As the NBA world readies for an intriguing weekend tip between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, The Dream Shake’s Jeremy Brenner lent WTLC his unique insight concerning this potentially historic #3 vs. #6 showdown.
In the following paragraphs Brenner’s candid views will help broaden awareness regarding not only OKC vs. Houston, but the complex on/off-court relationship between Russell Westbrook and former teammate James Harden.
WTLC would like to thank Jeremy for his enthusiastic participation in this playoff-preview discussion. And we invite our readers to chime in by offering opinions in the comment section below.
1)Joshua Broom: In your opinion, which superstar is more valuable to their franchise, Russell Westbrook or James Harden?
Jeremy Brener: Westbrook is more valuable to the Thunder because of the weight he carries from the rest of the team. If you take away Westbrook from the Thunder and Harden from the Rockets, then the chances are that Victor Oladipo won't be as dynamic of a #1 option than Eric Gordon would be.
Both of those guys are Hoosiers who have shown promise in their career at different points in different roles. Oladipo was the second overall pick for a reason, and Gordon was the main piece traded for Chris Paul six years ago.
Both these guys however are now playing complementary roles, and they are doing a good job in that role, but if they were thrust back into the star role, Gordon > Oladipo.
Therefore, Russ is more valuable to the Thunder than James is to the Rockets, but it doesn't mean Russ is necessarily the MVP. There really is no right or wrong answer to the MVP race. I'm biased towards James, but both guys have had phenomenal seasons and whoever gets the award deserves it.
2) Broom: In this intriguing first-round matchup, with diametrically opposed personnel strengths, what should each team be wary of from the other?
Brener: Houston poses the danger of just going on an offensive tear. There are several guys that can heat up from distance, and the fact is that not everyone has to make their shots, but if just one or two guys other than James are making a difference, the Rockets are a scary team that few can match up with. One game it could be Ryan Anderson, the other game, it could be Trevor Ariza, or Lou Williams, or Eric Gordon. Maybe even Pat Beverley, or multiple guys at a time. That might be too much firepower for the Thunder to handle.
OKC poses size, and that's a struggle for Houston. There is no guy on Houston that can really stop Enes Kanter. Houston can contain him, more likely to be Nene than Clint Capela, but there is no stopping Enes Kanter. If Russ and Kanter are both on their game, the Rockets will not have much room for air.
3) Broom: Let’s cut to the chase: which team wins this series, and why?
Brener: Houston advances because they are a deeper team than OKC. The bench for Houston is superior to OKC's. The Rockets have two contenders for Sixth Man of the Year, along with Nene. While OKC boasts Enes Kanter and a bunch of rookies in Semaj Christon, Alex Abrines, and Domantas Sabonis. I'm not exactly sure how minutes will be distributed among the Thunder bench, but having a young bench go up against Houston is where the Rockets have a significant advantage, and it's where they can win these games.
4) Broom: Given the pair’s time together in OKC, and with both at prime level, could this series signify the birth of a potentially historic head-to-head rivalry between Westbrook and Harden?
Brener: I feel like OKC has been a rival for James and the Rockets ever since the trade. The Rockets wouldn't really be anywhere without OKC, so thanks, Sam Presti!
Every game Harden has faced OKC, he goes in with the mindset of, ‘These guys didn't want me. They kept Serge over me. We could have won championships here, but they didn't want me. So now I'm going to make them regret it.’
In terms of a Russ vs. James rivalry, possibly? The thing that separates them from a true rivalry is the fact that we know how close they are off the court. James was traded and Russ didn't want to see him go, but the business of the game is understood. There is no animosity between the two of them, just a desire to win at all costs.
It'll be fun to see them go at it, because these are two of the top five most talented basketball players on the planet, and they are going at it. This rivalry has been nearly five years in the making, and OKC has beaten the Rockets at every turn, the one exception being two years ago, when the Rockets made it to the Conference Finals. OKC has made it further every other year.
The Rockets want that chance to send James's old team home, and that makes for a very entertaining series.