Ahead of Thursday’s contest between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors, I had the good fortune of participating in an insightful five question pre-game discussion with Blake Murphy of ESPN.com True Hoops’ Toronto Raptors affiliate, Raptors Republic.
Blake posed a thoughtful line of examination regarding Oklahoma City’s potentially historic season. Salient topics such as Russell Westbrook’s MVP hopes, Andre Roberson’s lock-down defense, and whether “Raptors slayer” Doug McDermott would emerge tonight was discussed.
I hope you enjoy the banter.
Blake Murphy: Let's not bury the lede: Give us your elevator pitch for Russell Westbrook as 2016-17 NBA MVP.
Joshua Broom: Simply consider Westbrook's historic season. Since 61-62' no player has matched or surpassed Westbrook's all-around production. However, Russ' value is gleaned best from his impact upon Oklahoma City's 38-29 record. In total, Oklahoma City's ORtg dramatically increases +10.8 with Westbrook on court; further, Westbrook’s presence enhances OKC’s defensive rating by 4.4 points. Throughout the 16-17' campaign, no player exceeds Russell Westbrook's singular value to his franchise.
2. Is it surprising to you, given Westbrook's dominance, that the Thunder are doing a little better defensively than they are on offense?
J.B. Not in the least. Throughout OKC's seismic offseason, General Manager Sam Presti steadfastly reiterated his commitment to building a tough-minded squad that nightly battles on the defensive end. Though at times inconsistent, overall Oklahoma City has earned its top-ten DefRtg on the backs of carefully assembled players who epitomize Presti's vision.
3. A big part of the defense has been the continued stellar play of Andre Roberson. What is it that makes Roberson such an effective wing defender? Do you see him giving DeMar DeRozan a fair amount of trouble?
J.B. To answer the former: physical dimensions and intangibles. Standing just 6'7, Roberson sports a formidable 6'11 wingspan; and he understands fully how to frustrate opponents using it. Roberson's impressive physical tools are bolstered by his precise footwork and attentiveness to angles, combined with a sheer desire to contest every shot.
To answer the latter, I believe Roberson will undoubtedly place DeMar in uncomfortable scenarios. That stated, I have the utmost respect for DeRozan's continued on-court developments. It's rare in today's league to find a perimeter guy who dominates primarily within the mid-range area. Yet, DeMar does just that.
While I certainly appreciate DeRozan's talents --and still recall vividly his 37-point-performance from our Nov. 9 meeting-- Andre will make the three-time All-Star work for every made bucket.
It is always a treat when an All-NBA caliber defender meets an explosive offensive threat.
4. Raptors fans love to look at Enes Kanter's role with the Thunder and suggest Jonas Valanciunas should be used similarly in Toronto. How is Kanter able to thrive in the second unit, with his strengths optimized as an offensive focal point and his weaknesses minimized on defense?
J.B. Kanter's ability to offensively thrive in reserve minutes is directly correlated with his understanding of offensive positioning. Per 36 mins, Enes averages 16.9 FGA and 6.1 ORB. On a game-to-game basis, Kanter is a front-line bull that opposing defenses struggle to contain.
Conversely, on the defensive side, Enes experiences lulls regarding effort.
However, I feel --and the numbers support this-- that Kanter has improved defensively throughout the year --albeit slowly. Kanter's defensive flaws are generally lessened by his teammates' added emphasis to rotate with quick help coverage when Enes is on the floor.
Nonetheless, as an elite positional scorer and offensive rebounder, Kanter's role with OKC is vital.
5. I'm not sure if Thunder fans realized this at the trade deadline, but you guys acquired a Beat The Raptors Free Card from the Bulls in the form of Doug McDermott. How has he looked in OKC so far, and over-under 49.5 points for him in this one?
J.B. We certainly hope that's the case! Thus far, Doug has been inconsistent. Though his floor-spacing threat alone is a welcome addition to our roster. In an encouraging sign, McDermott's best Thunder moments have come in big wins against San Antonio (11 pts) and Utah (16).
At the moment, Coach Donovan is discovering ways to best utilize Doug alongside emerging sharpshooter Alex Abrines within the framework of OKC's second unit.
Again, Presti displayed great savvy by picking McDermott and Taj Gibson up at the trade deadline.
Concerning the over-under, I'll go with a push.
Oklahoma City Thunder (36-29 #6 west) vs. Toronto Raptors (39-28 #4 east)
- Time: 7 PM ET
- Venue: Air Canada Centre, Ontario, Canada
- TV: FSOK
POTENTIAL STARTING LINEUPS AND INJURY REPORT
The Oklahoma City Thunder has no injuries to report. The Toronto Raptors list Kyle Lowry (Wrist) as out. DeMarre Carroll (Ankle) is listed as day-to-day.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Cory Joseph
- Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan
- Small Forward: Norman Powell
- Power Forward: Serge Ibaka
- Center: Jonas Valanciunas
Entering tonight’s contest, Oklahoma City sports a three-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors defeated Dallas 100-78 Monday night, and have split their past four outings.
Oklahoma City Thunder: +2.5
The Toronto Raptors are considered slight favorites ahead of Thursday’s meeting. This is primarily due to Oklahoma City’s pronounced road struggles (13-20) juxtaposed with Toronto’s (22-11) creditable home record.
Tonight’s key matchup —as alluded to during the interview— pits Andre Roberson vs. DeRozan. With Lowry sidelined, OKC’s chances of capturing a fourth-straight win enhance greatly if Roberson can stifle DeRozan’s (27.1 ppg) offensive output.
In an interesting side-note, this evening Oklahoma City shares the floor with former long-time defensive pillar Serge Ibaka. During the offseason Ibaka was traded from OKC to Orlando —and then from Orlando to Toronto just ahead of the trade deadline.
This contest should be entertaining on many levels.