This week, 2K Sports released the opening day roster for NBA 2K15, which adds in the bulk of preseason injuries and a host of transactions to bring the game up to date with the NBA season.
Of the numerous updates, the most important one involves the coverboy and reigning MVP: Kevin Durant. I’ve said in the past that I thought Oklahoma City had the best roster in the game, and though Cleveland’s additions of LeBron James and Kevin Love certainly bring that title into contention, Oklahoma City with Durant is still probably tops, just because of the versatility the roster brings. However, now that Durant is out for at least a month, a bunch of users who use OKC online or in new MyGM/MyLeague modes will be without a huge focal point of what OKC did on offense and defense last year.
Defensively, Durant was a flexible terror who could conceivably guard 3 positions on the floor effectively. Sure, some quicker guards and some larger forwards could give him trouble, but Durant’s athleticism and length made any pass in his direction an adventure, and his ability to rebound and become a one-man fast break had to always be a concern for the opposing team.
This is just a sampling of what Durant is capable of on defense:Here, he’s able to help keep Felton out of the middle, and, even though he overcommits, he uses his length to bother Carmelo Anthony’s first shot. He’s not done there, though, as his athleticism and length then allow him to block Carmelo’s second shot attempt, recover the ball, and start the break the other way. This is dominant wing defense on a tremendous scorer. Even if Melo is able to pass it to Iman Shumpert on the wing, Durant could easily recover to affect any shot from him, as well.
Basically, what NBA teams are looking for when executing offense is space, but the court is only so big, and freak athletes like Durant shrink it with their speed and length. Substituting that for any other player on OKC will harm any defense, even though the Thunder have enough flexible parts to stay afloat in that area.
Of course, the biggest problem OKC users will face is on the other end. Anytime you lose an MVP and scoring champion for an extended amount of time, it’s going to be harmful, and last year the Thunder scored 9 points per 100 possessions more when Durant was on the court than off, which is the difference between being a bottom 10 offense without Durant and the #1 offense in the league with him. Of course, some of this has to be attributed to the Thunder not having Russell Westbrook for the early part of the season, but with Westbrook off the court, the Thunder still scored at a healthy enough rate last year to be a top-10 offense.
We know also that the Thunder don’t have the most dynamic playbook in NBA 2K15, and a lot of their good stuff consists of 2-man action featuring Durant and Westbrook, like this play below:
This is such a tough decision for the defense, as Morrow (2) is in the play-side corner, meaning any help on the Westbrook (0) drive has to come from the opposite side. Nikola Pekovic (14) correctly helps off of Kendrick Perkins, but Ricky Rubio (9) and Andrew Wiggins (22) both stick with Westbrook, which gives Durant all the room he needs for an easy jumper.
Here, the action between Westbrook and the rolling Durant brings so much attention with it that Morrow gets an easy corner 3 in two quick passes. This is too easy.
Not having Durant on the floor will undoubtedly gum up a lot of your precious spacing, and none of his available replacements can provide the multifaceted skill he can.
However, with some clever game planning and tweaking, you can make it work.
See, while you don’t have Durant, you do still have Serge Ibaka, a great midrange shooter, and, more importantly, you have Russell Westbrook and a host of capable screeners in Nick Collison and Steven Adams. The tweak here is to basically never play Kendrick Perkins (which, honestly, you shouldn’t anyway), and insert Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, and one of Collison/Adams into the Shooting Guard, Small Forward, and Center positions, respectively. Your primary play here is to alternate between Jackson and Westbrook running pick and rolls, with Morrow and Ibaka giving you spacing on the outside:
Westbrook doesn’t need a ton of space to get off this shot, and since Morrow is spacing to the short wing, Wiggins can’t help too far into the paint. If the recovery on Westbrook is there in time, he can easily charge the paint for a shot at the rim or a kick-out opportunity to Morrow as Wiggins collapses down.
Here, Reggie Jackson (15) runs the pick and roll with Nick Collison (4). Again, there are only so many places where help can come from, and Collison is a tremendous screener. Wiggins cannot leave Westbrook alone in the corner, and Jackson has a pretty easy pass to a good shot for Ibaka. Ibaka could also have kicked this right to Morrow for a wide-open wing 3.
Here, the defense is forced to stick to Westbrook (in the corner), Morrow (on the wing), and Ibaka (just outside the paint) and it leaves a wide open lane for Nick Collison to throw down an easy dunk. If Kevin Martin (23) and Pekovic don’t collapse on Jackson, he has an easy lane to the basket himself for a layup or, just as simply, a pass down the baseline to Westbrook, which can start a chain of passes to get an open 3.
Although you don’t have the dynamic scoring that Durant can give you, this type of offensive system uses your available talent in a smart way to give you a good mix of shooting and ball handling on offense. On defense, Morrow at Small Forward is not ideal, but gratuitous help with Ibaka and Collison/Adams can get you by against most teams, and there’s always Perry Jones III on your bench if you need size for some of the tougher matchups. Either way, defense without Durant is much more of a team effort, and smart players will be able to stretch you out in uncomfortable ways that will make you pine for KD’s length and quickness. But, there’s just not much you can do about that.
You’ll also want to try to stagger your starters minutes, as other than Westbrook there really aren’t any OKC players that can easily create their own shot. You can make a workable offense with Jackson, Ibaka, Collison/Adams, and a couple of shooters, but playing without Jackson and Westbrook is a death sentence on offense, so it should be avoided at all costs. If you’re a manual subber (which, if you’re serious about game planning for online play, you should be), take Westbrook out early-ish in the first, then bring him in to supplant Jackson to start the second. When Ibaka is tired, go super small with Perry Jones at Power Forward, and try to get up and down the court to create transition opportunities. Just be careful with rebounding, as the size you’re accustomed to with the Thunder won’t be there.
In the end, there’s no perfect way to get over the loss of the second-best player in the league, but if any team in NBA 2K15 can handle it, it’s the Thunder. While Morrow may not have really moved the needle with Durant around, he will become a key weak side shooter in your Westbrook sets and should be a corner threat when using Reggie Jackson in drive-and-kick scenarios, especially to Westbrook. Read the closeouts of the defense when the ball comes to Westbrook and make a quick decision to either attack the closer, which will allow you to get to the rim or further bend the defense, or give the quick touch pass to Morrow for the (surely) open corner 3. These strategies should allow you to hold down the fort until December, when Durant should hopefully return. Now, if you lose Westbrook, too? Well, it may be time to find a new team for a little while.