As recently as 2 weeks ago, newspapers in OKC were writing articles about the Thunder's inability to beat a zone defense. They were relieved that their first round opponent, Denver, never uses one. The particular zone OKC struggles against is a 2-3 zone. The Nuggets probably wouldnt try this because they havent practiced it all year but here are some of the reasons we should employ a 2-3 zone defense against the Thunder. Besides the fact that it is one of OKC's weaknesses, and exploiting weaknesses is part of winning playoff basketball, the Nuggets have the right personnel to disrupt the Thunder using this tactic at certain points of the game. In this post I intend to explain why a zone would work against the Thunder and talk about a couple simple aggressive 2-3 traps and double teams that would help our fast break.
First of all, if a team struggles at beating a zone, you should throw one at them every once in a while. Especially in a 7 game series where adjustments are made all the time. At the very least, it makes the other team have to waste time preparing for something. But even more importantly, it could win you a game or two. Im not talking about abandoning all defensive philosophies. Im talking about adding a wrinkle during a 7 game series and using it in certain situations that can throw your opponent off guard. This could then lead to turnovers, which lead to fast break points which helps mask our lack of a half court offense. Lets face it, the Nuggets play better when they run.
The Nuggets have the right personnel for a simple but aggressive 2-3 zone defense. Lets start with the guards. In a 2-3 zone you need 2 quick athletic guards who can cover a lot of ground. Lawson, Felton, JR and AAA fit this mold. Also, if Karl really wants to insist on these small lineups, a 2-3 zone is the perfect defense to play fast but also secure rebounds negating a size disadvantage, because you would always have people under the basket. In game 2, Coach Brooks drew our bigs out from under the basket and killed us on the offensive glass.
A 2-3 zone would work particularly well against the Thunder's starting lineup. The only true outside shooting threat would be Durant or Westbrook and they are the guys we would be trapping and double teaming most of the time. In one example, in very simple terms, we could trap the wing (Durant). In this situation, Westbrook brings the ball up the court and one of the 2 perimeter defenders would force him to Durants side and after he passes to KD the double team would come from the other guard and Kmart for example. The other three players deny the passing lanes and try and force a turnover. This defense is vulnerable to good outside shooting from the weak side but Sefolosha is probably the guy we want taking the shots for OKC. Now, when Harden is in the game, this becomes more risky. But against the starting lineup, its a very interesting strategy. We double Durant sometimes but never from a 2-3 zone base which would give us a bit more stability. If they break the trap, we sprint back to our zones.
In normal situations when we dont trap the wing, AAA (get well soon) would be the ideal guy to defend up top because you dont want Westbrook penetrating much. However, we would have our bigs waiting for him in a 3 on 3 situation even if he did penetrate which would mean kick outs to average shooters (providing we deny KD). From this base we could use a risky hot trap a few times where we double Westbrook as soon as he crosses midcourt and cut off the passing lanes to try and force a turnover.
Denver has the personnel for this. We have quick, athletic, versatile defenders that could succeed. Our bigs are fast, our guards are lighting and our threes are long and athletic.
The simple fact that OKC has struggled against this defense as recently as 2 weeks ago is good enough reason to spring it on them at some point. What do you think?