Film Room: Russell Westbrook defensive rebounds key to control series pace

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 9: Russell Westbrook
MIAMI, FL - APRIL 9: Russell Westbrook /

The Utah Jazz are experts at systematically slowing opponent’s down. For the OKC Thunder to pick up easy transition points, Russell Westbrook will need to push the pace off defensive rebounds.

Today, the Thunder begin their championship hunt against the Utah Jazz. For Westbrook, it’s the perfect matchup for him to prove his naysayers wrong.

Utah represents a conundrum for the Thunder. OKC’s half-court offense will likely struggle against the Jazz’s top-ranked defense. This means the Thunder need to ramp up pace to find easy transition baskets. The problem? the Utah Jazz are one of the best in the game at slowing the pace down.

Meticulous pace-slayers

This clip here encapsulates at least three things the Jazz do to stretch each possession.

First, watch how hard they hustle back on defense. Every Blazer player has his defender running two steps ahead of him. Secondly, Rudy Gobert loves hanging back in the paint on pick-and-rolls.

Because of that, opponents struggle to run any drive-and-kick offense that generates quick shots. Lastly, see how even when the Jazz get out and run, they are more than happy to slow the game down to find the right shot. Against the Jazz, easy fast break baskets are almost mission impossible.

Comfort in the half-court

On paper, the Jazz seem like the kind of team with a splashy offense. After all, it’s easy to imagine Ricky Rubio spraying passes towards Gobert’s high-flying antics and Donovan Mitchell’s perimeter sniping. But, the scouting film points to a very different picture.

Utah actually run a far more conservative offense. They avoid the kind of flashy cross-court passes that play into the Thunder’s length. Instead, they rely on a host of screening and hand off action to generate looks.

Run Brodie Run

As such, because of Utah’s “no-freebie” approach, the Thunder need to work hard to create their own quick shots. The key to that is Russell Westbrook’s defensive rebounding.

More from Thunderous Intentions

Look at how the Jazz rebound. Quin Synder is essentially choosing to give up offensive rebounding for transition defense. This is an opportunity for the Thunder.

All season long, the Thunder have actually worked according to that template. Steven Adams is in charge of boxing out opposing big men. Meanwhile, Westbrook gets the chance to inhale easy defensive rebounds and push the ball.

Make a statement

Chances are, the Thunder are going to have to play Utah’s game and bump and grind their way to the second round. There will only be so many opportunities for OKC to get out and run. But, when they can, they must.

In the playoffs, every possession counts. And so, if the Thunder want to pick up easy buckets, encouraging Russell Westbrook to snag defensive rebounds will be key.

Next: Russ' season more than the triple-doubles 

This OKC-Utah series might be the closest one across the playoffs. Even if it ends up just working out for a few baskets, Russell Westbrook’s rebounding aggressiveness could be the difference between an embarrassing first-round exit and the chance to a revenge match.