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What Separates the Thunder and the Heat? A Lot More Than You Think

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You've heard the argument before. "Man, Oklahoma City is really becoming a lot like Miami." Of course, if you've followed the Thunder or the Heat for any period of time, you'd know that argument is wrong.

See these guys? They're different.
See these guys? They're different.
You've heard the argument before. "Man, Oklahoma City is really becoming a lot like Miami. OKC's got Durant and Westbrook, Miami has James and Wade. OKC's got Ibaka, Miami's got Bosh. OKC's got Martin, Miami's got Allen."

Of course, if you've followed the Thunder or the Heat for any period of time, you'd know that argument is wrong. Dead wrong. If you look at how the rest of the teams are structured, the matchup is almost one of dichotomy. Even when you consider the big four pieces of both teams, it's apparent that they all have very different skillsets. It might be true that they all fill the same roles, but the way they go about filling those roles is entirely different.

So if your friend or some silly national analyst comes up to you with a bunch of horseradish, refer them to this article. Because these 2000+ words are dedicated to emphasizing the true differences between these two teams. Buckle up, homestuck.

The Durant-James Debate

Metaphor: A Snake Vs. A Freight Train
General: This comparison's been hashed and re-hashed a thousand times before, but I'll try to lay it all out on the table. Obviously, we know that James is the better player, mostly in the sense that he's more complete. I'm not saying Durant's a one-trick pony, because he's improved significantly in several categories over the years. But while Durant is a better offensive player, James probably excels more in all other areas.
Offensive Style: Kevin Durant is a player who works in the mid-range a lot, curling to the top of the key for a lot of tough jumpers. When he shoots threes, he'll generally spot up from wherever he happens to be behind the line. When he drives to the basket, he slinks and slithers around the defense, somehow sneaking his way to a basket. In this sense, he's a lot better at drawing fouls, because it's pretty hard to avoid a guy with such length and craftiness. LeBron, on the other hand, is more like a freight train. I'm not saying the man doesn't have finesse, because he does. But when he drives to the basket, he's more of a power guys than anything else. He's also a lot more likely to set up camp on the side of the lane and go to work on his opponent with post moves. At 15 more pounds than Durant, he's got the strength advantage against almost any small forward in the NBA. LeBron spots up for some threes too, but they're a lot different mechanically. LeBron will fade away and arc the ball over his opponents, while Durant will rise up for a straight on laser-beam type of shot with hardly any arc at all.
Ballhandling Style: Durant handles the ball a lot for the Thunder, but his offensive sets aren't very complex. Generally, most of the assists he gets are passes out of pressure, perimeter rotation, or fast break scores. The only reason he averages a lot is because he has possession so often. LeBron, on the other hand, is more like a true point guard. He'll find the open guy while double-teamed in the post, find the cutter while dribbling it on the perimeter, and has an array of flashy passes that often catch the defense off-guard.
Defensive Style: Durant works off of pressure. He likes to crowd the ballhandler and tip the ball with his long arms, or beat his man one on one. LeBron is a guy who likes to read the defense a lot. He'll see what play the other team is running, and sneakily wait in the passing lane, hoping that the ballhandler makes a mistake. Durant, by virtue of his long arms, is a better blocker and help defender. LeBron, by virtue of his bigger girth, is a better man-to-man defender.

The Westbrook-Wade Debate

Metaphor: Betting on 0 vs. Betting on Red or Black
General: Russell Westbrook is a guy who plays with no fear whatsoever, and his stats prove that. Sometimes he turns out to be a better performer than Kevin Durant, carrying the team to victory in every aspect. Other times, he actually hurts the team through his recklessness, and they have to win despite his poor play. Wade, on the other hand, has comfortably assumed his supporting role. He'll rarely outperform LeBron these days, but he can be counted upon for some rock solid defense and offense. Even if he scores a low amount, he'll generally shoot a good percentage and keep his turnovers low.
Style: As mentioned before, Westbrook is a compulsive gambler on the court. He's almost always on the wrong side of the floor defensively, trolling for steals or biting off more than he can chew. Offensively, he always works as a ball-handler, and has fallen in love with his stop 'n pop mid-range shot. He attacks the hole at any opportunity he gets, and he's not afraid to heat check himself with a low-percentage three point attempt. Rather than being a independent chaotic substance, like Westbrook, Wade is more like a mellower version of LeBron. He's very similar to LeBron when it comes to one-on-one situations, because he likes to use power and quickness to get around his opponents. But he's also much more willing to work off of the ball, and he hardly ever jacks up a three. Defensively, Wade is a better man-to-man and transition defender, mostly because of consistency.

The Ibaka-Bosh Debate

Metaphor: The Acrobat vs. The Ostrich
General: In all honesty, these players are probably the most similar among the four. Both of them possess similar physical attributes and skillsets. Both are utilized similarly on offense, and could pretty much have identical highlight reels in that sense. But the roles they play in other areas of the game are quite different, and contribute to the identity of their team quite nicely.
Style: As I said earlier, their offensive skillsets and style are almost identical. Both have fallen in love with the mid-range jumper, and love to exploit slower opponents by playing far from the basket. Neither has a very established post-game, as neither have the girth or strength to pull out post moves effectively. Instead, they work off of the pick and roll a lot, and love to grab offensive rebounds with their length. The only real offensive difference is that Ibaka almost never touches the ball unless he's going to shoot, and he has the range to float out to the three point line once in a while. Bosh, on the other hand, will distribute it from the top of the key. Defensively, the players have some serious differences. Ibaka is more of a help defender than anything else, using his excellent communication with Kendrick Perkins to keep one of the most air-tight and block-heavy paints in the NBA. Bosh doesn't have a big man to help him out in the paint half of the time, so he has to act as more of a man-to-man defender. But he also loves to make the switch onto a smaller defender as they enter the paint.

The Kevin Martin-Ray Allen Debate

Metaphor: The General vs. The Fighter Pilot Ace
General: This debate is the silliest of them all. In terms of what both players means to their teams, the two players are drastically different. Kevin Martin functions as the Thunder's primary scorer on the bench, and will be looked to as the leader of his unit for 5-10 minutes a game. He'll occasionally handle the ball, and has the craftiness to drive the ball in traffic. Allen, while also being the leading scorer of the Heat's bench, isn't a leader. If he's hurt in a particular game, the Heat hardly lose a step. He's simply the most consistent peripheral scorer among many. His job is to stand in the corner, shoot open threes, and occasionally drive off of a simple fake. He can do a few other things, but he does them rarely, if at all.
Style: In terms of style, the players are a lot different. I won't lie, both of them shoot corner threes. But while Allen mainly takes advantage of pressure on Wade or James, Kevin Martin will more often be relied upon to create his own shot. He's also a bit quicker on offense, and can get around opponents for some easy fouls. Allen is a better defender though, mostly because Martin can't do much except occasionally stand in a passing lane.

The Rest of the Teams

General: What's forgotten most often in this debate is how the rest of the team is structured. Sure, the other players in each team's rotation might not seem very important when you watch the game. But how they compliment the main players is very critical to understanding the differences between these two teams.
Lineups: The Thunder are a team that likes to play with a very distinct first and second unit. Sure, Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha will fluctuate in-between the two, but generally the second group of guys will get a good crack at controlling the game. This might be just a remnant of the James Harden era, but it's also because Westbrook and Durant compliment each other so well, passing to each other in a lot of offensive sets. The different lineups also have the effect of changing the face of the team, providing an additional challenge for the opposing coach. The Heat, on the other hand, never let the team play without Wade or James. Those players are essential to the team's success, because the entire roster is built around their skills.
Bigs: The Heat, despite having an equal number of big men, will go small more often than the Thunder will. They start with a lineup of Bosh and Haslem, which is small in itself because both players are traditionally power forwards. On the bench, they have the newly signed Chris Andersen and the rarely used Joel Anthony. How both are used really depends on the Heat's matchup, but generally speaking they're not on the floor together, and always play the role of the center. In other words, the Heat don't need to play a traditional lineup in order to win, and survive perfectly well as one of the league's worst rebounding teams. Instead, they rely on excellent passing and offensive mismatches to get them by. The Thunder, on the other hand, will almost never play without a traditional center and power forward. Rebounding and interior defense are calling cards for this team, and help to alleviate the massive amount of turnovers that they generate.
Swingmen: Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Mike Miller, and occasionally James Jones all fill basically the same role for Miami. They stand in the corner, they shoot, they provide decent defense, and that's about it. They're all older guys who used to be more of a primary weapon for their respective teams, so they're crafty enough to break out of their mold once in a while. But generally, they're all just complimentary parts. The Thunder, on the other hand, tend to focus on defense. Thabo Sefolosha provides solid defensive footing and pressure. DeAndre Liggins provides defensive quickness. Unfortunately, those are the only two, because the Thunder's rotation is a lot tighter.
Point Guards: The team's are kinds similar here, because Chalmers, Cole, and Jackson are all scorers who love to work with the ball in their hands. None of them are really known for their distribution skills, and their offense is generally really inconsistent. The only main difference between them is that Reggie Jackson has to act as more of a catalyst for the offense, because the Thunder have less options in that department.

Statistical Differences:

The Heat are a team of extremes. In terms of overall rebounding, they're dead last in the league. They're the best in field goal percentage, 3rd best in three point percentage, 4th best at limiting turnovers, and 5th best at scoring. The Thunder are equally as extreme, but in entirely different ways. They turn the ball over the second most in the league. Additionally, they're the best at scoring, the best in almost every free throw category, and the 6th best at rebounds.

If you want the above paragraph in English, the Heat are basically a team that relies on solid ball control and good percentage shots in order to stay in games. Their main weakness is rebounding, but this generally doesn't come out as a reason for losing games. Instead, teams will hamper a strength, and bring the Heat down. The Thunder, conversely, do a horrible job taking care of the ball and use offensive rebounding to make up for it. But turnovers will definitely hurt them in losses, because they generally accomplish what they're good at.

Final Thoughts:

I'd just like to say that I understand there's similarity between these two teams if you look at the national storylines. But if you watch them play on a basketball court, even against different teams, it's almost impossible to call them similar. They have players of equal caliber in the same positions, but that's where the similarities really end.

But, going beyond that article for a moment, it's interesting to see just how different these two teams are, and how they're built on two entirely separate platforms for success. The methods for building both teams have been duplicated. The Nets have signed a bunch of big name stars by clearing cap like the Heat, and others have stocked up on draft picks and tried to build young, like the Thunder. But nobody has truly been able to duplicate the essential system of either team, even on a lower talent level. Is it because these teams possess unique players? You'd be hard pressed to find an Ibaka or Bosh clone, or grab two players who are as dynamic offensively as the Westbrook/Durant or the Wade/James combo. Is it because complimentary role players are so hard to find? Is it because few teams can afford to be so atrociously bad in one statistical category? Questions abound, but one thing's for sure:

Neither of these teams are boring.

Do you disagree, or have your own take? Let us know in the comments!