The Suns’ ugly loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday certainly gave a good enough preview for the second game in the series on Sunday in Phoenix. Lindsey Hunter’s team simply got beaten down by a deadly offense and couldn’t keep up with a defense that forced the Suns out of playing team ball.
With that, we asked DailyThunder.com’s Royce Young some questions regarding the Thunder’s season without James Harden, Kevin Durant’s MVP candidacy and how Suns fans might
hope pray that Phoenix follows a similar blueprint to success.
Time: 6 p.m. MST
1. Obviously it takes the right general manager, a decent amount of top 5 picks and a top-notch head coach to pull off the kind of rebuilding job that Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder did. What’s your advice for the Suns front office as they try to take on what looks to be a similar task over the next few years?
Draft Kevin Durant. It’s pretty much as simple as that. That’s obviously a joke, but in all seriousness, even Presti would tell you how fortunate he’s been with some of his picks. He openly admits he didn’t expect Russell Westbrook to be the player he currently is. But through the culture and development of the Thunder, they’ve been able to bring young, raw, talented players along and get the best from them. It’s about patience and understanding with your talent.
You don’t want to throw your young players to the wolves and destroy their confidence, but you also want to allow them to fail. Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka all had the opportunity to make mistakes and not worry about it, which I think has been really important for them.
2. Last year, the Thunder beat the Suns in a game where Durant, Westbrook, and Harden each had 30 points. Are the Thunder really better without a third guy who can go off for 30 points?
They’re different. Better? I’m not totally sold on that quite yet, but one thing is for sure: Durant and Westbrook are better players now than they were a year ago. And with them being obviously the two most offensively dominant players on the team, by default, the Thunder are better. Kevin Martin’s been able to replace a lot of Harden’s raw statistical production and he’s allowed Westbrook and Durant to see more of the ball and open the game up. With Harden, OKC was largely an isolation heavy, one-on-one team that created everything out of that. Now, they’re more balanced than before, which I think makes them harder to guard.
3. The Thunder locked down all of the Suns’ role players on Friday night, forcing Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley to beat them one-on-one. Is that formula that’s a trend for OKC this season or just of a result of sound defense in general?
At times, OKC can be incredible defensively. The Thunder like to pressure the ball and try and create havoc with the safety blanket of Ibaka protecting the rim if they get beat on dribble penetration. With the length, size, speed and athleticism, the Thunder can really contest shots, disrupt passing lanes and challenge you in the paint. Unless you’ve got shot-makers that can hit with a hand in their face, the Thunder can lock you down.
4. While everyone was ogling Kobe Bryant’s recent pass-happy mindset, Kevin Durant has quietly developing a multifaceted game of his own, all while working on joining the exclusive 50-40-90 club. Give us an argument for his MVP candidacy, especially against LeBron James, who probably should be the only other player in the conversation.
Here’s my quick and dirty case for KD: Think back to October when Harden was dealt and everyone questioned if the Thunder were still even a contender. Now, people feel pretty good saying they’re actually better this season despite the subtraction of the Sixth Man of the Year, and that’s almost entirely because of Durant. Statistically, LeBron fills out a statsheet, but just because Durant is different than him doesn’t mean he’s necessarily completely inferior. Durant’s headed for one of the greatest offensive seasons in league history, while his team is exceeding expectations on the shoulders of that. LeBron’s been brilliant, but Durant’s meant more.
5. Oklahoma City has a knack for swooping up talented draft picks, early or late. Out of the young guys on the roster, who do you think will become a key part to the Thunder’s future?
I think Perry Jones III could be an interesting future piece. I’m not sold on Jeremy Lamb quite yet. Lamb strikes me as potentially an elite spot-up shooter, but I don’t know if he can be much more than that. Jones’ versatility and athleticism could be an interesting wrinkle to add to OKC’s rotation once he gains confidence and comfort.