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NBA Saturday: Warriors Exploiting Thunder’s Weaknesses

The Thunder are in need of adjustments after the Warriors exploited their weaknesses in Game 2.



After two games in the Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder are set to square off in Oklahoma City on Sunday night with the series tied. Getting a split on the Warriors’ home court is a nice achievement for the Thunder, but there are some causes for concern for Oklahoma City heading into Game 3.

“They were sending three guys,” said Kevin Durant after the Thunder fell to the Warriors in Game 2. “I was trying to make the right pass. I was turning the ball over, playing to the crowd. So, maybe I’ve just got to shoot over three people.”

Durant was clearly frustrated after the Warriors stifled the Thunder and won Game 2 by a final score of 118-91. However, the final score wasn’t the only thing for Durant to be frustrated about. As he said in the above quote, the Warriors swarmed him all night with multiple defenders. Unfortunately for Durant and the Thunder, the Warriors can get away with this extremely aggressive defensive scheme for several reasons, including the poor shooting of Andre Roberson.

Here are just two examples of how the Warriors guarded Roberson in Game 2.

Screenshot 2016-05-20 22-02-40

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The Warriors are an extremely effective defensive team and are even more dangerous when they can consistently exploit an opponents’ weakness. Roberson’s poor shooting allowed the Warriors to not just sag off of him, but to essentially ignore him completely, allowing Draymond Green to play like a free safety.

“[Green has] been able to roam around and provide a lot of different help,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “When he’s doing that, we’ve got to recognize the way the floor is balanced … It doesn’t always mean Andre’s going to be open for a shot, but he may be open to create an opportunity for somebody else.”

As Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript pointed out in this piece, the Thunder shot 48 percent on drives to the basket during the regular season, but are now connecting on just 32 percent of these shots against the Warriors through two games.

Of course, this isn’t exactly shocking when you consider that the Warriors are a smart, disciplined team. They have some of the most versatile wing-defenders in the league, the runner up for this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award and rim protectors like Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli on the roster. But add those ingredients together with the fact that the Warriors are ignoring Roberson and packing the paint, and we get plays like the one we see in this screenshot.

My Great Capture Screenshot 2016-05-20 22-05-42

As Durant pointed out after the game, he was often operating against two and sometimes three defenders (especially when Roberson was on the court). In the clip below, the Warriors ignore Roberson on the perimeter and send two defenders at Durant. To Roberson’s credit, he recognizes this and makes himself a threat by cutting to the basket. However, Roberson runs into Bogut and is unable to finish at the rim.

When asked about the effect Green’s roaming defense has on the Thunder’s offense, Donovan asserted that moving the ball and finding an open man would address the problem.

“Well, it doesn’t really,” Donovan reiterated. “I think that for us, it was just a matter of getting good shots, creating good shots, making the extra pass and finding the open man.”

However, as we just saw in the clip above, Durant found the open man, who still ended up taking a contested shot at the rim. With the Warriors’ defenders hounding Durant on the perimeter and packing the paint, it’s difficult for the Thunder to swing the ball and exploit the Warriors’ defense. While resorting to hero ball and shooting over three defenders seems like a recipe for disaster, Durant did find more success in Game 2 when he made quick decisions and attacked on offense.

In this clip, Durant uses the threat of a screen from Adams to get a little bit of separation from Andre Iguodala. With a quick shot, Durant found himself an open look against a single defender.

The same was true even when Durant was handling the ball. With Dion Waiters on the court, rather than Roberson, Durant had a little more space to operate. With a decisive pull up jumper coming off of a high screen from Adams, Durant got a decently clean look against one defender on this play.

Waiters may not be the most dependable shooting guard in the league, but he has stretched the Warriors’ defense out more than Roberson, as we can see in this screenshot.

Screenshot 2016-05-21 05-15-50

Here, we see Green guarding Waiters out to the three-point line, which he essentially did not have to do with Roberson on the court. The Warriors are still in a nice collective defensive position against the Thunder in this set, but at least Durant doesn’t have multiple defenders cheating over prematurely. Again, the extra space that Waiters creates may not seismically shift the Thunder’s fortunes in Game 3, but it should help a little.

This is especially true when you consider that the Thunder have been outscored by 29.2 points per 100 possessions in the 36 minutes that Roberson has played in this series, which is the worst net rating on the team by almost 10 points.

However, the Thunder’s problems go beyond Roberson’s shooting and Durant being smothered. While the Thunder have benefited from the collective length and size of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter throughout these playoffs, they are not exactly well-equipped to check Stephen Curry on switches. Curry exploited this in Game 2 and will likely continue to do so moving forward.

To Adams’ credit, any big man is going to be vulnerable one-on-one against Curry and Adams moves decently well in this next clip, but Curry is too skilled and too quick for the big man to keep up with.

Ibaka has struggled to stick with Curry as well and it’s even more difficult when he has to try and cover him out of defensive rotations forced by the Warriors’ ball movement.

Despite having superior mobility for a big man, Ibaka has never been great at defending guards and wing-players on the perimeter. If the Warriors can consistently put him, Adams and Kanter into situations like this, the Thunder are likely going to suffer from several more offensive explosions from Curry. The Thunder are at a severe disadvantage in guarding Curry on switches, so it is imperative their big men collectively punish the Warriors on the glass and with second-chance points. However, that may be a lot to ask when you consider how much ground these players are being asked to cover on defense, which is surely causing them to get tired more than normal.


Though Game 2 showed us how vulnerable Oklahoma City is with Roberson’s shooting and Curry attacking the Thunder’s bigs, the Thunder can make some adjustments. Based on what we saw in Game 2, the Thunder need to at least consider moving away from Roberson altogether. While he is a nice defender, his poor shooting allows Green to play like a free safety on defense. Green is a smart defender and will continue to stifle the Thunder’s offense more than he normally would when playing a more traditional brand of defense. At least with Waiters on the court, Green at least has to consider guarding out to the three-point line.

Also, as we saw above, the Thunder need to get the ball to Durant coming off of multiple screens so he can take quick jumpers against rotating defenders. He won’t get an open look every time, but he’ll likely get better shots than he did when he called for the ball in isolation against multiple defenders. Additionally, when Waiters is on the court, Durant should probably handle the ball more frequently and attack the rim aggressively coming off of high screens set by his bigs.

These adjustments may not be enough to shift the tide in Game 3, but every bit helps against the Warriors.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Jazz offering Mike Conley $75 million over next three years



According to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz are preparing to offer point guard Mike Conley a three-year, $75 million contract to remain with the team. Of course, the exact amount is a ballpark figure. Stein stated, “Utah has made retaining Mike Conley its top priority, league sources say, and is preparing a three-year offer said to be in the $75 million range.” The 14-year NBA veteran is a significant piece to the Jazz’s championship window, playing alongside superstar teammates, such as center Rudy Gobert and guard Donovan Mitchell. He helped the Jazz finish their regular season with the league’s best record of 52-20 (.722).

Utah went on to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Though, the team lost four games to two in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and six assists per game in 51 games started. Then, in the postseason, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The 33-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field in the regular season. Last season, the 2007 fourth overall pick earned his first NBA All-Star selection.

On July 6, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick. Furthermore, the Jazz can still trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles this offseason, if they wanted to improve their current salary cap situation. Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 cap holds, Mike Conley’s cap figure is $39,344,900. Cap holds are for pending free agents. Conley earned $34,504,132 last season.

The team’s current luxury tax space is $11,173,027. In addition to the aforementioned cap figures, Mitchell and Gobert have a combined cap figure worth 51.34 percent of the team’s total salary cap. These two players’ contracts alone are consuming a huge chunk of the team’s cap. Plus, on November 23, 2020, Mitchell signed a contract extension with Utah. He is set to earn $28,103,550 next season. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. He will earn $35,344,828 next season and $38,172,414 in the 2022-23 season.

However, if the team were to still trade Bogdanovic and possibly Ingles as well, this would clear up an additional 25.68 percent of the team’s salary cap. Bogdanovic’s future guaranteed cash amount total is $19,343,000. They are contributing role players who play together well with the team’s big three, but re-signing the most valuable players is the team’s main objective this offseason. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik might contemplate trading role players who are not worth their asking price. Competitive teams in both conferences have to trim the fat at some point.

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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder



First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not possess any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal



The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams. Having said that, one person’s prediction is as good as anyone’s. The Lakers needed an accurate shooter. Westbrook might not be the missing piece.

Additionally, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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