PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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SEASON RECORDS

Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West

OKC: 60-22, one seed in the West

PLAYOFF RECORDS

Memphis: Beat the Los Angeles Clippers 4-2

OKC: Beat the Houston Rockets 4-2

SEASON SERIES

Grizzlies took two of the three meetings.

KEY INJURIES

Russell Westbrook is out for the playoffs after undergoing surgery for a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY

Memphis: Offense 109.7 (2nd in the postseason), Defense 104.9 (11th in the postseason)

OKC: Offense 109.2 (3rd in the postseason), Defense 101.9 (8th in the postseason)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:

The Thunder’s ability to get consistent scoring from players not named Kevin Durant: With the loss of Russell Westbrook at this late stage of the season, OKC is forced to adjust on the fly without their most explosive player, and the one who led the team in field goal attempts over the course of the season. Replacing what Westbrook gave the Thunder will be a tall task against a solid Grizzlies team that’s more than capable of locking down defensively at times, so the likes of Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson will need to provide reliable production from the guard spots for the Thunder to advance.

The continued brilliance of Mike Conley: The Grizzlies’ point guard has played as well as anyone in this postseason, and carved up the Clippers with averages of 17.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game that were all better than his regular season averages. Conley was especially great in the closeout Game 6, finishing with 23 points on seven shots, after getting to the free throw line for a whopping 17 attempts.

There’s a reason that the Grizzlies offense, which was below average during the regular season, came to life against the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Conley’s ability to have high assist, low turnover games has been key in his team’s surge on that end of the floor, and his ability to feed Zach Randolph in the post with perfectly-placed passes has helped his big man dominate for stretches inside.

Memphis is built on defense, certainly. But Conley is the key to bringing their offense to a respectable level that can actually make the Grizzlies a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins: These two didn’t have a great first round series against the Rockets, but the matchups are much more favorable in the second round against a Grizzlies team that relies heavily on its two bigs inside. Oklahoma City may be uniquely qualified to slow the Memphis frontcourt attack with both Ibaka and Perkins, as well as with Nick Collison off the bench.

OUTLOOK

The burden will be on Durant to carry the Thunder offensively in this series, and he’s more than capable of doing so. The problem is that Memphis has a strong wing defender in Tony Allen who can at least make Durant work for his points, and if the Grizzlies can force Durant into low shooting percentage games, while containing the rest of of the Thunder’s role players, it could be trouble for Oklahoma City.

The Grizzlies’ ability to play good team defense, along with their improved offense we’ve witnessed so far this postseason, should be enough to get them into the Conference finals.

PREDICTION

Grizzlies in six.

Kevin Porter Jr. a possible lottery pick heading into 2019 NBA draft

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Kevin Porter Jr. missed more than a quarter of his freshman season at USC due to injury. He missed another couple games due to suspension. When he played, he usually came off the bench. He’s only 18.

But Porter has already shown enough to impress NBA teams.

Porter, via Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft and I will be signing with Roc Nation Sports,” Porter told ESPN.

Porter has a wide possible range in the first round, because there’s a massive gap between his ceiling and floor. But it shouldn’t take too long for a team to bet on his upside.

A 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Porter has a special combination of shiftiness and power with the ball in his hands. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can also pull up for jumpers.

I don’t trust his 41% 3-point shooting at USC. That came on only 68 attempts, and he made just 52% of his free throws (though that was also on an unreliably small sample, just 46 attempts). But his stroke looks compact and smooth.

Porter can be an impressive passer. Right now, that’s more so making quick and correct standstill reads than distributing while driving.

If he improves his handle, that could really tie together all his skills.

Porter forces too many bad shots. He’s not attentive enough defensively. There are questions about his maturity.

But if he pans out at the next level, he could be awesome.

Report: LaMarcus Aldridge won’t face punishment for hitting Gary Harris in nuts (video)

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Late in the Nuggets’ Game 2 win over the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge whacked Gary Harris in the nuts.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

It surely helped that Denver coach Michael Malone defended Aldridge.

Malone, via Mike Singer of The Denver Post:

“If there was a windup, if there was something that looked really deliberate, that’d be different, but from what I saw, and I didn’t spend much time looking at it, obviously who cares what I think?” Malone said. “It all comes down to what the NBA thinks. In watching it, obviously Gary was unfortunately the recipient of that accidental blow but I didn’t see it as something that was premeditated or done with the intent to hurt Gary.”

It also helps that Aldridge doesn’t have a reputation for dirty plays.

But this is what I can’t get totally past: If Aldridge intended to take a cheap shot, how would it have looked any different?

Ben Simmons on Jared Dudley’s assessment: ‘It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon’ (video)

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Ben Simmons keyed the 76ers’ historic offensive turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2 against the Nets. He pushed the pace, attacked and created good shots for himself and teammates.

Brooklyn forward Jared Dudley explained Simmons’ improvement.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Simmons:

It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.

Simmons’ dismissive tone makes this bigger than merely his words do. There’s definitely animosity brewing between these teams.

But this “beef” will get only as large as Simmons makes it.

He is great in transition and average in the halfcourt. Dudley’s remark wasn’t an insult. It was a scouting report.

Keeping Simmons out of transition is far easier than done. That’s part of what makes Simmons a star. He frequently creates up-tempo opportunities.

Players can’t be defined by a list of strengths and weaknesses. How often those strengths and weaknesses affect the game is important.

Simmons often makes his strengths count.

There are still questions about just how often he can do that against the best defenses, especially deep into the playoffs. His poor shooting is a liability in the halfcourt.

For now, he’ll create plenty of fastbreaks against the Nets. Simmons is a good enough player to set the style against that defense. He’s better than Dudley, who’s just a role player.

But Dudley is also a smart player. And he’s spot-on here.

Potential top-10 pick De’Andre Hunter, potential first-rounder Ty Jerome leaving Virginia for NBA draft

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De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome just led Virginia to a national championship.

Now, they’re trying to parlay that title into success at the next level.

Hunter and Jerome declared for the 2019 NBA drat with the intent to stay in it, Virginia announced.

Hunter will probably be a top-10, maybe even top-five, pick.

At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a strong base and impressive lateral mobility, the forward has excellent defensive versatility. He’s steady on and off the ball. I question whether he’ll lock up the better athletes he’ll more regularly face in the NBA, but his defensive floor is quite high.

He’s also a good 3-point shooter, though his slow release limits the number of attempts he can get up. Otherwise, Hunter lacks the explosiveness and ball-handling to become a traditional star.

Maybe he’ll be an excellent 3-and-D role player. In this weak-looking draft, that possibility is enough to make him coveted.

Jerome also lacks the burst to possess high upside, but that’s more understandable late in the first round, where he’s projected. The 6-foot-5 guard is a good outside shooter with a knack for getting open. He has plenty of distributing ability for a secondary playmaker but isn’t enough of a threat to create for himself to run an offense through him.

He’s limited defensively, but he has a decent knack for when to gamble when there’s good help – like Hunter – behind him.