With AI quietly preparing for his Monday night debut, the rest of the Sixers roster (let's call them the forgotten 13) is gearing up to stop their seven-game skid against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Preview and game thread after the jump.
Since I've been so down for the past couple of days, and today was clearly the low point, I'm going to have some fun with this preview. Instead of trying to guess how Eddie Jordan is going to muck up the game, the rotations and everything else that isn't glued to the floor, I'm going to pretend I'm the coach. Here's my gameplan for playing the Oklahoma City Thunder, a 9-8 team in the Western Conference.
- Jrue Holiday
- Andre Iguodala
- Thad Young
- Elton Brand
- Sam Dalembert
On offense, I've immediately got two matchups to attack:
- Jeff Green on Elton Brand - Green is a versatile defender, but he doesn't have the requisite length to bother Brand. I'm going to look to get Brand in the post frequently, I'll try a two-man game with Iguodala, and I'll also try a two-man game with my suddenly hot three-point shooter, Thad Young. Eventually, OKC is going to have to send doubles and I want those doubles to result in good looks at shots that will hurt the opposition, rather than long two-pointers shot at about 35%.
- Kevin Durant on Thad Young - Durant is long and gangly and weak, he may be a passable defender some day, but he's nowhere close right now. Thad should be able to use his array of spins, fakes and dips to score down low on Durant, and he should also be able to move him around if he needs to. He's also the focus of their offense, so any work you can make him do on the defensive end can only help your chances.
I don't like any of the other matchups a whole lot. Jrue doesn't have much of a size advantage on Westbrook, Thabo is a really good wing defender, someone who can hang with Iguodala and Sammy is almost never an offensive mismatch. I'd try to milk Thad and Brand early and often and force OKC to adjust, that's when the other guys get involved. Oh, and the first player to mention "Princeton offense" to me would be instantly benched. That system has been thrown out the window. OKC has an extremely strong defense, currently 4th in the league in defensive efficiency rating, this is going to be a challenge, but I believe exploiting those two mismatches and getting to the rim whenever possible is the best way to attack them. They lack a guy to really protect the rim.
Defensive matchups and style
- Jrue on Westbrook - This is the key to the game as far as I'm concerned. Westbrook is the prototype for a penetrating, athletic guard. Jrue is the only point on the roster who has a prayer of keeping him out of the lane. His job is going to be to pick Westbrook up before half court, put his handle to the test (averaging 3.9 turnovers/36 minutes) and (a) keep him out of the lane (b) force him to go left, sending him up against a shot blocker at the rim in either Brand or Dalembert. No help comes from the wings to stop penetration, it's Jrue's job to keep him out of the lane, if he gets in, the shotblocker has to protect the rim, that's it. On the P&R, I make Westbrook prove he can hit a three before I worry about hard shows and/or doubles. Bounce under screens until he shoots you off of that philosophy.
- Thad on Sefolosha - Sefolosha is not a big threat on offense, Thad should do a fine job on him and be able to help out on the boards when needed. If a double is ever needed in the post (which it shouldn't be considering OKC's personnel) Thad is the guy who goes when Thabo is in the game.
- Iguodala on Durant - Put it this way, Durant and Westbrook account for 58.4% of the team's possessions combined. I'm not wasting Iguodala on Thabo, I'm not going to switch to this matchup after Durant has gotten off to a quick start with Thad on him. I'm putting my strongest, best, most-physical wing defender on Durant from the opening tip and I'm telling him to rough Durant up. Make him earn every shot. If he tries to go to the post, push him away from the hoop. If he gets the ball on the wing, get up in his face and make him put it on the floor. Iguodala has the quickness and strength advantage in this matchup, crowd Durant at all times, everywhere on the floor, challenge his shots, keep a body on him to keep him off the offensive glass. That's Iguodala's mission in this game. I don't want to see him playing passing lanes, helping out on drivers, forget that. He's in one-on-one basketball mode on the defensive end, no matter what's happening around him. Durant gets his focus 100% of the time when they're both on the floor.
- Brand on Green - Green isn't shy with perimeter jumpers, he isn't terribly effective with them either. He takes 4.2 threes/game, hitting at only a 29% clip. This is going to be an in-game adjustment, because he is capable of hitting those shots. Early, I don't want to aggressively chase him out there and pull Brand out of rebounding position, but if he gets it going from deep, I'll reassess.
- Sammy on Etan Thomas - Sammy's job on defense is to protect the rim and defend. Thomas is a non-factor. I want him roaming the baseline, staying just close enough to Thomas to prevent lobs, and I want him to be responsible for cleaning up any mistakes on the perimeter.
The defensive philosophy we're going to use here is pressure and accountability. Pressure, in that no offensive sets are easy to get into, we're up on whoever has the ball for the full 24 seconds. Accountability in that there is no help. Every defender (except Sammy) must play like he's in a playground one-on-one game, his sole responsibility keeping his man from getting a high-percentage shot or getting open for a high percentage shot, if he doesn't have the ball. We've maximized our lineup to remove any potential mismatches OKC could have on among the starters, now everyone has a job to do.
Two rules to live by, whoever is guarding Durant does not leave him, under any circumstances. If he's the big in a pick & roll, you go under, or switch. Don't lose him for a second. The second rule is James Harden is the marked man on the perimeter. If he's your man, you do not leave him alone out there, under any circumstances. He's their best three-point shooter, and he needs to be chased off the line whenever he gets his hands on the ball.
I'm going to run with the starting lineup as much as possible, my sixth man is probably Rodney Carney, coming in for Jrue Holiday, and sliding Iguodala to the point and putting him on Westbrook. I'm going to use the small lineup in very limited doses, and when I do go small, I'm going to remain big at the guard positions: Dalembert, Thad, Carney, Iguodala, Holiday is the ideal.
If OKC starts packing the lane, I immediately counter with Kapono and run him on the strong side of the floor with Brand in the post, forcing OKC to pick their poison. Jason Smith is my first big off the bench, Willie Green plays no more than 15 minutes, hopefully less, and he's never my point guard. Either Iguodala or Jrue will handle point duties on both ends all night.
This probably isn't going to be a pretty game, but I'm not after pretty or exciting, I'm after efficient. This defense should come up with plenty of turnovers, stops and defensive rebounds. They have the athleticism to get into the open floor and I want them pushing the ball as much as possible, looking for easy transition opportunities against a tough half-court defense. When forced into the half court, I want them working their mismatches more often than not, and driving to the hoop whenever they can.
That's what I would do, tune in at 8 p.m. to see what Eddie Jordan does.
Key to The Game: Willie damage. If Willie is guarding the point for a big chunk of this game, Westbrook is going to have a field day.
If ______________ the Sixers will win: Eddie Jordan suddenly realizes there are two sides to the floor.
This is your game thread. I'm infinitely more excited for the next two games, the last two in which we'll see significant minutes for Jrue for the foreseeable future, than I am for Monday's debacle. I'll be here throughout, join me for some lighthearted fun.