Opponent Scouting: OKC Thunder. 10-6
Hope everyone had an excellent Thanksgiving.
Tonight the Pistons travel to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder at 8:00pm est. The Thunder are 10-6, which is a bit lower than most expected them to be, and they are not playing at (quite) the level most people expected them to. They have won 4 of their last 5 however and are maybe starting to really get rolling.
The Them: You probably know plenty about this team, but just in case you have lived under a rock the past few years. Regardless of them maybe getting out of the gate a bit slower than anticipated, this team is terrifying. Their offensive efficiency is 108 and their defensive efficiency is 100.6. Simply put, that is a really good two way team. They revolve around their trio of stars. Kevin Durant is probably the most sigularly talented scorer in basketball in terms of blending volume with efficiency. (If Curry can do what he's doing now for a whole season then he obviously might be better, but he has never scored with as much volume as this before so going to wait and see there. Also Harden gets is right there as well.) He scores in all kinds of ways, driving to the hoop, shooting with guys in his face, even the occasional spot up look created by a teammate. There is no guy in the league (other than perhaps Curry again) who is as terrifying on the offensive end. Durant is also (generally) a very good defender who uses his crazy length to great effect. Next to him is Russell Westbrook, who is basketball cocaine. He scores with similar volume, but also is no where near as efficient as Durant (Russ is still plenty efficient just not the ungodly level of Durant) HOWEVA, the often overlooked part of Russ' game is that he is an amazing distributer. Although some people are starting to really take notice of that a bit more now. Russ is very jumper and occasionally out of position on defense, but he is still generally a really good defender because his jumpiness often turns into crazy plays that only a freak athlete like him can make. Serge Ibaka is the 3rd banana, and while he is not as good as the other 2, he is the defensive anchor of the team, and has also crafted himself into one of the best catch and shoot bigs in basketball. Besides those 3? They have a slew of role players who may or may not be actually much good. Enes Kanter is a offensive savant, and (I think) his defense has been a bit better this year, but it is still very bad. Dion Waiters can score, and is sometimes even a good defender, but the number of terrible mistakes he makes with regularity is funny if you are an innocent bystander, but surely infuriating for Thunder fans. Steven Adams holds down most of the minutes at center and is a big, strong, physical guy. But he does not have an exactly diverse skillset. Andre Roberson is a good defender/effort guy, but is not a whole lot of use on offense. Oh, remember DJ Augustine? He is the backup PG, and he is still capable of scoring with anyone, but can't really guard anyone either. Their offense is not much changed following the Billy Donovan hiring, it is largely the "Go get em Kevin/Russ" offense. But the reality is, that when you have guys as good as Durant and Westbrook, it works. When this team is locked in, their star power is such that it they can literally approach unstoppable in a way no one else (And yes I think even more so than the warriors) can really match.
Matchups to watch.
ANDRE THE BARBARIAN vs. Everyone: Between Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Enes Kanter, the Thunder have some big strong athletes to try and keep Drummond off the boards, but then again, none of them are as big, strong, or athletic as Drummond is. If Adams proves to be up to the task of keeping Drummond from killing the Thunder then the Pistons will be in some amount of trouble. But then again, I'm pretty sure the only person who can keep Andre off the boards is Andre. It will be interesting to see if Andre can kill the Thunder when the go with either Kanter or Ibaka at center. Kanter is a horrid defender (although not as bad in the post and he is a good rebounder) and Ibaka is a awesome defender but might not be big enough. It will be interesting to see.
Reggie vs. Westbrook: So there is the obviousness of that Reggie will be going against his old team, and the guy (Westbrook) with whom there were some alleged issues with, is the one who he will be matched up against. Reggie will not win this matchup because he is just simply put, not as good as Russ, but Reggie needs to keep from getting killed. If Jackson can manage to get his normal numbers (without a ton of turnovers) while keeping Westbrook from exploding, that will be huge. Outside of that, it will probably just be fun. Westbrook is literally never not fun to watch, and Reggie is also a super athlete PG. And neither of them are very good shooters (although I'm starting to believe a bit in Reggie.)
Kevin Durant vs. Prayers. Lots and lots of prayers: The Pistons biggest achilles heel (besides the bench lololol.........:,() is that they have no one to guard dominant wing scorers unless they are small enough for KCP to take. And Durant is absolutely to big for KCP. FWIW Marcus Morris has actually been better on defense than I thought he would be, but he just does not have the chops to really hold a guy like Durant. It really will come down to hoping that Durant has an off game or that perhaps one of our 4 forwards has some sort of out of body experience. One thing that will be important for Morris however, is that he get some buckets on the other end. Durant will almost certainly kill him (and anyone else he goes against) but if Morris can make him work a bit on defense that would be big. And I think that Morris should be a bit stronger than Durant so he might have something there. But then again Durant is definitely longer than Morris. I mean, there really is no good answer here. This might literally kill the Pistons. The only real hope is that the forwards (particularly Morris and Johnson) can play him physical while avoiding collecting many fouls and ergo keep him from scoring 40 points on 10 shots.
The bench vs. Eternal sadness: Fortunatley it did not matter last game that Dinwiddie was hurt, but if he is hurt again the bench is dead. Blake is not an NBA player anymore. And DJ Augustine is a good backup PG, who would probably go off for a string of easy buckets against Blake. And the thought of Westbrook somehow being on the floor against Blake makes me want to end my life. HOWEVA, with that being said, the bench has been a little bit more perky the past 3 games. Tolly looks like he is back, and Baynes is really finding his role on the bench, and assuming Dinwiddie plays, he has sort of found his spot in hitting holes to get to the rim. An important thing here will be when Kanter goes against Baynes, because Baynes actually is big and strong enough that he has a decent chance to give Kanter some real issues, and the Thunder really count on him to get some buckets for a couple stretches of most games. Regardless of how it happens though, the bench needs to have a decent game.
The Pistons vs. Regression to the mean: Theoretically, the Pistons should be entering a run of games where they shoot really well from 3. If that does in fact continue then they will be almost unbeatable until they cool off a bit. HOWEVA, if they cool off, (or worse, sink back to where they had been) they will struggle. Plain and simple.
So in conclusion
Cackle with knowing glee if:
OKC fans watch Andre and have terrible flashbacks to tornadoes destroying stuff.
Dion Waiters botches a wide open layup.
Enes Kanter attempts to protect the rim on a Reggie/Andre PnR
Durant/Westbrook are maybe a bit off.
The Pistons cannot miss from deep.
Run for the hills if:
Durant/Westbrook are on their games and are hitting every shot they take.
Andre is not dominating the paint on both ends.
Dion Waiters has one of his random can't miss games.
Dinwiddie does not play.
Oh God what if Steve Blake has to guard Russ.
THINK OF THE CHILDREN RUSS
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Andre does dominate the paint on both ends of the floor.
Kevin Durant has a chance to go for 50.
The Pistons rain death and fire from deep.
The Pistons keep up crazy shooting from deep, and pull out a win despite crazy effort from Durant.
This game will be super fun, there is no way around it. Even if the Pistons lose, as long as it it close enough that the Stars stay in the game the whole way, it will be super fun. The Pistons have no good answer for Durant, the Thunder have no good answer for Drummond. And Russ and Reggie get to see who can look angrier on the court at the same time. Seriously though, appreciate seeing Durant and Westbrook, they might not be together much longer.
What do you think? Does Steve Blake make you cry? Let me know! We all get smarter!
P.S. Today is my birthday, and I will be with some family tonight and will at best, be not quite as 100% focused on the game as I usually get to be. (for at least the first bit of it anyways.) As such the recap might be a bit funky/late getting up. But like any self respecting sports guy, even if I miss the whole game, I will look at the box score and then pretend I know exactly how the game went.