Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not selling the Thunder short by any means. I realize they’re a lot more than a glorified pick-up basketball team, but they are the perfect pick-up basketball team.
Pick-up basketball is very different from organized basketball. Usually, the most talented team or the most athletic team is going to win in a pick-up basketball game. You rarely see a cohesive group of five random people, and since most people go to the gym to try to channel their Michael Jordan, there aren't many defensive schemes present.
The reason the more athletic and talented pick-up teams win is that they cause the most matchup problems. The pick-up team that gathers the best washed-up high school stars who are too big to be guarded by anyone runs the court all day. Or you’re on the positive side of the action and everyone else gets to enjoy the butt-whoopings they receive all day.
Now think of that in comparison to the Oklahoma City Thunder. How many mismatches do they cause on a nightly basis? And those mismatches are primarily centered on former Longhorn Kevin Durant. The guy’s a ball-handling scorer playing at 6-foot-11. Think about that for a second. He’s essentially a shooting guard who can play the small forward or power forward positions in certain rotations. Durant starts at forward, but his ability to play a shooting guard-style role allows him to cause many problems for defenses. He’s too big to big to be defended by a lot of guards and small forwards, but he’s too great a scorer to be defended by most power forwards. It’s a frustrating conundrum, and whenever he gets free jump shots off screens like the Thunder love to do with him, all you can do is watch the ball go up and hope he misses.
And then there’s Russell Westbrook.
Even though Russell Westbrook takes a lot of terrible shots, with many of those being shots that Durant should be taking, the guy’s another mismatch waiting to happen. He’s only 6-foot-3, but with his speed and athleticism he finds a way to cover most of the court. And he’s got some bulk to him. He’s not a small guy. Many argue that his natural position is shooting guard and I won’t deny that, but keeping him at the point is causing a lot of problems for opposing defenses. Many point guards in the league aren’t strong enough or quick enough to stay in front of him.
Then there’s Serge Ibaka, the freakish athletic big guy who tries to swat anything in the paint and runs his mouth like he’s Charles Barkley, even though he isn’t actually carrying the team. He’s just a contributor. He does the dirty work, though, and he does it well. He barks, he scraps, he takes hard fouls and he can knock down a few long jumpers. Jump shots that space the floor enough to create space for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to attack.
And then whenever you finally account for all the above, Kevin Martin has to come and ruin it all. That little guard with an awkward shot release who knocks down those dreaded kick out three pointers after great defense is played. And it gets worse with how deep the Thunder’s bench is.
It’s no wonder the Thunder are so good when you look at it. They cause so many matchup problems with their players, and those matchup problems create opportunities for everyone else. When you have the 6-foot-11 Durant spreading the floor and Russell Westbrook able to sour to the rim with the best of them, it ends up being hard to create defense schemes to account for everyone, and unless you’re a top tier NBA team you won’t be able to match up. And to think, this team had James Harden. It’s too bad that core didn’t stay together.
They may not win the NBA Title this year, and honestly I don’t see them getting past a healthy Spurs team to even make it out of the west, but if I’m assembling my next pick-up basketball team so I can run the court at Gregory, I’m molding it after the Thunder. Mismatches win games.