New Thunder coach Billy Donovan has been hard at work devising new offensive sets for the Thunder this season. One of the more unique challenges in the Thunder's offense is Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is certainly an amazing mid-range shooter and dunker. Ibaka has even been able to do more than that as of late, showcasing a three point shot and occasionally shooting off the dribble. That being said, the ball has to move in order for Ibaka to get it in good position to score.
In the past, during Coach Brooks' tenure, the Thunder often ran a play called HORNS. That play was effective at establishing Ibaka's offense. HORNS starts out with both bigs on the top of the key, and both wings in the corners. With both bigs ready to set a screen, this gives the ballhandler a decision of which pick to take. Since the ballhandler was often Westbrook, it was easy for Ibaka to find space after a simple screen.
This year, as far as I can tell, the Thunder have run absolutely no HORNS in their first two pre-season games. In order to get Ibaka his offensive opportunities, the Thunder are running something slightly different. Like HORNS, this new set has the two wings in the corners, and the ballhandler at the top of the arc. But only one big is at the top of the key this time, with the other big lurking in the post.
This new offensive set is ideal for getting Ibaka open. Here's three examples, from Friday night's game against Fenerbahce.
Play 1: Basic Pick and Roll
A Westbrook-Durant pick and roll is the deadliest play the Thunder can run. Because both Westbrook and KD can score from any spot within the arc, teams usually have to commit an extra man to prevent an easy basket.
Just a note: The spot Steven Adams is standing in is ideal for offensive rebounding. It's not ideal scoring position, but it makes it easy to run under the basket and grab the ball after a missed shot. This position also keeps Adams' defender out of the way.
Predictably, Fenerbahce commit the extra man to the KD-Westbrook pick and roll. First, KD's defender doubles Westbrook. Westbrook dishes to KD. In the post, KD is met by Ibaka's defender, Jan Vesely. This leaves Ibaka wide open in the corner for three.
The three is good, but Steven Adams was ready for a miss. Adams has just as good of a chance at it as Udoh.
Play 2: Pick and roll, then pick and pop
Things starts off as a basic pick and roll for Westbrook and Adams, a play we've seen work before. But Ibaka is in the post this time, meaning the Thunder have a little bit more in store.
Fenerbahce is ready for the Westbrook-Adams pick and roll. Sloukas and Udoh double-team Russ, while Vesely hedges Adams in the post. Luckily, this leaves Ibaka open at the top of the key.
Ibaka receives the ball, but he's off-balance. Vesely comes forward to cover Ibaka, while Udoh sinks back to cover Adams in the post. Fenerbahce appear to have recovered defensively, but the Thunder now have plenty of space for KD and Ibaka to work. Ibaka passes to KD and sets the screen.
Predictably, Fenerbahce are mostly concerned about KD. So they double-team KD on the pick and pop, leaving Ibaka wide open for the jumper. Ibaka missed this jumper, but it was a good attempt. I'd expect to see this play run in the future.
Play 3: Surprise cut
This play starts out with Waiters at halfcourt. Payne and Roberson are on the wings, and Kanter is in the aforementioned offensive rebounding position. Ibaka starts out on the high post, but begins to slowly walk into the paint. This maximizes Waiters' space.
Waiters uses the opportunity to burst past Bogdanovic. With Waiters charging to the basket, Ibaka's man, Vesely, must commit to stopping Waiters' drive.
Waiters successfully draws the double team, and frees Ibaka for the open jumper.
The jumper is in, and Enes Kanter is ready for the rebound should things go haywire.
I see two big advantages to this set. One is that it maximizes space around the ballhandlers. OKC's ballhandlers, mainly KD, Westbrook, and Waiters, all are excellent scorers when given space to work. The other big advantage to this set is that it minimizes the amount of passing. The most complex set shown required three passes, and one of those was a hand-off. Obviously, Ibaka benefits from both the increased space and the minimized passing.
The big disadvantage is that, most of the time, the center is close to the rim and out of the play. When the Thunder have a dynamic option like Enes Kanter at center, that's really taking away a lot of offensive potential. Perhaps this set is more suited for Steven Adams, who won't benefit much by shooting more than 5 feet away from the rim.
At the end of the day, I think this is much more suited for the Thunder than HORNS. HORNS is really meant for teams with more dynamic players. The Thunder have very well defined roles on this squad, and I like how this set caters to that.
What do you think of the new offensive set? Drop a comment and let us know!