Friday, May 10, 2013

Griz-Thunder Game 3 Preview: Twelve Takes, Part Two

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 10:33 AM

As promised, part two of a preview for tomorrow's Game 3:

7. Potential Thunder Adjustments: Coming back to Memphis 1-1, the Thunder seem to have more adjustments to make. But how willing head coach Scott Brooks will be to alter the team's gameplan is now, perhaps, the central question of the series.

Coming out of Games 1 and 2, the Thunder have three rotation players who not only didn't give them much, but also don't promise to give them much going forward.

This problem starts up front, where each of the Thunder's centers — Kendrick Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet — have been huge negatives. Across two games, Perkins has played 58 miinutes and given the Thunder 2-10 shooting and has generally crippled their offense. Thabeet has been a disaster on both ends. He doesn't need to play unless someone fouls out, but hopefully that Thunder won't make that adjustment for Game 3 because Grizzlies fans deserve to see Thabeet on the floor in a playoff game.

Playing this dreadful center combo for 37 minutes a game was obviously a response to Marc Gasol and the well-founded belief that forwards Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison can't handle him. The problem for the Thunder is that Perkins and Thabeet can't guard Gasol either and having them on the floor kills their offense.

While Collison fouling out in Game 2 was obviously a problem, it's still odd that Ibaka and Collison — by far the Thunder's two best bigs — were only on the floor together for nine minutes in Games 1 and 2. Those happened to be very positive minutes for the Thunder.

On the wing, the odd man out looks to be Thabo Sefolosha — a defensive specialist at the two/three facing team without scorers at those positions that warrant the attention. Already, Sefolosha is playing fewer minutes in this series as a starter (20.5) than reserves Kevin Martin (30.5) and Derek Fisher (24.5).

And while the team's performance while Sefolosha has been on the floor has probably been heavily impacted by coinciding so much with Grizzlies' starters, there's a case to be made that these minutes should be tilted even more in favor of Martin and Fisher. In Games 1 and 2, Martin only averaged about three more minutes a game than he did in a regular season in which Russell Westbrook played a full 82 games. With Westbrook out and Durant needing more help carrying the offensive load, the team's second-best scorer probably needs more minutes, especially since the Grizzlies lack the wing scorers to fully exploit Martin's defensive vulnerability.

8. Small Ball So Far: One way for the Thunder to make these player adjustments is to play more small ball. They haven't used it much so far against the bigger Grizzlies but they have been successful when they have. Rather than re-create my lost research on this subject, I'll point you to NBA.com's excellent John Schuhmann, who made the central point today:

And thus far against the Grizzlies, they’re a plus-13 in 14 minutes playing small. They’re a minus-17 in 82 minutes playing big and their starting lineup (Jackson, Sefolosha, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins has shot a brutal 13-for-47 (28 percent) in its 28 minutes together.

Small-ball forces funky match-ups on both sides when the Grizzlies stay big. We saw Durant guarding Gasol and Zach Randolph tracking Sefolosha. But the Thunder's conventional lineups haven't fared well against the Grizzlies so far. Their small lineups, in admittedly brief time on the floor, has posed more problems, so there's a good chance we'll be seeing more of this. Keep your antennas up — *Tony Allen voice* — for this on Saturday.

9. The Derek Fisher Screwball: This has to be one of the most frustrating thing about the series so far for Grizzlies' fans. Ancient Derek Fisher, who seemed to be barely hanging on, went 6-8 from three-point range and notched one of the Thunder's better defensive ratings. For the Grizzlies, this cannot stand.

There are two things the Grizzlies need to do here and both are obvious. One is not leave him open. Fisher may be near the end, but he can clearly still drain open threes. That's muscle memory. The other is to attack him ruthlessly on the other end. Not just with Conley, which is obvious, but even with Jerryd Bayless or Tony Wroten when they're in the game. (Dooling, maybe not.)

10. The Jacksons and Ibakas of the World: Brooks could easily scale back the minutes of Thabeet (to zero), Perkins, and Sefolosha. That's less of an option with Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson, whom the Thunder just need to be better.

Only Perkins has a worse offensive rating (points scored per possession when a player's on the floor) than Jackson among Thunder rotation players, and that's bad when you're talking about the starting point guard. Jackson had as many turnovers as assists in OKC and has yet to make a three.

As for Ibaka, his defense has been generally effective on Zach Randoph, but he's shooting 27% and has been rebounding at a below-average rate for an NBA player, much less for an athletic 6'10" power forward.

Even playing at home, the Thunder were fortunate to keep it close with these two key players performing so poorly. If one or both get straightened out it could have a considerable impact on the series.

11. Sorting Out the Wing Rotation: Tayshaun Prince had a rough couple of games in Oklahoma City, shooting 6-19 from the floor with a barely break-even plus/minus despite playing so many minutes with the starters.

Prince started poorly in the Clippers series as well, only to break out back in Memphis. Will history repeat? Maybe, but there are a couple of differences here that might counteract optimism: Prince banged up his hip pretty good in Game 1 on that hard foul from Collison and seemed to be favoring in both games afterward. The three-day break between Games 2 and 3 should do Prince some good, but it could still be an issue. Secondly, Prince didn't have to spend so much energy guarding Kevin Durant in the Clippers series.

On the other end of the size spectrum on the wing, Jerryd Bayless has re-emerged some in this series, which really started with his Game 6 performance against the Clippers, but the same problems remain despite different match-ups. Bayless shot well from three in Oklahoma City and has been a modest plus offensively overall, but his defensive rating has been by far the worst among Grizzlies regulars. If he's coming off the bench and the Grizzlies are reluctant to give him back-up point guard minutes, it forces him into guarding Kevin Martin at times, which is a bad match-up just like Jamal Crawford was against the Clippers. There's an adjustment to be made here with Bayless — more minutes at the point, different assignments defensively, fewer minutes generally.

Overall, the Grizzlies wing rotation in Games 1 and 2 broke down like this, minutes-wise:

Prince: 34.5
Allen: 22.0
Pondexter: 20.5
Bayless: 20.5

Based on what we saw in OKC — with Prince banged up and struggling offensively, with Bayless struggling defensively, with Pondexter playing well enough on both ends, and with Allen your best defender and rebounder at the position(s) — it seems like shading those minutes a little more toward Allen and Pondexter could be the way to go.

What's odd, though, is that Allen and Pondexter spent a total of two minutes on the floor together in those two games. And a lineup that would simply replace Prince with Pondexter and leave the other four starters in spent only one minute together.

The Allen/Pondexter combo was not very effective in the regular season, but was a big plus in 42 minutes against the Clippers while the starting group with Pondexter over Prince was also strong in limited minutes. Given the match-ups and the way guys at this position are playing, you'd think we might see more Allen and Pondexter, and also more Allen/Pondexter.

12. Kids and Play: While the wing rotation is the biggest issue for the Grizzlies in terms of playing time, how to parcel out the few minutes behind Conley, Randolph, and Gasol is a more minor but interesting issue.

Game 2 saw the re-emergence of youngers Tony Wroten and Ed Davis from bench purgatory and they each had a moment — Wroten with a backdoor steal for a lay-up and Davis with a big dunk. Here's hoping they get another chance to work their way into more minutes in Game 3.

Wroten is a risk/reward player at this point, obviously, but given how Keyon Dooling's looked, I don't think the risks are much greater than just going with the vet. And the rewards are size and athleticism that could prove effective, particularly when matched with Fisher.

As for Davis, erstwhile third big Darrell Arthur has been struggling and the Grizzlies need his ability to defend in space a little less in this match-up than they did against the Clippers, with their heavy pick-and-roll and with Blake Griffin's face-up game. Davis is more of a paint-based player and his rebounding and finishing could be helpful if he gets minutes and gets his confidence back.

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