The Oklahoma City Thunder have the two best players in their series against the Memphis Grizzlies, but that alone won’t carry them against a very well-coached Memphis team that is only the seventh seed because Marc Gasol missed 23 games this season. If the Thunder are going to advance, head coach Scott Brooks needs to tinker with his game plan and make the following adjustments.
More Reggie Jackson
This isn’t exactly surprising considering Reggie Jackson’s 32-point outburst in Game 4, but there was no reason to hand more minutes to Derek Fisher rather than Jackson in the first place, and Brooks has done that already in this series.
|Game||Reggie Jackson Minutes||Derek Fisher Minutes|
The Grizzlies defense is focusing all of its attention on making life difficult for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but it can’t do that if another player is a consistent offensive threat. We saw that in Game 4 as Memphis had no answer for Jackson—who penetrated with ease, hit 11-of-16 and got to the charity stripe eight times.
Jackson is the only other player on the roster that can truly create shots (for himself and for others), so he needs major minutes to act as the primary ball-handler.
The Memphis defenders—Tony Allen in particular—are using physicality to negate OKC’s use of screens, which has to change in order to free things up on the offensive end.
Primarily, the screeners need to focus on establishing better contact while the screenees need to run hard off those screens without leaving any daylight for those pesky Grizzlies to stay on their hips.
But the Thunder can also alter the way they’re using screens to catch Memphis off guard and gain an extra second—which can be the difference between an open jumper and a turnover.
For example, OKC can start flipping the direction of their picks at the last minute—something they sprinkled into their play-calling in Game 4:
This simple wrinkle can give the ball-handler a microscopic advantage, which allows Jackson to get all the way to the rim in the clip as both Beno Udrih and Kosta Koufos are out of position thanks to the last-second change of screen direction.
Additionally, Coach Brooks can utilize different screen angles—both on and off the ball—to keep the Memphis D off-balance.
Lastly, OKC needs to continue to use the off-ball action they have been using throughout the series with an emphasis on freeing up Durant for catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Jump-Start Kevin Durant’s Offense
Even though Durant is averaging 28.5 points per game in the series, his efficiency is plummeting. That has to change if the Thunder are going to put the Grizzlies away.
Obviously, the bulk of Memphis’ game plan is focused on preventing him from getting easy shots so at some point he has to start making tough shots—and the number of in-and-outs he saw in Memphis was cruel.
But little changes in the game plan may help him get his groove back. For starters, Coach Brooks needs to experiment with getting Durant to bring the ball up the court a little more. Doing this too frequently may tire him out, but the Thunder have had such difficulty getting him the ball until late in the shot clock that it’s worth a shot to see how he fares when he attacks Allen with a full head of steam.
In addition, Tayshaun Prince cannot guard Durant and OKC has to exploit that matchup when they have the opportunity. Whenever Prince is matched up on Durant, OKC has to force-feed Durant the ball so he can capitalize.
Moreover, the Durant-Westbrook pick-and-roll has frequently drawn switches when Prince is in the game, allowing Durant to post up against Courtney Lee. OKC hasn’t taken advantage of that play enough in the series since there is no way Lee can check Durant in the post.
OKC has tried and failed to get Durant the ball in the post where he has a seven-inch height advantage over Allen. That’s unacceptable since it’s just fundamental basketball and finding the right angle to make entry passes into the post so Durant can shoot over the top and potentially draw fouls on Allen.
Don't Lose Sight of Tony Allen
This is a minor point but all it requires is focus and effort to fix. Allen is basically a designated hitter because he provides nothing on the offensive end—except that he’s averaging 12.8 points per game in this series.
OKC will gladly give him jump shots, but his points are coming on offensive rebounds and backdoor cuts because of his unmatched effort.
If the defense can communicate and stop losing track of Allen, he won’t be able to score, which could force coach Dave Joerger to play him a little less to give the offense a boost.
As it stands, Allen has actually been a positive for the offense and it’s purely because the Thunder aren’t paying enough attention to him.
Get Ibaka More Involved on Offense
Serge Ibaka cannot create his own offense, but he’s one of the best mid-range shooters in the league and he is a very capable finisher around the rim. He’s yet to shoot below 50 percent in this series, so it wouldn’t hurt to focus on getting him more shots.
The opportunities are there if both Durant and Westbrook can keep their eyes up and focus on the defensive rotations that Memphis is employing.
Ibaka is also such a good pick-and-pop player that the Thunder have to utilize that action more. He doesn’t need 20 shots, but if he could get a solid 15 attempts it would at least force Gasol and Zach Randolph to pay more attention to him and take some of the pressure off the two superstars.
If the Thunder can make these adjustments, they will significantly improve their chances of beating a very good Memphis team and keeping their championship hopes alive.
For more hoops talk, follow me on Twitter: