Sunday, May 27, 2012

WCF: A Look at the Match-ups

Sunday, two of the most impressive teams of the this post season will tip off the Western Conference finals. This series has all the ingredients to not only be the best series of this years playoffs, but one for the ages. One that we will talk about for years to come. 
In one corner, wearing black trunks with a silver lining, we have the San Antonio Spurs. With the Spurs core group of Ginobli, Parker, and Duncan, the Spurs have hoisted 4 NBA Championship banners above their playing field. Lead by Greg Popovich, the Spurs have semi-rebuilt their roster from just a year ago, adding both youth and depth, to a roster that was shocked last year in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs are also getting quality contributions from 10 players on their roster consistently, add that to the 8 days of rest and we should get a well rested bunch that hungry to get back on the court. 
In the other corner, wearing blue trunks with orange trimmings, we have Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder built their team primarily through the draft. Lead by the NBA’s two time MVP runner up Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have definitely built a core group of talent that promises to be competitive for years to come. This being their second trip to the Western Conference Finals in a row, the Thunder, while remarkably young, are actually an experienced group that’s eager to grab the torch and claim Western Conference supremacy. Their time will definitely come, the question is; is their time now?
Lets go deeper into this series and analyze the key components that will inevitably decide the outcome of this years Western Conference Finals. 

Point Guard:
Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook
In many ways, this the matchup of the series. The two second team All-NBA guards will face off head to head in a dual that promises to have a major effect on the outcome of the series. In the regular season meetings, Parker averaged 23.7 points and 7.7 assists per game against the Thunder, both higher than his season averages. While Westbrook may be the more complete player, he is not a true point guard. He struggles against traditional, veteran point guards such as Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and yes Tony Parker. On February 4th, of this very season, Parker gave Westbrook 42 and 9. As much as I love Russell Westbrook, and expect him to one day channel his athleticism and become the NBA’s premiere talent at the point guard position, the worst thing that could have happened to him this post season, is Tony Parker. 
Things aren’t all bad for Westbrook though, Parker can’t exactly guard him either. During this season, Westbrook posted numbers of 22.3 points and 5.7 assists per game. Without help, Parker simply can’t defend Westbrook. The challenge for Scotty Brooks and the Thunder will be getting Westbrook in position to attack Parker without help. We’ve seen Westbrook get in rhythm, get to his spot on the floor, elevate to 40 inches, and get his mid range jumper off against any defender. The Spurs really have no answer for him, however since Westbrook gets into duals with Parker, he often alienates the offense and freezes out the rest of his teammates against the Spurs. 
Advantage Spurs
On the Wing:
Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard
I feel sorry for Kawhi Leonard. Kevin Durant is on a mission, a mission that most definitely involves the absolute destruction of Kawhi Leonard. A rookie from San Diego State has had a solid rookie season. Versatile, decent shooter, trusted defender, tough minded, this kid has the tools that create long and lucrative NBA careers. The issue here is, we all understand that for the Thunder to pose a threat and compete in this series, Durant has to dominate Leonard. The Thunder will be looking to him to produce offense early and often and because of Durant’s outside in scoring style, he’s nearly impossible to double team. Durant shoots 3’s off the dribble, and attacks the basket decisively from 25 feet with no more than two dribbles. He posts short corner, and occasionally attacks from the wing. Though Durant is a high volume scorer, he isn’t a ball stopper or an over dribbler. It is difficult for teams that have no one to physically match up with Durant to slow him down. 
I expect the Spurs to also try Stephen Jackson on Durant. At 6-8 I can see Cap’n Jack having some success against Durant. He is a smart defender that earned the leagues respect for his defensive roles in both Indiana and Charlotte. He has been a headache for Eastern Conference stand outs Lebron James and Paul Pierce. If Jackson is able to use his strength and knowledge to his advantage, he may be able to force Durant to catch the ball several feet further from the basket that what Durant is used to. For a scorer, this can cause an extra dribble sometimes, giving the Spurs team defense and extra dribble to rotate. I am not sure how much Popovich plans on going to this matchup, but it will be one to keep an eye on. Even if it is effective, it will be a challenge for the 24 year old Jackson to keep up with the 23 year old Durant. 
Advantage Thunder

Down Low:
Tim Duncan vs. Kendrick Perkins
Tim Duncan has appeared to take his game up another level. He has turned back the clock this season from both a physical and mental standpoint, leaving him as the stand alone dominant big man left in this years playoffs. This post season, Duncan is averaging 17.6 points, 9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.9 blocks, and is shooting 54% from the field. What Duncan is doing is pure excellence and dominance. While Perkins is likely to get the nod from Scott Brooks to start on Duncan, Ibaka, a 1st Team all NBA Defensive forward, is sure to see some time as well.
The bigger issue I see down low is, the Thunder have not post threat to make Duncan work on defense. A stellar defender in his own right, the real key to stopping Duncan, is to test his conditioning and physical fitness, by causing him to assert energy on the defensive end. With no real post threat, the Thunder risk having a floating Duncan, roaming around the basket, protecting the paint, calling out screens, and conserving energy. 
Theres also the Spurs ability to stretch the floor from the power forward position. When moving Duncan to the center position, the Spurs can play both Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw at the floor. Both are outside threats that draw Ibaka away from the basket and negate his shot blocking ability. 
Advantage: Spurs
Bench Mobb:
James Harden vs. Manu Ginobli
Of Corse there is the Harden vs. Ginobli match-up, which is sure to full of great shooting, euro steps, and high energy play. These two are so similar its scary. Both left handed, both former or current sixth man of the year, both have mastered the euro step which makes them unstoppable to retreating defenders, and lastly both have sacrificed starting for their teams to add both chemistry and a powerful punch with the 2nd unit. I give the slight advantage hear to Harden because of his youth, energy, and athleticism. 
The Spurs certainly have the deepest team in the league. Getting quality contributions from nearly everyone on their roster, I fully expect that dominating the 2nd unit minutes will be a focal point for the Spurs. The Thunder do have some nice pieces on the bench,  but as a unit the will be unmatched by the Spurs. The only slight disadvantage in the spurs second unit, is the lack of a true point guard. Gary Neal, while averaging 8.3 points per game, is more of a scorer and an off guard. This does slightly leave the door open for Derek Fisher and his leadership ability to keep the young Thunder 2nd unit competitive. I just don’t think it will be enough. 
Advantage: Spurs

Clearly my prediction for this series is the Spurs. My analysts concludes that across the board the Spurs will out class, out think, and should outplay the Thunder. The Thunder’s reign of West Coast rule is rapidly approaching, and when they
reach the top they have the tools to sustain the highest level of play in the Western Conference for the better part of a decade. Their time is simply just not now. The Spurs are not ready to pass the torch to the Thunder, and starting tomorrow night we will see if the Thunder has what it takes to take it.


Nate Hughart said...

Great writeup Ray.

Ray Harris said...

Thanks Nate!

Jacob Noble said...

Fantastic stuff right here!

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