Crisp Passing Gets Offense Going

When Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant use a pick and roll screen and drive to the lane, all ten opponents’ eyes laser in on them.

All that attention is why, for the Thunder offense, those two can become playmakers not only for themselves but for their teammates by driving into the paint. Over the last two games, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder squad has 62 assists to only 26 turnovers, while averaging 114.5 points per game in wins over the New Orleans Hornets and Golden State Warriors. While it’s a small sample size, Brooks hopes that his team can use those efforts as a launch pad for future performance.

“The turnovers were down, which is good,” Brooks said. “That’s something that we’ve talked about and try to work on and try to improve in that area. And then our passing. Our ability to make plays, our ability to see the play and our ability to execute the play. Those are the areas that we have to continue to work on.”

Being disciplined with the ball is something the Thunder works on each day in practice, and it’s showing throughout the lineup as the team is averaging 22.4 assists per game, seventh best in the league. The ball security measures are spearheaded by point guard and team leader Russell Westbrook, whose 8.4 assists and 2.8 turnovers would be career-bests if they last throughout the season. Over the past two games, Westbrook has had 19 assists to only three turnovers, feeding bigs like Nick Collison for easy buckets and shooters like Kevin Martin for open three-pointers.

“The last two games have been great,” Collison said. “We’ve passed the ball well and when we’re passing the ball well we have less turnovers because we’re moving it and we’re not trying to make too difficult of plays. We’re making easy passes that lead to another assist sometimes. That’s how we have to play to be successful.”

Westbrook’s drive-and-kick game is being emulated by another Thunder leader, Kevin Durant. The three-time All-NBA performer recorded his first career triple double in Sunday night’s home win over the Warriors, racking up a career-high 10 assists. Coming off screens or beating his man off the dribble has given Durant a chance to make controlled drives into the lane before whipping the ball to the corner for high percentage three-point shots from the likes of Martin and Thabo Sefolosha.

“You try to get deep into the paint and our guys can get (to the paint) pretty quickly,” Brooks said. “We talk about getting there with one or two dribbles. We talk about getting there and making a quick decision. We’ve cut down, the last couple of games, our offensive charges and that has helped… We’re at our best when we’re attacking.”

Durant is also averaging a career-high in assists with 4.6 per game, but his effectiveness can also be attributed to his teammates’ floor spacing, shot-making and screening. The most-run play in the NBA involves that ever-important screening on the ball, the pick-and-roll. When bigs like Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison set those screens it can give Westbrook and Durant avenues of space. If defenders go to the ball-handler, those picks provide open looks for the screener to either shoot or make plays for others.

“We’re working on making the first pass out of the pick-and-roll,” Collison said. “We’ve really worked on hitting the big then playing off of that. It’s something that we’ve practiced. Our guys coming off pick-and-rolls draw a lot of attention, so a lot of times the screener is the first outlet out, then we’re able to make good plays attacking the defense.”