The NBA will have two of the top-three Western conference teams face off to round off 2013, as Portland travels to Oklahoma City to face their Northwest Division rivals. Coming into the season, one team was expected to be a success with their superstar scorer leading the charge. The other has been one of the many surprises of the young NBA season, led by their eighth-year power forward.
It takes more than one super star to build an NBA Champion, as seen with LeBron James when he was back in Cleveland, and both squads have the supporting casts to make the playoff push.
Kevin Durant is undoubtedly one of the top-three players in the league, and leads all players with his 28.5 PPG. Not only does he fill up the scoreboard, but he is also making almost half of his shots, shooting an unbelievable 49.6% from the field and 42.6% behind the arc. To top that all off, he has the NBA’s third best PER, 28.38, and the best nERD rating, 23.7. Though Durant is turning the ball over 3.2 times a game, he responding with 4.8 APG, and is also ripping down 8.3 RPG, his best average ever.
KD is making his case for being more than just a scorer every season, which is among the many reasons he is seen as one of the most efficient players today.
His superstar counterpart prefers to score more from his low-post play. Even though LaMarcus Aldridge is only two inches taller than his fellow Longhorn alum, the Texas native plays a different game.
The big man loves to keep his opponents guessing with his moves down low, especially with his fade-away from the block, while also adding in rim-jerking jams. He is sixth in the league in scoring with 23.5 PPG, topping all big men, while shooting 47.2% from the floor. The biggest reason that he doesn’t shoot as efficiently as a Dwight Howard or a Blake Griffin is because of his shot selection. While these two big men mainly shoot from underneath the basket via rebounding or good passes, Aldridge is creating his own points in the lower block, keeping his opponents off-guard.
Having said that, Portland’s big man still ranks 14th in PER at 22.62. While he is not as nEDRy as his guards Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, he is still 25th in the league at 6.7. While averaging almost a block per game, he also nearly averages 11 RPG, accounting for almost a quarter of the teams RPG, 46.0. While his PPG top his previous career high, he is also well over his career average of RPG coming into the season, 7.8, as well as having his highest APG and SPG averages in his career.
Super Sidekick Point Guards…or Lack Thereof
Some may argue that Lillard is the most important cog in the Blazers machine of unanticipated success because of the value of the point guard position. While his presence is important to the team, he is still second fiddle to his low-post option. That doesn’t make him any less valuable, as the former Weber State guard is averaging 21.4 PPG in his second season in the league, and is shooting 7% better from behind the arc than last year. His biggest fault thus far has been shooting inside the three-point line, shooting 40.2%, which is 6.7% lower than his mark last year.
Even though some of his numbers are slightly down, Lillard is still in the top-35 players in PER, and is in the top 10 in nERD, logging the highest total for Portland.
The league’s premiere dynamic duo won’t get the rematch they wanted against the league’s newest, hottest tandem.
The Thunder minus Russell Westbrook. There’s a scary thought that has once again resurfaced. In his 25 games this season, the former Bruin was in the top 20 for PER, but only had a 2.5 nERD ranking. Even tough he was shooting his lowest average field goal percentage since the 2009-2010 season, he averaged six boards, seven assists and 1.8 steals per game, along with just over 21 PPG. Now the load falls on Reggie Jackson to pick-up the slack.
Now that he should see more than his previous 25.0 MPG, it will be interesting to see if Jackson can add to his 3.8 RPG, 3.6 APG and12.6 PPG. Will he fit Westbrook’s shoes completely? Most likely not. Without Westbrook, and with Jackson being unfamiliar with his new load, it will be a tough task to beat the team who had beaten the Thunder with their star point guard earlier this season.
The same guy who has been the huge addition for the Blazers, Wesley Matthews. The fifth-year shooting guard has career bests in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, RPG and PPG this year. He ranks 10th in the league in nERD at 9.5, and has a 17.93 PER. In his second year of starting every game, Matthews has begun to blossom and will provide a tough challenge for the likes of Thabo Sefolosha and Jeremy Lamb as the Blazers will finish off 2013 with a win.