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February 13, 2009

Five (Belated) Portland-OKC Observations

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:21 pm

I made it back down to the Rose Garden Wednesday to watch the Blazers host the Oklahoma City Thunder, but did not keep a live blog. Instead, five observations from the game in what I think might become my new format for games I catch in person.

1. Russell Westbrook is a freak
I’ve been following Westbrook’s bizarre offensive rebound numbers with great interest throughout the season. Westbrook’s offensive rebound rate (8.2 percent) is virtually the same as his defensive rebound rate (8.7). You see this from time to time, but almost always with big men, not point guards. It’s one thing to see the numbers on a spreadsheet, quite another to viscerally experience Westbrook materializing out of nowhere like Agent Smith in The Matrix to grab a rebound. On this night, Westbrook had eight (8!) offensive rebounds amongst his 11. If he gets the jumper, it’s game over.

2. Greg Oden looked good
Wednesday was my seventh time watching Oden in person this season, and it’s the best he’s looked in any of those games. Oden avoided the cheap fouls which have been the bane of his existence this season, finished with power in the paint and destroyed all three of the shots he blocked. I would be more concerned about Oden’s up-and-down season if we weren’t seeing these kinds of flashes on a regular basis. Eventually–especially as he cuts down on the fouls–they will become more regular.

3. I still would take Kevin Durant over Oden
I was amongst the handful of folks that favored Durant over Oden in 2007, and his play this season has demonstrated why. There are comparisons for Durant, in particular Carmelo Anthony, but when Durant is on he can control a game in a variety of ways that guys like Anthony simply can’t match. Durant seems to be making similar moves to last year with a little extra decisiveness, and that has made a huge difference. When he comes flying into the lane with a head of steam while still under control, I’m not sure how you handle that defensively. And now Durant (averaging 3.7 assists per game since the New Year) is making plays as a passer too.

4. Sam Presti is going to be busy next week
The Thunder’s GM has to move at least one and maybe two big men in the near future. Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith, two competent rotation players, are splitting about 15 minutes a night behind starting power forward Jeff Green. Smith sat out Wednesday’s game with a minor injury, giving Wilcox a rare chance to play (he responded with a team-high 11 points in the first half). Oklahoma City’s frontcourt rotation is only going to get more crowded when rookie D.J. White is able to return from surgery to remove a growth from his jaw. Nick Collison has solidified his spot as the starting center, and Nenad Krstic has been solid since the Thunder signed him midseason. Wilcox and Smith–both in the final years of their contracts–figure to both be gone by this time next week, and Damien Wilkins (getting only garbage time) and Earl Watson could be in play as well as Presti continues to stockpile assets to go along with five first-round picks over the next two years.

5. Put me on Team Bayless
The Jerryd BaylessSergio Rodriguez debate has divided Blazers fans. Only one can stay in the rotation when starting point guard Steve Blake returns to action after the All-Star break. I was relatively agnostic on the issue before Bayless won me over with his impressive performance Wednesday night, including a career-high eight assists. Meanwhile, Rodriguez was busy coughing up the ball like he was playing hot potato. Court vision is Rodriguez’s major advantage over Bayless, so when the latter is seeing the court as he was Wednesday, there’s little argument for playing the former. I think Rodriguez can be a success in the right system–the similarity scores I calculated for him in a two-part series for the blog Blazer’s Edge were very impressive. He just doesn’t fit Nate McMillan‘s system at all.

BONUS self-aggrandizing note: Oh yes, Wednesday also happened to be the first visit by the Thunder to Portland since leaving Seattle. As a Sonics fan since childhood and an employee for six years, this was kind of a big deal for me. TrueHoop published my thoughts on this element of the game.

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