Scoring Within the Flow of the Offense
Steven Adams is no stranger to handling transitions – this year with the Thunder will be the fourth different team in the fourth different league he’s played for in as many years. After leaving his native New Zealand to play for Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts, Adams played one season at the University of Pittsburgh before being drafted number 12 overall by the Thunder in June’s 2013 NBA Draft.
A summer of intense workouts, Summer League and acclimation to Oklahoma City has culminated in this month’s training camp, where Adams is fitting in nicely. While he got to play with a few of his new teammates over the summer, the entire squad is now in the building, battling together as brothers.
“It’s fun,” Adams said. “Just having everyone there, you get the whole team feel. You get to pick everyone’s brain and you get the chemistry going.”
The true 7-footer averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game during his one year at Pittsburgh, while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and blocking just over two shots per game. The Thunder is pleased that it can get the young Adams, who has 18 siblings, into its development system early in the arc of his overall basketball experience.
Finishing around the rim, setting solid screens and running the floor will be required of Adams on the offensive end as his overall game evolves and grows, but the first step for Adams is to get a feel for the defensive side of the ball where his size and natural gifts will give him a leg up as he learns from veterans on the roster.
“It’ll probably be Perkins and Nick Collison, and Serge Ibaka with just the defensive side of things,” Adams said when asked who his biggest influences will be. “They know the system more than me. This is all new territory for me, so all I want to do is try to get their knowledge.”
What makes an offense prolific isn’t necessarily the talents of the individuals with the ball in their hands. It’s how the ball finds its way into the hands of one of those talented players in the best possible position to score.
The Thunder is coming off a 2012-13 season where its offense was one of the most high-scoring and dangerous in the league, scoring the third most points per game, shooting at the second-highest clip from the field and the third best three-point shooting percentage. Over the past two weeks of training camp, the Thunder has been working diligently to find a way to improve its offense from last season and turn it into an even more efficient, productive machine. On Thursday, guard Reggie Jackson explained how playing within the flow of the offensive system can help make a much smoother product in the half-court.
“We’re trying not to play as much one-on-one,” Jackson said. “We’re just trying to play more free flowing and let the offense score for us rather than necessarily always do it by talent. We know that once you get later into the Playoffs, it’s harder to win like that. We’re just trying to make the offense score for us and get better at moving the ball.”
Before Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team even attempts to put the ball in the basket, it’s entire offense is predicated on what it does on the defensive end. By leading the league in combined steals and blocks last season, the Thunder created ample opportunities for itself by making those possession-changing plays. Forcing a low shooting percentage, boxing out and snagging defensive rebounds can lead to a chance for a great outlet pass and the start of a transition opportunity.
The Thunder loves to get out and run considering the athletes it has on the roster who combine length, size and quickness to create buckets in the open floor. When the defense is set, however, Brooks’ team has to do some extra work in the halfcourt to find easy avenues to the rim. As Jackson described, the Thunder has to stay consistent and dedicated to its core offensive principles on each possession.
“Make sure you help your teammate get a basket,” Brooks said. “We do a lot of things that allow that to happen… You run your offense and your offense has to score for you. We have some talented players who can put the ball on the floor, but we have to put them in positions where they have good spacing.”
“There’s execution on both ends of the floor,” Brooks continued. “To execute on offense, the timing and spacing has to be good for it to work. The tempo of the offense has to work. The spacing of the floor has to be spaced out equally. Our guys have done a good job of understanding that and improving throughout the years.”
With a large percentage of its offense in the halfcourt coming through pick-and-rolls, it may seem from afar that the Thunder runs more sets than a continuous system. However, there are always counter actions behind the play and on the weakside that are setting up the next set of pick-and-roll opportunities, cutting lanes and swing passes. When ball-handlers like Jackson or Kevin Durant has the ball, many of the defenses’ eyes are glued to them, but it is what the other four offensive players are doing that can make the difference between a tough shot and an easy one.
“It’s just moving and cutting without the ball,” Perkins said. “Running our sets and playing for each other, making the cut for somebody else to get open or screening for somebody else to get a shot. If Coach draws up a play for any one of us, that doesn’t mean we have to take the shot. It means, make the best play, make the best move. It means just playing through the system and playing for each other.”
Each season, the dynamic of an NBA team changes, and with it, so do the specifics of its offensive and defensive systems. While the Thunder will maintain its core beliefs about pushing tempo and sharing the ball on offense, players are constantly developing, improving and filling slightly different roles. As the Thunder heads into the 2013-14 season, even players like Kevin Durant are capable of new abilities, giving the team a wider variety of options in terms of how it will execute throughout the year.
“We have to change some things up with how we play,” Durant said. “I think Coach is putting in some great offense for us. Everybody is touching the ball. We’re moving it a little bit more and we’re finding the open shot. We’re just trusting our offense.”