(Editor’s note: Because I’m lazy, I gave the floor to Andrew Kennedy, editor of the Fansided blog Thunderous Intentions. His insight on the OKC Thunder definitely supercedes mine so that will also be nice. Take it away, Andrew!)
QR: The Thunder have the worst turnover rate in the entire league, do you think that deficiency will hamper them when they play teams that can capitalize on their careless play? I have a feeling, in a playoff series, that the Spurs, Bulls and Heat would be able to take advantage of their turnovers.
AK: The turnovers are definitely an issue and of course any team that can capitalize off them would spell trouble for OKC. The thing with OKC’s turnovers is that they often are a result of their aggressiveness and that I never have a problem with that. If you went and looked at the film and broke down how often their aggressiveness resulted in points versus turnovers, it would definitely favor points. I am more worried when the Thunder get stagnant on offense and aren’t aggressive. They aren’t built to play a conservative fashion. They are going to either live or die playing this way and turning the ball over a lot. I do think that with more experience for them, they will naturally turn the ball over less. Right now they are still very young and playing teams like the Spurs, Bulls and Heat aren’t the best matchup for them.”
QR: The Spurs are one of the most efficient offenses in basketball and inherently unselfish. How can their patience lead to a victory over the Thunder?
AK: I think that in the regular season this type of offense can easily beat the Thunder. Guys like Ibaka and Westbrook are consistently looking for the big defensive play and the Spurs can make them pay for that. The Thunder have also struggled in their pick-and-roll defense this year and the Spurs are very good when it comes to this. But in the playoffs when the intensity and focus should be higher for the Thunder, I think their defense will turn into one of the best in the league and teams that can’t score as well in the post or on isolation plays will have trouble against the Thunder.”
QR: Who is the most valuable Thunder player not named Durant or Westbrook?
AK: It’s James Harden by far. There are many times where he is the most valuable player on the Thunder even more so than Durant and Westbrook. Harden has obviously made the jump toward stardom this season and continues to keep getting better. When he is at his best, he is unstoppable almost at the level of Durant and Westbrook. With the loss of Eric Maynor, Harden has become the best playmaker on the Thunder roster by far. When the playoffs come around, I guarantee you there will come a time when the Thunder need to call on Harden not just to step up, but take over a game. We’ll see if he will be able to rise to the occasion. I bet he will but he is only 22 years old so it’s not a sure thing.”
QR: Tell me about James Harden’s beard. Describe it in depth. I have the burning desire to get a more insightful take.
AK: One of Harden’s greatest strengths is his deceptiveness. He is deceptively quick and deceptively athletic. He was the same way in college and his undershirt at Arizona State aided in this. Usually guys who are skinny and unathletic wear undershirts. Harden is neither. His beard now to me is the equivalent of his undershirt in college. It doesn’t really fit. It’s weird to see a player at age 22 have a beard like that. It makes him appear like an old man when really he is super athletic.”
QR: Whenever I flip to an OKC home game, the atmosphere is electric almost college-like. This is rather unique in the NBA. How disruptive is this to opposing teams?
AK: Oklahoma City has as big of a homecourt advantage as any team in the NBA, that is for sure. The players can really feed off it too because of how they play. When they get on the break and start dunking or blocking shots on defense they just look unbeatable. Their crowd could help swing a playoff game or two and I don’t know if there is any other team in the NBA that can say that.”
QR: What potential opponent (Western Conference only) scares you the most?
AK: Well it was Portland earlier this season but obviously not anymore. The two teams that would be the toughest are San Antonio (now after the Jackson trade) and the Clippers. I will say that I’m not really scared of any team for the Thunder. I feel that there’s no reason they should lose a series to any team in the West, they are just way too talented.”
QR: Describe the Scott Brooks, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook dynamic. Does Westbrook’s poor shot selection and ego hamper the team? Does this core have the potential of sticking or will they leave OKC for greener pastures? How is Sam Presti going to make the ends meet?
AK: There are definitely no plans of breaking up this team in any way. The goal is to ride this core for as long as possible and that means doing everything to keep Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka. I also know that Durant and Westbrook are best friends. By all accounts they do everything together off the court and have no issues with each other. I guess this is the potential issue though that Durant should be more demanding of the ball late and more of the Alpha Dog on the team. I don’t see it as a problem though because there are times where the Thunder need Westbrook to be the guy at the end of games and not Durant. Also, Brooks has done a good job incorporating the two together at the end of games this year running the Durant-Westbrook pick-and-pop that has become their go-to offense down the stretch.”
QR: If you had a gun to your head, how far do you think the Thunder will advance in the playoffs?
AK: I think they make the NBA Finals. If I had to bet on any team to make the NBA Finals this season I would pick them because I think that Miami-Chicago will be a pretty close call in the East and there’s no one else in the West that is as sure of a bet as OKC. In the Finals I think they could beat the Bulls but the Heat will be a very tough matchup for them. If they have to play the Clippers, Spurs or Mavericks those will definitely be tough matchups but I see no reason to bet against the Thunder in those series.”
QR: If the Thunder do not win 3+ titles in the next 10 years, will you be thoroughly disappointed?
AK: I will be and I will be surprised. I actually think that three titles is the number I would bet on though. I think that the best team of the past to compare them to in terms of “title winning potential” is the Spurs of the 2000’s. They are going to hopefully have a core of three guys that are somewhat similar to Duncan, Ginobili and Parker in terms of talent against the rest of the league. That core of Spurs players won three titles and I think that is a realistic number for the Thunder. It’s scary to think of their potential because of how young they are now and that they already have made a trip to the Western Conference Finals.”
QR: Prediction of tonight’s game? San Antonio started off badly on the road but has improved greatly in this regard (11-9). Of course, OKC has a huge home court advantage.
AK: The one problem for the Thunder is that they are on a back-to-back. I’d never bet against the Thunder at home so I think they do win. They just got Thabo Sefolosha back last night so their defense will be better than it has been lately and hopefully he will help the Thunder not get off to a slow start, which has been a problem this year for them. It will be a close game but the Thunder role players always play much better at home and I think that gives them the edge tonight.”