February 9, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (left) high-fives guard James Harden (right) during the second quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Power Balance Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Kevin Durant and James Harden running the two-man game

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been struggling lately, only winning four of their last nine games. They’ve struggled to find scoring from anyone other than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

At HoopSpeak, Beckley Mason wrote this post about the Dallas Mavericks and their two-man game with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry and then suggested Oklahoma City try a similar version with James Harden and Durant.

The Thunder use Durant as a screener some but it is usually with Westbrook. They’ve run the Durant-Westbrook pick-and-pop very often in crunch time this season and have had pretty good success with it.

But Westbrook isn’t the greatest decision maker in pick-and-roll situations. He usually looks to be predetermined with where he is going to go with the ball. He’s so athletic that often it doesn’t matter but it makes you wonder if Harden and Durant would be a better fit with Westbrook off the ball.

Harden is currently third in the NBA in points per possession in the pick-and-roll at 1.06. He’s also demonstrated a great ability to read the defense in the pick-and-roll and make quality passes that lead to assists. He does this the best with Nick Collison.

Most of the instances when Durant and Harden have been involved in a pick-and-roll together this season it has been Harden looking for Durant on the pop for a jumper. They normally run it with Harden starting near the top of the key and Durant coming up from the side to set the pick. Then Durant will roll back toward the top of the key for the catch-and-shoot.

When Westbrook and Durant run it, Westbrook starts on the wing usually and Durant is popping back to the wing.

We know that Durant is one of the best in the league at catching and shooting and he also has a PPP of 1.1 as the roll man. And he is at his best shooting from the top of the key, just left of the center of the floor. When he runs the pick-and-pop with Harden that is where he gets to for his shot. Also, the entire left side of the floor opens up for Harden, the lefty who is so good at finishing on that side.

Another option that would open up from this set is Westbrook on the opposite wing playing off the ball. I’ve writer before how Westbrook is one of the best in the league at playing off the ball with his ability to penetrate so quickly after the catch. After a Harden pass to Durant on the pop at the top of the key, Durant swinging the ball to Westbrook would open up quick penetration or Durant to be used as the screener again for Westbrook.

It would make sense to see this set more often from the Thunder especially in the fourth quarter. There have been games this season where Scott Brooks has called upon Harden to take over the ball handling late in games. But Harden has struggled somewhat lately only averaging 13.0 points per game over his last eight.

With five games left in the regular season the Thunder are in second-place in the Western Conference but within a game of the San Antonio Spurs for the top seed.

Tags: James Harden Kevin Durant Russell Westbrook

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