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NBA Playbook: Thunder Steal Zach Randolph's Space

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I eagerly anticipated this new entry from Pruiti, because I wanted to again be able to see how the Thunder's adjustments in their interior defense had so confounded Zach Randolph. Z-Bo finished the game with 15 points off of 2-13 shooting, and had two turnovers. He did not make a shot in the 2nd half.  While Randolph was able to still collect four offensive rebounds, he was not able to get into one of those "and-1" groves where he racks up the points with fouled put-backs. 

OKC Takes Away Randolph's Space, Limits His Effectiveness | NBA Playbook

Be sure to read Pruiti's entire post, but he ends with this clip which demonstrates the way the Thunder were able to close out on Randolph's space.

A few more comments after the jump.

  • We discussed Randolph a little bit in our post-game analysis, but it bears repeating. For all of his talents, Randolph still has some physical limitations that the Thunder apparently studied and exploited. Z-Bo is the Grizzlies' main cog; he has to be in go-mode if they are to win. So since he will attack, the Thunder must make him do things that are not always his first choice.
  • Randolph has: quick feet, soft hands, a high release point, and good timing. Randolph does not have: explosiveness, or anything resembling a vertical game. He is especially slow going to his right (off-hand).
  • In the above clip, watch how Serge Ibaka seals off the lane. He wants Randolph to go to his right. Even though Randolph gets by Ibaka easily after the hard jab-step to the left, Ibaka knows that he has Kendrick Perkins behind him. Ibaka also knows that Z-Bo is strong, but he isn't Dwight Howard, so he won't be attacking the rim two feet above the rim. There is time for recovery as well as help defense. And the best part is, Randolph knows this. Instead of attacking the rim straight on with his left hand, Randolph knows Ibaka is chasing him and will take that shot down if Randolph brings it up on the front of the rim.
  • The net result of this is surprising to me, although maybe if I had watched more of Randolph this season it shouldn't be. The effectiveness of his game is predicated on the threat of him being able to shoot, and make, face-up 15 foot jumpers. When OKC gave him the space, he stroked them confidently and easily. When the defender had to jump out on him, rather than starting tight, that's when Randolph had the quickness to go around him and create enough space for the real shot attempt.

    However, when the defender started out hugging Randolph, the outside shot was neutralized. Z-Bo cannot just elevate over somebody else the way Kevin Durant or even Ibaka can. He has to create space somehow. He can still give the pump fake or the jab step, but as we see above, it greatly reduces his shot's accuracy. Randolph still has quick feet and deft post moves, but because his working space is already eaten up, it makes it much easier for Ibaka to recover and for help defense to come.
  • How will Memphis counter? I predict that we'll likely see less ISO plays for Randolph, at least in the beginning of the game. As long as Ibaka and Nick Collison continue to keep their bodies up against Randolph and not get too "handsy," they should be able to neutralize his first option. Instead, I think we'll see more of Randolph involved in screens so that he can get that extra little bit of space at the beginning of the attack. I would look for: 1) Another player like Sam Young or Tony Allen to set screens for Randolph to come off; or 2) Randolph to start setting some more high screens and then be ready for the pass when he fades out into the wings. Either of these plays should give him that initial space that he wants to start his three-pronged attack.