The NBA offseason has been quite gracious to the Oklahoma City Thunder thus far. Not only did they acquire another All-Star in Paul George, they added some depth in the post by grabbing Patrick Patterson out of Toronto.
Late Wednesday night, General Manager Sam Presti and the Thunder reached an agreement with Andre Roberson on a 3-year, $30 million deal to remain with OKC as their defensive anchor.
OKC’s starting lineup has improved a great deal in just a couple of weeks. The majority of OKC’s flaws from last year are remedied and the Thunder are once again serious contenders in the Western Conference.
Their starting five is the best suited in the NBA to slow down the Golden State Warrior’s starting five.
That may seem like a bold statement to some, may not to others, but looking at the starting five one-on-one, Oklahoma City has the best formula to actually challenge this team in the West.
Keeping things relatively simple, here’s a short breakdown and comparison of each team’s starting perimeter players.
Russell Westbrook vs. Stephen Curry
This one is relatively simple, but it’s a topic many like to complicate. If these two get into a shooting match, Curry will clearly have the upper hand. However, Westbrook’s physical frame and style of play have proven to wear down Curry more times than none. Westbrook has great success with that when he’s one-on-one with Curry, especially inside the three point line.
Curry thrives most around the 3-point line with Westbrook guarding him. It gives him an advantage because of his range. His crafty ability to make space usually poses a problem.
Andre Roberson vs. Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson easily made an argument for being NBA All-Defensive Second Team last season but fell just short. However, his guarding ability won’t hold as much weight in a series against OKC because he’d be the primary defender on Roberson, who isn’t an offensive threat, just averaging 6.6 points per game.
The common denominator will be Roberson’s defense in this matchup. Roberson was an NBA All-Defense Second Team selection last season and made a legitimate argument to be First Team, but he sits behind No. 1 and No. 2, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard. Roberson’s quickness, length, and physicality tend to bother Thompson when Roberson is his primary defender.
Paul George vs. Kevin Durant
When these two teams play each other, this may be the most attention-getting matchup. Durant and George, two players that are so similar, yet so contrary.
George is an elite offensive player, averaging 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game on 37.0 percent shooting from three. He’s also an elite defensive player. Much like Klay Thompson, he wasn’t a part of any All-Defensive teams, but he’s respected as an elite defender. George also averages 1.7 steals per game.
Durant may be the best offensive option in the league right now, he’s exactly one step higher than George right now both offensively and defensively. Still, the gap may not be wide enough to make a significant difference when deciding a series when thinking of all the other factors and matchups. Durant averages 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game on 37.5 percent shooting from three. Defensively, just like Thompson and George, he’s elite but wasn’t a member of any All-Defensive teams either.
The matchup between Durant and George will be the most interesting. The games will be like a seesaw; one game Durant’s on and one game George is on. Then there will be those games where both of them take the game over and amaze us all.
Comparing the frontcourt.
Patterson vs. Green
Green is still Green, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, but who will he be guarding? Patterson? A guy that only averages 6.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game? That won’t make a difference. Just like Thompson on Roberson, their defense won’t be as valued against guys they are guarding, because the guys they are guarding aren’t offensive threats.
But once again, Patterson’s defense may be the common denominator against Green. He’s underrated in this area, but opponents shot 6.9 percent worse when guarded by him. That happens to be the best in the NBA, ahead of Green. So, his 30.8 percent 3-point shooting may suffer a bit when Patterson is his primary defender.
Speaking of three-pointers, Patterson is pretty good at them. Last season, he shot 37.2 percent which sits right in between George and Durant’s 3-point percentages.
Steven Adams vs. Zaza Pachulia
Adams and Pachulia were both relatively underwhelming last season, but hold a significant role on their respective teams. Adams has the upper-hand on Pachulia offensively and defensively. Averaging 11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.0 block per game, Adams is just superior to Pachulia’s 6.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.8 steal, and .5 blocks per game.
The Warriors are still noticeably the best team in the NBA, but the Western Conference is loaded and the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best chance out of the 13 other teams to dethrone the Warriors in a seven-game playoff series.
Although the Thunder probably won’t be getting Rudy Gay, we may be better off as a whole. Free agency isn’t over yet, though, and the Boston Celtics are looking to trade Marcus Smart. Coincidentally, the Thunder need a backup point guard and Smart’s contract doesn’t take up that much money. Exactly what OKC needs.