Balanced Attack: Pushing in Transition vs. Working the Clock

The Thunder’s offense has been spectacular so far this season, scoring 110.1 points per 100 possessions (second best in the NBA) while shooting 47.6 percent from the field.

Part of the reason has, of course, been the incredible playmaking prowess of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Another reason has been the offensive concepts that Head Coach Billy Donovan has helped implement, putting his players in positions to make easy decisions.

By utilizing both sides of the floor and occupying all five defenders with something to do on each possession, the Thunder can wear down opponents if it moves bodies and the ball the right way. Although there are certainly exceptions like when Durant and Westbrook have the ball in their hands and open space, or a dead-eye shooter like Anthony Morrow has an uncontested three-pointer, the Thunder wants to get into some action offensively to generate catch-and-shoot looks.

“Anytime you’re dribbling into a shot, it’s always a lot more challenging,” Donovan said. “There are exceptions to the rule. Kevin is an exception to the rule with the way he shoots the ball, his range and how efficient he is.”

What the Thunder wants to prevent are the possessions that involve no passes, that don’t move the defense and don’t force the majority of the opponents’ defenders to have to be engaged in the play. The more that the defense’s players have to move on defense, they’ll be more likely to have a breakdown in coverage, more likely to be out of position for a rebound and less likely to be primed to sprint into the open floor for a transition bucket.

Sometimes, the best defense is good offense. If the Thunder is running crisp, effective sets and either scoring or putting the defense out of balance, it will have a better chance to get back and set up its own five-man defensive shell.  

“It puts more pressure on the back end of your defense if you don’t come up with your rebound or you don’t make the shot,” Donovan explained.

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Aiming for Consistent Defense in Gray Areas

One common theme for the Thunder throughout the course of the season has been continually finding ways to clean up on the defensive end. During stretches of the year rebounding, three-point defense and getting back in transition have been areas where the team has had to devote special attention.

During certain times, however, the defense has been more than solid – recent examples include the second half in Golden State when Donovan’s club held the Warriors below 40 percent shooting and only 43 points. On Monday in Phoenix, the first and fourth quarters were excellent defensively for the Thunder.

“We show really good signs. The thing for us defensively is getting more consistent,” Donovan said. “There are things we need to get better at and improving on. They’re working at it, and that’s all you can ask them to do.”

For the most part, Donovan described, the Thunder has done a solid job in the half court defending opposing teams’ set plays and initial actions. Scramble situations, transition recovery and rotations after switches have been some of the “gray areas” where the Thunder has been hurt this year. Spending time in practice, watching film and honing the right instincts are all ways that players are working to be more solid.  

“It’s the familiarity and getting comfortable with things that are randomly happening are split second decisions and choices that these guys have to make,” Donovan said. “There are times where in transition guys are coming down the floor and trying to figure out how we’re matching up and trying to communicate, talk and work through those things.”