In lieu of the usual Pre-Game Recon (which should return next week), I exchanged a few Qs and As with J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City, SB Nation's Oklahoma City Thunder blog. You can see his As to my Qs below, and my Qs to his As here.
P&T: Perhaps THE primary plan of attack for successful opposing teams is to attack Amar'e Stoudemire. He's slow to recover on the pick-and-roll and perpetually beatable off the dribble. The Thunder big men are great, but don't seem like the most offensively productive bros. Do they have the personnel to exploit him?
The Thunder don't possess a lane-wrecking power forward in the mold of a Blake Griffin, but they do possess two guys who at least have the potential of making Stoudemire work on defense. Serge Ibaka is the starting power forward, and while he has had some pass-catching struggles this season, he is still a guy who can pick, pop, and shoot the 18 footer with confidence. In fact, it seems like he prefers that shot these days rather than attack the rim. Perhaps that is what Stoudemire would like best so that he doesn't have to do the quick pivot on defense but rather can just jump out on the shooter.
Nick Collison on the other hand is a power forward who is constantly looking for the roll off of picks. If Stoudemire gets matched up against Collison, you are going to see a heavy dosage of Collison and super-backup James Harden running pick and rolls over and over again. It is not uncommon these days to watch them run the same pick and roll two or three times in a row until they get the precise lanes they're looking for, and this season the two have developed that innate feel for who is going to do what, and when.
P&T: The Thunder are one of the best teams in the league thus far despite having a defensive efficiency in the bottom ten. What's up with that defense, and how have they won in spite of it? Or are the numbers somehow misleading? Could they continue to defend that poorly against the Knicks? Please?
The Thunder have not yet reached a good defensive consistency, but the overall efficiency is somewhat misleading. Three of their wins so far this year have been blowouts and OKC probably could have held their opponents under 90 if they had chosen to do so. However, the Thunder were more content to just let the game flow and allow the other team to make the final margin a bit more respectable, but it came at the expense of a better overall defensive efficiency.
That said, the Thunder still have not yet found that defensive cohesiveness that defined them in the second half of last season. We have seen good defense in spurts such as in the third quarter of the Spurs game, but it has been inconsistent. The guards are still a bit prone to gambling on the perimeter. An overaggressive perimeter defense can lead to big steals and fast breaks, but against the likes of an adept ball handler like Portland's Raymond Felton, the tendency can backfire in disastrous ways. Underneath the rim, Kendrick Perkins is still the bulwark, but his shot-blocking partner Serge Ibaka has come out of the defensive gates slowly, playing with a mystifying uncertainty at times. The potential is still there to be a top 10 defense, but as of now has not yet begun to manifest.
P&T: The loss of Eric Maynor was upsetting, even for a non-Thunder fan, and it really seemed to shake the team emotionally. How important has it been on the court, and who's stepped up off the bench in his absence?
It is rare in today's professional basketball to come across a 12 man unit that is as tight as the Thunder's is. To give you a reference you might remember, it feels a little bit like the vibe the Pistons had in the late 80's. The players on those teams guarded each others' backs with a ferocious intensity. While today's Thunder do not possess that same level of nastiness (and I mean that in a good way), you can tell that they also are intensely loyal to one another. Watching their brother fall to injury was painful from an emotional sense, but it also has the potential to have deeper implications because it is the first real injury that this tight unit has sustained and it is going to force them to adjust in ways in which they are hitherto unaccustomed. The feeling of physical invincibility gets shattered, and you're never sure who can pick up the pieces.
To the team's great credit, they immediately devoted the rest of the season to Maynor and there are frequent gestures made by his teammates to let him know that he is with them in spirit. The second unit that Maynor spearheaded has made some adjustments, so now James Harden has become more of an offensive captain instead of just a pure point producer while rookie point guard Reggie Jackson is learning the ropes.
P&T: Going along with that, how's Reggie Jackson looked? He was occasionally linked to the Knicks before the draft took place
Reggie Jackson was a bit of a surprise draft pick this past summer because there were some more highly touted players still on the draft board, but GM Sam Presti is very smart, does his homework, and was convinced that Jackson was the guy who best fit into the Thunder concept.
While nobody could have foreseen that Jackson would have to step in so quickly, Jackson does possess the courage and confidence to take the reins of a playoff contender into his hands. Jackson physically is kind of in the mold of Rajon Rondo; he is explosive, has great athleticism and wingspan, and is fearless in attacking defenses. His performance so far has been up and down, as you might expect. When Jackson is at his worst, he tends to get tunnel vision and forget about the huge collection of talent that surrounds him and he will try to do too much. However, Jackson is at his best when he allows Harden to set up the plays and he can simply react to the situations at hand.