Back in the Zone / Back to OKC

Was that a zone defense Golden State played?

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not a zone

Watch along the baseline in the clip above. #40 Harrison Barnes chases Durant to the corner. If defenders chase the man they are guarding to a different part of the court, you’re looking at a man-to-man defense. If defenders point to each other and pass off offensive players to each other to guard, then you’re probably looking at a zone. At the end of this play, it sure looks like Golden State is in a match up or 2-3 zone, but they aren’t.

Extra note: In Golden State’s man-to-man defense, usually everyone not guarding the ball has a foot in the lane. They are really packed in, and when you combine that with the fact that sometimes the Thunder players don’t move (happening less in the playoffs) it’s easy to think that Golden State is playing zone.

zone defense

match up zone defense 

In the clip above, watch ponytailed #12 Steven Adams in the blue for the Thunder. When he runs away from Golden State’s Bogut in the paint, Bogut just lets him go. He points to Curry to pick up Adams. Switching every screen has a lot in common with playing a zone defense.

In a zone, you match up with the person in your area. Theoretically, this means Golden State could have someone like their center Bogut match up with Durant when he tries to post up in the lane but have someone faster and more mobile like Draymond Green defend Durant when he is on the perimeter.

I remember Coach Bob Knight saying that the offense’s advantage versus a zone is that they get to pick who they want to attack. Want to play your little point guard on top of the zone? How about we put Dirk Nowitzki up there to shoot threes over your little guy? The defense’s advantage is that they get to pick where their players play.

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looks like a zone

On TNT, Chris Webber sounded like he was in disbelief that Golden State went to a zone. I tend to agree with CW’s assessment that this is indeed a zone. The aspect of this play that gives me pause is when Golden State’s Andre Iguodala seems to beat a screen and chase Durant to the top of the key. I think A.I. probably abandoned his post for a second so that Durant wasn’t left running free or else Kanter came down and tried to pin him inside so Durant could get free for a shot.

It might be interesting to see if Golden State tries to play more zone in Game six.

Yeah, Golden State played some zone, but Curry was back in the zone as a shooter


Curry back to his old MVP self

In the upper right hand corner, first Curry goes back door off a down screen. Then he runs off a down screen on the other side of the court to the perimeter. Adams can’t decide if he should chase him or not. This is the kind of play where the defense pays so much attention to Curry that the screeners are left open.

Although Curry’s percentage was below average, he was 10-10 from the line, making circus moves around the hoop we are used to, and scored 31 points.

What do I mean the screeners get open?


#12 Bogut screens for Thompson


It’s most impressive when the player with the ball realizes the screener is open and find him. In this case, this is most likely a set play out of a timeout. Pay attention to #12 Bogut. He is heading to screen for Thompson, a fantastic three point shooter. When everyone runs out to the shooter, Bogut gets free for the dunk.

When Ezeli hits two, you know it was Golden State’s night

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Swish, swish!

Festus Ezeli shot 53% from the line during the season and 42% in the playoffs. Here, near the end of the third quarter, he makes the both. Game six coming right up on Saturday night in Oklahoma City!

Ode to Steven Adams

With the biggest props from game 4 of the Western Conference Finals going to Russell Westbrook and his triple double, I wanted to write about the play of Steve Adams, some of the stuff that doesn’t make the postgame barrage of highlights. However, I ran into problems coming up with a title that would set up the list of of Adams clips I wanted to share with you. Thus–with props to John Keats for providing a model I could follow–this “Ode to Steven Adams’ Game Four” was born:

Thou ponytailed big man,

practitioner of the baby hook

Steven Adams, Thunder, OKC, Durant, Westbrook

nice little flip shot from Adams


Long jump shots are sweet,

but long jump shots blocked are sweeter

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Adams blocks Curry’s shot


Let them grab your jersey,

Nothing will deny you from at least a tip

Steven Adams, Thunder, OKC, Westbrook, Durant

Adams keeps possession alive for Thunder


Curry so dangerous on the screen and roll

but your big mitt got a piece


Deflection by Adams


Reggie Miller, voice of TNT, say’st,

You look like Arvydas Sabonis with the long pass.

I think you must have played dodge ball.

Steven Adams, Reggie Miller, TNT, Thunder, OKC, Durant, Wesbrook

Adams throws a strike


Thunder Blowout: What Changed?

1. More Ball Movement


I’ve previously been critical of the Thunder for going to spots on the floor and standing around while watching someone play 1 on 1.  These kind of plays were usually isolations for Durant or Westbrook or an alignment where someone posted up and kicked out for an outside shot when the double team came. On the play above, Westbrook dives in to the hoop. I like these aggressive, attack-the-hoop, kind of plays for the Thunder.

2. Better Defense in Screen Situations


Watch Westbrook above. He’s in the middle of the lane to start, and he’s chasing Curry. Thompson is setting a down screen for Curry, and Westbrook reads the pass and makes an incredible steal.

Go ahead and say it, Russell: “Eat it, Torg!” I’ve written previously that Westbrook so frantically chases the ball that he can’t keep track of his man. On the play above, Westbrook shows a lot of awareness of a lot of different things going on. He keeps track of the ball, the screener, and his man.

If I had ten seconds with the Warriors, I’d encourage the players to use ball fakes, especially when Westbrook is guarding a screener or cutter. A hard ball fake to Thompson here leaves Curry wide open for a three.

3. Intensity (duh, but check out this rebound)


Westbrook’s offensive rebound here exemplifies the intensity the Thunder brought to Sunday night’s game.

4. Props to Steven Adams


Adams gets a piece of Curry’s shot

Adams usually does a good job of getting out on shooters, and he has been the victim of shots he has contested well but Curry or Thompson still manages to make. This time, he blocks Curry’s shot.



What to Watch When You Watch Golden State on Offense

There are only a few teams in the NBA that I’m interested in watching on a regular basis because they do something interesting with their offensive attack. Golden State’s open-post motion offense is one I pay attention to. I’ll use the video clip below to help explain some of what has caught my interest:

Four things to notice:

1. No player is in the lane.

I call at least this alignment by Golden State “open post” because no player has a foot in the yellow lane area. You might be right to argue and say it’s 4 out motion with a post player playing high. What this alignment does is allow all players space to cut to the basket. This works great for Golden State because when you start worrying about their shooters coming off of screens, everyone (shooters and screeners) has room to cut backdoor to the basket.

2.  Players weave with the ball.

What’s the weave? Watch how a dribbler heads to their teammate, the teammate goes behind, and the dribbler flips the ball to their teammate. After a dribbler gives it up, they can cut to the edge of the floor and come back for another handoff. Golden State mostly uses the weave to get the defense moving before they do the thing on offense they really want to do.

3. Players have choices.

Part of what appeals to me about the motion offense is that players have choices. Instead of telling players exactly where to go when, they can set screens and cut and decide what they will do based on how the defense plays. If you’re watching Golden State and Oklahoma City in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, look to see what the players do on offense without the ball. I think you’ll notice a lot more movement from the Golden State players. One way isn’t better, but if I’m playing or coaching basketball, I prefer the kind of team play I grew up watching with Bob Knight’s use of the motion offense or Phil Jackson’s triangle. As a player, I hated having to go stand in my spot and wait to run the coach’s play. As a coach, I hated yelling, “Set it up.” I prefer to empower players to use what they know to make decisions on the fly.

4. #23 Draymond Green’s Down Screen

The action in this video is worth watching multiple times. Check out the screen Green sets for Thompson. I especially like the way he heads toward mid-court to get a good angle before he heads back toward his basket to get the screen.

A Few More Plays from Warriors Offense

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Watch Curry. Rather than come off of the down screen, he cuts back door to the basket.


Bogut and Curry set down screens. Then Bogut screens the screener Curry.


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Westbrook stops on the screen and roll. Did he think they were supposed to switch?


OKC Can Play Better versus Warriors

All of the sudden, it’s hard to imagine how Golden State can stop Russell Westbrook or keep the Thunder off the boards. I think they can play even better tonight…

1. Westbrook could be more focused on keeping track of where Curry is on the floor.


With his frenetic energy and all-over-the-court presence, sometimes Westbrook can lose track of Curry. Here he lunges and gives Curry an easy one.

2. Don’t give away the switch so easily.


In a lot of the games I watch, it’s as if there is a rule in the NBA that teams have to switch ball screens. Many times, going under the screen is an option. With Curry and Thompson, a strong hedge or double team would be the best strategy.

3. When the double team comes, have a plan for where the ball will go.


I see Durant and Westbrook get in a hurry attacking an advantageous match up. Sometimes they back out when a double team comes or they kick out to a shooter for a corner three. I like Adams on the block as a place to go when the double team comes. Rather than trying to go fast, I like Durant using his height and Westbrook using his power.

4. You have sets OKC. Run them.


OKC can get in a rut spreading out and working isolation plays. It’s not so much to ask to get into one of their simple sets. This is one of OKC’s worst plays of the game. Of course, I make this pass plenty when I play. How can Kevin Durant?

This post doesn’t mean I think the Thunder are the favorites. Golden State can be much, much better if they get their shots out of their motion offense. When Curry and Thompson are coming off down screens, the screeners tend to get open a lot.

I’m writing for conversation. Love to hear what you think in the comments section!