Grizzlies vs. Thunder Series Preview

May 01, 2011 No Comments

Can the Grizzlies cash a winning ticket to the Western Conference Finals?

 

By Sportsgrinder

Regular Season Records

  • #8 Memphis Grizzlies (46-36)
  • #4 Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)
  • Season Series: Memphis 3-1

Regular Season Offensive Statistics (NBA Rank)

  • Memphis Grizzlies: 99.9 PPG (12th) .471 FG% (6th) .334 3P% (27th) 20.6 APG (21st)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: 104.8 PPG (5th) .464% (10th) .347 3P% (19th) 20.4 APG (23rd)

Regular Season Defensive Statistics (NBA Rank)

  • Memphis Grizzlies: 97.6 PA (12th) .457 FGA% (12th) 41.0 RPG (16th) 9.4 SPG (1st) 5.4 BPG (7th)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: 101.1 PA (16th) .458 FGA% (13th) 42.8 RPG (7th) 8.0 SPG (5th) 5.9 BPG (2nd)

Point Guard Match Up

Mr. Westbrook has developed into one of the leagues elite players. Photo by: Tiago Hammil

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook is on the verge of NBA super-stardom. Westbrook increased his points per game (+ 5.8), field goal percentage (+ 2.4%), three point percentage (10.9%), and assists over last years totals. He is averaging 23.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 6.2 APG in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Westbrook is the complete package at the point guard position. He has an ultra quick first step, and finishes near the rim with relative ease. He has improved his mid range game and three point shooting drastically since he entered the league. Westbrook averaged 24.5 PPG, 46.6 FG%, 4.5 RPG, and 9 APG in 4 games against the Grizzlies this season.

The Grizzlies’ Mike Conley Jr. is your prototypical point guard. He looks to get his teammates involved in the offense early and often. Conley has really flourished since head coach Lionel Hollins took over the head coaching position in Memphis. Conley plays with a lot more confidence than he did before Hollins was the coach. Conley has increased his PPG, APG, SPG, and minutes per game every season since he entered the league back in ‘07-’08. Conley is averaging 14.3 PPG, .395 FG%, 4.5 RPG, and 6.2 APG in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Look for Hollins to get as many minutes out of Conley as possible. He logged 38.3 minutes against the Spurs in the first round, nearly 3 minutes more than his season average. Conley averaged 13 PPG, 36.1 FG%, 3.3 RPG, and 7.5 APG in 4 games against the Thunder this season.

Westbrook has been playing at such a high level this entire season, Conley is going to have a hard time containing him. There are definitely some dynamic point guards left in the NBA Playoffs( Rose & Rondo), however there isn’t a more dynamic point guard then Westbrook in the Western Conference. Look for Westbrook to get the best of this match up.

Edge: Westbrook and the Thunder

Shooting Guard Match up

The Thunder boast a two man rotation at the shooting guard position of Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden. Sefolosha is one of the premier defensive players in the league. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive team last season. At 6’7’’, Sefolosha uses his quickness and length to frustrate opposing guards in the league. Sefolosha has averaged over one steal per game (1.3) during his 3 year tenure with the Thunder. Disregard offensive statistics when it comes to Sefolosha, when he is in the game for head coach Scott Brooks he has one assignment; shut down the opposing teams best scorer. James Harden is a sharp shooting specialist for the Thunder. In his second full season in the league, Harden averaged 12.2 PPG, while also averaging 1.1 SPG. Harden connected on 113 three point field goals this season, good for 40th in the league. The Sefolosha/Harden tandem averaged 9 PPG, 48.8 FG%, 3.6 RPG, and 0.75 APG in 4 games against the Grizzlies this season.

Similar to the Thunder, the Grizzlies also incorporate a two man rotation at the shooting position with Sam Young and O.J. Mayo. Mayo was initially drafted by the Grizzlies with intentions that he would eventually develop into the cornerstone of their franchise. Yet, with Zach Randolph securing his place as the Grizzlies best player, Mayo has had to take a back seat. Mayo’s points per game decreased by over six points from last seasons total (17.5 in 2010 vs. 11.3 in 2011). Mayo has also seen his FG% decrease by more than 5% from last year (45.8% in 2010 vs. 40.7% in 2011). Still, at only 23 years of age, Mayo is an extremely talented player who possesses star like qualities at times. Sam Young is a productive second year player who continues to progress in Lionel Hollins system. Young shot an impressive 47.2% from the field this year. He has increased his PPG and FG% thus far in the playoffs. The Mayo/Young tandem averaged 8.3 PPG, 41.3 FG%, 2.6 RPG, and 1.5 APG in 4 games against the Thunder this season.

Both teams have capable shooting guards who compliment each other. Mayo could definitely be the wild card in this series, however he is far too unpredictable of a player at this point in his career. There really isn’t a considerable edge for either team at this position.

Edge: Even

Small Forward Match up

Kevin Durant has transformed Oklahoma City into a title contender. Photo by: Chamber of Fear

The Thunder boast arguably the best pure scorer in the league with fourth year superstar Kevin Durant. Durant is one of those rare players who is capable of carrying his team via his offensive repertoire. Durant has been a proven scorer the moment he arrived in the NBA back in ‘07-’08. Through his first four years in the league, Durant is averaging a remarkable 25.9 PPG. There wasn’t much of a learning curve for the player they call the “Durantula”. Durant has been sensational so far in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. He is averaging 32.4 PPG, 47.1 FG%, 5.6 RPG, and 2.6 APG. Simply put, Durant has a chance to establish himself as the premier player in the NBA during these playoffs, he is that good. At 22 years of age, the sky is the limit for the insanely talented Durant. Durant averaged 30.5 PPG, 47 FG%, 8.3 RPG, and 3 APG in 4 games against the Grizzlies this season.

Following the mid-season acquisition of Shane Battier, the Grizzlies put together one of the best defensive small forward tandems in the league with Battier and Tony Allen. The Battier/Allen tandem gives Lionel Hollins two very capable defenders to stick on Kevin Durant. I am not sure how much offense Hollins will get out of either player in this series due to the fact they will be asked to contain Durant. Yet, both Battier and Allen are more than capable scorers (each averaged over 7 points per game this season). Allen has had offensive success against the Thunder this season. He is averaging nearly 10 points over his season average against the Thunder this season. Allen averaged 18.8 PPG, 54.8 FG%, 3.5 RPG in 4 games against the Thunder this season. In his only game with Memphis versus the Thunder, Battier scored 7 points and pulled down 7 rebounds.

I love the way Tony Allen plays on the defensive side of the ball. He is an extremely passionate player who leaves everything on the court (Battier is similar in that fashion). It is going to take a historical defensive effort from both Allen and Battier to try and contain Durant. I say contain, because Durant is such a focal point of the Thunder’s offense that all you can try and do is make him uncomfortable. Having said that, I just don’t see it happening. Durant is far too talented with this offensive game to be contained for any length of time. Although, Battier and Allen are proven defensive stoppers in this league, they will have a tough time matching up with Durant. Of course, most players in the NBA have a tough time matching up defensively against Durant.

Edge: Durant and the Thunder

Power Forward Match Up

The Thunders franchise struck gold back in 2008 by selecting Serge Ibaka with the 24th pick in the 1st round. At 21 years old (talented young players is a reoccurring theme with the Thunders franchise in case you haven’t figured that out yet), Ibaka, along with Durant and Westbrook, has developed ahead of schedule. In his second full season in the league, Ibaka averaged 9.9 PG, shot 54.3% from the field, pulled down 7.6 RPG, and blocked 2.4 shots a game (3rd in the league). He is a consistent force offensively, and has developed into one of the premier defensive big men in the league. Thus far, Ibaka has excelled in the playoffs. He is averaging 10.2 PPG, 11.0 RPG, and 4.8 BPG (Leads all players in blocks). Ibaka averaged 9.2 PPG, 53.4 FG%, 5.2 RPG, and 2.0 BPG in 4 games against the Grizzlies this season.

Zach Randolph averaged 26.5 PPG and 14.5 RPG against the Thunder this season.

Although he has always been a consistent player during his nine year NBA career, Zach Randolph has never been labeled a “leader” during his previous stints with the Trail Blazers, Knicks, and Clippers. That has most certainly changed for Randolph during the last two seasons in Memphis. It’s pretty safe to say that Randolph is the heart and soul of the Grizzlies organization. The Grizzlies have so much faith in Randolph that they awarded him with a 4 year contract extension worth $71 million earlier this month. And for good reason. Randolph was superb this season, averaging 20.1 PPG, 50.3 FG%, and 12.2 RPG. He is an opposing coach’s match up nightmare at the power forward position. He has an excellent mid-range game to go along with an extremely polished low post game. Randolph averaged 26.5 PPG, 59.1 FG%, and 14.3 RPG in 4 games against the Thunder this season.

The young Ibaka struggled in his four match ups against Randolph and the Grizzlies this season. Ibaka picked up a total of 17 personal fouls in his 4 games versus the Grizzlies. Although, Ibaka definitely continues to improve for the Thunder on both ends of the floor, he will be overmatched against Randolph in this series. The most important thing for coach Brooks and the Thunder is to get as many minutes out of Ibaka as possible. Look for Randolph to continue his stellar play in this series.

Edge: Randolph and the Grizzlies

Center Match up

The Thunder were thrilled to land Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics during the trade deadline on February 24th. Perkins and Ibaka give the Thunder a formidable frontcourt for years to come. Perkins has proven that he can perform at the highest level, evident by his championship run with the Celtics just a couple seasons ago. Perkins is averaging 5.1 PPG, 49.3 FG%, and 7.9 RPG in 17 games with the Thunder this season. Perkins is a hard nosed player who sometimes lets his emotions get the better of him on the court. He will need to keep those emotions in check during this series, as he will no doubt have a tough match up against the Grizzlies Marc Gasol. Perkins did not face the Grizzlies this season as a member of the Thunder.

Can Marc Gasol win the center match up against the Thunder's Kendrick Perkins?

The Grizzlies Marc Gasol was Mr. Reliable for head coach Lionel Hollins this season. Gasol scored in double figures in 61 out of 81 regular season games this year. On the season, he averaged 11.7 PPG, 52.7 FG%, 7.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG. At 7’1’’ and 275 lbs, Gasol can be a match up problem for undersized opposing centers. Gasol has played well during the 2011 NBA playoffs, where he is averaging 14.2 PPG, 53.3 FG%, 12.3 RPG, 1.5 BPG. With the Grizzlies having relatively no depth behind Gasol at the center position, it will be extremely important for Gasol to stay out of foul trouble against the Thunder. During his 4 games versus the the Thunder in the regular season, Gasol was able to log 36.5 minutes a game (nearly 5 more than his season average). Gasol averaged 11.5 PPG, 56.8 FG%, 7 RPG, and 1.5 BPG in 4 games against the Thunder this season.

Gasol looked awfully impressive in his first round match up against the Spurs. Perkins is a more than capable defender, however Gasol has a much more polished offensive game. Look for Perkins to try and get extra physical with Gasol at some point during this series. You might even see a couple flagrant fouls called against Perkins in an attempt to throw Gasol off his game. Still, Gasol is the more talented player and we fully expect that to show during this series.

Edge: Gasol and the Grizzlies

Prediction

This should be a fun series to watch with two of the up and coming teams out west. The Grizzlies are coming off a historic upset of the top seeded Spurs in the first round. Their confidence has to be sky high entering this series. It also helps that the Grizzlies know that they can beat this Thunder team, something they did 3 times during the regular season. I think this series comes down to which team can slow down the opposing teams best player. Will the Grizzlies have an answer for Kevin Durant? Can the Thunder find a way to slow down Zach Randolph? If those star players are contained for a period of time, which players for the Thunder and Grizzlies will step up for their respective teams?

Oklahoma City has the feel of a team on the brink right now. Durant and Westbrook have developed into as deadly a tandem as there is in the league. Memphis definitely has an advantage in the front court with Randolph and Gasol, however I don’t think it will be enough to propel them to victory in this series. Look for the Thunder to advance to their first Western Conference Finals.

Thunder in 6 

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