Memphis thwarting Thunder offense in “Horns” set

A quick glance at Russell Westbrook’s line of 9-23 shooting and six assists against seven turnovers underscores how negatively he impacted the Thunder’s offense Sunday night. While most people are pinning (rightfully so) OKC’s Game 1 demise to the combination of Memphis’ hot-shooting and lackluster defense, the Thunder’s lack of offensive execution was just as much to blame.

With 2:21 left in the 2nd quarter and OKC trailing 54-38, ABC came back with a “Wired” segment that featured Thunder coach Scott Brooks imploring his team to be patient on offense and allow their offensive sets time to develop. While Brooks was addressing the whole team, he may as well just been staring directly at Westbrook.

One of the sets OKC struggled to execute starts in a “Horns” alignment that starts with Durant receiving a wide pin down on the wing. This is a relatively simple action seen at all levels, but with someone as skilled as Durant, it puts quite a strain on even the best defenses:

As Westbrook brings the ball toward the key, Durant comes off the screen from Perkins and his options are seemingly limitless. He can quickly catch and shoot, unleashing one of his deadly jumpers, or tight curl around the screener and attack the rim with one (or no) dribbles due his freakish length. And if defense focuses too much on him, he can simply fire a pass to a slipping screener for an easy bucket at the rim:

Since most teams ask their defenders to trail good shooters like Durant, they are then forced to offer curl protection with their bigs. Durant will then respond by tight curling around the screen, dragging both his defender (X3) and the screener’s defender (X5) with him as he cuts toward the rim and out toward the corner:

With the left side of the floor now open the second action in this set begins. Perkins will sprint into a ball screen at the top for Westbrook. X5 (usually Marc Gasol) now has to quickly change his focus from bumping Durant’s cut, to getting himself into a position to challenge the explosive Westbrook coming off the screen at the top:

To avoid hitting the rolling Perkins for an easy lay-up, X4 (Randolph) now has to sink in while Serge Ibaka executes a roll-replace action to free himself for an open 16-19ft jumper behind the play.

OKC had trouble running this action last night for two reasons. The first was a tactical decision made by the Memphis coaching staff. Grizzlies defensive ace Tony Allen would muscle up Durant and not let him get to the screen. He would line up on his outside shoulder (the one closest to the sideline), get chest to chest and deny him to getting to Perkins’ screen. This forced Durant into either trying to attempt a backcut or lob, before just simply releasing toward the other side of the floor and allowing Perkins and Westbrook to get to the screen and roll:


The second, and perhaps most pronounced reason, was that Westbrook consistently rushed parts of this action, sometimes even failing to let the play even begin. While he should continue to look to be aggressive in transition and post ups on the offensive end, Westbrook needs to show more maturity in his overall decision-making in the half-court come Game 2. To avoid being on the wrong end of another turnover-marred loss, the young Thunder must be patient.

Twitter: @BKoremenos

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