So how do you beat OKC? The Spurs have showed us a few things in the playoffs, and even Portland's early season win in OKC lays out a blueprint:
I see a lot of posts where people say we should sign this FA or draft this player. No one seems to give much thought to building a team in which all the pieces work together to serve a purpose. The Spurs will be good for a couple more years until Tim Duncan retires. The Mavericks will also be good for a few years if they add Deron Williams. The Lakers are fading fast and Kobe's contract is killing the team. The real future of the conference is Memphis, the Clippers, and as most people predict, if you want to get to the Finals in the next few years, you're going to have to go through the Thunder. Here's a look at how the Blazers can construct a team to do just that.
- Durant is going to get his points, whether from the field or the foul line. You need an active defender that harasses him. Once Durant gets frustrated and his shots aren't falling, he doesn't lose confidence - he'll keep shooting - but he''ll force shots and have an 8-for-26 night. Batum has the ability to make this happen, but his motivation is the question. Still, Batum is the Blazers' best chance of executing this.
- Rebounding. When OKC gets outrebounded, they stand a better chance of losing. Also, by scooping up rebounds you limit OKC's second-chance points. In their overtime win in Portland that featured the terrible goal-tending call at the end of regulation, the Blazers were outrebounded by 59-39, and OKC had 18 offensive rebounds. The game isn't even that close if the Blazers do a better job of rebounding and limit second-chance points. Westbrook is an outstanding rebounder at his position, picking up 11 rebounds himself in that game. We all know that with the departures of Camby and Oden, the center position is the major problem for lack of rebounding. LMA picks up between 8-11 boards, but with 3-4 offensive boards in there, you need a beast rebounder in there next to him. We know Hibbert and Lopez are RFA that will be matched.The best UFA rebounders (excluding Camby) are Kaman and Hawes. Despite his size, Asik is not a great rebounder and is a terrible free-throw shooter. Kaman has the best numbers but has been injured and is 30. Hawes the probably the best FA option. In the draft, Drummond is not really a great rebounder, Robinson and Jones are not bad. However, Robinson won't be available at 6 and Jones is a little bit of a reach at 11. When you consider it's better in the draft to take BPA, the focus should be on signing Hawes or Freeland to play center, or drafting Drummond if the Blazers think he can become a monster rebounder. Hickson is a good rebounder off the bench and should be re-signed.
- Westbrook's speed, quickness, and defense. This is not something you can overcome - you're not going to find a PG that can shut him down, especially with the current hand-check rules. What you need is a shot blocking big man to force him to alter his shots, and a point guard that matches his production, like Tony Parker does, without Westbrook being able to shut him down. We've discussed big men above, and Hawes and Freeland are sufficient in this area. As far as point guards, Deron Williams is the best option, but the Blazers risk another Turkeyglue situation, while he ties up their cap and then signs with someone else. Steve Nash wants to play for a contender (and in 2-3 years will be done). Dragic had good production in 3 games against OKC, and has improved every year. Lowry has suffered several injuries and has some off-court issues, but has also improved every year and is a better rebounder. I think Portland should go after Dragic, or failing that take Lillard at 11. Since there's no "Tony Parker" equivalent for the Blazers to select from, this is their best option.
- 3 point shooting. Portland can beat OKC by hitting 3s and keeping OKC from double-teaming LMA, who loves to pour in points against OKC. Matthews, Babbitt, and Batum are pretty good shooters. Free agent shooting guards aren't great this year, so the Blazers should try to move up to grab Beal, a fantastic 3 point shooter. If that fails, Lamb's not a bad option at 11. The Blazers should also try to bring in Diebler.
My ideal blueprint would be:
1. Package 6 & 11 (and more if ness.) to move up to 2 or 3 and take Beal.
2. Sign Spencer Hawes as starting center.
3. Sign Dragic as starting point guard.
4. Re-sign Batum.
If there's any way to sign Freeland, Hickson, and Diebler, that needs to be done.
Vet PG or Flynn (if cheap)
It doesn't seem at first glance like that's a team good enough to beat OKC. But it's about pieces fitting together and targeting OKC's weaknesses, while strengthening Blazer flaws. The only other option is to trade LMA, get bad for several years, and hope for good drafting.
In part 2 I'll talk about how these pieces could make a run at OKC...