It’s pretty much the perfect Thunder play. It involves Nick Collison displaying textbook fundamentals, and Kevin Durant throwing down a viscous dunk.
What more could you want?
Collison has assisted on Durant baskets 31 times this season, and I’m guess half of them have come on some variation of this play. Collison is a bit of a backdoor passing maven (he used to have a great connection with James Harden doing it — sigh), and hooking him up with Durant makes a lot of sense.
The Thunder run this set consistently when they need a bucket — they used it in the fourth quarter against the Pacers after a slow stretch — and do it exclusively in side out-of-bounds situations.
It’s really a painfully simple play. The idea is to use the fear of Durant against the defense, exposing them over-correcting on defending a perimeter jumper. With how good KD is off a simple dribble hand-off, with him a threat to drive or shoot, defenders are paying way too much attention to him circling back up to run a two-man with Collison and not realizing the baseline is completely exposed.
Two keys within this: 1) Spacing and 2) personnel. Having Serge Ibaka standing near his favorite elbow spot pulls his defender (in this case, Melvin Ely, lol) high enough up the lane to make sure he’ll be late on any kind of help once Durant beats his man. And though Thabo Sefolosha hasn’t shot the ball especially well, he’s still someone you have to pay attention to in the corner. So his man, while entirely keen on Durant, can’t suck in too far.
The action starts with Derek Fisher inbounding to Collison, who feints a dribble hand-off. Now, Ely has to pay close attention because Fisher is a good screener and may be going to set a downscreen on him to free Ibaka for something midrange. Or Fisher could’ve gone and set a screen on KD’s man. But he just runs by the hand-off harmlessly, and as you can see, the spacing is perfect, opening up that wide passing lane for Collison to thread.
This is where it just becomes a completely feel and read play between Collison and Durant. Based on how the defense is playing, Durant can either come up for the hand-off from Collison and run a pick-and-roll action, or he can take one false step like he’s coming up for the ball, and leave Quincy Miller in the dust.
That’s why Collison’s one dribble is pretty critical. It’s kind of a timing mechanism, as well as it’s key in freezing that defender. When Collison takes that dribble, Durant makes his cut, and the defender sees things start moving and gets caught napping for that split second. And with Collison’s passing ability and Durant’s first step and finishing ability, that’s all they need.
We’ve seen the Thunder run this both ways. Sometimes, Durant comes up, gets the hand-off and finds himself open for 3 right there. Other times, Collison holds on the hand-off, pivots, uses his big butt to pick Durant’s man as KD curls or pops to the top of the key. Again, because teams respect those things so very, very much, Miller can’t play for the backcut. He has to press high on Durant and try to run between the hand-off between KD and Collison. At least that’s his plan.
All it takes is that one little step and a hard cut, and Miller’s dead, standing in the corner as his man disappears baseline behind him. Anthony Morrow tries to take a step but this is where he contemplates quickly whether he wants to be part of a posterization or not. He wisely decides to stand pat and become an observer to something cool like the rest of us.
The Thunder run this play with what seems to be a ridiculous success rate (watch this one where Collison gets fancy) that it makes me think they should set it up more often. I had this play on NCAA Football 2005 that I could run to perfection, but only if I got to third-and-one. So sometimes, I’d be running for a first down, and I’d veer right out of bounds a yard short so I could run it. The Thunder should start bringing the ball up to that sideline and throwing it off a defender’s leg to set it up.
Just an idea for the playoffs, guys. Take it or leave it.