By way of Basketball Prospectus, Sebastian Pruiti once again offers some great analysis of one of the small ways that Russell Westbrook has been effective this series.
Be sure to read the rest of Pruiti's analysis and video footage.
A few additional comments after the jump.
- Russell Westbrook's physical advantages over Mike Conley - size and strength - are most apparent when Westbrook posts up. Westbrook is quick in the open court, but so is Conley. While the offensive player always has the advantage of knowing where he wants to go, I would suggest that in a half-court set, their relative quickness is a wash. However, the size and strength elements never disappear. That is, they never disappear unless Westbrook allows them to disappear.
- As you can see in the clip above, Conley has no hope of stopping Westbrook. As long as Russ does not attack too recklessly, Conley cannot hold his position or prevent him from going where he wants to. Conley's only option is to flop and hope that he gets the offensive foul call. He didn't in the play above, and Westbrook got an easy lay-up.
- We actually saw Westbrook attempt these post-up moves a bit in the regular season, but it became quickly apparent that he did not know what to do. I remember one particular sequence where he got the smaller defender on his hip, backed him up all the way in the rim, and then just ran back out to the perimeter. Westbrook did not realize what he had accomplished by taking such a posture and quickly and willingly abandoned it.
- In this play set, when Westbrook goes into this position, he needs to know what he is going to do. He needs two moves (power pivot, fade-away) and he needs a passing outlet. With those three tools, he should be able to wreck Conley in the post and hopefully get him into foul trouble once more.
- The beauty of using Westbrook in the post, even if he isn't totally comfortable with it, is what the formation does to the Memphis defense. In Game Three, Memphis countered the Westbrook strength by guarding him with O.J. Mayo, who is bigger and stronger than Conley, although not as quick or with as good defensive instincts. That left Conley to defend the other guard, which turned out to be a major missed opportunity for the Thunder because they kept Thabo Sefolosha in the game. Sefolosha is passive on offense, so Conley's smaller stature was hidden and protected. Had the Thunder countered with James Harden at the other guard spot, Memphis would have been forced to choose which player Mayo would guard, thereby leaving the other Thunder guard with a size mis-match. This is in fact what we saw in Game Four. As a result, we saw extended stretches in the 4th quarter where either Westbrook was able to drive on Conley and get to the rim, or Harden was able to run pick and rolls against Conley and either pass to the roller or take it to the rim himself.
- If OKC can control the guard play, the Grizzlies will be at a permanent disadvantage, and as we saw in Game Four, it led to both Conley and Mayo fouling out. If Memphis counters by shifting Tony Allen to one of the two guards, this in turn frees up Kevin Durant to go to work. OKC's guard play advantages forces the rotation adjustments, and everything else in their perimeter offense falls into place.