For today's edition of The Questionable Blogger, I once again turned it over to the Citizens of Clips Nation to ask the questions. JA Sherman from the SBNation Thunder blog Welcome to Loud City then went through and answered as many as he could (you guys asked a LOT of questions this time) and his excellent and informative answers are after the jump.
We've got another game with OKC in less than a week, and Mr. Sherman may continue through the existing list to answer some more prior to that game. Or if you think of some other burning follow up question while watching the game tonight, feel free to submit that one as well, either here or on the original question thread.
Citizen kamonster: According to the media and everyone who follows basketball (and even with the recent Spurs charge), the Thunder are the clear favorites to represent the West in the Finals. People often say the West is "OKC, then everyone else." Is that the general feeling by you guys, or do other teams in the conference legitimately scare you? To me, it seems that the Lakers, Clippers, Grizzlies and Spurs are teams capable of taking you guys down. My question is, which of them (or some other team?) scares you the most?
JA Sherman: Each conference has to have a #1 seed by default, even if that team does not have a clear advantage over every other team. Sometimes we get an easy call, like the 1996 Bulls or the 2008 Celtics, but most of the time even the #1 seed has some weaknesses, and we get Finals such as last season, where a #3 defeated a #2. So if the Thunder turn out to be the #1, so be it, but that only tells me that they were better against the rest of the league during the regular season than everybody else. As the Spurs know, that means nothing when the playoffs begin.
Here is how I'd consider the 4 teams you mention:
Lakers - I'm really not concerned at all about these guys. The Thunder were actually built to take them on when they added Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed last season. One of the Lakers bigs might have a good game, but it won't be both of them. This means that Kobe will have to provide the majority of offense, a task which I don't think he is capable of doing anymore in an efficient manner. Also, they don't have nearly enough perimeter shooting to stretch the Thunder defense.
Clippers - We've had 2 games so far, and the flip-flop of results is in large part due to whether your team was able to hit 3-point shots. If they do, then they can take advantage of the Thunder's biggest weakness - defending the corner 3-ball. If they don't shoot well, then the Thunder can use their length to close off CP3's passing lanes and neutralize the offense. Also, I'm not sure that the Clips have any player who can legitimately check Durant when the game is close. Note from Steve: They don't, but the assignment would probably go to Kenyon Martin.
Grizzlies - This team scares me because they have proven that they can compete with any team, regardless of talent discrepancy. Because of their defensive ability, it is also very difficult to close them out at the ends of games. I think OKC's talent would prevail in the end, but it would be a brutal series, just like last season's playoffs.
Spurs - They're the only team playing right now who I can say that they are playing superior ball as compared to the Thunder. If they meet in the WCF, they would be the favorites, regardless of seeding. It is not so much that OKC can't beat them as it is that OKC doesn't know how to beat them. I think they're the favorites to win it all right now.
JAS: Nobody manages a game late better than Paul. Nobody is a more efficient scorer than Durant. I think that it really comes down to who plays along side of each of them.
With Durant, his offense has one big weakness - if the defense collapses on him on the perimeter, he has not yet proven that he knows how to capitalize on the situation. Dallas completely marginalized him last year by using an aggressive trapping scheme 40 feet away from the rim, and Durant never figured it out. However, if he has another player who does better taking off the pressure, like Westbrook or Harden, he can move more freely and get to his spots.
Paul is a master at creation, but he too is limited physically. If the defense collapses and he has no outlet, Paul will have an increasingly difficult time finding room to shoot. If he has a big guy with him who knows how to play, then Paul can get almost any shot he wants for him AND his teammate. That's always a good thing, but do you really want your bigs getting the ball with the game on the line? That free throw line can suddenly look like it is 100 feet away...
What probably gives Durant the nod (at least in my mind) is that he has proven repeatedly that he can go on late-game scoring runs in a way that Paul cannot. So all things being equal, I'd probably give Durant a slight edge over Paul because he can put the ball in the net a little bit better when the game is on the line.
Citizen Lawler's Law: You have Durant, Restbrook, and Harden, but i feel like your best player is Nick Collison. One of the two left over Sonics (other being Durant). Where would you team be without this guy?
JAS: Collison has been a key cog in the Thunder's development for the past few years, and I have a hunch that the franchise will try to keep him around as long as they can. If you look across his stat sheet for the year nothing is going to jump out too much, but he plays with a unit that whose performance is critical to the team's overall performance.
As the playoffs get underway, you're actually going to see Collison get more and more involved in the offensive sets as teams try to take away Durant & Westbrook. His ability to work the pick and roll in particular will help carry the team's offense for stretches, and his intelligent overall play buoys the team in countless ways.
Citizen Lawler's Law: Have you heard about Wussell Restbrook?
JAS: Yup, and it's all in good fun. Restbrook, Westbrick, or my particular term of endearment, the honey badger.
As long as you don't refer to him as "Russy," a la Skip Bayless, we're cool.
Citizen agolden: What is your least favorite SB Nation basketball blog?
JAS: Ok, I'm answering this one just because somebody said I wouldn't. I'll be diplomatic though; every blog that I've visited in SB Nation has been well worth my time, both from a writing standpoint as well as with enjoying the respective fan bases. It is the simple truth that nobody knows a team as well as the fan that chooses to voluntarily write about them every single day. Seriously, wouldn't you take your fearless leader Steve Perrin as a Clips expert over anybody else that the media has to offer when it comes to Clippers insight?
To be sure, sometimes the comments section can get a bit abrasive. At the end of the day though, I'd rather have a fanbase that actually cares than one that does not.
Citizen agolden: How far do you think the Thunder and the Clippers will go in the playoffs? Be realistic please. - by
JAS: If the playoffs begin today, then OKC would be the #1 seed and take on the Nuggets. Just like last season, that would be an exhilarating series, but Denver is hindered by poor defense and George Karl playoff coaching. OKC should prevail.
Your Clips would have to deal with the Grizzlies and, I gotta tell ya, I don't like that match-up for you guys. The banger brothers Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have a real advantage over your front line, as they can work both inside and out. The Clips would have to find a consistent outside threat to occupy Tony Allen, otherwise if I were Lionel Hollins I'd stick Allen on CP3 and make Paul's life miserable. I really hope that you guys can jump the Lakers and get out of this spot. If you can, then I'd give you the nod over the Rockets at the #6 spot.
I think the Thunder can get through the Grizzlies again, but if you guys could upset Memphis, I think OKC has the advantage in an OKC-Clips 2nd round match-up. My opinion might change after these next two games, but I think the Thunder's interior defense combined with their offensive firepower would be too much.
On the flip side, if you guys got the #3 seed you'd have to deal with the Spurs in the 2nd round. Sorry, I don't like that one for you guys either.
Unless the Grizz take another leap forward, I think the West is going to come down to the Spurs and Thunder in the WCF. Given how well the Spurs have played as of late, I think they'd take that series in six.
Citizen Hengtime81: All of the top 4 teams this season (Chicago, Miami, San Antonio, and OKC) have coaches that are very deserving to win Coach of the Year. If you had a vote, would you vote for Scott Brooks? Why?
JAS: If I had a vote, my vote would go to Greg Poppovich. He has stealthily built up what I would argue is the most efficient offense in the game, and he's done it while effectively managing his aging trio Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili's minutes. I have yet to see another coach who can manage his team's performance the way Pop can. I also know that the Spurs blitzed the Thunder twice this season and I don't see any easy answers as to how future outcomes would be materially different.
Brooks is decent and getting better, but I think Pop is coaching at a level head and shoulders above the rest.
Vinnie Del Negro would be ranked...somewhere after Brooks.
Citizen ReignMan: Do you still feel bad about stealing Seattle's team?
JAS: I'm not touching that one.