Oklahoma City Thunder film study: Is the bench better than expected?

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up three wins last week against the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons. Obviously things are better in ThunderWorld with Russell Westbrook back in the lineup. However, Oklahoma City's bench stole the show even with the return of the team's superstar point guard.

The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up three straight wins last week over the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons.

Russell Westbrook made his return, Kevin Durant continued to dominate and Steven Adams made his presence felt with a double-double against the Pistons.

Oklahoma City's success will always ride on their two-headed monster (Westbrook/Durant), but this week the Thunder's bench showed their unit could be as strong as ever, even without Kevin Martin and James Harden.

Let's take a look at how the second unit had success this week with five plays proving they may be a lot better than previously expected.

Play No. 1: Nick Collison strip leads to Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III alley-oop (vs. Mavericks 11/6).

Collison does a great job of defending Dirk Nowitizki on this play. Although Nowitzki catches the ball in a spot he tends to like, Collison uses his body to bump the German off his path to the basket. He shuffles his feet really well and keeps his hands up, allowing him to strip Nowitzki on the way up and force the turnover.

Collison grabs the loose ball and delivers to Lamb to start the fast-break. With Jones on his right side, Lamb dribbles down the middle of the court and delivers an easy alley-oop with pretty much no defense from the Mavericks.

  • Notice: The entire defense has their head on a swivel, watching Nowitzki as he gets the ball. He makes his move and the defense seems ready to collapse on the lane when he starts his drive. There is only one starter (Serge Ibaka) on the court with Collison, Jackson, Lamb and Jones. This was a great defensive stand by that unit at the end of the quarter. Lamb and Jones' alley-oop seemed to spark the team heading into the second period.
  • Also Notice: Durant and Westbrook's reactions after the dunk. Durant gives us a little tip-toe with a scream while Westbrook gives the air a nice towel-snap. Quality celebration points deserved for those two.
Play No. 2: Jeremy Lamb floater (vs. Mavericks 11/6).

The ball swings from Jackson on the right to Lamb on the left side. Lamb tries to drive, but loses his handle and runs into a group of Mavericks including Nowitzki and DeJuan Blair. Lamb recovers and dribbles back out to the three-point line and uses Steven Adams to swing the ball back to Jackson at the top.

Adams screens away from the ball, freeing Lamb to receive a pass at the three-point line and drive to the paint. Adams rolls off the screen, but Lamb elects to take the open floater in the middle of the paint and drains it to give Oklahoma City a 39-37 lead.

  • Notice: The difference between Steven Adams on the court and Kendrick Perkins on the court is evident with this play. If Perkins sets that screen for Lamb, Blair would have likely let Perk roll to the basket and clogged the middle in order to stop Lamb's shot attempt. However, Blair has to account for Adams and slightly stays with him, freeing Lamb for the easy shot.
  • Also Notice: Collison had a part in freeing Lamb's shot as well. He runs the baseline the entire play and when he sees the Lamb/Adams pick-and-roll, he floats to the right block, dragging Nowitzki with him. Nowitzki likely wouldn't have made the effort anyhow, but Collison did a great job of pulling him away from the play to make sure.
Play No. 3: Jeremy Lamb floater (vs. Suns 11/3).

This play starts on the right block as Derek Fisher attempts to set a screen on Dionte Christmas to free Jeremy Lamb's path across the baseline. Christmas fights through, but trails into a Nick Collison screen. Christmas attempts to split Collison's screen, but Lamb notices the left side open up, dribbles towards the baseline and sinks a nice, right-handed floater.

  • Notice: This play was completely drawn up for Lamb. Fisher sets the initial screen with Collison waiting behind for an additional screen. Lamb does a great job of forcing Christmas to chase him to the other side of the court and also does a great job of finding the right space after the screen. Lamb reads where Christmas attempts to split the screen and gets open on the opposite side.
  • Also Notice: Lamb seems to like the floater. This happened before the previous play vs. Dallas, but in both games he showed great touch with the shot. Although Lamb has struggled shooting from deeper spots on the floor, the touch shown with this type of play shows the ball will start falling through the net eventually.
Play No. 4: Perry Jones III jumper (vs. Suns 11/3).

This play starts with spacing. Lamb and Fisher move into the corners while Jackson controls the dribble at the top. Collison comes and starts the pick-and-roll, receives the pass (with great spacing) and delivers to Jones at the three-point line. Jones fakes a pass to Lamb in the corner, getting Dionte Christmas to bite. Jones then takes one dribble and knocks down the jay.

  • Notice: The spacing when Jones receives the ball is great. The Thunder have both corners, Jackson spaced out on the other side and Collison at the top of the key. This forces the defense to really move once the Jackson/Collison pick-and-roll swings the ball to the other side. Once the defense has to play catchup, Jones effectively uses the fake to keep the defense off-balance and takes the high-percentage jumper.
  • This is simple half-court offense. Yet effective. The Thunder's bench will need to utilize this spacing throughout the year, especially with Lamb, Fisher and Jackson playing together. With Fisher and Lamb in the corners, this could be a very dangerous group.
Play No. 5: Steven Adams tip-in (vs. Pistons 11/8).

Adams gets an easy tip-in on this play because it was designed for him to clean the glass on a miss. Jackson dribbles left, running his defender into a pair of screens set by Collison and Adams. This forces Andre Drummond to come out and defend Jackson's jumper. Both Adams and Collison roll on the screens, forcing Gigi Datome to choose to guard Collison. This leaves a free lane for Adams to cruise through, finding himself in perfect position for an easy put-back on the offensive glass.

  • Notice: Spacing. Again, the Thunder are using the entire half-court to run their offense. With more spacing, means defenders having to defend a larger area. Not easy. This play was simple and effective. Use the spacing to force the defenders to commit and leave an open lane for easy rebounding. What's beautiful, though, is the second unit using the space. It shows early season continuity and just how smart Scott Brooks' second unit is.
  • Also Notice: Detroit's effort on the glass on this possession was incredibly bad. Kyle Singler and Rodney Stuckey just watch Adams stand under the basket and collect the tip-in. Maurice Cheeks will not be happy.
The Thunder obviously had a great week. They got their superstar point guard back much sooner than expected and picked up two home wins and a road win. But to have their bench playing well this early has to be a plus for Scott Brooks and co. They have gone 10-11-deep with consistency and have hardly missed a beat.

Oklahoma City starts this week with a Sunday home game against the Wizards before heading on a road trip featuring the Clippers, Warriors and Bucks. Let's continue to monitor the bench and see if they can have two straight successful weeks.
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