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Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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SEASON RECORDS

San Antonio 50-16 (1 seed)
Oklahoma City 47-19 (2 seed)

SEASON SERIES
San Antonio took the season series 2-1, however Manu Ginobili missed all of them (which might worry Thunder fans), the games were in March and earlier, bottom line these teams are different now.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)


San Antonio: offense 108.5 (1st in NBA); defense 100.6 (11th)
Oklahoma City: offense 107.1 (2nd); defense 100 (9th)

THREE KEY SPURS:

Tony Parker: He outdueled Chris Paul, so as his reward he gets Russell Westbrook. In one key regular season meeting between these teams Gregg Popovich asked Parker to attack Westbrook on offense, to wear him down and make him work at both ends, he did taking 29 shots and scoring 42 points. It worked. Expect a lot of that this series. On the other end, Parker is going to have to defend the pick-and-roll as well as he did last series (although don’t be shocked if Popovich has Parker cover Thabo Sefolosha and puts Danny Green on Westbrook for long stretches).

Tim Duncan: He has been fantastic in these playoffs, but the “old man” is about to be put to the test with the long and athletic Serge Ibaka shadowing him. Duncan and Parker (and Manu Ginobili) will keep the ball moving until the Spurs get open shots, but they have to produce themselves as well. Duncan has to get points inside against a big front line of Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

Kawhi Leonard: He is the guy who is assigned the impossible task of guarding Kevin Durant. Nobody is stopping as good a pure scorer as there is the game, but if he can make Durant really work for his points — keep him shooting contested long jumpers — and not be efficient, it will put pressure on the Thunder to keep up with all the points the Spurs offense will score.

THREE KEY THUNDER:

Russell Westbrook: To me, Westbrook is the key to this series. San Antonio did a great job containing Chris Paul by zoning him off when he came off the pick and moved to the wing, but that’s not how Westbrook attacks off the pick-and-roll — Westbrook prefers to come off near the top of the key and dive straight down the lane to the basket. It’s harder for the Spurs to defend and if Westbrook can get into the paint he can get the Thunder the points they will need to hang in this series and win it.

On the other end of the floor, he has to make Parker work for his shots, get the ball out of his hands and contain him on the pick-and-roll. Nothing is stopping the Spurs offense, but the Thunder need to find a way to slow it.

Kevin Durant: This is obvious, but in a series where the Thunder need to put up points they will need big, efficient nights from him. That means not all pull up jumpers, he needs to get to the rim as well. Last meeting between these teams he was 8-19 shooting, he needs to be better this time around.

James Harden: Harden is the Sixth man of the Year, but the Spurs are deeper and get fantastic bench production. Harden needs to find a way to match it or come close. Also, he’s going to be the ball handler at the end of close games – and there will be close games — and his ability to make plays for others will be key.

OUTLOOK

This will get painted as a “pass the torch” series with the rising Thunder trying to take the mantle as the next great team in the West. In reality, the Thunder are going to have to rip that torch out of the Spurs hands, San Antonio isn’t done with it.

These are the two best offenses in the association and this whole series really boils down to this — which team can get more consistent stops?

It’s going to be hard for the Thunder, despite their length and athleticism. In their regular season meetings the Spurs just carved the Thunder defense up — and San Antonio is playing better now. The Spurs offense uses pressure and fantastic ball movement to get the shots they want — at the rim, the corner three, or specific jumpers like Duncan’s 15-foot bank. The Spurs are 8-0 in these playoffs and having’t lost since you were doing taxes because they get their shots on their terms. San Antonio will wait for the eager and active Thunder defense to overreact to something then in two quick passes get a good look or a matchup they want. They did it in the regular season matchups between these teams.

Another key for San Antonio and its ball movement is good look jump shots — the Spurs will take a lot of spot-up jumpers but are getting a very good 1.18 points per possession off it so far in the playoffs (via MySynergySports). Those looks are often corner threes — Oklahoma City has to rotate fast and challenge those corner threes. The Thunder have to contest everything, something they have done well in the playoffs (top field goal percentage against on spot ups in the postseason).

Spurs biggest challenge will be defending the pick-and-roll — they have done it well in the playoffs but this will be a different look and speed. Chris Paul tried to attack them from the wing, but Westbrook will attack from the top of the key, trying to turn and run down the lane and get his own points. They have to stop him out high, make him shoot jumpers, because if he gets into the lane the Spurs lack the big-man shot blocker too stop him.

This series is fascinating because of the matchup chess that will go on. In the playoffs Popovich has liked to play Parker, Danny Green and Ginobili together — will Scott Brooks counter by going big and forcing Green to try and cover Durant? Will Parker get time defending Thabo Sefolosha so the more athletic Green can go on Westbrook? Will the Thunder ignore Serge Ibaka on the pick-and-pop, and can he make them pay for it?

This series is so close. But if it becomes a chess match, you have to like Popovich against Brooks.

PREDICTION

Spurs in 7.

This could go either way and the only outcome that would surprise me is a team winning in less than six games. That said, in the end there will be too many Parker rainbow floaters over Ibaka’s arm, too many Matt Bonner corner threes, too many Boris Diaw or DeJuan Blair baseline cuts to catch a pocket pass and lay it in. Basically, too much Spurs offense. The Thunder will be close but when it comes to who can get enough stops to win, I like the Spurs. Barely, but the Spurs.

College coaches vote UConn’s Kevin Ollie best-suited/most likely to make NBA jump

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17:  head coach Kevin Ollie of the Connecticut Huskies reacts on the sideline in the first half against the Colorado Buffaloes during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Kevin Ollie made himself one of the NBA’s hottest coaching prospects by leading UConn to the 2014 NCAA title.

He has since resisted NBA overtures, including from the Lakers in 2014 and Thunder last year.

But his peers don’t expect Ollie’s hesitance to last.

Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander of CBSSPorts.com asked more than 110 college coaches, “Which active college coach is best suited and most likely to next jump to the NBA?” The results:

Coach, college Percentage

Kevin Ollie, UConn 20 percent

Bill Self, Kansas 17 percent

John Calipari, Kentucky 16 percent

Jay Wright, Villanova 16 percent

Shaka Smart, Texas 9 percent

Tony Bennett, Virginia 8 percent

Note: Other coaches who received at least three or more votes: Sean Miller (Arizona), Larry Krystkowiak (Utah) and Avery Johnson (Alabama).

Keep in mind 80% of responds didn’t answer Ollie. But he’s still makes sense atop the leaderboard.

Ollie isn’t the typical college-to-NBA coach, and Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan – and maybe eventually Fred Hoiberg – are changing that perception, anyway. Not is Ollie showing his basketball acumen at Connecticut, his 13-year NBA career suggests he can translate his style to the next level.

Of course, Calipari always comes up on these lists. He coaches more future NBA stars than anyone, and he loves the attention that comes with the perception NBA teams are chasing him. But he has the best job in college basketball at Kentucky, so luring him will be difficult.

Self and Wright, the other coaches who got at least 10% of the vote, come up from time to time in NBA rumors. But it never seems to be anything that goes anywhere.

Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky: I was ‘overwhelmed’ at times defensively last year

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 31: Brandon Bass #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers blocks a layup by Frank Kaminsky #44 of the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of the basketball game at Staples Center January 31, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Frank Kaminsky ranked 119th of 165 big men in ESPN’s real plus-minus last season.

The eye test matched.

Kaminsky isn’t strong enough to defend inside, and he’s not mobile enough to defend the perimeter.

The assessment might sound harsh, but coming off his rookie season, Kaminsky put it just as bluntly.

Kaminsky, via Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

“I’ve got to be a better overall defender. I was overwhelmed at times,” Kaminsky said. “My preparation, obviously, needs to get better. I so want to be a more consistent player. I’d have a good game and then disappear in the next.”

Kaminsky competes defensively, and Hornets coach Steve Clifford can work with that. Despite his shortcomings, Charlotte still allowed fewer points per possession with Kaminsky on the floor than off. That had plenty to do with whom Kaminsky shared the floor, but it’s evidence his defense is already at least tolerable.

As Kaminsky acclimates to the NBA, his defense could improve. He’ll never be a great leaper, and his length is pedestrian for his position. But he moves alright and plays hard. Add better defensive recognition, and he could be fine.

Every 8-24 will be Kobe Bryant Day

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 13:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers waves to the crowd as he is taken out of the game after scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center on April 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles announced today, August 24, 2016 would be Kobe Bryant Day – presumably because he wore Nos. 8 and 24 with the Lakers, not because 8-24 feels like a common shooting night for him.

But that press release understated the honor.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

Kobe had a great career, and he’s beloved in Los Angeles. Honoring him with a day is a nice gesture.

But as the luster of his retirement tour dims, this will seem overreaching if it’s not just forgotten. The latter is far more likely, but when it’s remembered, Kobe Bryant Day will mostly lead to questions: Why not an annual Magic Johnson Day? Why not an annual Sandy Koufax Day? Why not an annual…

Report: Raptors signing E.J. Singler

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 29:  E.J. Singler #25 of the Oregon Ducks drives in the second half against Chane Behanan #21 of the Louisville Cardinals during the Midwest Region Semifinal round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 29, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Ready for another Singler in the NBA?

Thunder forward Kyle Singler‘s brother, E.J. Singler, is headed to the Raptors.

Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic:

Toronto as 14 players – one shy of the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries. Singler will join Fred VanVleet, Jarrod Uthoff, Yanick Moreira and Drew Crawford in a crowded race for the 15th spot.

VanVleet has a leg up, because third-string point guard Delon Wright will miss the start of the season. I also like Uthoff more as a long-term prospect in a vacuum than the other players.

Singler’s advantage? His experience. He’s older than his four competitors, including VanVleet and and Uthoff, who went undrafted out of Wichita State and Iowa this year.

Singler went undrafted out of Oregon in 2013. He has since played overseas and in the D-League, including with the Raptors’ affiliate last season. The 6-foot-6 forward has a nice shooting stroke, but his subpar athleticism limits him all around.

I expect Singler to get a partial guarantee designed to entice to stay in the D-League, where the Raptors 905 still hold his rights, rather than go overseas if he doesn’t make Toronto’s regular-season roster. But first, he’ll have a chance to earn an NBA roster spot in what appears to be a fairly open race.