With the Golden State Warriors (30-18) taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder (36-12) tonight (5:00 p.m. PT), the Warriors World staff previewed the contest with a 3-on-3 post.
1. Best player now: Klay Thompson or Kevin Martin?
Jack Winter, Warriors World: Martin, but it’s closer than basic raw numbers suggest. Martin’s long been one of the NBA’s most efficient players – he’s taken an inordinate amount of free throws over the course of his career for a deadeye long-range shooter – and that’s hardly changed in his first season as a member of the Thunder. He’s shooting 45.3% overall, 43.8% from beyond the arc and 90.4% at the charity stripe, all combining for a career-high and position-leading true shooting percentage of 61.9. But Martin’s sacrificing touches for the first time in his career and is tasked with creating less off the dribble, too, leading to a stark decrease in free throw attempts. That discrepancy from his career norms and the usual sieve-like defense make him a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate anyway, but choosing him over Golden State’s sharpshooting sophomore isn’t the layup it once was. Thompson, meanwhile, is getting better by the game. After a rough start to what was supposed to be a breakout season, he’s back to his hyper-efficient self and is slowly but surely adding more as a playmaker, too. But what makes this either/or close – and will eventually swing it in his favor – is Thompson’s underrated play on the other end of the floor. He’s an active, dedicated defender with good physical tools, and in time should grow into an easy ‘plus’ defensively. That’s not to say he isn’t already; after all, opposing shooting guards register just a 12.5 PER when Thompson is on the floor. All that said, it’s still Martin… for now.
Jordan Ramirez, Warriors World: This isn’t really a fair question, considering Martin is in his ninth season playing for his third team in the NBA and Thompson is still in his second season. Martin is the better, more consistent player right now as a result. Both are 6’7′, Klay is slightly bigger which makes him a better defensive prospect, but Martin benefits right now playing with Oklahoma City, a team with championship talent and championship aspirations. This isn’t a knock on Thompson, who has played well of late despite his overall inconstancy this season, it’s just a byproduct of the comparison. Martin has seen more, played longer and has stayed consistent more than Thompson has, but Thompson has the ability to be a more valuable asset than Martin has if he tweaks his game a little bit. Hint: pump fakes, his aggressiveness and his perimeter defense.
J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: Kevin Martin has the better PER figure as well as a higher true shooting percentage, which is indicative of his superior play this season. He’s been a sniper from long-range throughout the season whereas Thompson’s seen his 3-point shooting fluctuate some during the season although it’s picked up as of late.
Martin has been good shot creator for the majority of his career and that’s been the case this season as well, but playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has led to him being the recipient of passes for easier shot attempts than at any other point in his career and he’s taken advantage of that to make the Thunder offense a sensational one. Per NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, with Martin on the bench, the Thunder would boast the eighth best offense in the league, but with the guard on the floor, the figure jumps up to 113 points per 100 possessions, which would easily represent the best figure in the NBA.
At present time, the answer is Kevin Martin.
2. Who has the better game tonight: Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook?
Jack Winter: Curry, but it’s a hunch. Can you really see him endure another poor outing after last night’s listless performance in Houston? Curry went 3-12 from the field and was held below double-figures for the first time since December 12th against the Rockets, and will no doubt look to right his ship from the get-go tonight. Helping things is the Thunder’s sometimes undisciplined defense; they can lose shooters when the ball swings to an extra side, and Westbrook in particular is prone to falling asleep on longer possessions. None of that’s to say Westbrook won’t go off, though. He’ll have ample opportunities to prove himself as a jumpshooter facing Golden State’s pick-and-roll defensive attack, and without Andrew Bogut to protect the rim will obviously get to the paint on occasion, too. So expect aggression from both guys, but recent trends – Curry’s poor shooting and Westbrook’s hot shooting – support the notoriously fickle law of averages.
Jordan Ramirez: Curry exploded for 31 points, seven assists and four rebounds in their last meeting in Oakland, cooking Westbrook for most of the game as the All-Star guard struggled mightily from the field (3-for-16 from the field, 10 points, six turnovers). However Curry is coming off one of his worst games of the season against Houston and is in Oklahoma City for tonight’s matchup. The odds are in Westbrook’s favor as he statistically plays better at home (44% shooting at home vs. 40% on the road), but I still say Curry has the better statistical game. It’s practically impossible for Curry to have a worse game than he did last night and he’s proven multiple times this season that resiliency is in his blood. I expect Curry to have the better game, which may or may not equal a Warriors win.
J.M. Poulard: It’s tempting to go along with Stephen Curry here, given that Russell Westbrook has a tendency to occasionally lose focus on the defensive end and even play some overaggressive defense; but Russell Westbrook is also an overpowering athlete that usually finds ways to get whatever shots he wants against defenders and tonight won’t be an exception.
RW will probably take Curry down to the block a few times but more so than anything he should victimize the Davidson product in the pick-and-roll where he is adept at splitting the traps and also getting into the paint whenever the big man defending the screen-roll action just sags into the paint.
Expect Stephen Curry to face a bit of foul trouble.
3. Is Kevin Durant your choice for MVP at this point in the season?
Jack Winter: No, and it’s not quite as close as you’d think. Durant is enjoying the best season of his career and one of the best individual seasons ever, actually, shooting with efficiency heretofore unseen for such a prolific scorer, showing new and still-developing court sense/playmaking ability and an improved commitment to defense. He’s already historically great, he’s just 24 years old and he’s clearly getting better. But that doesn’t make Durant the MVP, not with a better-than-ever LeBron James still in the league. And barring more separation between OKC and Miami in the standings plus a downturn in the play of the latter, that won’t change as the regular season comes winds down.
Jordan Ramirez: LeBron James is the MVP. He’s the Heat’s leading scorer, rebounder, assist man and also leads the team in steals, all while guarding the opposing team’s best player most of the time. He’s a better defender than Durant and does more for his team than Durant does. Without LeBron on the floor that Heat fail to function, they look like chickens with their heads cut off really. While the Thunder are insanely better with Durant on the floor, he isn’t as valuable to his own team as LeBron is to the Heat. We often take advantage of his numbers (26.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 7.0 APG), which is simply foolish for a talent that will never come around again. People are fascinated with the game winners and clutch scoring, an area where Durant does outshine LeBron, but that’s not enough to propel Durant to the MVP award. Don’t become a product of the First Take narrative, enjoy how LeBron plays the game and what he does for his team, which is pretty much everything.
J.M. Poulard: No. This one will probably go down to the wire, but despite the fact that Kevin Durant is enjoying his best ever season as a pro, the reigning league MVP has somehow enhanced his already incredible value as a player and to the Heat and the league by also submitting his best season to date in the NBA.
Much like Durant, LeBron James is displaying the best scoring efficiency of his career thanks to a career high true shooting percentage, but where he differentiates himself is in the playmaking department as well as his defensive value to the Miami Heat.
Miami’s defense is at its best whenever James is on the floor whereas that is still debatable for the ever-improving Kevin Durant. Indeed, OKC surrenders 100.4 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the bench, and improve (slightly) to 100 points per 100 possessions when he hits the floor.
The differential for James is a bit larger because of his ability to defend multiple positions, help and recover and drastically reduce the high percentage scoring opportunities of his main assignment whether on the perimeter or in the low post. And he does it all by avoiding fouls.
Durant and James are separated by the tiniest of margins, but right now James has a slight edge.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com