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NBA Playbook: Thunder Attack the Zone

You might remember this play that occurred late in the 1st quarter of the Thunder's win against the Trail Blazers. NBA Playbook breaks it down screen by screen, so be sure to check out their analysis:

Beat the Zone With a Lob | NBA Playbook

Watch the sequence here, and then follow the jump for a few more thoughts.


  • One thing I'd love to know about this set is when exactly did it get called. It is difficult to see it, but the first pass Eric Maynor makes is to Kevin Durant, who is the ultimate recipient of the play. Maynor has proven to have a very good poker face, but you can see a slight change in his expression as he engages the offense and then runs to the opposite wing. I wonder if this is when the play was called.
  • It seemed like the Blazers moved into their zone defense because it was an end-of-quarter situation, but there was still the opportunity for a two-for-one exchange, with over 30 seconds remaining. It is possible that they thought the Thunder would jump on this opportunity and try to shoot the quick 3-pointer, a shot which a zone is most likely to cede. As a result, the zone was playing far away from the rim, and Nick Collison did a good job shifting it slightly higher via his cut through the lane.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge gets sucked out way too far from the rim. I think that the zone defense failed because it failed to recognize the personnel on the court. While Collison has shown some offensive aggressiveness the last few games, the likelihood of him taking the pass in the post to turn and shoot is low. The zone should have remained closer to the baseline. 
  • Kevin Durant did a great job recognizing when to go to the rim. The key to attacking zones is to be patient and probe for the soft underbelly. It is much more effective in college, where typically only one or two players are effective out past 18 feet. In the pros though, it is not unusual to see four out of five players be able to step out and hit that shot. 
  • Early in the season the Thunder have struggled against zone defenses, particularly when playing against the Hornets. In this set, however, the Thunder have shown that they have learned to be patient when dealing with a new set. I don't expect them to see much of this type of defense in the playoffs, but this quick recognition and play call are a good sign of things to come.