Lakers/Thunder Preview: When The Thunder Have The Ball

Darius Soriano —  April 16, 2010

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For some time the mantra for this site has been that the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.  So we start our preview of the Lakers first round series against the Thunder with how to slow down OKC’s offense.  This will be a task that will be easier said than done.  The Thunder, though ranked only 12th in points per possession over the course of the regular season, do have one of the best offensive players in the league in Kevin Durant, a fantastic young point guard in Russ Westbrook, and other versatile players that can put the ball in the basket.  So, in order to slow down the Thunder, the Lakers must understand OKC’s plan of attack and then systematically start to take those things away to limit those plays’ effectiveness or make them go to other options entirely.

Obviously, when a team has the league’s leading scorer on their roster, their offensive attack starts with that player.  So, keying in on Kevin Durant will be the first priority for the Lakers D.  In the four games that the Lakers played against the Thunder, they actually did an okay job against him.  In three of the four contests they held him below 50% shooting and kept him below his season scoring average.   But we must also understand that three of those four contests were early in the season – he is a better player now than he was before the calendar changed over to 2010.  And even though Durant hasn’t had that singular spectacular game against the Lakers, he still got his numbers.  That is likely to continue this series.  I’ll let Zephid explain:

We all know that Kevin Durant is going to get his; he’s going to get 25+ points.  As good as Ron Artest has been, Durant is getting to that Kobe-Lebron-Wade territory of unstoppable, only containable.  But, it all depends on how many shots he takes to get them.  Similar to Kobe, if we can hold Durant to a 1-1 shot-to-point ratio, we’ll have a very good chance of bouncing the Thunder quickly.  But to do that, we have to keep Durant off the free throw line.  He’s averaging 10 free throws a game, and shoots them at almost 90%, so Ron Artest has to stay down and just give up the jumpers.  At this point, you’d almost rather Durant take semi-open jumpers than send him to the free throw line, he’s so good.

We all know that Phil has already started to combat Durant’s ability to get to the foul line by working the media and calling out the referees.  But how are the Lakers going to try to make the rest of KD’s game less effective?  They need to start by understanding what the Thunder do to get KD the ball and where he’s most effective on the court.

The Thunder’s main goal is to get Durant the ball in three different places.  First is on the extended wing on either side of the court.  To do this, the Thunder often run a simple down screen action with their Center.  Durant starts on the low block, the ball is brought up on that same side of the court, and then the big man sets a down screen to get Durant an easy catch around the three point line.  The second place that Durant loves to catch the ball is on the baseline/mid post in the 12 to 16 foot range.  The Thunder try to accomplish this by running a variation of the setup described above.  But instead of starting at the low block, Durant starts up high at the extended wing, goes to the low block like he’s going to pop back out to the wing (using the down screen described above), but instead of popping back out to the wing he continues to run the baseline and gets a screen at the weak side low block so he can circle to the opposite short corner.  He then receives a pass as the ball rotates back to his side.  The third way that Durant gets the ball in his hands is by running the screen and roll when he’s the screener.  In this arrangement, Durant just sets up at the elbow and comes up to Westbrook (or Maynor) and sets a simple screen where he can run a pick and pop to free him up.  Once the guard comes off the screen, he quickly looks to give the ball up to KD where he is in a position to attack.

The Lakers must understand that due to Durant’s unlimited range, the Thunder don’t really care where Durant catches the ball because he is a threat to score from anywhere.  So, the point of their sets is to just get the ball in his hands and let him go to work.  They don’t run anything complex to accomplish this and essentially run simplistic actions just so he can get a step on his defender to create a passing lane/angle.  And then once he has the ball he’s looking to create a shot for himself (Durant has an assist rate of 9.09 – the league average for SF’s is 12.87).  Understand as well that despite the simplicity of these plays, these are sets that produce a large number of KD’s shot attempts (746 of 1,668 of his FGA’s come off isolations and screens just like these).  So, defending these types of actions (especially in isolation) will be quite important for the Lakers.  Luckily for the Lakers, they employ Ron Artest, a player that just happens to be one of the best on ball defenders in the league.  And against Durant, Artest will need to use all his tricks and craftiness to keep the young star off balance.  Sometimes that will mean allowing the catch and then crowding Durant.  Other times it will mean furious ball denials.  But on every possession, it will mean that Artest must work hard (not a problem for Ron) and body up the willowy Durant in an effort to wear him down.  If there’s one thing that I’ve been most impressed with when it comes to KD it’s that he can make the game look so easy; that at times it seems that he’s hardly working but yet having so much success.  But, Artest is the exact type of defender to counter act that due to his strength and ability to make offensive players work to make the catch, to establish position, and to get shots off.  This is the aspect of Artest’s defense that I’m most interested in when he matches up with KD because over the course of the series, I think it will take it’s toll on him.

But, Durant is not the only key player to slow down.  Obviously when it comes to evaluating the Lakers defense, it’s how this team deals with point guards that is the glaring weakness.  And with Russell Westbrook, the Thunder will pose a challenge at  this position.  Again, I’ll let Zephid share his thoughts on what this match up means for this series:

It’s obvious that the key to the Lakers beating OKC is Russell Westbrook.  During the three times when the Lakers beat the Thunder, Westbrook went 9-21, 5-16, and 5-12.  When they won, Westbrook went 10-13.  So while Westbrook hasn’t played particularly well against the Lakers this season, except during the blowout a couple weeks ago, we’re going to get blown out if we don’t hold him down.

Controlling Westbrook will indeed be a major factor in the Lakers success in this series.  So how should the Lakers approach him?  I asked that question to Kurt and he gave a succinct answer but one that is completely accurate:

Westbrook is a slasher on offense and does not have a good outside shot. Go under picks, dare him to shoot the jumper and the three. Make him beat you from the outside.  (Kurt also explained that this applies to Sefalosha as well.)

Or, as I like to call it, give him the Rajon Rondo treatment.  Dare him to take the jumper.  Build a wall in transition and help off of non scorers (like Thabo) and turn him into a player that must consistently score from 18 feet and out.  Yes, this will be easier said than done as Russell is a player that has excellent quickness and rare athleticism for a point guard.  But, he’s also never faced a playoff defense before and especially one where the coaches have had weeks to look at his game and break down his tendencies.

One other aspect to understand about the OKC offense is something that I mentioned earlier – simplicity.  The Thunder do not run complex sets.  When you have devastating one on one players like Durant and Westbrook, then surround them with Jeff Green (an all around talent that can shoot the three, drive and finish, or post up), Nenad Kristc (a good big man with an okay post game and a good enough mid-range jumper), and James Harden (smooth guard with a very good jumper and underrated play making skill), the point isn’t to run a bunch of complicated actions, but rather to get the ball into the hands of their best creators and let them do their thing.  But, this season, this has led to a couple of issues.  First is the fact that the Thunder are a bit of a turnover prone team (they have the 7th highest turnover rate in the league).  Some of that is because of the predictability of their sets, but it’s also because Westbrook is not the most natural point guard and that can often lead to forced passes or misreads.  Second is the fact that the Thunder aren’t the best executing team in crunch time and have had trouble this season closing out the tightly contested games.  The Thunder are 7-11 in games that are decided by three points or less and are 1-4 in overtime games.  As Kurt told me:

When games tighten up and defenses get tougher at the end of games, the Thunder tend to tighten up as well. Durant is still Durant, but he gets less help and their offense becomes more about isolation, and with that they often become stagnant and they go through dry spells. It’s a learning thing, they won’t do that in a couple of years.

However, Kwame A. thinks that this may be more than just an execution issue, it may be a personnel one:

I think that the Coach of the Year Scott Brooks has actually made a mistake in his lineups to close out games.  Or actually, has a catch 22.  For the Thunder to be a diverse enough offense to be effective in tight game situations I think they need James Harden on the court.  He, along with wildcard Jeff Green, are the only shooters outside of Durant.  Problem is, Thabo is Scott’s guy for shutting down opposing perimeter players, so Thabo is in the game.  This has led them into either having to stick with Thabo-who is a liability to say the least on O, or try to shuffle Harden and Thabo back and forth, and that hasn’t worked out.

So here we are.  The Thunder have the horses, but do they have the schemes to compete against a dialed in Lakers defense?  Can Durant shake free from the grasp of Artest often enough to generate the type of scoring outbursts that his team will likely need to create and hold a lead?  Will Westbrook be able to knock down enough jumpers so that the defense has to play him honestly where driving lanes are open and available?  Will Green be assertive enough?  Will Thabo make enough shots to not be a liability that can be doubled off of?  Can the Thunder execute in the closing minutes of a close game?  Remember, while the Lakers defense has slipped some lately, they are still a top 5 defensive team and were ranked either #1 or #2 in defensive efficiency for several months this season.  If the Thunder are to win, they’ll need the answers to most of the above questions to be yes.  Meanwhile, the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.  Which side will win out?  Starting on Sunday, we’ll see.

Tomorrow – when the Lakers have the ball.

Darius Soriano

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50 responses to Lakers/Thunder Preview: When The Thunder Have The Ball

  1. Great post, alot of solid analysis. Do you think Phil will put Kobe on Westbrook?

    Im giddy for this first round series, I hope the Lakers come out of the gate firing… Im predicting a real tight game 1.

  2. Good breakdown. The key will be containing Westbrook and not letting him break down the defense and let him get to the rim repeatedly, and keeping Durant off of the FT line. The second one may depend on how the refs are calling the game. If they call the game tight, them Ron’s physical defense could send Durant to the line a lot. Luckily in the play offs the refs tend to let the game be more physical.

    Looking forward to seeing Durant. He is fun to watch. He is so smooth, an as you mentions makes the game look so easy on the offensive end.

  3. Since we’re on the topic of the Lakers defense vs. the Thunder offense, this is from the Daily Bullets at TrueHoop, via Kevin Arnovitz:

    At Basketball Prospectus, Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle offer all kinds of great stuff headed into the first weekend of the postseason. In the Lakers-Thunder preview, Pelton touches on my biggest concern for Oklahoma City: “When Durant has the basketball and the starting lineup is on the floor, only Jeff Green (33.3 percent) is any kind of threat from beyond the arc, which will allow the Lakers to offer help to Artest.” As vulnerable as the Lakers seem right now, their proficiency for overloading defensively in the half court is still very, very strong. A team like the Thunder which doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter and has few ball-movers can have a lot of trouble against that kind of strong-side pressure.

  4. I’m a Thunder fan. Good post. I agree with the assessment of Thabo. He is the weakest part of our offense.

    I don’t see Fisher or Farmar being able to stop Westbrook from penetrating. Westbrook has a nice mid-range shot and can pull up fairly quickly.

    Green is stronger and quicker than Gasol, but Odom is a nightmare match up at 4.

    Of course our front court is rather weak compared to LA, but Ibaka is highly athletic and loves to go for blocks.

    This should be a fun series.

  5. My theory for all star players (especially on their maiden entrance into the playoffs) is to contain them by staying in their face, no open looks. And, flat out stop i.e., aggressively defend every other player on his team.

    This theory allows the superstar to get his 25-30 points, but prevents the other players on his team from getting open looks, by double teaming the superstar. Other players on the team will find it much harder to score, when they are made uncomfortable on offense!

    Kevin Durant may not FEAR any player in this league, but I doubt if that same sentiment is present in the other 11 players mentality.

    Lakers in 5!

  6. I think I’m going Cleveland in 4, Orlando in 6, Atlanta in 7, Miami in 6, Lakers in 5, Dallas in 7, Phoenix in 5, and Utah in 6.

  7. Great post Darius, definitely pumped me up. Can’t wait to read tomorrow’s on O.

    Cleveland in 6, Orlando in 6, Atlanta in 6, Boston in 5, Lakers in 6, San Antonio in 7, Phoenix in 4, Utah in 6.

  8. Good breakdown.

    The only way I see OKC being successful in this series is if they are able to turn us over and run us out of the gym like they did the last time we met. And absent a complete breakdown of our guard play, I don’t think that will happen, and definitely not 4 times.

    If we can keep them from getting too many easy buckets in transition, we should be just fine, as I don’t think they are going to be able to consistently score on us in the half-court. KD is great – love the kid – but I think he’s in for some rough going if he thinks that the refs are going to call fouls in the playoffs the same way they do in the regular season. It’ll be interesting to see what exactly they let RonRon get away with. If they let him be physical with Durant then OKC is in for a long series.

  9. #4. DizzyDai,
    Welcome and thanks for giving us a visit. RE Westbrook, I think containing him will be a major subplot of this entire series. In the last game against the Lakers, Russ definitely flashed his ability to knock down the mid range jumper. However, his season long shooting stats are pretty bad from anywhere besides right at the rim. Via his profile at Hoop Data, he shoots 52% right at the rim, but only 39% from inside 10 feet, 34% from 10-15 feet, and 37% from 16-23 feet. These are not good percentages. Obviously his speed and quickness will earn him transition opportunities and his overall athleticism will make it difficult to completely keep him out of the paint. But, he’ll need to improve on those numbers in this series to be effective or I think he’ll be frustrated after a few games. Because the Lakers will make containing his penetration a top priority.

  10. 8 – Brian Says: “It’ll be interesting to see what exactly they let RonRon get away with. If they let him be physical with Durant then OKC is in for a long series.”

    Or perhaps a short one (but I know what you mean).

  11. Great breakdown, OKC fan here, probably the best I’ve seen from an opposing team. A few extra points:

    1) The Thunder have actually improved throughout the course of the year on offense. You would think with the simple sets that they run that people would pick up on it more, but they’ve become much more efficient. They started out in the bottom half of the league in OEff, but have really turned it on over the past 6 weeks.

    2) The team takes Durant’s lead and gets to the line a lot. I believe they’re top 3 in attempts, and 2nd in the league in FT percentage

    3) Make Jeff Green beat you from the 3. He’s only a 33 percent 3 pt shooter. He tends to settle sometimes, and especially with LA’s top-ranked 3-point defense, this would be a significant advantage for the Lakers. However, he is an excellent finisher, especially with the right hand, and if he drives with consistency, might get Gasol/Odom in foul trouble

    4) Quarter 1: offense through Durant, Quarter 3: offense through Westbrook/Krstic. Don’t be surprised when Nenad scores 10-12 points every third quarter this series. He has a knack for doing that.

    5) Offensive X-factor: James Harden. He has played much better since coming back from injury. If he can equal Odom in points off the bench (assuming Bynum comes back in the starting lineup), especially knocking down some 3-balls and spreading out the LA defense, then this series will go longer than expected.

  12. This is a nightmare matchup for OKC. Green has to guard Gasol, they have no legitimate Center to bang with Bynum, and their best player has to go against the Lakers best one on one defender. Lakers in 4.

  13. This is a nightmare matchup for LA. Gasol has to guard Green, they have no legitimate Point Guard to keep up with Westbrook, and their best player has to go against the Thunder’s best one on one defender. Thunder in 4.

    Seriously, why do some people talk like there’s a huge disparity between these two teams? The season series shows that this is going to be an exciting playoff series. I don’t think the Thunder will win, but this is the closest a 1-8 have ever been matched up based on record.

  14. Excellent breakdown. Factual observations regarding their offensive sets.

    It’s imperative that we keep WESTBROOK in front of us & out of the lane. Even though he has become a better mid-range shooter, I’ll take my chances with him hoisting jumpers, than having him use his superior athleticsm against us attacking the rim. Kurt was on point like a sniper in acknowledging that it would be best for our defenders to go under the picks (which shouldn’t be an issue, since that’s what they’ve been doing ‘gainst everyone all year) while defending him.

    There’s not much that you can do ‘gainst a talent like The DURANTULA & even though I know how the league is when it comes to MVP choices (best player from the best team), Durant was my pick for that award. The media is incorrect in stating that Phil X is trying to get inside Durant’s head regarding the amount of calls that he receives. I believe what Phil was doing was putting the onus on the refs to let the players compete without tic tac calls (AKA: Playoff Basketball). I also believe that he was sending a subliminal motivational message to Ron Ron. Basically implying “Make sure that you’re on your A Game defensively against Durant because the refs may not cut you any slack.” Bottom Line: A player of Durant’s caliber is going to get his, but we CAN NOT allow him to go bananas.

    PREDICTIONS: Cavs in 4, Magic in 5, Hawks in 6 & Celtics in 6. Out West, Lakers in 5, Mavericks in 7, Suns in 6 & Nuggets in 7.

  15. 13,
    #1 Gasol does a great job guarding smaller players on the perimeter and did a much better job defensively with his length and quickness against Green than Lamar did when Bynum was out.

    #2 Every PG has the same advantage against Fisher that Westbrook does.

    #3 OKC’s best one on one defender is Durant or Green and neither of those guys are going to gaurd Kobe

  16. This is gonna be a tough series for our heroes.

    Can’t wait to see Artest and KD go at it.

  17. As long as #24 doesnt make this a Kobe vs Durant feature presentation, all should be well in LaLa land. OKC will steal one or two games at the most in the series. Using their youth, aggresiveness, and playing the role of the underdog with nothing to lose will enable them to put up a good fight. But in the end, the trees on the inside for LA will prove to be too much in a best of seven series.

    I know Portland FO is once again smacking itself upside the head when they watch Durant’s silky smooth game while Oden sat out another year because of injuries. Somewhere Sam Bowie is smiling, his name has always been atop the list of all-time bust. If Durant keeps up this pace and Oden never lives up to the hype, his name just might drop a spot on that shameless list.

  18. #15. Aaron,
    I think OKC’s best one on one defender is Thabo Sefolosha and he will be on Kobe.

  19. I think that Darko is probably the all time bust at this point, but I start off by digressing…

    What I really want to see is Bynum throwing a couple of hammer hard fouls on Westbrook and Durant when the drive the lane early in Game 1. Test their toughness. Check their grit and make them wonder if it is really worth the free throws.

    The Robber Barons lack veterans. A great young team, but that will not behoove them in a playoff atmosphere.

    I would like to see how they respond to hard fouls inside.

    One of the things that separates the Kobe’s and Wade’s from almost every other slasher is the emotional calm and mental toughness to take the hard fouls, hit the free throws and then drive in again on the very next trip down.

    I don’t think that Durant and Westbrook have that, yet.

    Go Lakers.

  20. Thunder Fans posting here-welcome, and thanks for stopping by.

    I think the Thunder offense has improved during the season as well, and one of the biggest reasons is that Westbrook, basically since December, has stopped taking 3’s. He is an example of the “do what works” philosphy the Thunder employ and I like that.

    I think Bynum getting his legs under him this series is one of the most important things for the Lakers, both in the 1st round and going forward.

  21. Seriously, why do some people talk like there’s a huge disparity between these two teams?

    ___

    Matchups, pure and simple. OKC cannot, on paper at least, matchup with the Lakers’ front line, and Durant isn’t going to score 50 (maybe once, I guess) Westbrook will hurt the Lakers throughout the series but he isn’t going to score 35.

    But, I am with Hollinger. I think the west depends as much, if not more, on health than on tactics. This series will turn on how much Bynum and Bryant really bring to the table.

  22. It’s obvious that the key to the Lakers beating OKC is Russell Westbrook. During the three times when the Lakers beat the Thunder, Westbrook went 9-21, 5-16, and 5-12. When they won, Westbrook went 10-13.

    ___

    Yes and no. Yes, Westbrook was huge, but the score of that game was 91-75, not 125-110. If the Lakers allow 91 PPG in this series, they will be OK. What to look for in this series is the shooting %s of Odom, Gasol, and Bynum.

  23. I don’t recall seeing this mentioned but all West playoff teams had 50 wins this year. That’s just an amazing stat to me.

  24. @23

    Indeed. I think it is the first time ever.

    Interesting side light: Artest was acquired in part to deal with the big, veteran, physical 2/3s around the top of the league:

    Anthony
    Jefferson
    Pierce
    James
    Carter

    But his first assignment is against a relatively slim, finesse-oriented very young star. Few expected OKC in the playoffs this soon. Quite an achievement in the West–Brooks and Durant and the other guys deserve all the props.

  25. With all this discussion about Phil’s comment about Durant, all the talking heads and people on this blog seem to have ignored one possible reason for Phil making this comment:

    Kobe

    Kobe has not gotten the calls this year that he did in the past. He has been pretty beaten up down in the paint – with relatively few calls – compared to past years.

    I think Phil is implying that if refs are going to call fouls on people who touch Durant – then they sure should also be calling fouls when the #1 or #2 player in the league gets hit in the lane.

  26. I think the lakers need to score more points than the thunder. If they can do that, they’ll be in good shape.

  27. Darius (18)
    I understand that thinking… cause many people think of guys that can only play defense or focus just on defense as “the better defensive player.” But most of the time the actual better defender is someone that is also the better player. But people like to put players into boxes.

    For instance Pau Gasol is a top 3 defensive PF in the NBA. PF’s have an incredibly hard time scoring on him in the low post and an even harder time trying to pull him away from the basket. But if you asked around 90% of the people would tell you that Kenyon Martin is the better defender. And while Martin is a very good defender if you actually watch the games Gasol is better.

    Durant’s quickness and length make him almost impossible to score against one on one and allow him to be a Scottie Pippen like team defender getting into passing lanes. But just like with Lebron (and yes he also improved) it will take a few years for people to start appreciating his defensive greatness.

  28. 23 – Yes, it is an amazing stat.

    I think it happened year before last, as well.

  29. 25) Craig W- Point taken! What’s a foul for one goose, should be a foul for another.

  30. Aaron,
    Or they call that player the better defensive player because, you know, he’s better. No offense to Durant, who probably is a bit underrated with his D – though I think even his tremendous length is compromised some by his lack of strength at this point in his career. Different strokes for different folks though, I suppose. I think Thabo’s better. Most do. You’re in the minority, but from everything I know about you you’re quite comfortable there because everyone else just hasn’t caught up yet. Ha.

  31. Drew practiced the full two hours today with no problems. The other players said he looked great. Kobe also feels good. The team did have another injury casualty, though, as Mbenga may have suffered a concussion from a stray elbow. Didn’t say whose elbow it was.

    http://twitter.com/LakersReporter

  32. “This series will turn on how much Bynum and Bryant really bring to the table”

    Bynum’s defense and Bryant’s willingness to play within the system are what is needed from those two.

  33. OKC is a much improved team. But it’s a young team with very little, if any, playoff experience. Winning 50 games during the regular season is a great accomplishment, but the disparity between the two team is quite significant. Athletically, OKC is younger and quicker. Durant is one of the best scorers we have EVER seen. That said, just because OKC routed LAL in the last game doesn’t mean that OKC is in the class of LAL. Are you serious?

    Lakers are dinged up at many positions, but the talent level between the two teams is quite large. Other than Durant, none of the OKC players will be able to start on the Lakers, even Westbrook (but only because Westbrook is simply not the triangle PG). Every single Laker starter not named Fisher plus Odom would start on OKC. 5 of the best 6 players on the court will be on the Lakers.

    Still, this is a team game, so let’s just compare the teams. The current Laker roster have gone to the Finals the last two years. They are the defending champions with the best record in the conference. Yes, they have been average at best near the season’s end, but what did they have to play for? To have the better record against ORL? Please…it’s not a lock, but the Lakers know that this is the year they’ll have to keep Lebron ringless. Will they beat the Cavs? That’s a whole another story, but the Lakers are compared to the Cavs, Magic, and Mavs as the title contenders. OKC should be just happy they are in the playoffs in the tough western conference. If they can squeeze out a game or two against a healthy Laker team, they should celebrate and gear up for next year. I’m not saying that there’s no way OKC can beat the Lakers. Injuries to Kobe and Bynum (who are recovering from injuries) are the biggest concerns. If health wasn’t an issue, OKC will not beat LAL in a seven game playoff series. PERIOD. NOT THIS YEAR.

    That said, I think the series will still be quite enjoyable as OKC will compete. Durant may even have game like Jordan’s 63 pointer vs. Celtics in ’86. In fact, OKC is probably more talented than those Bulls, but the Lakers will prevail. We wanted OKC, and we got ‘em. Let’s mow ‘em down. In 5!

  34. Just a quick note to welcome the OKC posters. From what I’ve seen thus far, it looks like a classy group of Bball fans and not the ‘Kobe sux’ crowd found elsewhere. There were some great posters here representing other teams last season (esp houston, for some reason), and I just want to extend a warm welcome.

    you’ve got a talented and likable team. in fact, I’d be rooting for the youngsters against any other opponent…

  35. One way to make Durant less effective offensively is to make him expend a lot of energy on defense.

    For KD, trying to deny Artest and Odom position is going to feel like rolling a boulder uphill.

  36. #25, Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to get calls from the refs when you’re shooting jumpers the majority of the times. And that’s what Kobe has been relegated to this year. It’s plain to see that he doesn’t attack the rack like he used to. Now this might be to a myriad of reasons, but truth be told, I started recognizing this last season. But just judging from this season (where it is more obvious), the injuries r more than likely the reason.

    At the beginning of the season, The Mamba was playing @ an MVP level, but once the injuries occured (finger, groin, ankle & knee), naturally, his game regressed. The combination of all of these injuries hampered his athleticism, made it impossible for him to get seperation from a defender or to get to his spot on the floor with the relative ease that he’d become accustomed to. Therefore, he became a jump-shooter. Even on the rare occasion in which he slashes to the hole, he avoids contact. Unlike Lebron & D. Wade, who seek the contact.

    Hopefully, with the rest that he’s garnered over the last few weeks of the season, he’s mended some of his injuries & gotten his legs under him. This will allow him to resemble the Kobe that we all know & respect. Also, to be more aggressive on the court, which, in tell, will put the onus on the refs to make the calls.

  37. I think we’re better off putting Kobe on Westbrook. If Kobe guards Thabo, Kobe will almost definitely begin to roam.
    NBA Hotspots shows that Westbrook is atrocious from the left side of the floor, 3 point range (7% and 19%) and his strongest shooting areas (straight away, and right corner) are only 33%.

    Thabo isn’t great, but he could do more damage if left open than Westbrook. From the right side of the floor, he’s shooting 39% and 35%, although he’s under 30% from other 3-point areas. (Feel free to double check those numbers; Hotspots was giving me problems as I was looking up the charts).

    Bottom line, Kobe will be more focused guarding Westbrook, and Fish will be better suited to guarding Thabo. Fish (hopefully) won’t leave Thabo, and his lateral quickness won’t be exposed, as Thabo has no offensive game.

    Of course I don’t expect this all game; Phil won’t want to wear an already injured Kobe down. But it’s something I want in crunch time, and all game if this series is tighter than it should be.

  38. Pb-westbrook wouldn’t start on the Lakers? Wow! Watched him a lot and I think he is one of the top young guards in the league. Its his penatration that concerns me most, which just happens to be Fisher’s biggest weakness.

    That being said Lakers will win in 5 or 6.Bynam and Ron are the keys. Andrew could have a big offensive series and Ron could really wear down Durant.

    Have to figure that home crazy crowd will get OKC one or maybe two wins but no chance for more then that.

  39. dave in hillsboro April 17, 2010 at 4:35 am

    ken, note the qualifier pb used: “but only because Westbrook is simply not the triangle PG.” Westbrook’s lack of a reliable outside shot makes him a less than ideal fit for the triangle, where guards who can space the floor are key. He’s good, but not for the Lakers.

  40. Ken- I will take it from here.

    David- Someone smarter than me once said “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the necessary.” Russell Westbrook isn’t a great outside shooter and having a perimeter threat is a nice quality to have for your PG in the triangle offense, since PG’s handle the ball a little less especially if there is a Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan around. But make no mistake about it… Westbrook would be a gigantic upgrade at starting PG for the Lakers compared to a Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, or Sasha Vujacic. This isn’t like Jerry West keeping Nick The Quick instead of acquiring the fancy passing yet messy shooting Jason Kidd with Shaq drawing so many double teams. Van Exel was still an all star PG. The Lakers have a bunch of nobody’s at the point.

  41. Darius (30),
    Haha… you know me too well. You might be right, as I haven’t paid as much attention to Thabo as I have to Durant. I do agree that Kevin’s strength, or lack there of, would be a significant weakness guarding SF’s if he also wasn’t so freakishly tall and long (think of a young Tayshaun Price). I will look closely in this series though, but I do suspect that when the Thunder need stops you will see Kevin Durant on Kobe to close games. It will be very interesting to see and I would think a healthy Kobe would spend a lot of time on Westbrook similar to how he matches up with Rondo with an unathletic or offensively limited SG primed for Fisher to be dumped onto. It is playoff time and I couldn’t be more excited. I am going to game 1 at staples for anyone that wants to drop by and say hi. Section 101 row 10. I will be the 30 year old guy with the buzz cut.

  42. Darius I think you touched on Westbrook’s major weakness. He gets too frustrated at times. If that happens he will get benched then you have to deal with Maynor. Whom isn’t half bad for a rookie.

  43. Westbrook would start for the Lakers. If they had the money to land him, would they pick him over other more triangle-appropriate points? Probably not. But he’s a 500% upgrade over whoever we have right now. All of the PGs we have right now don’t fit the triangle system. Why would Westbrook be a downgrade. Neither here nor there… but seriously…

  44. kareem,
    Nice try, but Phil is about maintaining the system. That is what is so frustrating – for him – about this year. None of his PGs are able to function in his system – one because his skills are declining and two because they seem to be unwilling to stay within the passing system.

    I think the lack of PG talent for the triangle is the major reason Phil would not come back next year if we don’t win it all.

  45. Eastern Confrence Speculation:
    I really don’t like that ATL gets the Bucks in the first round. I think they will sweep MIl. and be a fresh, hungry team that will give Orlando some trouble after they shake off the Bobcats (which I could see going 6 games.)

    Why does all that jibber jabber matter to this Laker fan you say? Because… I see an imminant, grueling 7 game series between Orl and ATL which will give the Cavs an easy street of:
    Bulls- I predict in 5
    Bos/Mia- 6 for Bos; 5 for Mia
    Orl/ATL- 6 for both because they’re going to be beat to hell because of their semi finals duo.

    The Magic are definately more talented than the Hawks but the Hawks won’t even be phased after sweeping the Bucks (Blazers of the East) which will make them a harder out for Orl.

    Lastly, I wish that the Bulls signed a one year deal to someone like TMAC. That would have made this first round a lot more interesting.

    Here’s to an Entertaining playoff and more importantly a Lakers dominated playoffs.

  46. #42. DizzyDai,
    Don’t get me started on Maynor. I really like Maynor as a player and was wishing the Lakers could have found a way to draft him last summer. And then when the Jazz just let him go to get rid of salary and the Thunder happily scoop him up? Let’s just say I was a bit envious.

  47. The Dude Abides April 17, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Jeremy, Orlando pretty much owned Atlanta this season. I expect them to beat both Charlotte and Atlanta in five.

  48. i dont think we will see durant guarding (maybe for a couple minutes). yes, kobe is hurting and doesnt feel like driving to the cup a lot, but trust me: if kd is guarding him he will do anything to draw a quick foul. i would actually try to force that matchup if i was phil. run a couple of picks and put kobe vs durant on the low block… could be very nice. artest should also try to push him as much as he can on the offensive end if he gets the chance to. speaking of defense: who do you think durant will be guarding? he cant handle kobe or crazy pills in the post.

    in fact, artest was performing quite well vs okc this year.

    45,16 %fg / 46,15 %3pt / just 43 %ft (!!!) and 1,75 steals per game

  49. 46. Agreed on Maynor, he’s solid. I see him giving us more problems than Westbrook because of his shot and his in between game. And also because he’ll be matched up against the second unit.

  50. Part two of the OKC preview is up. Taking a look at when the Lakers have the ball.

    http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2010/04/17/lakersthunder-preview-when-the-lakers-have-the-ball/