Oklahoma City Thunder Playbook


A few weeks ago, I wrote about Billy Donovan’s playbook and how I thought the Thunder would utilize it. After watching two games (others were either not televised or I couldn’t watch them for one reason or another), we have at least some video on how Donovan sees his playbook best fitting the roster. Here are just a few of the sets from Tuesday night’s game against the Utah Jazz.

In OKC’s “Flat” set (three players along the baseline and a pick-and-roll at the top of the key), I suggested using Serge as the screener and shooters in the corners. However, Donovan adjusted by using Adams as the main screener with a twist.

Andre Roberson is in the top corner, and while he is a bad three-point shooter, it’s difficult for his defender to help off from the ball side. In the opposite corner, Ibaka — a 40.5 percent 3-point shooter from the corner last season — is set, waiting for a pass from Russell Westbrook.

While this particular play ended with a missed floater from Westbrook, Donovan has Kevin Durant float to the top of the key. If Westbrook is unable to create his own shot, find Adams on the roll or hit one of the two shooters in the corner, his next option is to find Durant at the top of the key. Durant will then have the ball in one of his favorite areas with the advantage of a scrambling defense in front of him. No player is better in isolation situations than Durant, and even a defense as stout as Utah’s has trouble stopping opponents after a rotation or two.

In a variation of a Horns set (a big man on each elbow), OKC uses their personnel to their advantage. Adams is a good screen-setter, Ibaka is dangerous on the catch-and-shoot, Westbrook and Durant are always threats to score and Dion Waiters remains in motion.

Westbrook passes to Adams on the elbow, and Waiters runs off a Durant screen to fill the corner. Ibaka then sets a backscreen for Westbrook which causes a problem for the Jazz defense. If Derrick Favors stays too close to Ibaka, Westbrook will have an easy layup off the screen. If Favors helps off Ibaka too far:

Ibaka, one of the best mid-range shooters in the league, has an open shot from the top of the key.

But there is one more thing that happens in this set. Durant, who for the duration of the set was positioned on the block, becomes one of the most dangerous decoys in the league. Upon Ibaka receiving the ball at the top of the key, Durant sets a screen on Rudy Gobert. Much like Favors’ tough decision, Gordon Hayward has to decide whether to help off Durant and stop Adams from getting to the rim, or to stick with Durant and hope Gobert can navigate his way around the screen.

Moments after Ibaka releases his shot, we can see Hayward chose to stay with Durant. If Ibaka didn’t have an open shot, Adams could have scored the easiest two points of his career. As it turns out, Ibaka misses the shot, but process over results.

One of the many sets I didn’t talk about in the previous post is the “Twirl”. This set starts as shown, but then the two players on the outside run off screens to the opposite wing. Anthony Morrow runs through the paint below the two big men, and Durant runs off the two screens above the two big men.

The Jazz do a good job denying Durant the ball off the screens, so Ibaka and Adams turn their attention to Morrow to get him free. Cameron Payne hits Morrow immediately off an Adams’ screen, and if Morrow’s defender isn’t trailing him closely, it could be a good look for the Thunder’s best three-point shooter.

Joe Ingles trails Morrow and doesn’t allow him to get a shot off. Durant then runs along the baseline using two more screens set by Ibaka and Adams to receive the ball in the mid-range.

More from Thunderous Intentions

This is the major difference between the Thunder this year and in previous years. Durant used to receive the ball in a similar position off a simple down or cross screen. But on this particular play, Durant has switched sides of the floor twice, has run off two different sets of double screens and now has the ball in a position that puts his defender in a bad spot. As you can imagine, it did not end well for the Jazz.

It’s only the preseason, but Donovan has all of the tools to keep even the best defenses guessing. But if he ever runs out of things to try, he could always force opponents to look at Kyle Singler‘s hair.

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