Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.
1. Size isn’t going to be an issue for either side on Friday, but the play of each side’s guards will dictate a lot. How do the Thunder frustrate Detroit’s guards and how do the Pistons contain Russell Westbrook and Co.?
Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: The Thunder will frustrate Detroit’s guards by showing up. For the Pistons, their challenge is a little more complex. Rodney Stuckey has traditionally played well against Russell Westbrook thanks to his ability to create a rivalry in his own mind. Whatever works — I won’t bash anything that’s effective. I also think for the Pistons to have a chance against Westbrook defensively, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope needs to see time guarding Westbrook. He’s the only Piston guard with the mix of size and athleticism necessary to stand a reasonable chance against Westbrook.
Of course, if Caldwell-Pope plays, that means the Pistons will either play five guards (not ideal) or sit Chauncey Billups or Will Bynum (more ideal). Maurice Cheeks has been very committed to that duo so far this season, but with his backcourt looking to be fully healthy, it’s time to reign in their minutes.
J.M. Poulard, PistonPowered: The Thunder love to play at a breakneck pace and impose their athleticism on teams. Detroit can counter that by protecting the ball, selectively pushing the pace and crashing the glass. Westbrook is at his most dangerous in the open floor, thus keeping him in the half court is key.
I expect OKC’s backcourt to press up on the Pistons’ guards and dare them to venture into the paint where Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are waiting for them. It’s a very tough proposition to convert around the hoop when those players are around and the Thunder might very well be inclined to dare Detroit to try.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Westbrook has a pretty significant size and strength advantage on Brandon Jennings, so I’d expect OKC to work Westbrook a lot in the mid and low posts. Westbrook can overpower other guards sometimes with that and he has a pretty underrated post-up game. And with that, you can tack on fouls and wear them down. I don’t think either side necessarily feels like they’re containing anyone, really. It’s more about just putting them in difficult situations.
2. Turnovers have been an issue for both sides so far this season — is the reckless ball handling going to continue tonight?
Patrick Hayes: Yes. Both teams have length and athleticism on defense and both teams often make risky passes that lead to turnovers on offense. This is a potentially exciting game if both teams play well, but I’d expect some sloppiness as well as lots of spectacular steals and blocks from both sides.
J.M. Poulard: Pressure defense typically is a good recipe to force turnovers and surprisingly, both teams have fared well on this front. The overall athleticism of Detroit and OKC has been problematic for their opponents this season and one can only assume that will continue.
Thus, expect some sloppy play on the part of both teams as well as some transitions plays.
Royce Young: For the Thunder, probably. Their turnovers come and go. It’s a problem, then it’s not a problem. But really, the Thunder often play at their best when they’re fast and loose and free. And with that comes turnovers. The Thunder finally played well against the Mavs and that included 24 turnovers. So I kind of expect more of the same.
3. Outside of each team’s big three players, which role players will rise to the occasion tonight?
Patrick Hayes: For Oklahoma City, Jeremy Lamb. Lamb’s shooting numbers are great through four games — 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. The Pistons aren’t defending the three particularly well (opponents are shooting 35 percent from distance), so Lamb could provide a spark off the bench. For Detroit, Luigi Datome. He didn’t shoot well in his first extended action of the season on Tuesday, but he had quality looks. He needs to make a quick impact to secure that rotation spot before Cheeks explores other options at the backup four spot, and tonight could be the night he does it.
J.M. Poulard: Kendrick Perkins. It’s not so much that I believe he will rise to the occasion, but rather that his play will determine the outcome of the contest. Perkins is a physical interior presence that frustrates opposing big men.
He will probably get matched up with Andre Drummond and look to impose his brute strength on the youngster. An intimidated and flustered Drummond does no good for the Pistons. However, if he rises above the veteran’s savvy and outplays him, the Pistons will have a shot at winning late.
Royce Young: Everyone in OKC is drooling over Steven Adams right now and he’s in for a big matchup against Drummond and Greg Monroe. If Adams can provide the needed size and muscle inside to allow Scott Brooks to play small with KD at the 4, it’ll create some mismatches for Detroit.