2016 Western Conference Finals Preview

The matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors is set to become one of the best Conference Finals in recent memory. The main reason for the immense excitement in this matchup, compared to the Eastern Conference Finals, is the talent on both sides. Obviously, the Warriors will be favored due to their regular season success, past achievements, including the 2015 World Championship, and combination of star power and depth on the bench. Although the Warriors have the best regular season record in the history of the NBA and have shown very little weaknesses during their first two series, analysts believe that the Thunder have a legitimate chance to upend the champs because of the combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.


Best Matchup 

Russell Westbrook vs. Stephen Curry

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 7.23.54 PM.png

Although there will be other great matchups such as Kevin Durant vs Andre Iguodala, Steven Adams vs Andrew Bogut, and Draymond Green vs Serge Ibaka, the obvious matchup to watch is the two point guards. Many people wanted the Thunder to play the Warriors because the two most exciting players in the world are Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. While Curry is the greatest shooter the game has ever seen, Russell Westbrook does not have nearly the same shooting ability as Curry, but he is likely the greatest athlete to play the point guard position. During the regular season games against Golden State, Westbrook was incredibly inefficient as he shot only 35% from the field and 17% from three, although he still managed 25 points and 11 assists. In addition to his poor shooting, his befuddling basketball decisions down the stretch of each game were the reasons why the Thunder went 0-3 against the Warriors. Over the last four games against the Spurs, Westbrook displayed a different demeanor and patience, which allowed him and the Thunder to play the best basketball of the year. Instead of folding in the 4th quarter, the Thunder thrived and outpaced the Spurs. While Westbrook’s performance against the Warriors has been suspect, Curry has thrived against the toughest competition by averaging 35 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. In addition to his statistical dominance, his end of game performance gave the Dubs the advantage over the Thunder. Although he has dealth with injuries throughout the playoffs, we should not expect any less from the two time MVP. Ultimately, both players are going to average video game type numbers throughout the series, but it is the player that excels during the last five minutes of the game that will win the matchup and probably the series.

Toughest Coaching Decisions

Thunder’s Big Lineup vs Warriors’ Small Lineup

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 7.25.20 PM.png

The Thunder’s “Big Lineup” consists of Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams. During the series against the Spurs, this lineup was extremely successful because of their size, athleticism, and length. Their physical attributes allowed them to dominate the boards and provide extra possessions for the offense. This lineup is a great rebounding team because they have 3 players at least 6’10” and Russell Westbrook is one of the best rebounding guards in the past decade. As demonstrated by the Warriors’ last season, length is a valuable trait for defense because it allows players to intercept the passing lanes and contest shots. The Thunder have the opportunity to disrupt the Warriors’ seemingly indefensible small lineup by forcing them to adjust. When the Warriors go to their “Small Lineup” of Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, and either Iguodala or Livingston, Green is the only “big” even though he does not have the size to bang with Kanter, Adams, and Durant. However, although Green does not have the size or strength, he is the hardest working player on the court and uses his technique to box out opponents and protect the rim. While using a big lineup seems like the method to defeat the Warriors, no team has been able to demonstrate an ability to go big while protecting the three point arc. Although Adams and Kanter can rebound effectively, they must show that they can stop Green, Livingston, and Iguodala from shooting effectively from three and handling a ball from the top of the arc. Even though the Thunder were able to out rebound the Warriors during each of their three contests, including their Feb. 27 matchup in which they out rebounded them by 30, they lost all three of the games because they could not defend the Warriors’ three point shooting, speed, or passing ability.


Warriors in 7

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 7.25.47 PM.png

The Warriors have been the head and shoulders best team in the entire league over the past two seasons and they will continue their dominance this series. The Warriors have been the best team because they have the best player in the league, the best chemistry, and the best bench. Although Russell Westbrook is a fabulous defensive player, neither he nor the Thunder has shown an ability to depend Steph Curry. Besides for scoring 30+ points on 50% shooting, Curry is the best playmaker in the game and will find the open player when he faces a double team. In addition, he has displayed a killer instinct, which allows him to hit threes during the most dire and important situations of the game. Unlike the Thunder, who have not displayed an ability to consistently close out opponents down the stretch, the Warriors know that Curry will either take the shot or make the correct play for his team. The Warriors are the most successful team and will defeat the Thunder because their bench is extraordinary deep. The combination of Livingston, Ezeli, Bogut, Barbosa, and even Speights has taken advantage of opposing benches because they are intelligent players with experience and a strong desire to win. Spectators should expect a great series as they will be witnessing 3 of the best 5 players and 5 of the best 15 players in the game on one court for a long series.

Why we have nothing else but to expect a rematch in the NBA Finals

The NBA regular season has finally culminated, but this year’s playoff should be one of the best in recent memories. After years of ineptitude and abysmal teams, the Eastern Conference has a multitude of squads that have the personal to dethrone Lebron James from securing his sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals. While the East should be more competitive then years past, the Western Conference playoffs may be the most exciting basketball the sport has ever witnessed. Besides the fact that fans just witnessed Golden State having the best regular season in NBA history and looking to win their second consecutive ring, the West is littered with high quality teams and superstars that could compete with the Warriors for the Western Crown.

Eastern Conference:

In previous seasons, LeBron James’ teams would rarely experience fierce competition until the Conference Finals. However, this season, the Cavaliers will be tested throughout the playoffs. During the first round, the Cavs are set to play the young and talented Detroit Pistons. During their regular season matchups and Game 1, the Pistons have been able to push the Cavs to their limits. The main problem for the Cavs against the Pistons is their size and athleticism in the front court with Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Marris. However, although the Pistons are blessed with young talented players, they are too young and inexperienced to compete against the veteran savvy Cavaliers. As witnessed for Game 1, the Pistons were able to hang with the Cavs for 57 minutes, but during the last three minutes their inexperienced backcourt of Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell Pope showed and they were unable to execute down the stretch.

After a potentially grinding series with the Pistons, LeBron would likely be set for a rematch against the Atlanta Hawks. Although the Hawks were swept by the Cavs last season, the Hawks have momentum and possess the talent and experience to give the Cavs fright. Although the Hawks have not experienced the same success as last year’s regular season, they have the same roster and the same potential. Like the Pistons, the Hawks have a front court that can score at a high level as well as stretch the floor. This season, Paul Millsap had a career year and will likely exploit Love’s inability to play defense. Although the Hawks have a very solid and steady starting five of Teague, Korver, Millsap, Horford, and Bazemore, they do not possess the scoring ability on the wing to compete with Kyrie, LeBron, and Kevin. In addition to their inferior offense, the Hawks do not play sturdy enough defense to compensate for their lack of offensive firepower.

Ultimately, in order to push through into his sixth consecutive Final’s appearance, LeBron will likely have to beat his ex-team the Miami Heat. Recently the Heat have been playing their best basketball due their the athleticism, depth, talent, experience, and championship pedigree. Besides for their starting five of Joe Johnson, Luol Deng, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and Dwyane Wade, the Heat’s bench of Gerald Green, Amare Stoudemire, Josh McRoberts, and Justice Winslow allows them to rest their elder players and stay fresh deep into the game. However, the Cavaliers have one of the few rosters that enables them to match the depth of the Heat. Although the Heat’s roster has a lot of experience, none of their players, even Dwyane Wade especially at his age, are able to dominate a series or even a game. This problem becomes evident when the Heat are unable to score for lengths of time. In addition, the Cavs will likely be able to play a small lineup with Kevin Love or LeBron James at the five, which will lessen Hassan Whiteside’s ability to stay in the paint in protect the rim.

Western Conference:

While the Cavaliers are likely to experience competition throughout the playoffs, the Warriors should breeze through the first and likely second round. In the first round, the Dubs are competing against the Rockets, the team they dismantled last season in the Conference Final. Although the Rockets have talent and explosive offensive capabilities with Howard and Harden, their team is in shambles and they will likely be swept by the Warriors.

After beating the Rockets, the Warriors would be set to face the Clippers in the Conference Semifinals. As witnessed from Game 1 against the Blazers, the Clippers have the talent to beat any team in the league. The Clippers are able to boast one of the best Big Threes in the league with Paul, Griffin, and Jordan. Due to their size and ability to score inside the paint with Griffin and Jordan, the Warriors will need to think twice before they opt for a small lineup without a true center. In addition to the Clippers’ Big Three, the emergence of JJ Redick and the ability of Jamal Crawford to withstand Father Time has made the Clippers one of the best offensive teams in the league. Although the Clippers have legitimate superstars, they do not have the bench to withstand the waves of fresh bodies that the Warriors send every game. Although the Warriors must consider the strength and explosiveness of the Clippers’ big lineup, the Clippers must prove that they can defend the Warriors three point shooting in order to keep this lineup on the floor. In addition, the Clippers, but especially Chris Paul, have not shown the ability to make it out of the second round. Ultimately, the series should be exciting and long, but the Warriors should need no more than 6 games to win the series.

Lastly, the Warriors will likely face the San Antonio Spurs, which should be destined to be one of the best playoff matchups in NBA history. This season, the Spurs were dominant throughout the season by winning 67 games. In most seasons, the Spurs would be the number one team in the league and the heavy favorite to win the title. The Spurs have been able to experience such success this season because of the coaching of Gregg Popovich, the emergence of Kawhi Leonard as a top 3 player in the league, the addition of superstar LaMarcus Aldridge, and the leadership of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. The Spurs have been the one team this season to slow down Golden State’s offense and protect their three point line due to their personal and the brilliant game planning of Greg Popovich. Even though the Spurs are deep, they do not have the capability to match the depth of Livingston, Iguodala, Barnes, Bogut, and Speights. However, although the Spurs have many positives, they were still 1-3 against the Dubs including a 30 point drubbing on the road in Oakland. Although the Spurs can play versatile and big with the combination of West, Duncan, Aldridge, and Diaw, the Warriors and the Splash Brothers have been able to defeat every different lineup this season because of their ability to space the floor and pass effectively. In addition, the Warriors have home field advantage and they have been nearly impossible to beat in the Oracle Arena in the past two seasons. Ultimately, all eyes should be on this series because this will likely go nearly the distance and be an all time great series.

Players that Contenders Should Pursue this Offseason

Over the past several years, many teams have been striving to find a team that is cheap, but able to compete for a championship. If you look at the previous champions, (2015 Royals, 2014, 2012 Giants, 2013 Red Sox, and 2011 Cardinals) it is evident that teams should search for a top flight bullpen and a high batting average.

Although it is not surprising to note that teams with better hitting wins championships, it is interesting observe that of the last five champions none had a batting average that was worse than 10th in MLB during the regular season and 4 of the teams ranked inside the top 5 in batting average. The team that finished 10th was the 2014 Giants and they could be considered an outlier because Madison Bumgarner put forth the best postseason pitching performances in the last 50 years. Another interesting development to analyze is that winning teams do not necessarily have high on base percentages or great home run hitting ability. In terms of on base percentages, only two teams ranked inside the top 5 in MLB, Red Sox and Cardinals, and two teams ranked outside 10th in the league in on base percentage, Royals and 2014 Giants. The number of home runs by World Series winning teams is even more startling. Over the past 5 champions, only one ranked inside the top 10 in home runs and three even ranked in the bottom half of the league in home runs. In theory, this goes against Billy Beans’ model, but makes sense because the best pitchers are unlikely to walk opposing hitters or allow home runs. As the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals displayed during their championship run, it is necessary to put the ball in play and put pressure on defenders to make a play.

Another common aspect of championship teams is successful postseason relief pitching. Over the past several years, the game has altered and team’s bullpens have become nearly impossible to hit. The ability for managers to shorten the game with 3 great bullpen arms adds confidence and allows for starters to face a lineup only twice. Among the previous five champions, only one team, 2011 Cardinals, had a bullpen ERA over 2.35 and no team had a Batting Average Against of over .215. This means that the bullpens of the championship teams were totally dominant and nearly unhittable. In addition, the notion that great starting pitching wins World Series is incorrect. Over the past five years, only the San Francisco’s starters in 2012 had an ERA in the top ten in the league during the regular season. Although they ranked top ten, their ERA was 3.74, which would be an average ERA in most years.

Hitters That Teams Should Target:

Jason Heyward: Although Jason Heyward does not have the power numbers of a typical $200 million player, he will likely net a contract near that number this offseason. Heyward is a very good player because he hits for average, .293, plays extraordinary defense, and stills has the potential to turn into a 20 home run player. Unlike the other top outfielders on the market, Heyward is not a boom or bust player who will strikeout over 200 times per season and hit 40 home runs. Heyward may not be the team’s best player, but he will be a cornerstone player for a championship team.

Howie Kendrick: Since Kendrick has entered the league, he has shown a propensity to hit at a high level. Last season in Los Angeles, Kendrick batted .295 with 9 home runs. Although Kendrick will not transcend a team, he has the potential to extend a lineup. Even though Kendrick will not hit home runs, he can help maintain a rally and collect important hits.

Alex Gordon: Over the past two seasons with the Royals, Gordon displayed his talent and clutch factor. For teams that want a player like Heyward, but cannot afford to pay for his services, Gordon would be a great alternate. Although Gordon dealt with injuries this season, he still hit over .270 while playing great defense, and clubbing 13 home runs. Unlike Heyward, Gordon has World Series experience and success, which should attract many contenders this offseason.


Pitchers That Teams Should Target:

Darren O’Day: Although O’Day’s delivery is awkward, his success on the field cannot be denied. Over his career, he has totaled an ERA un 2.30 in 6 of his past 7 seasons. Even though O’Day is not a closer, he would be a great addition because he can lock down the 6th – 8th inning of a game. Unlike top flight starters who could command 9 fighures, O’Day will only cost between $25-35 million for three or four years.

Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel: During the trade deadline, Kimbrel and Chapman were two of the biggest names, but neither was dealt. However, this offseason, it appears Chapman will definitely be dealt and it is likely that Kimbrel will change teams. Chapman and Kimbrel are probably the best two closers in the league so they could have a dramatic effect on a team’s bullpen, although they will demand high compensation.