Kyle Soppe also writes about the NBA for Pickin’ Splinters. Follow him on Twitter.
Not sure who to take in this series? Well here is a position by position break down to help you pick the winner in a series where the two teams have lost a total of 1 game this postseason.
Regular Season – 18.3 ppg, 7.7 apg, 2.9 rpg, 49 FG% / 31 3pt% / 74 FT%
Postseason – 19.1, 7.1, 3.4, 43/29/81
Regular Season – 23.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.6 rpg, 46FG% / 32 3pt% / 82FT%
Postseason – 24.1, 4.4, 4.7, 47/30/82
Surprisingly enough Westbrook was the more efficient of the two players, both in the regular season and the postseason. He may get criticized for taking too many shots, but with comparable ratios to that of Parker, it is hard to argue against the Thunder point guard. Parker is having an MVP type year, but I question his ability to deal with an opponent as athletic as Westbrook. The difference in this matchup will be Westbrook’s ability to rebound: if he can snag 5 rebounds per game, and turn them into transition opportunities, the Thunder will have a chance to not only give the Spurs their first postseason loss, but advance to the NBA Finals.
Edge: Oklahoma City Thunder. This is a matchup of two of the best in the game, and could very well determine the winning team. I prefer Westbrook by the slightest of margins, based on athleticism and willingness to attack the basket.
Regular Season – 9.1 ppg, 1.3 apg, 3.5 rpg, 44 FG% / 44 3pt% / 79 FT%
Postseason – 10.4, 1.3, 4.0, 50/46/70
Regular Season – 4.8 ppg, 1.1 apg, 3.0 rpg, 43 FG% / 44 3pt% / 88 FT%
Postseason – 3.9, 1.7, 1.9, 39/39/100
Sefolosha’s role obviously is at the defensive end, where he is counted on to defend some of the game’s top players. But he doesn’t have a Kobe Bryant type player to guard this series, and I believe his value takes a big dip based on the Spurs “team” mentality. He contributes the occasional three pointer, but other than that, he is relatively unheard from on the offense end, especially this postseason. The pride of North Carolina, Danny Green, has thrived this entire season, and has continued his rock solid play into the playoffs. His eFG% has increased significantly, and his scoring average has taken the biggest percentage leap of any player in this series. He is an energy player who picks and chooses his spots on offense, the perfect compliment to a loaded Spurs team. He provides one elite aspect, and that is his ability to take and make tough shots at the end of the shot/game clock. That skill could provide crucial in a series that figures to come down to the final buzzer more often than not.
Edge: The San Antonio Spurs gain an advantage here, at least offensively. Green has the ability to score in bunches, and with an iffy OKC defense focusing elsewhere, figures to have his chances. Sefolosha is a solid player, but his elite defending abilities will be neaturalized as the Spurs lack a viable matchup for him. Danny Green is the real deal, and the energy he brings is enough for me to favor him over Sefolosha in a matchup of underrated SG’s
Regular Season – 7.9 ppg, 1.1 apg, 5.1 rpg, 49 FG% / 38 3pt% / 77 FT%
Postseason – 8.5, 0.6, 4.9, 51/45/83
Regular Season – 28.0 ppg, 3.5 apg, 8.0rpg, 50 FG% / 39 3pt% / 86 FT%
Postseason – 26.7, 3.4, 8.1, 49/37/84
Obviously Durant is an elite player, maybe the best in the game, and is a big reason why the Thunder earned the 2 seed this season. He has seen his numbers drop a little bit this postseason, but some blowouts are to blame for that. He is the best scorer in the league today, and in a series where the winning team may be required to score 100+ points every night, he will be counted on for at least the 26.7 ppg he has poured in during the playoffs. Leonard is a first year man who has found a valuable niche with this Spurs team. At 6’7″ he has the ability to muscle up around the rim, but he also has a feathery touch from the three point line. I love Leonard as a piece for the Spurs to build around down the road, but Durant’s length figures to make this a long series if the two SF’s guard each other.
Edge: The edge is greater here than at any other position, and it’s not because Leonard isn’t good. Durant is a 3 time scoring champion at the age of 23 and arguably the best player in the NBA. I do think Leonard can add value on the defensive end, as he is versatile enough to hang with the Durantchula in stretches. Warning: If Leonard can boost his scoring average to double figures, and make Durant work on the defensive end, the Spurs will win this series.
Regular Season – 15.4 ppg, 2.3 apg, 9.0 rpg, 49FG% / 70 FT%
Postseason – 17.6, 2.9, 9.0, 54/79
Regular Season – 9.1 ppg, 0.4 apg, 7.5 rpg, 54 FG% / 33 3pt% / 66 FT%
Postseason – 9.8, 0.7, 6.1, 54/25/60
The Big Fundamental cannot do anything wrong these days, and he has only gotten better as the season has progressed. Ibaka will lead this matchup in highlights, but this is the Spurs greatest advantage in this series. While Ibaka is considerably more athletic, the experience and wisdom of Duncan figures to neutralize that advantage. Ibaka will block a few shots, but with Duncan as good as in game adjustments as anybody, it is easy to forecast foul trouble for the Thunder PF. Typically fouling Duncan is a solid game plan, but he is shooting a remarkable 79% from the line this postseason, and figures to stay hot from the stripe. While Ibaka has the edge in youth and athleticism, I have my doubts about his ability to guard Duncan 10-15 feet away from the rim. Coach Popovich will find a way to exploit this experience mismatch, as I expect another big series from Timmy.
Edge: The San Antonio Spurs gain a decided advantage at the PF position. Duncan has turned back the clock and is playing like the all time great that he is. If this matchup is decided solely in the paint, Ibaka can hold his own. But it is outside of the lane that would worry me if I am a Thunder fan.
Regular Season – 6.4 ppg, 3.6 apg, 4.9 rpg, 44 FG% / 31 3pt% / 63 FT%
Postseason – 6.5, 2.5, 5.5, 53/50/71
Regular Season – 5.1 ppg, 1.2 apg, 6.6 rpg, 49 FG% / 65 FT%
Postseason – 3.9, 0.9, 5.9, 41/100
Raise your hand if at the beginning of the season, you thought one of these players would be a starter for the Western Conference champion. Neither is an elite talent, but Diaw has stepped up his game statistically in the postseason, while Perkins has regressed a bit. Diaw is an above average shooter and a willing passer, making him a threat all over the court. Perkins is limited to the painted area, and has served as more of an enforcer than anything for the young Thunder. This matchup will come down to coaching: as Perkins has a decided edge in the lane, and Diaw on the perimeter. Whichever coach can exploit this mismatch will have a huge advantage.
Edge: The San Antonio Spurs take the cake here, as Diaw’s production is trending upwards while Perkins’ is headed the other direction. Diaw can body up with Perkins in the paint moreso than Perkins can match speed with Diaw on the perimeter, leading me to believe Popovich wins this coaching battle. It is reasonable to think that one of these two players will be in foul trouble nightly, due to the conflicting styles, and as neither team is overly deep, that could be critical.
Regular Season – 12.9 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.4 rpg, 53 FG% / 41 3pt% / 87 FT%
Postseason – 11.3, 4.5, 3.3, 40/26/78
Regular Season – 16.8 ppg, 3.7 apg, 4.1 rpg, 49 FG% / 39 3pt% / 85 FT%
Postseason – 17, 3.1, 5.0, 42/33/90
Two of the best in the business square off in this series, and it should be fun to watch. As different as Perkins and Diaw were, these two are similar. They both rely on slashing to the rim and putting all kinds of pressure on their defender. Both players benefit from being left handed, an advantage that could be neutralized should they guard one another. Harden is 20 lbs heavier and may wear down Ginobili should this series go as long as expected.
Edge: The Oklahoma City Thunder gain an advantage here, based mainly on youth. The Beard is playing at the highest level of his career, and is the Thunder’s top playmaker. He has the ability to make those around him better, and they are pretty good to begin with. Both players are very efficient, but Harden’s ability to take over a game for 5-10 minute periods should be a key factor in most games.
Soppe Score: Shocker, we have a split decision. I’ll take the Thunder in 6 games, as Durant and Harden figure to be the two biggest advantages in this series. I love Tony Parker and all that he has done, but I just don’t think he matches up favorably with the uber athletic Westbrook. Duncan is solid, but I’ll roll with athleticism and youth to trump all in this Western Conference Final.