One. Too Many Isolation Plays
An isolation play is simply when a player takes his man one-on-one to try and score a basket. Kevin Durant is a fantastic player. No one can or will dispute that. However, his talents are not maximized in isolation plays. Durant’s height, quickness and ability to hit shots from all spots on the floor make him a tough cover for any player in the league.
The Thunder should be running plays that increase the effectiveness of Durant’s talents. Although Durant is currently leading the league in isolation field goal percentage, many of the spots from where he is shooting are very low percentage. Many times Durant will receive a pass late in the shot clock after working his way to the top side of his man, which forces him to take his man off the dribble or shoot his new Dirk shot. If I was to list the top five aspects of Durant’s game, I don’t know if I would have ball handling or one-legged-fall-away jumpers listed.
In the first game versus Orlando, the Thunder did a great job moving the ball, hitting open cutters and finding the roller on the pick-n-roll. In the past few games, the team has gone away from what worked so well the first couple of games. With two days of much needed practice, I expect the Thunder to focus on ball movement. As long as the first team offense can get the ball to Durant on the move (and not stationary at the top of the key), I think the Thunder can get their offense on track again. Durant excels when he shoots the ball in rhythm and also when he gets the ball in space. Durant hasn’t received very many passes that meet those particular criteria the past few games.
The Thunder definitely wants the ball in Durant’s hand as much as possible. He has improved his play-making ability, especially in transition. I look forward to Scott Brooks addressing this issue and seeing improvements this weekend.
Two. Seven Games in Ten Nights
Let’s face it – the schedule has been brutal. The Thunder has played Orlando, Dallas (twice) and Memphis, all of which were playoff teams a year ago. Plus, Minnesota gave the Thunder all they could handle with their much-improved roster. The only real cupcake game in this stretch was Phoenix.
The Thunder looked like a team that may have had dead legs last night. Durant, Cook, Westbrook and Harden were all missing shots that they usually make. The game was not very high energy, which played to the advantage of both Dallas (on Monday) and Portland (last night). Both those teams like to slow opponents down in the half-court, where as the Thunder will run you out of the gym.
I would like to say that the schedule gets better from here, but I would be lying if I did. Friday starts a stretch of five games in six nights, which includes a back-to-back-to-back. The 66-game schedule is fast and furious. The players need to take care of their bodies and be ready to play every night.
Three. Defensive Rebounding
Chuck mentioned this during his live tweets of the Portland game. The Thunder has such a glaring deficiency on the defensive glass. Opponents are getting way too many offensive rebounds and second chance points. I can’t quite put my finger on the root of the problem. I need to re-watch a few of the games to get a better handle on it, but it seems like the Thunder are struggling to box out on the weak side.
Sometimes unfavorable matchups are the cause of the poor rebounding. When the Thunder’s offense sputters, Brooks sometime goes with a smaller lineup to spark the offense. This creates matchups where Cook or Harden is forced to block out a player like LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is a tough block out assignment for Collision and Ibaka let alone Harden or Cook. However, the smaller lineup has created success on offense, so Brooks has to be smart when and for how long he chooses to go small.
This is another area on which I expect Brooks to focus during the next two days of practice. Rebounding comes down to effort and technique. I fully expect the players to give out full effort going forward. The Thunder just needs to focus on some fundamental techniques and the team will see improvement.