The Thunder


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Analyzing the Offense pt. 5 – The Thunder

Background Info

The Thunder’s offense is a mixture of many of the concepts we’ve already seen. They probably have the most diverse offense of the teams we’ve seen so far. They tend to rely mostly on the dribble drive motion offense but they do use some more standard offensive systems. Below we’ll see examples of the Thunder using a 1-4 low set, 1-4 wide box, and double high post. Their offense seems to be a work in development and that leads to some confusion and frustration by the players. Since they use concepts we’ve already seen before we’ll jump into some examples and see what we can learn about their offense from there.

Dribble Drive Motion

We looked at the dribble drive motion offense when we analyzed the Bulls and you’ll remember that the idea is to breakdown the perimeter defense and make offensive motion based on how successful the ballhandler is at penetrating into the lane. The Thunder’s offense is a little different because they have two players that are adept at driving the lane (Deng is okay at dribble penetration but they don’t tend to use him for that). Since they have two dribble penetration options, the Thunder like to screen to open the off-ball player in case he gets better positioning. Let’s look at an example.

Here we see Durant immediately do a screen-the-screener action to try to get open while Westbrook has the ball. He finds himself in the corner and Westbrook appears to have started to break down his man to get in the lane so Durant is satisfied with remaining as merely a passing option for Westbrook when he enters the lane.

They also use each other to create the dribble drive offense. In this clip we see Durant do a quick screen for Westbrook which frees himself up for the pass.

Unlike the Bulls, in general we see less movement by the off ball players. This can really hurt the offense in a few ways.

Confusion

As I mentioned earlier the Thunder have a very dynamic offense, part of the disadvantage to that is it cause confusion. Also, the Thunder off ball players seem to have difficulty knowing where and when to move in the dribble drive motion.

In this clip we see the offense completely stagnate. I think this is caused by a desire for a dribble drive motion offense but Westbrook isn’t trying to get himself open while Durant isn’t actively trying to break down his defender. When the off-ball player between Westbrook and Durant is not trying to get open and the ballhandler doesn’t seem to be breaking down his man, it can confuse the other players on the floor.

We see the same problem here, this time Westbrook is the ballhandler. Nobody is moving because nobody knows exactly what the plan is.

In this clip Westbrook doesn’t fully commit to the penetration, instead he makes the high post pass. Durant is completely out of the play and not trying to get himself open for the swing pass, meanwhile Ibaka rotates into the path of Perkins.

On the other hand, this clip shows Durant utilizing screens while Westbrook has the ball to get himself open. He continues to fight to get open until Westbrook penetrates then finds Sefolosha because he rotated up the perimeter to get himself open when Westbrook entered the drop zone. This is the action that needs to happen consistently in order for the Thunder’s offense to run more smoothly.

Once again Durant is freed up by the low screen. Westbrook should be moving after the pass to make sure he’s an open passing option if Durant needs a kick out but at least Durant freed himself early and was a part of the offense.

Frustration

The confusion created by this offense seems to also frustrate players because they can easily be taken out of the offense. The lack of motion and lack of predictability on the offense combines to make players frustrated by their lack of touches.

Here we see Durant on the weak side wing calling for the ball. His lack of motion to get open and the uncertainty of the motion offense contributes to his lack of touches causing frustration on offense.

Once again Durant is calling for the ball but he’s not moving to open up a better passing lane. We saw in the Mavericks series Jason Kidd guarding Durant at times with fairly good success and part of that reason is Durant will sometimes become stagnant. He lets himself become denied the ball too easily at times and it can limit his offensive opportunities. This isn’t entirely his fault though, the Thunder offense does not work hard enough to get him open looks at times and a good adjustment could be to give him more set plays to make sure he has some open looks. If I am a Thunder fan, I would like to see less dribble drive motion offense and more set plays.

Double High Post

We saw the double high post when we discussed the Heat but the Thunder use this set slightly differently. When we introduced the double high post it was used to free up Wade and Lebron from opposite corners, to give Bosh some high post options, or to set up a two man game between Wade, Lebron, or Bosh. The Thunder seem to use it as a means of cutting across the court with double high screens.

Here we see Durant trying to get open from the double screens created by the double high post set. The other value of this set is it gives Westbrook a screen off the open high post which he utilizes here.

Here the double high post is used to create a double high screen for Westbrook. The Heat don’t use their PG for dribble penetration and thus we don’t see this play as often for them. When we do it’s usually the SG or SF receiving the double screen but it’s a rare play for them.

Lately we’ve seen Ibaka take his open double high post shots and even Perkins has attempted a couple. This might be another threat they’re trying to open up from this set.

1-4 sets/Isolations

The Thunder will sometimes flatten the defense with a 1-4 low set. This gives Westbrook a chance at an isolation play or the counter would be a player popping out to receive the pass.

Here we see the 1-4 low set but instead of a Westbrook isolation drive Collison pops out.

Durant is a unique player because he can be an offensive threat from the perimeter and the post. For that reason they give him two types of isolation plays.

Durant post isolation

Like the other teams we’ve looked at, the Thunder have a post isolation play. Here we see the play for Durant.

Durant high isolation

In the upcoming clip we will see a 1-4 wide box set high isolation for Durant. We haven’t seen this set yet so let’s diagram it.

Just as the name suggests we have a player at the point and four players in a box pattern. The typical 1-4 box looks like this:

You can probably see why the 1-4 wide box set is called wide. The 4 players in a box formation are set at the perimeter to clear the lane.

In our clip we see the 1-4 wide box as a high isolation for Durant.

Conclusion

The Thunder offense is very dynamic and while that can be an advantage it can also be a disadvantage. It can keep the defense guessing but it can also confuse the players on the floor. I am not completely convinced the dribble drive motion offense is the right offense for the Thunder. At the very least it seems to be used more often than it should be. Do you agree? Of the offensive systems we’ve looked at so far, do you think the Thunder have picked the right one or should they use one of our other systems? The Thunder made it to the Western Conference Finals and with some fine tuning of their offense I think they can continue to be a contender for years to come.

Next time we’re going to take a little shift and explore defense. I am leaving town for a few days so I won’t have an opportunity to work on the next post until Wednesday of next week at the earliest. For that reason I am leaning toward covering the defense of the Mavericks and the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals. That may change but we’ll see.

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