GSoM: The first three games between these teams have been about as different as one could possibly imagine: Westbrook and Durant out in a nail biter, Durant lighting us up in the first half before getting injured again, and Durant and Westbrook going completely cold. Despite the obvious differences, was there any common thread in those three games that reflects broader trends for the Thunder this year?
Marine Mangiaracina: My knee-jerk reaction to that is: Isn't the roller-coaster nature of that game indicative of the roller-coaster nature of this season? The Thunder have been through so many lineup changes this year after what seems like eons of stability, and they're experimenting more than they ever have before. All three of these games were entirely different situations, and most players have widely varied performances between games. Such is the beauty of Thunder-Warriors matchups. Not a single player seems to have a permanent advantage on either end, and both teams have enough diverse offensive weapons to constantly keep each other in check. Sure, the Thunder imploded last time, but it was after what seemed like endless deadlocked matchups.
That said, if I had to focus on a single trend, it would be poor shooting from Ibaka and OKC's point guard in pretty much every game. Ibaka is in the midst of changing as a player, placing a much greater emphasis on his three point shot. This comes at the expense of Serge's rebounding and has definitely made him a less consistent player. Meanwhile, both Reggie Jackson and Russell Westbrook have really struggled with their shot this year, both for separate reasons. Jackson just can't seem to hit anything off the dribble in mid-range, and his three is really spotty. So defenses sag off, and Reggie has struggled a bit. Meanwhile, Westbrook has suffered from his usual issues with gripping the ball and personal anger management. All problems I've mentioned have reared their ugly heads against the Warriors in some form or another, and I fully expect Steph Curry to continue to try and exploit them.
2. Shortly after that last meeting, the Thunder acquired Dion Waiters. From what you've seen so far, how might you expect Waiters to change the Thunder's matchup with the Warriors?
Dion Waiters solves basketball, financial problems
•Welcome to Loud CityWhile Dion Waiters solves some basketball and financial problems for the Thunder, he also creates some new ones.
MM: Offensively, I think he gives the Thunder their single best isolation threat off the bench. Morrow can catch and shoot and Reggie can work in the pick and roll, but no player has really possessed this ability to score one-on-one. I'm really eager to see Waiters match up with the long arms of Justin Holiday. I have no idea how the two are head-to-head, but I have a feeling their matchup will be setting the tone at some point.
Defensively, I think Waiters makes the Thunder more prone to gamble for steals. This means more broken plays, more scores, and more excitement. In general, just expect Waiters to encourage more chaos rather than balance in this already dynamite matchup.
GSoM: Of course, people almost immediately brought up the idea of Waiters "replacing" what Harden once brought to the Thunder. How do you think their roles might differ? And independent of whatever you think of that, are you getting sick of people bringing up the Harden issue this long after the fact?
MM: First of all, Waiters has no bones about taking mid-range shots. Harden never takes mid-range shots. Secondly, I think James Harden has much better court vision than Waiters does. Waiters has the skill to make some good passes within plays and can make decent reads. But Waiters simply doesn't have that sixth sense to whip it across the court to the open man like Harden did. I also think Waiters is a bit more of a defensive factor, though he can be equally lame about paying attention on the weak side.
And personally? Nah. I'm a really big fan of Steven Adams and think he's a huge key to OKC's future, so I'm kind of glad Harden set sail. I believe that Adams' development will eventually swing the trade back on its' head, so I hope that people never forget.
GSoM: Ian Levy recently wrote an article for The Classical in which he explores a question that seems to be a constant source of "divisiveness" on NBA Twitter: "How can Westbrook's talent best serve and complement Durant's?" Levy suggests that maybe we should reframe the debate by just considering this Westbrook's team.
What do you make of that idea and how do folks around Oklahoma generally feel about Westbrook right now?
MM: As someone who's followed the team, this is nothing new to me. KD was quoted at last year's All-Star festivities saying that the Thunder needed to mold themselves around Westbrook. This is, for all intents and purposes, Russell Westbrook's team. The Thunder are known for their firey personality, explosive offense, and physical defense. I believe all of those traits describe Westbrook more than they do Durant. I'd imagine Durant's ideal team as something more like what LeBron had in Miami. A system where Durant's ability to play all five positions was featured. Furthermore, the smaller, more offensive nature of the hypothetical "KD" team would give Durant so many more options to kick to on the perimeter. Now, I'm not saying that Durant's team would necessarily be better, but I am saying that such a team would be more conducive to KD's stat line and personality.
Also, I think most folks around here just love Westbrook to death. Watching this team trudge through the early part of the season without Russ was a nightmare. Remember when we had Sebastian Telfair at point guard? That was like watching a quarterback hand the ball off for a rush up the gut every single play. After that, seeing Westbrook is like watching Popeye in a pass-happy offense after eating an entire field of spinach.
GSoM: As good as the Warriors are playing right now, they have a reasonable chance to sweep this regular season series. But assuming OKC makes the playoffs -- and I think it's quite reasonable to expect that -- what reasons might you have to expect a different outcome in the postseason and make a deep run (if the two were to meet in the first round)?
MM: I don't have a good big overarching reason, but I do have a few little ones. My biggest piece of evidence is the Thunder's excellent shutdown of Marreese Speights in the most recent encounter between these two teams, as he looked unstoppable on the pick and pop in his two games against OKC earlier this year. I'd also point to the fact that OKC's best defender is Andre Roberson, and he has shut down Klay Thompson on one of three occasions. I think Andre'd be able to pull that off at least twice in a playoff series. Furthermore, I'd point to the fact that KD and Westbrook shooting so poorly in the third game was a complete anomaly. It's exceedingly rare to see both of them struggle so mightily from the field on the same night. Lastly, the two teams have never really gotten to face each other at full strength, and I'm expecting the rosters to look different still come playoff time. The trade deadline hasn't happened yet, and even then there's no telling how players might move up and down the rotations on these stacked teams.