The Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook pick-and-roll

by Andrew Kennedy

The Oklahoma City Thunder had a great fourth quarter in their win last Friday night over the Golden State Warriors. Despite turning the ball over 22 times in the game, they rode a 35-point final period to win 120-109.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were the lead catalysts in the game and especially down the stretch. Golden State couldn’t match up with either and Thunder head coach Scott Brooks took advantage of this.

The Thunder led Golden State by just three, 88-85, with 8:33 left in the game. From this point on Oklahoma City went with their Westbrook and Durant pick-and-roll play.

The play is simple and starts off with Westbrook bringing the ball down on the left wing. Nick Collison then screens for Durant to come across the top of the key and set a screen for Westbrook at the wing.

Collison is then spotting up at the opposite elbow and ready to dive to the rim, James Harden spots up at the opposite wing, and Serge Ibaka is in the opposite corner ready to cut or gain position for an offensive rebound.

Meanwhile, Westbrook and Durant read the defense in their two-man game, often with Durant not setting a hard screen and just popping out for a jumper while Westbrook looks to attack the rim.

Oklahoma City went to this set in the final eight and a half minutes of the game and scored 32 points.

They basically used Durant as the screener 12 times during that stretch and went 6-of-9 from the field, got to the line nine times and turned the ball over just once.

It’s no secret why this type of play works. Oklahoma City puts their two best players in a two-man game and almost no one can match up with it.

It accentuates Durant and Westbrook’s strengths as well. Durant is a great spot-up shooter and impossible to contest at 7-foot. Westbrook gets room to attack the rim because the defense has to respect Durant.

The first play here is a perfect example of how deadly the Durant-Westbrook pick-and-roll can be. This play actually starts with Durant coming from the left side of the floor to set a pick for Westbrook at the top of the key.

Durant doesn’t really set a pick and just gets in the way of Westbrook’s defender, Stephen Curry, before fading to the top of the key to spot-up.

Klay Thompson switches and stays with Westbrook who dribbles to the left wing and Curry thinks to try and recover back to his man. This means no one rotates to Durant.

Westbrook easily finds Durant open for the three-pointer which he makes as Curry scrambles back to him. Monta Ellis doesn’t come over to help either because his man, James Harden, is also a good spot-up shooter and he doesn’t want to leave him open.

The next play is the main set Oklahoma City was running in the fourth. Westbrook gets the screen from Durant at the left wing and Durant’s man, Dorrell Wright, goes over the screen Collison set on him in an attempt to take away Durant’s jump shot.

Durant reads the open floor and rolls to the rim while Wright is way out of position still near the three-point line as Durant does this. Westbrook doesn’t have anything on the drive and finds Durant. Also, Collison’s man, Jeremy Tyler, is not in good position to help on Durant and has his back to him while focusing on Collison and Westbrook still.

Durant doesn’t finish the layup as Tyler recovers but this leaves Collison unblocked crashing the glass and he follows up Durant’s miss with the putback layup.

In the final play you see Golden State’s adjustment to try and stop this play. As Collison sets the initial screen for Durant, Collison’s man, Brandon Rush, is already rotated over in position to help on the Durant-Westbrook pick-and-roll.

Curry is playing Westbrook for the Durant screen and wants him to drive away from the screen and toward the Rush help. Westbrook does this and Wright remains with Durant at the three-point line.

Westbrook makes the right read here as he is double-teamed on the drive and finds the diving Collison, who notices he has been unguarded on this position and is ready to make his cut.

Tyler is late on helping on Collison and fouls Collison who makes the layup too for an and-one finish. Part of the reason why Tyler is late here is because of the super, athletic play and pass by Westbrook and timing of the Collison cut.

This play is so perfect for the Thunder and I love it being run down the stretch of a game like this. It is so hard for any team to match up with Durant and Westbrook and especially when they are being used together in a pick-and-roll.

Collison is also a smart player and great at reading when to cut to the rim. He worked very well with Westbrook (who didn’t make any bad decisions when the Thunder ran this set) and spacing off Durant.

We didn’t see it in this game but Harden spotting up on the opposite side of the floor is also a key ingredient to the set. Ellis basically never helped off him in the fourth quarter but when a team does, Harden will make them pay.

Brooks received a lot of criticism for his lack of play design in the playoffs last year. A set like this is simple and has so many looks it can create for the Thunder to score off of. It puts Westbrook in a great position to be effective and Durant in his deadliest role (pick-and-roll, roll man).

The Miami Heat have also shown a tendency to run pick-and-rolls with their two best players, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Imagine how amazing an NBA Finals would be between the Thunder and Heat if they’re both running pick-and-rolls in the fourth quarter and the matchup is Westbrook-Durant vs. Wade-James.