Durant’s Post-Up Game Aided by Spacing

As team leaders mature, so does the style of play on the basketball court.

Over the past five years that the Thunder has been in Oklahoma City, young, core team members like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been harnessing their skills and developing them towards total team concepts. That work is shown every day as Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad spends time on its defensive principles, but it is also paying dividends on offense. The team’s spacing, movement without the ball and diversity in offensive sets are all improving.

“I’m excited about what we’re doing offensively,” Brooks said. “We’re really understanding spacing much better. That’s taken many, many years, many hours of work… There are a lot of moving parts to every offensive set. We have a lot of guys that create and can be a moving part with the ball... Our spacing is really good and our timing is much better. It’s still something that we have to keep working on.”

In terms of offensive creativity, the Thunder has its traditional early offense options and the pick-and-roll, but is also developing a post-up game for Durant. Brooks said that his three-time All-NBA performer is becoming even more effective when receiving the ball in the lane or just outside the block with his back to the basket. He can either face up and shoot a jumper, back in and shoot a fade-away or go to either side with a little jump hook, and Durant is becoming more comfortable each day with it.

“I feel good with it, I think that coach is putting me down there a little bit more,” Durant said. “It’s on me just to finish. Sometimes I could make better moves and better shots, but I think I’m progressing and that’s the best thing about it. It’s not just me catching and scoring, it’s me kicking out for an open jump shot or me hitting a cutter. I just have to do a better job of seeing the floor and taking my time with it, and hopefully I’ll get better at it.”

Even the act of creating that post-up opportunity is one that has taken time to develop and improve. The location, timing, point in the shot clock and angle of the pass all determine how effective Durant can be on the low block. Fortunately, Brooks has a diligent playmaker in Westbrook to work every single day to find new and better ways to get his dynamic scorer the ball in a threatening position. In general, Brooks wants to get Durant the ball in the secondary break instead of waiting for a traditional five-on-five half-court set.

“I’ve always felt the best post up is early, in transition, because the defense is not set,” Brooks said. “You can get deeper into the post. Kevin does a good job of reading that. Russell does a good job of seeing if he’s open or has a matchup that we like and want to go at. It’s all part of the game that we’ve been much better this year with.”

“The post-up is a different spot for us,” Brooks continued to explain. “It’s not really at the block, it’s a few feet off the block. That’s where Kevin is at his best because he can face up and beat you off the dribble with one dribble and get to the basket either way. It allows him to make easy passes out of the post. It’s a learning process with him and it has taken years to develop that and he’s still developing it.”

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Durant’s post-up game has been his ability to find open teammates with either a diagonal cross-court pass for an open three-pointer or a crisp bounce pass to a cutter going to the basket. A key for this Thunder team over the years as it has proceeded to send Durant to the post more has been the spacing by the other four men on the floor. With proper spacing, the decisions Durant has to make with the ball become much easier because both passing and driving lanes are created.

“We’re just trying to get everybody space to operate, especially Kevin (Durant), (Kevin) Martin, even Serge (Ibaka) on the block,” Westbrook said. “You need to give guys space to operate, and I think we’re doing a better job of moving without the ball, cutting and spacing out.”

When opponents double-team Durant, he can simply assess where the help is coming from, then make the pass to the open man. If he starts to dribble and the defense collapses, he can find a teammate in an advantage situation to create a two-on-one for an easy bucket. All of these options are aided by the fact that both Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin have been dead-eye shooters from three-point land so far this season, Kendrick Perkins continues to set solid off-ball screens to free up teammates and the duo of Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison has been lights out finishing around the rim from midrange.

“We have so many guys that can catch and shoot, catch and cut,” Durant said. “Thabo has opened it up for me a lot. I think he’s the guy that has opened it up the most with his three-point shot, the way he’s shooting it. His cutting game, people have to be aware of him… Guys are making the right plays and it’s on me to make the right ones with the ball and also make a strong shot.”