This is a new series to the WTLC site where I will be detailing specific game changing offensive and defensive plays from previous games.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were riding a three game winning streak heading into tonight’s game with the Brooklyn Nets before the wheels came off in Mexico City. For a number of sets, especially in the 4th quarter, it appeared that Carmelo Anthony was being used more effectively and his production was more efficient throughout this winning streak. Here I will detail the actions that the Thunder used to get Melo great looks late in the game against the Utah Jazz. As has been reported elsewhere, the action the Thunder used almost exclusively down the stretch vs the Jazz is called the “Hawk Set,” and it is one of the few that actively involve all three players of the ‘OKC3.’ Here are three key plays OKC ran in their win against Utah that helped seal the comeback win.
The setup: Russell Westbrook sets up the play on either wing. Carmelo and Paul George run quick 2-man action to confuse the defense as to where the primary action is going to go.
On this first action, Melo moves to set a screen for George. Even though he didn’t get full contact on the screen, the Jazz defense still had to react to George aggressively coming through the paint where he could either receive a leading pass from Westbrook or, as he has done often, circle around to his favorite 3-point spot on the court, which is the right wing. When George didn’t receive the ball, Melo goes into a ball screen for Russ. Sefolosha took care of the threat of Russ driving into the lane, but Derrick Favors and Donovan Mitchell relaxed for a half second on the backside which allowed Melo enough to time to slip the screen roll deep enough into the paint where he could attack the basket.
On this play, Westbrook sets up on the right side where Melo first sets a screen for PG, and then George runs baseline again drawing all of that attention on the backside even though George doesn’t have the ball. Melo’s hard screen sells the initial action so the Jazz must honor that George may be receiving the pass.
Notice how far away from the basket Steven Adams is. This draws Rudy Gobert away from protecting the rim. With all this space cleared, the pick and pop action between Russ and Melo is more effective because the backside is fully occupied.
After George goes through the paint to the corner, that leaves a 2 on 2 situation. Russ comes off the screen hard and Thabo Sefolosha has to show on the screen or Russ will have a free lane to the basket. Melo slips the screen again, leaving him with a wide open mid range pull-up, with Sefolosha’s help coming too late.
On this last clutch play, Melo had already screened for PG and George once again continued to the Adams-Roberson double screen on the backside. Again, notice how far from the basket Adams, and it looks like he’s going to be ready to set a screen on George’s defender, creating further misdirection, as well as pulling Gobert out of the paint. As George again goes through the paint to the corner (with Sefolosha trailing him), this leaves a 1 on 1 on the block between Melo and Joe Ingles, and Melo has gotten deep position against the smaller Ingles. Melo made an extremely quick move to get by Ingles which only left Alec Burks to contest Melo at the rim, and Melo finishes the play.
In these 3 plays, OKC used Paul George as a decoy to clear an entire side of the floor for Melo and Russ to operate in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations. However, you can see how this play set can result in all sorts of other results, from George becoming the primary action to Westbrook aggressively attacking the rim.
With this set being so effective vs the Jazz and also the Timberwolves, one has to wonder why we didn’t see it a single time in the loss to the Nets. To be sure Paul George was out and so defenses were not going to be as aggressive on another player, but the set itself clearly puts Melo in a better scoring position than in many of his other shot attempts.
Hat tips to reader cr8_cr8 and Dom Flaim for spotting the play sets.