Is the switch faulty?

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - NBA PALYOFFS - Erik Horne ehorne@ oklahoman. com

Fans may chirp about it, but coach Billy Dono­van has a per­fectly sound rea­son for why the Thun­der switches so of­ten on de­fense.

Billy Dono­van can see it de­vel­op­ing from the side­line as his front­court tracks back to de­fend. It’s the new nor­mal in the NBA, the bane of Thun­der fan­dom.

The op­po­si­tion crosses mid­court and in a few ac­tions has its matchup — Steven Adams iso­lated against the shifty Stephen Curry. Carmelo An­thony on an is­land with James Har­den star­ing him down, The Beard run­ning scan­ning over op­tions in his head like he’s at a bas­ket­ball buf­fet.

When de­fend­ing, the Thun­der switches. A lot.

Thun­der fans moan and groan at OKC’s con­stant switch­ing on de­fense. But it’s not as easy as just say­ing “stop” and it’s also what makes the Thun­der a unique matchup for op­pos­ing of­fenses.

The league has evolved since iso­la­tion post play was the norm in the mid1990s. The pick-and-roll has be­come the bread and but­ter of nearly ev­ery NBA of­fense, which lead to more cross-po­si­tional matchups than ever be­fore.

When hit by a screen or try­ing to get around one, a de­fend­ing guard gets a step be­hind his man. In a split sec­ond, choices have to be made.

If there’s in­de­ci­sion, it’s over. In­de­ci­sion usu­ally means two men go­ing to the ball, leav­ing the screen set­ter open or im­bal­ance on the other side of the court in the of­fense’s fa­vor.

“You’re switch­ing to get two off the ball,” Dono­van ex­plained to The Oklahoman on why the Thun­der switches so fre­quently. “The whole game (for the of­fense) is get­ting two on the ball.

“Any time you com­mit two to the bas­ket­ball, you’re vul­ner­a­ble.”

The switches may be less preva­lent against Utah, as cen­ter Rudy Gobert does much of his of­fen­sive dam­age around the rim and the Thun­der will want to get the ball out of dy­namic rookie Dono­van Mitchell’s hands. But then, there are teams like Hous­ton and Golden State, teams who in­cor­po­rate screen-set­ting big men who in an in­stant can pop out and be­come knock­down 3-point shoot­ers.

“If you’re deal­ing with a Ryan An­der­son,” Dono­van said of send­ing two de­fend­ers to the ball, “… well they’re throw­ing the ball back to him and you’re not get­ting to him in space and he’s just sit­ting there shoot­ing catch-and-shoot threes.”

While lack­ing the de­fen­sive switch­a­bil­ity of the 2016 Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals team’s crunch-time line­ups, the 2017-18 Thun­der has sim­i­lar ver­sa­til­ity. Jerami Grant and Josh Huestis can de­fend point guards. Even with sapped ath­leti­cism, Pa­trick Pat­ter­son slid his feet and stayed in front of Chris Paul in the Thun­der’s April 7 win in Hous­ton. Rus­sell West­brook can root power for­wards out of the low post, or wig­gle around them and cre­ate a de­flec­tion.

Hence the switch. It’s an eas­ier way to stay manto-man with long, dis­rup­tive de­fend­ers in a league where a sliver of space means a bas­ket con­ceded.

“I think the way that the game is now, it’s just every­body is just spaced out and pen­e­trate, kick, shoot threes and try to get the mis­matches that they want,” said An­thony, the tar­get of many de­fenses this sea­son when the guard can ma­nip­u­late a switch to get him one-on-one.

“But every­body is kind of small and teams that still play big with big guys, they dic­tate their de­fense to what they want to do.”


Thun­der coach Billy Dono­van says of switch­ing: “Any time you com­mit two to the bas­ket­ball, you’re vul­ner­a­ble.”

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