I joined Henry Abbott for TrueHoop TV today to talk about what the level of concern should be for the Thunder.
I felt serious panic and worry last night after Game 5, and while that still mostly persists, the Thunder still are in fine position. They have to win one of the next two games. The Rockets have to win two of two. It’s kind of as simple as that.
Plus, four additional thoughts on where things stand for the Thunder:
1) Per Synergy, 18.59 percent of the Thunder’s offense in the series is isolation. And of that 18.59 percent, 59 percent of the isolations are from Kevin Durant. He’s scoring 1.24 points per play out of it, which is tremendous, but it’s clear that behind him, there aren’t great options. OKC used 14.25 of their possessions in isolation in the regular season, with KD accounting for 36.86 of those.
The highest percent of OKC’s postseason offense has actually been spot-ups though (23.61 percent), with those very evenly distributed.
The Thunder are running just 13.94 percent of their offense out of the pick-and-roll, which is down from 19.05 percent in the regular season. Durant is the top playoff pick-and-roll initiator, accounting for 33.33 percent of them, while he was involved in 22.28 during the regular season. In the regular season, Westbrook accounted for 37.31 percent of OKC’s pick-and-rolls.
So essentially, OKC’s offense is this: Durant isolating, and then kicking to a spot-up shooter. That’s it. But really, so is Houston’s offense. Their offense actually has a higher percentage of isolations than OKC’s.
What can the Thunder do different here? I’d suggest more pick-and-roll. Not necessarily with Durant, but with Kevin Martin — who is an underrated pick-and-roll player — and Reggie Jackson. The Thunder need to be more creative in how they spread the ball. Serge Ibaka got most of his clean mid-range looks on pick-and-pop action set up by Westbrook. Why isn’t Jackson producing some of those same looks?
2) Re-watching the tape of Game 5, I really feel like there were some positive signs in OKC’s offense. The team had 20 assists, with Durant accounting for seven of those. And he set up both Martin and Sefolosha for, by my count, six more very open outside looks they missed. Had the Thunder shot the ball better, Durant might’ve had 12 or 13 assists, and the Thunder’s offense would’ve looked much more effective.
It’s easy to point at offense being bad just based on the output and production of it. Which yeah, is the final say of it. But I could see some offensive adjustments in there. Durant was using a high screen at times and looking to beat his man, draw help from a weakside corner, and kick to where the help came from. In some ways, it was the Miami LeBron offense. Except KD was kicking to Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha, not Ray Allen and Shane Battier.
3) A bolder adjustment: Play Perry Jones. He’s a rookie and he might be completely overwhelmed, because stupidly, he didn’t get near enough playing time in the regular season. But isn’t he a pretty ideal solution to create some space, some offensive options and another pick-and-roll threat? In that Portland game where Ibaka missed, Jones ran pick-and-roll with KD and it had a very good look.
With Jones on the floor, you could potentially outsmall the Rockets. Put Durant at center on Asik and see if he can compete on the boards with him. Let Jones handle the stretch 4 duties and create mismatches on the other end. At least try to force Kevin McHale’s hand. Right now, McHale is dictating all the matchups.
Related to that, and this is even bolder, and somewhat crazy, but would Hasheem Thabeet make some sense here as the lone big? In the regular season, the Thunder basically never used Thabeet as the lone big in a smallball lineup. But with his length and ability to help, he could stick to Asik, compete on the boards and disrupt passing lanes. Now’s not the best time to go experimenting with things you haven’t ever tried, but my point is, more-of-the-same thinking isn’t going to get this done. The Thunder are in uncharted waters already. You’re going to have to think outside of the box here a little with this post-Westbrook roster.
4) The Rockets are killing the Thunder in spot-ups. It’s a simple drive and kick game that’s chewing the Thunder up, similar to what Miami did in the Finals. The Rockets are averaging 1.18 point per play on spot-ups, with Chandler Parsons (1.28), Francisco Garcia (1.36), Carlos Delfino (1.37), Patrick Beverley (1.33) and James Harden (1.25) all doing serious damage.
The adjustment here, to me, is simple: Fix your lineup. You can’t have two big men on the floor at a time, ever. When you had Russell Westbrook ballhawking and flying everywhere, you could get away with it more, plus, he made up for it on the offensive end. Omer Asik is outplaying every Thunder big man, so OKC has to focus on sticking to shooters, and understanding who is going to help off on Harden when he penetrates. Brooks loves to just place defensive blame on “not playing hard enough.” I could have the effort of 100 Russell Westbrook’s but if you told me I had to pass a calculus test right now, I wouldn’t be at all equipped to do it.
I love Perk, and his value in a potential matchup with either the Grizzlies or Clippers will be large, but he has none in this series. He’s too slow to help out on shooters, and can’t leap with Asik on the defensive boards. And with the Rockets using so little pick-and-roll, he’s basically just a helper on dribble penetration, but he’s not athletic enough to recover and protect the rim.
There’s another component to the Thunder’s defense: The Rockets are just making shots. Plain and simple. Some of those deep 3s are well contested. They’re just going in. What are you to do about that? I guess, just hope for that the law of percentages to save you.