This is the first in a series of posts looking at the playoff bound teams in the West. Basically, if I was an assistant writing a scouting report, this is what I would write. First up, we'll take a look at the Oklahoma City Thunder. I'm starting with them because they are the only team in the West that's officially clinched a playoff birth. If the playoffs started now, we'd have to make it all the way to the Western Conference finals in order to meet up with them, but it's never too early to learn a little more about teams we might be unfamiliar with.
I'm just practicing for when Derek Fisher gets here.
PG:Russell Westbrook, Derek Fisher, Royal Ivey, Eric Maynor (injured reserve)
SG: Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden
SF: Kevin Durant, Daequan Cook
PF: Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison
C: Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Cole Aldrich
Play Style: Their first unit operates mostly out of the pick and roll and isolations with either Durant or Westbrook handling the ball. The Thunder lead the league in PPG, but are 28th in assists per game. The second unit features quite a bit more ball movement- Eric Maynor is a "pure point guard" but has been out all year and will continue to be out all year due to an injury. Derek Fisher is their new back up point guard. James
HarBearden is also capable of handling the ball- or fitting into any other role you need him to. Like Manu early in his career, Harden would be starting for any other team, and might should be for the Thunder, but is brought off the bench to ensure balance. Cook, Harden, and Durant are all sharp shooters. Ibaka and Collison are most known for their defense, but they can also both spot up and shoot on offense. Collison, in warm ups, can shoot beyond the three point line, but usually in games just inside of it. Perkins and Nazr are in the game to play physical defense and clean up any garbage coming their way. Neither is the most athletic, but they are both above average defenders. Perkins lost a ton of weight over the offseason and is now lighter and quicker and did not lose much strength in the process.
Last year: Lost in WC Finals.
This year: Projected by many to win the West. They probably should be considered the early favorite.
Weakness: Lack of a low post scoring threat. Of their bigs, Collison has the most polished back-to-the basket game, but he's rarely called upon to use it. Aldrich is a project big that doesn't get frequent minutes or have a consistent role on the floor yet.
Projection: First seed in the West.
Strength: Wing/guard scoring. Kevin Durant is likely to win the scoring title this year, and Westbrook could probably average 30 a game if he wasn't sharing the ball with Durant. They are a very athletic team with two excellent team defenders (Collison and Perkins) and one excellent shot blocker (Ibaka) down low.
Gameplan: If the past games against the Thunder are any indication, the Spurs' defensive game plan will be ball denial against Kevin Durant (his biggest weakness is getting open to receive a pass) and giving Westbrook space to shoot long range jumpers. He's a good enough shooter that it's possible for him to get hot and kill us from range in one game (maybe two) but he's a bad enough shooter that losing that way makes this an effective strategy over the course of a series, since he shouldn't make enough distance shots to hurt San Antonio consistently. As always, contest without fouling and stay home on the sharpshooters (Cook, Harden). On offense, high pick and roll and lots of ball movement. Blair has had surprisingly good games against the Thunder, as has Tony Parker. On their best days, Harden and Westbrook can contribute as much to them as Tony and Manu do for us. As long as our bigs give us more offensive production than their bigs give to them, and our bench gives us any sort of offensive production, it should be a win for us. Our spacing and ball movement have given the Thunder fits in the past few meetings. As long as we stick with what works and don't resort to isolations, we're in good shape.