his drive.
Because of all that, look at the lane Ibaka has to roll to.
Mahinmi makes his choice and he steps up as Westbrook perfectly makes him commit. Excellent play by Westbrook here.
Problem is, Ibaka doesn’t roll near hard enough. He realizes he’s got a clear path to dive at the rim wayyyy too late. As Mahinmi steps up, it basically clears a highway for Ibaka to sprint at the basket. If he does, Westbrook can either hit him with a lob, or a bounce pass.
Ibaka finally realizes it, but the chance is gone. Mahinmi isn’t even the guy that recovers to break up the play. It’s Westbrook’s man, George Hill.
Thing is, Westbrook still is almost able to squeeze a bounce pass through traffic to Ibaka. Hill is still a fraction behind and if Ibaka is able to just squeeze the ball, he’s got an easy dunk.
I watched this set probably 30 times, and really, it’s one of the more dangerous plays OKC can run I think. Depending on how the defense chooses to defend it, it puts a whole lot of pressure on them. At some point, there’s going to have to be a defender that leaves his man to help. Let’s say Ibaka dives at the rim like he should’ve. If Paul George is alert, he’s going to be forced to abandon Durant to rotate down, otherwise, it’s a dunk. So Westbrook has a kick to an open Durant for an open jumper or 3.
Let’s say West does a better job hedging and forces Westbrook wide. Westbrook could still attack there and try and draw Thabo’s man a little to open a kickout, or Westbrook just tries to turn the corner, and maybe gets a jumper.
Point is this: When the Thunder want to, they can execute some lovely offense. This isn’t an overly complicated set and really, it’s one that works well because of the personnel. Defenses have to respect Westbrook so much, they know they have to glue to Durant and they worry about Thabo/Kevin Martin on the wing. So there are options and with Westbrook’s improved decision-making, options make the Thunder very dangerous.