Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
7:30 p.m. PST
April 9, 2014
1. True or false: Kevin Durant is the MVP.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder, (@royceyoung): True. At this point, really the only quasi-valid argument against is that LeBron is still the best player in the world until proven otherwise. Because in terms of a season-versus-season comparison, Durant’s is unmatched. The scoring efficiency, the rising assist totals, the higher quality defense – it’s Durant’s best season yet. Plus, he added maybe the most crucial aspect – the narrative. Playing almost half his season without Russell Westbrook, Durant elevated his game and had one of the best months in NBA history with his wild January.
Law Murray, (@1maddskillz): True! And I don’t want to hear any mess about “voter fatigue.” When I think about the 2013-2014 NBA season, and one player who defined it, just one, it must be Durant. He’s going to take home yet another scoring title. He added even more threes and dimes. And while LeBron James carried a larger load with Dwyane Wade missing so much time (think Jordan-Pippen in 1997-1998), Russell Westbrook missed even more time. Oh, and the Thunder are going to win more games too.
Fred Katz, (@FredKatz): True that he’s going to win. False that he should win. Look, Durant is phenomenal. There is nothing negative that I could possibly say about him. But LeBron’s defense still sets him apart from KD, who has become a strong defender, but isn’t First-Team All-Defense good. James remains the most versatile defender in the league. Actually, the most versatile defender of all time. And that’s hard to top that.
2. Would you rather have Blake Griffin or a healthy Russell Westbrook?
Young: I feel like this is maybe the hardest question anyone has ever asked me in my life. It’s one of those that I feel like I can get away without actually answering based on question-dodging qualifications like “Well, it depends on who’s already on my team” or “am I building my franchise around one?” Westbrook is basketball hellfire packaged in a 6-foot-3 frame, someone that may be unmatched in competitive spirit. But Griffin’s rise as a total offensive player makes him maybe the best power forward in basketball, which is one of the top commodities in the game. So again, I abstain.
Murray: This is close, but I’d rather have Griffin, because there are a greater supply of point guards. The power forward position has some quality depth as well, but not like the scoring guards. I believe it would be easier to surround a championship team around Griffin than it would to surround one around Westbrook. And then there’s the health qualifier. At this time, I trust Griffin’s durability a little more than Westbrook’s.
Katz: This is too close. Inappropriately close. I don’t approve. But I will say that I’d pick Griffin if only because it’s harder to find a dominant power forward than to garner a star point guard. There are so many dominant points in the league right now. And though forward is strong as well, Griffin probably tops the list at his position.
3. Why has the Thunder defense struggled since the All-Star break?
Young: A couple of factors: The easiest, most obvious reason is that they were missing two starters, both of whom are defensive minded players. But they’re easing Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins back in, which should help. Another factor is that there seems to have been a lack of urgency game to game, with the Thunder often settling with trying to outscore their opponents. I think the Thunder can sometimes take the defensive end for granted because the assume they have the offensive that can merely overpower teams. They’re capable of being better, but they do allow a lot of open jumpers, which on any given night in the NBA, can get you burned.
Murray: Ever since Thabo Sefolosha went down, the perimeter defense has been rough. Only the 76ers (!) have allowed more free throw attempts per game since the All-Star break, and Oklahoma City will let you shoot the three. Before the All-Star Break, that wasn’t a problem – teams made only 34 percent (fifth-best defense). Completely different story post-All-Star Break, as teams hit 39 percent of threes. Only Utah has been worse. Teams have made more than ten threes 11 times against the Thunder since the break, and OKC is 3-8 in those games. Perhaps the worst is over with Sefolosha back.
Katz: Sometimes, limiting three-point attempts is more important than actually defending the long-range shot at decent rates. Actually, some studies have shown that three-point attempts have a greater correlation with winning than three-point percentage. And the Thunder are letting opponents chuck up threes. Since the Sefolosha injury (though he’s back as of Tuesday night), OKC has allowed the third-most threes from the right corner. It’s given up the second-most threes from above the break. Thunder opponents are spreading the ball around easily and are getting off shots. If Oklahoma City allows that consistently, it’s going to hurt its ability to win.