The Oklahoma City Thunder, over the past season, proved they had claim of ownership of the Western Conference as they tossed the Los Angeles Lakers to the side during the semifinals of the 2012 playoffs. However, the Lakers are never content of being steamrolled and they acquired Steve Nash AND Dwight Howard this summer. They reloaded once again, but who is the beast in the west: the Lakers or the Thunder?
Nash and Russell Westbrook are polar opposites: Nash is orchestrates an offense, while Westbrook just likes shooting. No doubt about it, Nash is going to excel in Los Angeles, especially when running the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard and playing hip-to-hip with Kobe Bryant, but his age and speed will become a factor when squaring off against the speedy Westbrook. Nash just can’t defend the fast point guards out west, especially Westbrook. I documented how Westbrook is evolving and we should see an even more improved Russell this season.
The SG position is a rather easy one to dissect, as Thabo Sefolosha’s role on the Thunder is not on the offensive end — Kevin Durant and Russell do that — as he is the defensive specialist on the young OKC team. Sefolosha’s 5.4 points per game (career average) doesn’t quite hold up to the OG of shooting guards, Kobe Bryant, who has a 25.4 PPG career average. With the addition of Nash, and Howard, it’s the assumption Kobe doesn’t have to take every shot, but the question still stands will Kobe take a “reduced” offensive role. It’s also well noted, the reason Sefolosha guards Bryant is because he gives him hell, however for all sakes of the position Bryant is the winner here.
Metta World Peace, 7.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game last season, and reigning three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant go head-to-head at the small forward position, and this is a rather easy position as well. Metta’s offense is laughable, at best, and his defense is still solid; however, Durant is just a monster. His passing game improved last season, and his defense is still a work in progress, but many of his shots are unguardable. Not to mention, he’s a beast from the perimeter; his length and his wingspan gives opponents fits whey they try to guard him. Besides throwing a ‘bo, World Peace doesn’t stand a chance against the Durantula.
Serge Ibaka, 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks last season, and Pau Gasol, averaged 17.4 and 10.4 last season, headline the power forward position, despite Ibaka’s raw talent and his elite shot blocking skill set, but Ibaka also falls for the pump fake consistently. Gasol could possibly average a double-double in the 2012-2013 NBA season, or close to it, with Nash on the Lakers. This doesn’t say Ibaka isn’t talented, but Gasol has a proven skill set.
The center position just became more interesting out west as Dwight Howard, 20.6 and 14.5 last season, and Kendrick Perkins, 5.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, will be seeing a lot more of one another. There is NO contest, Dwight Howard is a former three-time Defensive Player of the Year, while Perkins isn’t nearly on the same defensive level as Howard. That’s not say Perkins can’t stand firm again Howard, but it’s obvious the Lakers have a clear-cut advantage here.
Oklahoma City has the reigning sixth man of the year, James Harden, 16.8 points last season, and he is the third scoring option for OKC. While Antawn Jamison, 17.2 points per game, isn’t a clout, he just doesn’t compare to Harden who is ridiculously similar to Manu Ginobili. However, Jamison is a clear positive for the Lakers giving them bench scoring, but Harden’s a thundercat at 23 years old, and is still improving.
OKC’s bench wins out as well as they have Nick Collison and Eric Maynor is back this season, not to mention Daequan Cook, Hasheem Thabeet and rookie Perry Jones. The Lakers have Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks, and Jordan Hill as their main bench players outside of Jamison. Depth is key in the regular season, and the young Thunder boys have that.
While Oklahoma City doesn’t have a huge advantage as they did last season, the OKC still have a slight edge over the Lakers. They have youth, speed and depth on their side, but make no mistake about it — unless something drastic happens — the Lakers and Thunder will meet up in the Western Conference Finals this season.
It could just be a seven-game thriller.