The New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder face off tonight in a matchup of two teams trending in opposite directions. The Thunder are currently battling for one of the top positions in the Western Conference, while the Pelicans are fighting for their lives and a sense of direction.
For an extended look into the Thunder before tip-off we continue our Outsiders Perspective series by hooking up with Brady Trantham from “The Franchise” (@FranchiseOK) sports radio in Oklahoma. Be sure to follow Brady on twitter @BradyDoesSports and enjoy our latest installment of Outsider’s Perspective.
1. The last time the Pelicans and Thunder faced off in December Oklahoma City was first in the Western Conference. Since then they’ve had both highs and lows, but still remain a tough out, currently sitting third in the West. What’s been the most important factor in placing them among the best in the conference?
As silly as it may sound, this team fights. They have had high highs (beating Philly on the road, beating Portland twice) and low lows (losses vs Washington and Minny at home twice, blown out by Atlanta), but in every game they have been in position to win all their games in the final minutes.
They rank in the top-5 in net rating since December and top-7 in the NBA overall. This comes from their defensive identity where they lead the league in points off turnovers and fast-break points. This covers up their flaws as a weak jump shooting team. Basically, they will be in nine of every 10 games down to the end and can rely on their defense.
2. You can’t say the word “best” and not mention Paul George. It hasn’t been talked about a ton, but he is having his best season as a pro and it feels by a country mile. What would you attribute to the player he’s been this season? It feels like Russell Westbrook has had a very positive impact on him, too.
I think many categorize Paul George as a great “plays off X” player — I know I have back during his Indiana days. It always seemed like when he teamed up with Bron or another high usage player in international competition that we would see PG hit another level.
With Russ, this has come to the surface. With Paul not having to shoulder the load the entire time, he is able to play free safety on defense, which helps him find his rhythm on offense.
I think you can also add the idea of being more comfortable. George is in year two with Russ and OKC plus he is with the Thunder under his own volition after deciding to stay in free agency. It helps not having to listen to FA questions anymore, etc.
3. Speaking of Russell Westbrook, many people make a fuss about his playing style. It’s become an age old topic at this point. With that being said, is there a specific way Russell has to ultimately play for the Thunder to be at their best?
Or does him changing or being more passive hurt them in the end?
To think Westbrook will change is a fool’s errand. Russ will play how he always plays, and that’s great for OKC eight times out of 10.
Of course, it would be nice to see his three-point shot attempts drop, but if you look at the numbers of when those threes occur, most of them happen when OKC is down 10-15 points. Still, averaging three attempts may be too many.
There are momentarily lapses in judgment that OKC is just married to with Russ, but with the way he elevates his teammates (look at Terrance Ferguson’s shooting numbers since December - 47% from 3) and how much of a force he is all over the floor, the Thunder can go far with his abilities and live with the mistakes.
4. What’s the biggest misconception about the Thunder?
That they are one of the few teams in the WC that can challenge Golden State. No one is beating Golden State.
5. Outside Perspective on the Pelicans
I’ve always liked New Orleans. Like every other basketball guy, I love me some Jrue Holiday. It’s always great to see a guard give it his all on both ends (which is why Russ is fun 98% of the time). Anthony Davis is a generational talent, and I’m upset that I won’t be able to see him in the arena.
As I said on another Thunder podcast last month that of the potential lower seeds, NOLA poses the biggest mismatch threat to OKC due to Davis/Julius Randle. Adams can handle it physically, but Davis always scores 40 on him because he stretches the floor. Randle is so much stronger than Jerami Grant that the paint goes to NOLA.
I think OKC gets their 30th win of the season tonight by a score of 114-102. If Davis was playing, I’d pick Nola!
And that was our time with Brady. Thanks again to him and the 107.7 Oklahoma Radio family. Hope you enjoyed our latest installment of Outsider’s Perspective and be on the lookout for more in the near future.