Who: Memphis Grizzlies (50-32) at Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23)
When: Saturday, April 19th, 8:30 PM CST
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Watch and Listen: Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB on Twitter / 3SOB Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
With a plethora of 3 Shades of Blue content being fed your way in preparation for the Grizzlies’ first round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, allow this matchup profile to serve as a hub for all your Grizzlies/Thunder related needs. So before you proceed towards our matchup analysis, be sure to check out all the great stuff going on throughout the site, including:
- A recap of the Grizzlies’ pre-playoff practice by Zach Thomas
- An overview of the series at large by Jonathan May
- Perspective on the differences between Coach Joerger and Coach Hollins by Chip Crain
- A playoff edition of the Friday Morning Five by the 3SOB team
- A manifesto on the enigma that is Russell Westbrook by Zach Thomas
- An unfortunate update on the status of Nick Calathes by yours truly
Mike Conley: 17.2 PPG, 2.94 AST/TO, 20.07 PER
Russell Westbrook: 21.8 PPG, 1.80 AST/TO, 24.74 PER
First matchup in and our traditional “point v. point” structure is already up in the air, as this one has some serious cross-matchup potential. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, and Nick Calathes (no longer) have serious forecasts of guarding Russell Westbrook in their immediate future. Westbrook is as polarizing as they come at the point guard position. He’s dynamic, salty, and epitomizes the term “one man fastbreak.” But what Russ loves to get going more than anything is his pull-up game. According to SportVu data, he ranks third in the league in pull-up shot attempts per game, with 8.7 — 3.3 of which are of the three-point variety. Surprisingly, however, he hasn’t been the pull-up maven you would think, this season. On those attempts he’s shooting just 38.1%, equating to an overall EFG (which adjusts for the value of a 3 point shot) of 44.5. To the contrary, Mr. Mike Conley is shooting 5.2 pull-ups per game at a clip of 41.3% with an EFG of 46.0. Peep Zach Thomas’s rundown, referenced above for more on R.West.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Courtney Lee: 9.6 PPG, 37.1 3PT%, -0.52 DRPM
Thabo Sefolosha: 6.3 PPG, 31.6 3PT%, 2.29 DRPM
The elusive “3 and D” wing is sort of an en vogue concept in today’s NBA, and I can’t help but think of Thabo Sefolosha as a guy who kinda/sorta pioneered the modern day perception of a guy who fits the bill. At 6’7 with a wingspan of over 7′, the veteran shooting guard has all the tools to lock down the majority of his perimeter foes on a given night. However, at 29 years of age, the three-point masonry appears to have eluded him quite prematurely. This season’s 31.6% rating from downtown is a far cry from his greater than 40% postings from over the last two years, dragging his overall field goal percentage to a career worst 41.5% on the year. Courtney Lee was brought to Memphis with hopes of fulfilling the same “3 and D” destiny, but his game has faltered on the other end this season, with a defensive real plus-minus rating below zero. I believe the Grizzlies would be happy if Lee could just snap out of the streakiness and provide the quality shooting that his season numbers suggest, but Sefolosha is not the guy to make it easy on him.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Tayshaun Prince: 6.0 PPG, 43.1 TS%, 8.18 PER
Kevin Durant: 32.0 PPG, 63.5 TS%, 29.90 PER
It’s not that I don’t like Tayshaun Prince; it’s really because I like Tayshaun Prince that I prefer not to talk about his matchups. Mother always told me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, but this is quite possibly (probably) a matchup between the best offensive perimeter player in the league and the worst starting offensive perimeter player in the league. Kevin Durant had an absolute monster of a season, and should run away with the MVP award. If the Grizzlies aren’t at least clever in how they attack him defensively, he’ll run away with this series, too.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Zach Randolph: 17.4 PPG, 10.1 REB, 0.3 BLK
Serge Ibaka: 15.1 PPG, 8.8 REB, 2.7 BLK
Zach Randolph mounted a surge late in the regular season to push for the Memphis Grizzlies’ team scoring title, edging out Conley by 0.2 on the year on the heels of 59 combined points in the last two games. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he’s going to be up against the longer, more explosive Serge Ibaka, who has developed a sensational little mid-range jumper over the years to lure big men such as Zbo, himself, away from doing what they do best — attacking the glass. In addition to Ibaka, it appears as though the Thunder have devised a formula and written the book on how to neutralize the Grizzlies’ front line. Dating back to the start of the 2013 calendar year, Randolph has shot 50% from the field in just one of eleven matchups, and hasn’t gone over that number in any of them. All this being said, I’m not about to be dissuaded by “logic and reason” from making the blind homer assertion in this blog that #50 will find away to outplay his counterparts and be a major difference maker in this series.
Marc Gasol: 14.6 PPG, -1.53 ORPM, 5.39 DRPM
Kendrick Perkins: 3.4 PPG, -7.12 ORPM, 2.73 DRPM
Dave Joerger has Tayshaun Prince, like Scott Brooks has Kendrick Perkins. From any angle on the outside looking in it appears pretty ludicrous that Perkins plays as much as he does, but Brooks seems to trust his veteran center through thick and thin. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus, the former Grizzlies’ draftee (in technical terms only) has reached offensively team-destructive lows that even the most vociferous, disgruntled Grizzlies fans could only dream of Tayshaun falling to. Perk’s -7.12 ORPM (interpreted as his mere presence on the court costs the Thunder 7 points per 100 offensive possessions) is the worst in the NBA, and it’s not even close. For those keeping score at home, Tay’s ORPM measure is -1.51 — just slightly worse than the magnitude by which Perkins is worse than the second worst player in the NBA. So many negatives in that sentence. On a positive note, Marc Gasol is enjoying arguably most productive calendar month of his career, where he is so far averaging 18.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest, and is looking to put that knee injury firmly in the rear-view mirror. Nothing would do so more effectively than putting together a productive playoff run.
The Second Unit:
Beno Udrih: 4.9 PPG, 2.47 AST/TO, 45.2 3PT%
Derek Fisher: 5.2 PPG, 2.39 AST/TO, 38.4 3PT%
The Grizzlies’ second unit was dealt a major blow on Friday, when news came out that Nick Calathes would be suspended immediately for 20 games due to a positive drug test for a banned substance. Luckily, however, the braintrust in the front office was forward-thinking enough to swoop Mr. Beno Udrih off the waiver wire in the middle of the season. Now, Udrih, who has played just 55 minutes in a Memphis uniform this season has become a central piece of the puzzle as the main source of rest for Mike Conley. Derek Fisher ranks as the most suitable analog off the Thunder bench, and refuses to do anything other than continually sink backbreaking three after backbreaking three in big moments.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Tony Allen: 9.0 PPG, 2.91 DRPM, 62.8 FT%
Reggie Jackson: 13.1 PPG, 0.50 DRPM, 89.3 FT%
Each of these guys has seen plenty of time in the starting lineup of their respective team, but is currently coming off the bench in a variant of a spark plug capacity. Tony Allen has seen his playing time fluctuate since his return from his hand injury just after the All-Star break, and his disappointment — much like his satisfaction, when applicable — has not been hard to find. Nonetheless, the Grindfather ranks as the league’s best defensive shooting guard by not only my visual estimation, but also also ESPN’s RPM formula, which I seem to be talking about more than usual in this write up. His defensive ability is going to be in high-demand against a Thunder team that employs two high-usage perimeter players with dominant scoring instincts and abilities. Reggie Jackson has had plenty of opportunity to prove himself worthy of his keep in this league, and has a good job of convincing the world of such in his sample. Jackson was given a baptism by fire in the NBA playoffs last season, and with another year under his belt should be back on the line to raise havoc for the Grizzlies to deal with. He’s a far more efficient scorer than advertised, and has the quickness to pressure the ball (aka Conley) like a madman.
Mike Miller: 7.1 PPG, 45.9 3PT%, 1.3 3PTM
Caron Butler: 10.5 PPG, 39.4 3PT%, 1.8 3PTM
Let it fly! It seems as if that is the only phase to truly seep into my consciousness when watching the Grizzlies play, because I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of time typing that one into the Twitter box. Mike Miller’s three point shooting has been a nifty tool for the Grizzlies to have in their shed down the stretch of this season, and his approach as the only guy on the Grizzlies’ roster to make it from point A all the way to point Z on the regular season is nothing short of commendable. Miller has made a living of flipping the switch on when the games begin to matter, and a performance of such caliber could go a long way in acquiring space in the paint for the big bodies to park up and operate. On Oklahoma City’s side, Caron Butler was brought over after getting bought out by the hapless Milwaukee Bucks, and a gander at his shot chart reveals similar long range marksmanship to that of Mike Miller, but a lack of the conscience to know when to defer the shooting opportunities to some of his world-class teammates. Butler may be the better overall player at this point in time, but Miller is a better fit for what his role calls for.
Ed Davis: 5.7 PPG, -3.98 ORPM, 1.29 DRPM
Nick Collison: 4.2 PPG, 2.75 ORPM, 3.40 DRPM
Here we go again back to those RPM numbers for what I promise should be the last time in the preview. I’d be remiss, however if I didn’t utilize them to illustrate the nature of the value-added impact that Nick Collison instills upon his team when he’s trotted out there. In the previous matchup above, I mentioned fitness for the role, but if I started that argument at this spot it might have been better fit for the placement. Nick Collison knows his role as well as anybody in the league. He’s strong, tough as nails, and is not afraid to toss around all six of those fouls that he’s so generously allotted over the course of the game. His RPM numbers reflect the impact that his on-court presence dictates, as his total RPM of +6.5 ranks him in sixth in the entire league, in the company of guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry, and Tim Duncan — which means he must be doing something right. Ed Davis’s production has been as on/off as his playing time throughout the season, which is due majorly in part to the depth conundrum that the Grizzlies have at the front court positions — a good one to have at that, but not so much the case for Davis. However, while Joerger is expected to trim the fringes of the rotation in the playoffs, I’d be surprised not to see any of Davis at all, given the versatility that his athleticism would afford the lineups, especially when you’ve got a guy like Ibaka on the other side of the court.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Kosta Koufos: 6.4 PPG, 5.2 REB, 18.4 REB RATE
Steven Adams: 3.3 PPG, 4.1 REB, 15.6 REB RATE
Like Collison above, Steven Adams is just a bruiser. As a big, athletic, 7′ body that comes into the game, sets a few screens, hustles on the glass, throws a few elbows, and making the most out of his six hits, he’s basically a bigger Nick Collison, whose value is directly proportional to how much murder the refs decide to let him get away with on a given night. The thing about Adams is that he doesn’t mind receiving the punishment of playing in the paint either, and will respond to elbows to the head without even acknowledgment beyond expectation. On the Grizziles’ side, Kosta Koufos is the biggest body on the bench and will have to play like it in order to help spell the starters against the physical frontline of the Thunder. Kosta generates 81.1% of his offense at the rim, which will be a tall order against OKC, but has the size, wit, and presence on the offensive glass to be successful in doing so, at least to an extent.
Both of these teams are so deep that even guys 11-13 could feasibly get some burn in a playoff series. The Thunder round out their roster with guys like Jeremy Lamb (inconsistent as heck, but was a gunslinger for sure against Memphis early in the season), Hasheem Thabeet (whose relation to Memphis needs no introduction), and Andre Roberson (who was ranked highly by advanced statistical models coming into this year’s draft and started some games when Sefolosha had to miss time), who could all not only see the court, but realistically make a bit of an impact. On the Grizzlies’ side, obviously the most conspicuously absent guy from the ten horsemen outlined above could have a major role to play in the main matchup of the series, and that is James Johnson. Johnson incited LeBron James in his last opportunity to guard a marquee player, but I would think that he learned his lesson to keep quiet and stick to frustrating Durant with his athleticism and anticipation if given the opportunity. Beyond Johnson, Jon Leuer could get some spot minutes to space the floor if a game or two get out of hand, but at this point in the year has fallen too far out of the rotation for this to be expected.