Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Making the Matchups: Oklahoma City Thunder

There's a lot that people say about this team; they're young, they're up and coming, they just needed some playoff experience and they're contenders... etc...  I believe all of it except the last one.  They have the playoff experience, but they are in no way contenders.  Maybe I'm bitter being a basketball fan in Seattle.  Nonetheless, the Thunder are a team that I've actually seen play live, granted this was a couple years earlier, but still, I can't say I was entirely impressed.  Anyways, how do we matchup against these guys?  I'm going to do this a little differently, and let's hope this works:

Tony Parker
Russell Westbrook
Manu Ginobili
Thabo Sefolosha
Richard Jefferson
Kevin Durant
Tim Duncan
Jeff Green
Tiago Splitter
Nenad Kristic

Okay, so what the heck do I mean by this?  Well, quickly explained, green means where I think the Spurs have a patented advantage, red is where I think the opposing team has a patented advantage, and yellow where I think is going to be the decisive matchup.  

Anyways, while I think that ultimately in the post season Pop will go with the Manu off the bench thing, if James Anderson proves to be the next coming of Michael Finley, at least, then I can see it going either way (see 2005 and 2007).  I honestly see George Hill ultimately starting to take more and more PG responsibilities over time, but will still platoon time between PG and SG.  Ultimately though, I think this is what the matchups will boil down to.  I was going to say FIBA might give us some insight into how Splitter matches up against Kristic, but, alas, Brazil never played Serbia, of course, if I had really been closely following the FIBA championships I would've already known that.
Anyways, as the Thunder have gained experience through the years, Kevin Durant has been coming onto the scene in force.  Essentially, Thunder are now basically Kevin Durant and co.  Though the young guard Russell Westbrook has stepped up to be the second scoring option with Jeff Green quietly doing the duties of being the "other guy" of what could be dubbed the Thunder "Big 3".  While right now, Durant is by and far the best SF in the Western Conference (sorry Melo), you can't win games, let alone a series with just one guy.  Of course, try as we might, the Spurs will not, cannot, entirely contain Durant.  Generally speaking, the typical homages to tough perimeter defense should be made here, chasing Durant away from his favorite spots, etc...  Especially since Durant favors the one spot that kills Spurs, 20 foot jumpers.  With his length and speed, it's easy for him to get shots off over defenders, as most give him ample space in case he drives.  I think whoever is guarding Durant (probably Jefferson) needs to play physical defense, body him up, trusting that if he gets beat, the bigs will help and hopefully alter the shot.  Westbrook has proven to be something of a pleasant surprise to a lot of Thunder fans, as he was originally brought on as a defensive specialist, so his tenacity will make Parker work for his shots.  However, his inconsistency offensively is why I think the Thunder have been a little shaky here and there, as they rely too heavily on Durant in their offense at times.  Furthermore, Green isn't really a true PF.  He's more of a PF in the mold of Rashard Lewis, which is to say, a tall SF playing PF, only, Jeff Green isn't that tall.  Now I could go on about how Sam Presti should trade Green for a real interior presence, but I'm not, because this blog is about the Spurs.

Overall, I feel that since the Thunder don't have great shot-blocking or great rebounders in general, the Spurs need to go back to the old school game of attacking the paint.  In transition, they can use those quick outlets that they've become so fond of to hit Parker, Manu, and Jefferson, and in half-court, pound the ball inside, the Spurs have the decided size advantage.  So attack the rim, make the Thunder foul the heck out of us.  We don't have to make all of our free throws, but if we make enough by sheer volume of the amount we shoot and get the other team in foul trouble it does two things for us: first it opens up the interior even more, since players become very foul conscious and tend to reserve themselves on defense and secondly, regardless of our FT% if we shoot enough it's going to add up.

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