|2013-2014 NBA Pre-Season|
|October 5th, 2013|
|Ülker Sports Arena, Ataşehir, Istanbul, Turkey|
|8:00 AM Central Daylight Time|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1)|
|Enemy Blogs: Euro-Step, BallinEurope, Euroleague Adventures|
|Previous Meetings: None.|
|Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Kendrick Perkins (Questionable)|
|Reggie Jackson||PG||Bo McCalebb|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||Bojan Bogdanovic|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Linas Kleiza|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Nemanja Bjelica|
|Kendrick Perkins (Thabeet?)||C||Luka Zoric|
For a full run-down of Fenerbahce's roster, click HERE.
Istanbul, Turkey. Long considered the gateway between East and West. Hundreds of years ago, battles were fought over the spread of religion and the division of the once-mighty Roman Empire. Now, it functions as the effective border between the Christian and Islamic worlds, representing a vast mix of people, culture, and goods.
It's a far cry from the cow town nestled just above Texas that many Thunder fans like to call home. Constructed just over a hundred years ago, the city represents modern urban planning, a stronghold of energy companies, and a certain brand of hospitality that you just don't get anywhere else.
But, despite their differences, the cities will unite tomorrow morning (evening) in the name of sport. The best basketball players that the town's finances can muster will meet on the court, and decide once and for all who can call themselves "International Exhibition Game Champion".
Okay, I might be drumming up an 8 AM Exhibition game to be more than it really is, but you've got to admit, this is pretty cool. Even if you aren't a fan of international basketball, haven't you always wanted a chance to prove that American basketball is better? And heck, when was the last time Oklahoma City got to play against Istanbul....in anything?
Anyway, let's look at the game itself. Both the Thunder an Fenerbahce are teams that have undergone a lot of change recently. Fenerbahce underwent a coaching change after a disappointing 2012-2013 season, and brought in a few new foreigners to bolster their squad. A lot of their players, old and new, are facing questions about their ability to perform. Star guard Bo McCalebb has injury issues, while Linas Kleiza might have lost a step in his game. Meanwhile, the Thunder lost bench scorer Kevin Martin in the off-season market, and are trying to replace him with the young gun known as Jeremy Lamb. They also figured out that Russell Westbrook would be missing some more time, and it remains to be seen how well the Thunder can hold together without him.
But, when you wipe all of the murky water away, one thing is apparent. The Thunder are the better team. Bo McCalebb is once heck of a scorer, but he doesn't even come close to Kevin Durant when it comes to caliber of play. Their second best player, Bojan Bogdanovic, is another pure scorer, and is canceled out when you consider the defense, offensive rebounding ability, and athleticism of Serge Ibaka. The same is true when you go further down the line. Reggie Jackson over Linas Kleiza. Jeremy Lamb over Nemanja Bjelica. Thabo Sefolosha over Emir Preldzic. Derek Fisher over Omer Onan.
This much should be obvious from the get go. The NBA is the superior league, with bigger contracts, a more unified structure, a larger talent pool, and slightly richer basketball heritage. Still, I wouldn't count Fenerbahce out of this one. Here's why:
1. They have more scorers. The same is true for almost any team in the NBA, but Fenerbahce has about 5 or 6 players what are capable of creating their own shot, while the Thunder only have 2 or 3. You could make the argument that Fenerbahce would have the same amount of scorers if they had to play against stronger competition, but when you consider how offensively bereft players like Sefolosha, Collison, and Perkins are, you start to catch my drift.
2. The team is flexible. Their starting lineup is built in a certain way, favoring individual scorers and crashing of the boards. But they've got players who fill different needs on their bench, and they can certainly adjust their lineup to any style of play. They've got slow, creative bigs for one on one defense and ball handling, as well as athletic bigs for help defense and pick and roll plays. They've got scorers in the starting lineup, but an array of shooters on their benhc. They've also got a lot of ballhandlers on their bench backcourt, so they slot next to the more talented scorers naturally.
3. They've proven themselves against NBA talent. A lot of the same players (most notably Bo McCalebb) were on the roster last year when they convincingly beat a very capable Boston Celtic team. Moreover, the players who weren't there (like Linas Kleiza), have more or less played well on an NBA level.
4. They have weaknesses in the same areas that the Thunder do. Luka Zoric, Gasper Vidmar, and Oguz Savas aren't amazing centers by any stretch of the imagination, nor could they really exploit the weaknesses of Perkins or Collison. Moreover, they don't have any speedy guys who move well without the ball, so they won't be exploiting us with a J.J. Barea or Jerryd Bayless type player by drawing mismatches. Finally, they don't have a ton of shooters, so they won't be able to take advantage of the Thunder's constant trapping.
5. Bo McCalebb. Never underestimate the Macedonian Madman. (No, he's not really Macedonian. But having been to Macedonia, I'm pretty sure all of them don't really care where he's really from.)
Anyway, this should be an excellent demonstration of our favorite sport. Both teams have pride on the line, unlike most Pre-Season games. So if you're going to watch any Thunder game this October, this would be it. How well they do here could very well be a nice preview for the team's first few weeks without Russell Westbrook.
And If Scott Brooks decides to rest his starters in the fourth...I'll be a very unhappy man. THIS IS FOR OKLAHOMA PRIDE, FOOLS!!!! RISE UP!
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 96, Fenerbahce Ulker 92
I'll be in Istanbul for the game, so if you're there and you see me around, holla back!