Feb 29, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) and guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
SB Nation continues its weekly themed posts by visiting an exciting idea that has recently been broached in international circles - the 3 on 3 tournament. As was mentioned a few weeks ago, FIBA has stated that it will be proposing such a tournament as early as the 2016 Olympic Games. Since the thought of NBA players competing in a 3 on 3 tournament tickles our fancies, we collectively decided to stage our own little hypothetical tournament.
30 NBA teams must draw 3 players from their respective ranks to compete in this tournament. The Thunder players are ready and willing (I'm assuming), but who will go to our fictitious tournament?
Games are one 10 minute period -- team ahead at the end of 10 minutes wins, unless a team reaches 31, in which case that team wins.
Points are scored in 2's and 3's.
7 fouls results in the bonus situation.
You can't foul out.
12 second shot clock.
Given these rules, what is the ideal team to assemble? Here are some of the characteristics that we would value the most:
Everyone must be able to hit open shots from 20 feet and in.
While there are some who might be down on Westbrook because of his penchant for taking a lot of shots (and taking some shots away from Durant), the one thing that Westbrook can do better than any other guard in the league is get to the rim. Nobody in the NBA can stay in front of him, and the only way his offense gets held in check is when an entire defense conspires against him to push him into unfavorable shooting zones.
Since no team will be able to leave Durant alone, Westbrook will always be able to either get to the rim or get to his comfort spots at the top of the key. While Durant will likely get most of the shot attempts, I could easily foresee 10-12 point runs where Westbrook beats his man off the dribble time and time again for dunks and layups.
The area though where Westbrook could really shine is on defense, but I emphasize the word 'could.' When Westbrook is playing his gambling style of defense, he can be embarrassed by just about anyone, including point guards who barely even can hit an outside shot (Jonny Flynn, ahem). However, when he's locked in to the mission at hand, he can play a ball-denying defense that can make players disappear. He's physically strong enough to muscle up against guys like Dwyane Wade and he's quick enough to stay in front of guys like Kyrie Irving.
Westbrook would likely have a special shirt picked out for this event. I'm thinking something like this.
This selection will probably draw the most criticism, because by adding Collison, it means that 6th Man of the Year James Harden and Defensive Player of the Year runner up Serge Ibaka will be watching from the stands.
Here is my reasoning.
In a 3 on 3 tournament, the one thing that can kill a squad is if they do not communicate well and implement a plan. With Durant on the team, the Thunder already have the best and most dynamic scorer in the game. Durant can score from anywhere on the court out to 25 feet, he is money-in-the-bank at the free throw line, and apart from LeBron James, there is nobody else in the league who would be involved in this tournament who could slow him down defensively. OKC's game plan should be to set up Durant for as many scoring opportunities as they can.
Harden, as adept as he is and even with his high IQ, would not be a good fit in this squad. He is not yet a great defender, he is still learning to play well off the ball, doesn't set great screens, and since Westbrook would be the primary ball handler, Harden's offensive abilities would be muted. He would be mostly relegated to spotting up for corner-threes, which means that 75% of Harden's prodigious offensive talent is lost.
Ibaka is a more difficult omission. His shot-blocking prowess is second to none, he's the best post help-defender in the league, and even his ability to step out and hit open jumpers would serve the team well. In a lot of cases, Ibaka would be a tremendous force in this tournament. However, the place where Ibaka still struggles is that he is still a young and instinctive player who is learning the skill of position defense. He has a tendency to disappear for stretches, does not play great defense in open space, is a surprisingly weak defensive rebounder, and given that he only would have two teammates on the court, these tendencies could cost his team dearly.
Collison, while obviously not as athletic on defense as Ibaka, plays much better position defense and has the experience and hoops IQ to understand opposing team strategies. As we saw in the Finals, he was the best post player the Thunder had, rebounded well, understood how to contribute on offense, and knows full well his job is to get his teammates open for shots. Collison can actually hit outside shots with regularity as well, a skill that would come in handy when opposing defenses try to get clever in slowing down Durant and Westbrook.
Collison, while not an obvious choice, IMHO is the correct one for this tournament format.
I would also look forward to Nick Collison's GQ blog where he talks about being the secret weapon for the Thunder.
The Primary Competition
Heat trio of LeBron and whoever else joins LeBron.
While there are some other groups that could create problems for the Thunder guys, what it all comes down to is that there are only 2-3 guys in the entire league who can do anything to slow down Durant. As long as the OKC guys have a specific plan in place to generate the majority of their points through the best scorer in the league, they should be considered the favorites to win it all.
What do you think?
Who do you think should be on the Thunder's 3 on 3 tournament team and why?
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