Jordan Kahn breaks down the latest NBA trends in video form. You can find more of his work at Basketball Things and follow him on Twitter @AyoitsJordan.
This post is part of our playoff preview series here at Hickory-High, complete with both statistical and video breakdowns. Check out the rest of the previews here.
Dallas sputtered to the finish line and now face a rematch with a potent Oklahoma City attack in the first round. With the help of MySynergy Sports, let’s take a look at how the Mavericks could possibly beat the Thunder.
The Thunder have one of the best offenses in the league, and Hickory-High has covered the greatness of their offense throughout the year. But for now, let’s focus on a particular weakness that can go unnoticed when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden are shining.
One way teams (other than Oklahoma City) can exploit Dallas is by using their roll man in the pick-and-roll. They rank 22nd in the league in points allowed per rolling possession. But against the Thunder, this likely won’t be an issue. When Kevin Durant isn’t the screener, there’s a very low likelihood that the screener will be getting the ball on the play. This can especially become a problem when Kendrick Perkins is the screener. Serge Ibaka has worked on his mid-range jumper and Nick Collison shows effort in rolling to the hoop, but all too often, Perkins floats on the perimeter, where he is practically useless, after screening. Perkins is a good screener, but Westbrook, Durant, and Harden don’t always need a bone-crushing screen. They need a bit of space and a pick-and-roll partner to threaten the defense. The video below shows Perkins standing on the perimeter after screening when he could be rolling to the hoop. Note that the defense is awful in some clips, but over the course of the series, the Mavs could decide to blitz the pick-and-roll if Perkins is involved. The Thunder run some interesting sets off of pick-and-rolls, but when Perkins hangs around doing nothing, it can hurt the offense.
When Dirk Nowitzki was busy lighting up the Thunder in last year’s playoffs, his awkward leg-kick fadeaway was operating at full power. The same cannot be said when he played Oklahoma City this year. In the most recent two games against the Thunder (by then Nowitzki probably worked himself into game shape), Dirk’s fadeaway from the post was 0 for 8. With Dirk, it’s hard to say that the Thunder did a good job defending him because he takes and makes that shot with a hand in his face with regularity. The video below shows Serge Ibaka’s and Nick Collison’s quality defense against Dirk. That shot will be available during the series, but it is simply a matter of making it over that good defense.
Oklahoma City has a solid defense, but they have a definite weak spot against the roll man in the pick-and-roll, just like Dallas. Using Nowitzki as the screener in the pick-and-roll would attract much attention, but when Dallas uses Dirk as the ball handler and Jason Terry as the screener, things get confusing for the defense. Terry has been great, if underutilized, as a screener in the pick-and roll. He’s averaging 1.36 points per rolling possession and shooting at a 52 percent clip in the process. The video below shows how much attention Dirk gets and how Terry feeds off of that. When Dirk hits him with a timely pass, it can be a super-effective play. While this is a bit of a gimmicky play, the Mavs can break it out if Dirk is catching too much heat from the defense.
The odds are stacked against Dallas, and they will likely require another Hall of Fame-level performance from Dirk to beat the Thunder this year. Keep an eye out for how Rick Carlisle chooses to defend the Thunder pick-and-roll over the course of the series.