Contributed by guest blogger Frank Palmasani
What the Oklahoma City Thunder have accomplished in a matter of years is outstanding.
They have two perennial all-stars in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Need I say more?
They took their talents to South Beach and back, eventually dropping the ball in the Finals. It wasn’t for nothing, though. The Thunder made a hard statement that was somewhat lost on them in playoff series in the years before, regardless of soft showing in the final four games against the Heat. They made their presence known in the Western conference as they swam past the undefeated Spurs. While San Antonio held the torch in skill and experience, they couldn’t keep up with the much younger, quicker, and more explosive team.
With a new season urging forward and only a few weeks away, one wouldn’t be completely false to say that the Thunder were sharing the reins with the Spurs in the West. They may not be farther from number 1 in the West then the ladder, but not by much. The speed is great, but they’re young. Inexperience has its faults. Russell Westbrook looked less of point guard and more of ball hog in the Finals series, and it seemed like Durant was often left open on the wing, arms flailing, but not asserting himself for possession when that was truly what the team needed. Skill and experience comes hand-in-hand with the age of the San Antonio Spurs. It’s a simple fact; they’ve done better for longer.
So with the Oklahoma City with their fingertips at the peak of “Best in the West”, what problems will they pose to this newly designed Laker team? In a nutshell, not much will be different from past years. The front back court will be an issue for the Lakers; the biggest problem will be Russell Westbrook versus Steve Nash.
Westbrook has shown his ability to be a prolific scorer on multiple occasions, as has Steve Nash when necessary. Point Guard on Point Guard comparisons would show Steve Nash on top in almost every category outside of scoring and perhaps rebounds. Nash is, however, one of the best pure Point Guards who have ever played the game. It has been obvious that Russell Westbrook still needs time to work at being a pure Point Guard and less of a pure scorer. Steve Nash directs his team on and off and ball; he’s a three point marksman, top-five floor general, and he is one of the clutches players in the league today. So what can Russell Westbrook possibly have over the talented Canadian baller?
Westbrook is fast. He is one of the fastest and most athletic point guards in the league, challenged by only Derrick Rose at the most. He’s too much for most players to handle, especially a well-seasoned veteran like Nash. Where Westbrook lacks in shot selection and court vision, he makes up for being of the best finishers at the rim in the NBA; that is where the Lakers have the biggest challenge.
Well that… And of course, Kevin Durant.
It has been made painstakingly obvious that no one, not even multiple first-team defender Kobe Bryant or the player formerly known as Ron Artest, can stop him. They can slow him down a little, alter his shot, and even cause him frustration. But by the end of the game the damage has been done; his shots find the bucket, and he smiles while he does it.
Hopefully the new found presence of Dwight Howard and the return of Pau Gasol will be able to plug the paint and prevent Durant and Westbrook running small-man dominance across the Staples Center court. If not, Kobe and Nash have quite a battle ahead of them.
Previous “The Competition” articles: Los Angeles Clippers