Oklahoma City Thunder Using Kevin Durant's Playmaking to Create Multiple Options

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Oklahoma City Thunder Using Kevin Durant's Playmaking to Create Multiple Options
Shane Bevel/Getty Images

Kevin Durant is the NBA’s best scorer.

He’s led the league in points per game for each of the last three years, and currently sits second behind only Kobe Bryant so far this season.

Coming into the 2012-13 season, there were just two things you could say with any sort of conviction that Durant struggled with—relative to the rest of his abilities—on the offensive end: creating plays for others and getting open when facing pressure coverage.

While he still has some problems with the latter on occasion, the former has become a thing of the past, as evidenced by his career-high 4.6 assists per game entering Tuesday’s play. 

As such, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks is calling more plays that put Durant in position to be a playmaker rather than just a scorer.

Durant’s elevated passing capabilities are so dangerous because he’s such a good scorer, and the Thunder have used that newfound ability to their advantage when designing plays to utilize Durant’s evolving game. 

Against the Toronto Raptors earlier this season, the Thunder started off their possession in a horns set, one of the most common alignments in the NBA.

Point guard Russell Westbrook brings the ball up the court to the top of the key, while power forward Serge Ibaka sets up on the left elbow and center Kendrick Perkins takes up residence on the right elbow.

Kevin Martin lines up in the right corner while Durant occupies the left corner. Westbrook enters the ball to Perkins at the right elbow to kick off the action. 

After entering the ball to Perkins, Westbrook gets a brush screen from Ibaka just above the left elbow. Though the Thunder didn’t explore it on this particular possession, that screen creates a scoring option if Westbrook’s defender gets caught in the screen or tries to overplay it.

If the defender gets caught, Westbrook can take off to the rim and Perkins can hit him with a pass. If Westbrook’s defender tries to overplay that option, he can flare off the screen from Ibaka to the left wing for a jumper. 

None of that happens here, so Westbrook continues on his path and sets a pin-down screen for Durant. At the same time, Ibaka follows Westbrook and sets a screen of his own on Durant’s man. Already, the Thunder have created ample separation between Durant and the guy guarding him.

When he gets a dribble handoff from Perkins at the top of the key, Durant has a wide open straight on three-pointer if he wants it. It’s a shot he’s hit at a 40 percent clip so far this season, after hitting 45.2 percent last year (per NBA.com’s stats database). 

Perkins turns that dribble handoff into a modified pick-and-roll by screening Durant’s man as well. That makes three screens for Dominic McGuire to navigate in less than three seconds. As a result, Durant has about five feet of space right in front of him with only Jonas Valanciunas between him and the basket.  

It’s at this time that Kevin Martin makes a V-cut from his position in the right corner, which has now become the strong side after Durant comes off those three consecutive screens.

With the defense so heavily concentrated on stopping Durant from scoring, Martin is able to sneak back door, where Durant hits him with a one-handed bounce pass off the dribble—a pass that he probably doesn’t make in previous seasons.

Though Oklahoma City gets an easy basket out of this possession, it didn’t even really run the play all that well.

After setting screens, Westbrook, Ibaka and Perkins basically just stand still. They’re all right next to each other, so none of them are a real threat to do anything.

Compare this to a play the Knicks have run a few times this season that is conceptually similar—their triple pick-and-roll.

Each screener rolls to a different position in order to provide better spacing. J.R. Smith rolls to the corner, Steve Novak pops out to the wing and Rasheed Wallace dives through the middle of the lane.

It would be pretty easy for the Thunder to use the same roll sequence on this particular possession. Westbrook could roll off his screen to the corner, drawing Kyle Lowry even further out of the lane.

Serge Ibaka, rather than standing still after his screen, could pop out a little farther to the elbow extended, making Andrea Bargnani less of a threat to cut off attempts at the rim, and Perkins could go on a delayed dive through the lane, placing even more pressure on Valanciunas to guard two men. 

That would provide Durant with even more options, and all he’d have to do is choose the right one.

Given his spectacular scoring abilities and his evolving playmaking, there’s no doubt that Durant would be up to the task. 

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