Mar. 27, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates with point guard Russell Westbrook (0) after Westbrook hit a three point shot during the fourth quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Westbrook scored 32 points as the Thunder won the game 109-95. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE
The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs will begin the Western Conference Finals Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. EST on TNT.
The Thunder and Spurs are playing better basketball than anyone right now and their offenses are two of the best as well.
The Thunder and Spurs both have very efficient offenses but do it in different ways. The Spurs incorporate every player on the court and simply play beautiful “basketball” while the Thunder become efficient from their ability to overwhelm their opponent with talent from their big three.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are quickly becoming one of the best trios in the NBA, especially on offense.
The Thunder have gotten a bad reputation that they don’t really run much offense. This was certainly the case last season with them being so isolation heavy and unable to get into sets early in the shot clock but they have improved quite a bit in that department this season.
They do still rely a lot on isolation scoring only it isn’t as much of a last resort for them anymore. They are better at getting their best players to areas on the floor where they are best at scoring.
Durant is their best player and will be San Antonio’s number one priority to stop on defense. The Thunder like to try and get Durant post touches early on but usually end up going away from that as the game goes on.
Durant is one of the deadliest perimeter shooters in the league and won’t hesitate to pull the trigger right on the catch and that is when he is at his best. When the Thunder are able to create shots for him rather than having Durant create his own shot, they are at their best.
When the Thunder struggle going to Durant it is usually when he has a physical defender on him. Durant will be working off the ball to come off screens to get open and if he can’t create space it will often turn into an isolation play at the top of the key. Durant can still be effective this way but it definitely is not ideal for the Thunder.
They also use Durant as a screener some with Westbrook. This can work well mainly because it gets Durant on the move and his defender has less time to react to his move. This would be more effective if Westbrook had more point guard in his DNA and since he doesn’t, his decision in the pick-and-roll is often predetermined making the play less deadly.
Westbrook is still a beast in the pick-and-roll himself and has really turned it up in the playoffs. Westbrook’s bread and butter is his pull-up jump shot from midrange. He will always look for this first in transition and if he has space coming off a pick he likes this shot best as well.
Taking away Westbrook’s rhythm and making him go to his second and third option in his mind is how you beat him. Westbrook is an incredible athlete who can do amazing things in the air but he is less efficient than you’d think attacking the basket. He is a lot of times reckless in doing so and more concerned about drawing the foul than finishing.
If Westbrook looks comfortable and is hitting his jump shot, any team is in trouble guarding him. When he is going a hundred miles an hour, it is not ideal for OKC.
Harden has come along this season to really provide the balance to Westbrook’s frenetic play. No player is more under control than Harden and it has gone a long way this season to improve this Thunder offense.
Harden only does a few things on offense though and one thing much more than anything else: pick-and-roll ball handler. This is the Thunder’s offense when Durant and Westbrook are out. They simply bring Harden a screen at the top of the key and have him go to work. There is no mystery except of course for Harden’s beard.
Spurs fans will recognize Harden’s game immediately as it so closely mirrors Manu Ginobili’s. The lefty Harden always wants to finish on that side but can eurostep either way if he needs to. When Harden gets momentum, no defense has a chance against him.
The key to stopping Harden is getting the ball out of his hands quickly. The teams that have the most success against him have sold out doubling him off the picks he receives. Also, luring Harden into shooting too many 3-pointers is better than letting him see space and get creative attacking the paint.
Durant and Westbrook may be the Thunder’s best two players but OKC is at their best when the rock is in Harden’s hands. He does a better job than the other two of incorporating other Thunder players too and that’s when they really are impossible to stop.
At the end of the day though, the best Thunder offense starts on defense. If they are getting stops and actively team rebounding, they are as good as anyone in transition and that will be key for OKC if they are to win this series.
The two best teams in the NBA will begin their series Sunday night. No prediction would be too farfetched. All anyone should do now is sit back and enjoy it.