As the Opposing Views series continues, we will now examine the Oklahoma City Thunder. How will the improved Thunder fare next year against the Grizzlies?
The NBA has constantly evolved over the last seven years. Through strange circumstances, teams that are good for years like Golden State find themselves at the beginning of a new dynasty. Power has shifted in the Eastern Conference from Cleveland to Miami and then back to Cleveland once again. With new philosophies finally taking hold, the game is played at a faster pace than ever before.
Yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Over the last seven years, the Thunder were one of the Memphis Grizzlies’ biggest rivals. The stakes were always high between these two teams during the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook era. Playoff games such as the triple overtime thriller from 2011 epitomized their rivalry.
Now, with the acquisitions of Paul George and Patrick Patterson, the Thunder are poised to become elite once again. They may no longer have Kevin Durant, but they still have George, an elite two-way player, and the reigning MVP in Russell Westbrook. They won 47 games last season and will only get better next season.
The Grizzlies and Thunder aren’t the same teams that they used to be. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are no longer in Memphis, and Kevin Durant is now a Warrior. However, the rivalry appears to be ready to continue next season between these two small market franchises.
Can the Grizzlies silence the Thunder next season?
Thunder Projected Starting Lineup
Advantages for the Grizzlies
- Wendigo. Viva La Spain. Big Spain. Marc Gasol.
Marc Gasol is good at basketball (he better be with that 5 year, $110 million contract). Marc Gasol is also better at basketball than most human beings his size. Thus, it make sense that any advantages the Grizzlies have against anyone will stem from him.
The Thunder simply don’t have the tools to consistently stop Gasol. Steven Adams is a really solid player on both ends of the floor, but he’s not an All-Star caliber player. Enes Kanter is an elite 6th man with his ability to score and rebound, but he struggles mightily on the defensive end. Patrick Patterson simply doesn’t have the size to match up with him.
Evans could also be a nice trump card for the Grizzlies off the bench. The Thunder have some elite defensive players in Andre Roberson and George, but none that will be matched up against Evans for extended periods of time. The Thunder have no one on their bench that provides the combination of size, playmaking and scoring that Evans does. He should be able to feast against the Thunder’s second unit.
Advantages for the Thunder
Teams win in the NBA for a variety of reasons. Consistency, longevity and coaching are all reasons why teams are successful. However, history has shown that the most important reason is star power, something the Oklahoma City Thunder have in no short supply.
Russell Westbrook and Paul George have the potential to be an unstoppable duo. Though the ball was usually in his hands in Indiana, George can be an elite player off the ball for the Thunder, as he shot 39 percent from 3 last season. He’ll also help ease the scoring burden that Westbrook carried every game last season. Without Tony Allen, the Grizzlies may not have the defensive tools necessary to slow them both down. Conley and Gasol will have to be at their best to match them.
The Thunder are also likely to be one of the top five defensive teams in the league next season. After finishing eighth in defensive efficiency last season, they were already a stingy defensive team. With the addition of George, they have five guys in their starting lineup who are above-average defenders. Russell Westbrook was an elite defender earlier in his career. George will help take some of the playmaking and scoring burden off of Westbrook, allowing him to focus more on the defensive end once again.
The Rivalry Continues
The rivalry between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder appears ready to continue. Both teams have stars and are poised to compete for playoff position. There may not be any more Zach Randolph-Kendrick Perkins fights to entertain us, but the show will go on.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a very talented team that will make some noise this coming season. With two top-10 players in Westbrook and George as well as a solid bench with players like Enes Kanter, Alex Abrines, and Doug “Larry Bird” McDermott, they’ll be able to beat anybody on any given night.
Only time will tell if the Grizzlies can silence the Thunder.