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Thunder Play breakdown: Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant do the pick-and-roll

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They're not the most conventional pick-and-roll pairing, but Westbrook and Durant were very deadly as ball-handler-and-screener last season.


People normally think of a point guard and a big man when they hear the phrase "pick-and-roll." However, the Miami Heat have made great use of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as a pick-and-roll pairing in recent years, and other guard-oriented teams like the Nuggets and 76ers have utilized it as well. The Thunder tried to emulate that last season, with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant working together in the pick-and-roll. In short, when they used it, it worked very well.

It's not hard to imagine why it'd be successful, either. Individually, Westbrook and Durant are two of the NBA's best scorers. Together in the two-man game, it's very hard for defenses to come up with a way to stop them. Between Westbrook's ability to get to the rim and Durant's elite shooting ability at 6'9", there's not much room for error if the defense wants to get a stop.

With the Durant-Westbrook pick-and-roll, the Thunder love to set it up with Durant coming off of a pindown screen or a double screen from the paint to come up and set his own screen for Westbrook. This makes it even more difficult for the defense to keep up, already being behind Durant. The actual pick-and-roll typically happens with Durant and Westbrook isolated on one side of the wing, with the other three players on the court pushed to the weak side. This allows for as much spacing as possible, and it often means that strong trapping against Westbrook leaves Durant free to pop to a completely isolated part of the court on the strong side.

One thing to note is that Durant isn't really a great screener, and at 6'9" and 235 lbs, he's throwing around significantly less body than, say, Kendrick Perkins or Nick Collison. With that said, Durant's become really good at the "slip screen" where he fakes a screen or sets a weak screen before slipping behind his defender to get into open space quickly. Given that many teams like to try and trap Westbrook in the pick-and-roll to slow him down, Durant can get open really easily by slipping away early (as he did in the last video) and it often leads to an open shot.

Additionally, Westbrook is fast enough that he can often can get past the pick-and-roll defenders even with the screen. For small forwards coming up to hedge the pick-and-roll, containing Westbrook is no easy job. It's easy for Westbrook to leave them in the dust and get to the rim himself for an easy layup. Westbrook especially likes to try and 'split' the trap that arrives after the screen, and then Westbrook immediately explodes to the rim.

Defending this play is so difficult for defenses simply because of all the different ways Westbrook and Durant can put the ball in the basket no matter what the defense tries. Trapping Westbrook leaves Durant, as we already saw. If the defense plays conservatively on Durant, Westbrook can pull up for his patented in-between shot off of the screen or continue to go to the rim if the defense isn't in the way.

Switching or "show-and-go" defense works better, but even then, it's not perfect against Durant. If the defense switches, Durant can simply shoot over Westbrook's defender. Against the show-and-go defense, Durant can still gain a few steps ahead of his defender (particularly if he slips the screen) and take advantage by rolling to the rim. He's definitely faster than most screeners are, and as we all know by now, scoring at the rim is no harder than scoring from outside for Durant. Below, you can see that Houston's show-and-go is just a few steps too slow here in getting back to Durant, and it leads to an alley-oop layup.

If the defense wants to bring in help defenders, Durant is a better passer than most and he can find the open man faster than most traditional big men can. Sometimes Durant will find Kendrick Perkins lurking under the rim, sometimes it will be Serge Ibaka stationed at the elbow. In this case, it's Perk with the mid-range jumper! (For what it's worth, Ibaka and Perk will typically be flip-flopped in this play. We'll take whatever we can get from Perk, though).

Want to know what the worst-case scenario is? If the play breaks down, the ball will still be in the hands of either Westbrook or Durant, barring a turnover. If the play was run with good spacing, then it just turns into a Durant or Westbrook isolation scenario. If the play was run early enough in the shot clock, then there is still plenty of time to go off an isolation move or even re-run the pick and roll a second time.

The opportunities are plentiful. A wide open Durant catch-and-shoot opportunity, Durant rolling to the rim, Westbrook slashing to the rim, Westbrook pulling up for a jumper, a pass to an open man freed up by opposing help defense, or at worse, a Westbrook or Durant isolation. Few defenses have what it takes to defend this play, even though it's such a beautifully simple play.

Scott Brooks used this play on a regular basis, but could get even more mileage given how successful it tended to be. We knock Brooks a lot for his basic offensive sets, but this is a really simple play that works really well. If he liked what he saw from this play last season (which isn't really a question that needs to be asked), then we should be in for even more of it this season.