The 1-5 pick and roll, with a point guard at the top of the key and a center rushing up to set a screen, is not only the most popular, but the most important play in the game of basketball these days. For the Thunder, it’s a staple, and for good reason. Russell Westbrook is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league, and Steven Adams is perhaps the most robust, capable screener in the NBA. In the second unit, it’s the quick, lanky Jerami Grant rolling to the rim, with both Paul George and Raymond Felton finding him for easy buckets.
The question is, what happens when the opposition takes those plays away?
As the Thunder saw on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors, Thunder opposition has done nearly everything they can to deny passes into the paint for the roll man, in addition to providing length at the rim on drives. The Thunder has options no matter how the opposition plays it, the battle comes in how the team executes.
Thunder Talk: Patrick Patterson - 4/5
“If they don’t clog the paint, then obviously that allows Steven to catch alley-oops or have easy finishes around the rim. Same thing with Jerami,” said reserve forward Patrick Patterson. “If they do clog the paint, that will open up opportunities for shooters around the [perimeter].
“We just gotta be able to set solid screens in order for the defense to have to choose,” Patterson continued, referencing the defense’s need to commit to the ball handler or the big man.
If Westbrook, George or Felton do decide to get rid of the ball in those situations, with opposing defenders crashing into the lane for help, the timing and accuracy of the passes must be pristine. Thunder turnovers that come out of live ball situations can be deadly, so making sure to use pump fakes, head fakes and the right style of pass can be the difference between a giveaway and an easy layup.
“Sometimes we don’t deliver the ball where it needs to be when it needs to be. Sometimes we take shooters out of shots,” Donovan said. “That’s an area that we’ve got to get better at.”
Same goes for the Thunder’s big man if he doesn’t have the shot upon the catch.
“The next step is just skipping the ball,” Grant stated. “It’s nothing that we can’t handle. We’ve seen it all year.”
That decision-making process is a lightning-quick, but crucial one for Thunder big men. When catching the ball between the free throw line and restricted area, Adams and Grant, or anyone rolling off a screen, have a choice to make – take a shot at the rim or read where help defense is coming from and fire a pass to the wing.
Thunder Talk: Jermai Grant - 4/5
“If it’s a smaller defender on you, you can go straight up. If it’s a bigger guy or somebody coming to block the shot, you can kick it out to the open man for the three,” Grant explained.
“Once I get it, I just gotta be able to make a decision,” Grant added. “If they’re collapsing like that, I just make the extra pass to the corner or whoever is open.”
Utilizing this aspect of the offense is part of what ends up generating the best type of open shots from the perimeter for shooters like Patterson, George, Carmelo Anthony and Alex Abrines. If defenses completely sell out in the paint, those shots will be available, but they’re even better when they come off a touch from Adams or Grant.
Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan - 4/5
- Over the past few years, Steven Adams has honed a skill that former Thunder stalwart Kendrick Perkins taught him. As Adams runs up towards Russell Westbrook to set a screen, sometimes he’ll notice his own defender a bit ahead of him, and screen that man instead of Westbrook’s defender. It used to really irk Adams when Perkins would do that to him in practice, so the Kiwi center has used that move to his advantage, albeit no more than once a game. Westbrook is typically able to read Adams’ plan and blow past his own defender to get a free lane to the rim.
- “You just kind of throw it into the game, just seeing, reading what my guy’s doing,” Adams began. “If they’re up too high, if they get too keen on the pick and roll coverage, if they jump ahead of me.”
- “Guards, most of them, they don’t want to press up into (Westbrook), because they really get smashed after a while,” Adams continued. “As soon as (the defender) jumps on the side of it, (Westbrook) goes. His speed, ability to turn the corner and just go downhill from there makes it ideal.”
- With three games left in the regular season for the 45-34 Thunder, every opportunity on the court is a step toward a potential playoff berth, and specific seeding. Most other teams remaining in the playoff race have four games remaining. The Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers are all within three games of one another in the standings – eight teams duking it for six playoff spots. The Thunder isn’t scoreboard watching, however. They understand that winning the next game in front of them is the only thing they can worry about.
- “We just have to worry about ourselves,” Grant said. “As long as we take care of what we have to take care of, we’ll be fine.”
- “We control our own destiny,” Patterson reiterated. “By any means necessary we have to get these three wins. So what other teams do, we don’t pay attention to it. At the end of the day we have to win and that’s our only focus and that should be our only focus.”
Thunder Minute: April 5