For fans, dunks are sometimes the most exciting part of a basketball game, but for the Thunder, they can also be the signal of smart, efficient offense.
The Thunder, led by Head Coach Scott Brooks, prides itself on running effective offense in fast break and transition situations, but also in the half-court. A well-known and popular court location for NBA teams to stick high percentage shooters is in the deep corner for three pointers. Those threes are the highest efficiency shots on the court, and last season the Thunder converted 41.1 percent of their corner threes, sixth best in the NBA.
A second, lesser-known spot on the floor is also crucial for the Thunder’s half-court, offensive success. The dunker spot is the area along the baseline that is just outside the lane but not quite in the short corner. During the course of a game, you can often see players lurking in that area, awaiting a pass from a driver. After Friday’s practice, Brooks explained the importance of spacing the floor correctly, particularly getting his guys in the dunker spot.
“We’re also good when we get to what we call the dunker spot, the lower hash mark,” Brooks said. “When we can get our backs to that baseline and are ready to finish with one or two big steps, we’re really good. We have some good players who have improved in that area, and they will continue to improve.”
Last year the Thunder was tied for first in shooting percentage from less than 5 feet from the rim, at a sizzling 62.8 percent. Needless to say, that area of the floor is a high-percentage region, and that means it’s a major focal point for the Thunder’s half-court offense. In fact, Brooks said that his players and coaches spend ten to 15 minutes after each practice working on knocking down corner threes and converting from the dunker spot.
Although dunks can look easy to fans, finishing from the dunker spot can actually be fairly challenging. If executed correctly, however, catching the ball there off a teammate’s drive-and-dish creates an extremely high chance of scoring.
“It is hard to finish because everybody is collapsing on you and you’re so far away from the basket,” forward Kevin Durant explained. “It’s not an easy catch and dunk. You have to be skilled to catch and make movements. Our bigs do a great job of that.”
It is on the pass receiver to hang onto the ball, take the correct type and number of steps and finish with power and accuracy. However, it is also crucial to the timing and effectiveness of the play that whoever is driving with the ball to be precise with the type, pace and location of the pass he delivers to the open man. When players like Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden drive through the lane, they must see which help-side defender is rotating over, then make the correct decision with the ball.
“I just have to be more patient and make the right plays,” Durant said. “The dunker spot down on the baseline and the corner three is something that we always preach. I have to make sure the guys are there and make the right pass, the correct pass and they’ll have a good opportunity to make the shot.”
Whether it is a bounce pass, scoop pass or an alley-oop, players at the dunker spot have to be ready and waiting for any combination of outcomes, then capitalize on the space their driving teammate created for them. In most instances, springy players like Serge Ibaka, Kevin Durant and Perry Jones will slide to that dunker spot, along with smart, veteran big men like Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins. In order to be prepared and to understand the totality of the offense, Brooks has all of his players run through each part of the play.
“Certain guys are going to be in that spot more than others,” Brooks said. “I like to have all players work in those spots… Kevin plays big a lot, so he has to be in the dunker spot. We just mix and match, but for the most part guys know where they need to be and those are the spots they really emphasize their work with.”
As the Thunder enters its “second training camp” over the next six days before it plays its first regular season of the game in San Antonio, finding teammates at the dunker spot will be a daily lesson. It helps that over the past four seasons since the team arrived in Oklahoma City, there has been continuity among the core of the roster and consistency in the training methods of the coaching staff. As a result, Durant and his teammates are more than familiar with where one another should and will be on the floor, which the team hopes will carry over to the 2012-13 campaign.
“Our chemistry has grown,” Durant said. “Having experience with these guys over the last four or five years has been very important for us. Hopefully it helps us out this year.”