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NBA Trades: How the OKC Thunder match up with LA Lakers post-Dwight Howard deal

Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

The Los Angeles Lakers shook up the landscape of the NBA again when they traded for Dwight Howard last week.

The deal will immediately make the Lakers legitimate NBA title contenders and in some people’s eyes, the NBA title favorites already.

The Lakers will have to go through the Oklahoma City Thunder though. The defending Western Conference champs didn’t make any big moves this summer simply because they didn’t have to. The Lakers have improved their roster leaps and bounds from last year but the Thunder are still more than capable of matching up with them.

Here’s a look at how the matchup will breakdown.

Point guards

The Lakers’ biggest weakness the past few seasons was the point guard position. They went out and got Steve Nash this summer which will drastically improve that area for them. Nash will turn 39 next year but is still playing at an elite level. Last year with Phoenix, he averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists per game in just 31.6 minutes per game. He also matched a career-high shooting .532 percent from the field and also shot .390 percent from three.

Old age is not the ideal weapon to throw at OKC’s Russell Westbrook who is one of the best athletes in the NBA. Westbrook is coming off a great season himself where he was fifth in the NBA averaging 23.6 points per game. It’s safe to say Nash will have a pretty difficult time staying in front of Westbrook.

Westbrook will have a huge edge in terms of athleticism but Nash can make up for it some with his basketball savvy. Westbrook has struggled somewhat in matchups vs. experienced point guards but in the long run, Westbrook will still have the advantage here. Nash could outplay him in a half of a game, but for the full 48, the advantage goes to Westbrook.

Shooting guards

The Lakers have always been used to having a huge advantage at this position with Kobe Bryant. That may not be the case against the Thunder though. James Harden was the Sixth Man of the Year last season, made the 2012 Olympic team and is very much closing in on the heels of Kobe.

It’s not fair to say that Harden will have an advantage over Kobe yet in this matchup but it’s definitely closer than some people would think. The Thunder made Kobe really work for his points when they played in the postseason. Kobe had a pretty good series averaging 31.2 points per game and 10.2 free throw attempts per game but the Thunder still did a good job containing him.

Thabo Sefolosha is an elite perimeter defender that has no problem guarding Kobe one-on-one. The Thunder would be able to rely on using Sefolosha on Kobe a lot in this matchup if they could count on playing a lot of small lineups like last year. But that will be less likely with the Lakers’ size for next season.

Harden will have to match up with Kobe even more so than usual. Kobe should see a decline in the advantage he has over Harden in this matchup and there may even be some games where Harden can match Kobe.

Small forwards

The Thunder will just about always have the advantage at this position. No one in the NBA can slow down Kevin Durant. Metta World Peace used to be his kryptonite but not anymore. Durant averaged 26.8 points and shot .516 percent from the field vs. the Lakers last year in the playoffs.

Durant even proved that not even LeBron can really slow him down when he averaged 30.6 points per game in the Finals and shot .548 percent.

The Lakers will have a very tough time slowing down Durant and will have to weather his storm. That’s the biggest problem for the Lakers in this matchup. Even though they have improved their roster, they haven’t necessarily improved it in a way to slow down OKC’s big three on offense.

Durant and Westbrook should have less success driving into the paint with Howard now lurking but they are jump shooters first anyway, and that’s how they beat L.A. last year.

Power forwards

Now we’re getting to the big men where the Lakers will have the advantage. At power forward we will be seeing a lot of Pau Gasol vs. Serge Ibaka. Ibaka finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting last season but still has some issues guarding good post-up players like Gasol.

Gasol was not very assertive last year though especially against the Thunder as he only averaged 12.9 points per game against them in the playoffs. Gasol looked much better in the Olympics but it isn’t a guarantee he will carry over that level of play back to the NBA.

Ibaka seems to always play big against the Lakers too. He can get his midrange shot easily with Gasol matched up with him and averaged 4.0 blocks per game vs. the Lakers in their playoff series.

Gasol is expected to be more comfortable with the Lakers next season in their Princeton offense and with Nash. Ibaka should improve too though and will be able to slow down Gasol again.

Centers

This is where we see the biggest change. Howard is far and away the best center in the NBA right now. It’s easy to forget this since most of our recent memory with him is how he ruined his image in Orlando.

Howard is impossible for almost any team to match up with except maybe the Thunder. Kendrick Perkins has always had the reputation as being one of the few guys in the NBA who could guard Howard one-on-one. While this may not be exactly true it should still limit the Lakers’ advantage over the Thunder at this spot.

The key with the Thunder vs. the Lakers is they don’t have to double anyone. The Thunder never had to double anyone last season until they got to the NBA Finals and ended up stuck with Harden guarding LeBron in the post. That’s a huge reason why they lost and a huge reason why they got that far is that they are able to match up with every team man-to-man.

This is why the Thunder should still be considered the favorites in the West. The Lakers got better but not quite enough to dethrone the Thunder, at least without seeing them play yet.

The Thunder and Lakers will play for the first time next season Friday, Dec. 7 on ESPN. Howard is expected to miss the beginning of the season but could be back in time for that game. If he isn’t, the next meeting between the Thunder and Lakers will be Jan. 11.

Topics: Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Metta World Peace, NBA Trades, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Pau Gasol, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steve Nash

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  • Kerry

    ARE U SERIOUS “James Harden on the heels of Kobe”, DO YOU WATCH BASKETBALL AT ALL. Even if you didn’t think Kobe is the best in the NBA he would still be at least top 5 so you are saying James Harden is close to top 5. So basically he is not that far from Kevin Durant, He isn’t that far from Wade, he isn’t that far from Lebron, or Chris Paul and many other elites. You put Harden in the same category? Harden is not even the best player on his team. Harden may be in the top 25 but no where even close to Kobe.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5136849 Andrew Kennedy

      I think Kobe is a top 5 SG, probably 1 or 2 with Wade. Then I think Harden is 3-5th best SG in the league. Kobe is on the decline, Harden is on the rise. In a matchup between these two teams in a series, Harden might be able to outplay Kobe in 1 or 2 games. That’s really the point I was making.

  • Kerry

    SO you think “JAMES HARDEN IS THE 3RD to 5TH BEST SG IN LEAGUE”

    So James Harden had one break out season and he is automatically above many other SG’s

    What about Andre Iguodala where does he fit ?
    What about Joe Johnson
    What about Eric Gordon
    What about Monta Ellis
    What about Ginobili (When healthy)

    Then you got some guys on any given night could have major games very similar to Harden
    - Jr Smith
    -Demar DeRozan
    Even Stephen Curry plays SG

    because when he couldn’t drive to the hoop against Miami and his 3′s were not falling HE SUCKED VERY BADLY, HE WAS A NON FACTOR.

    And there are a lot more SG’s I left out mainly because of age

  • Kerry

    SO you think “JAMES HARDEN IS THE 3RD to 5TH BEST SG IN LEAGUE”

    So James Harden had one break out season and he is automatically above many other SG’s

    What about Andre Iguodala where does he fit ?

    What about Joe Johnson

    What about Eric Gordon

    What about Monta Ellis

    What about Ginobili (When healthy)

    Then you got some guys on any given night could have major games very similar to Harden

    - Jr Smith

    -Demar DeRozan

    Even Stephen Curry plays SG

    because when Harden he couldn’t drive to the hoop against Miami and his 3′s
    were not falling HE SUCKED VERY BADLY, HE WAS A NON FACTOR.

    And there are a lot more SG’s I left out mainly because of age

  • Kerry

    SO you think “JAMES HARDEN IS THE 3RD to 5TH BEST SG IN LEAGUE”

    So James Harden had one break out season and he is automatically above many other SG’s

    What about Andre Iguodala where does he fit ?
    What about Joe Johnson
    What about Eric Gordon
    What about Monta Ellis
    What about Ginobili (When healthy)

    Then you got some guys on any given night could have major games very similar to Harden
    - Jr Smith
    -Demar DeRozan
    Even Stephen Curry plays SG

    because when he couldn’t drive to the hoop against Miami and his 3′s
    were not falling HE SUCKED VERY BADLY, HE WAS A NON FACTOR.

    And there are a lot more SG’s I left out mainly because of age

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5136849 Andrew Kennedy

      Well, Iguodala isn’t a 2. JR Smith and DeRozan aren’t even close that’s for sure. You can’t just focus on Harden’s NBA Finals which I admit he was awful. At 22, one would predict him to become more consistent and closer to playing at his highest level going forward. He’s right there with Gordon, Johnson and Ginobili. I think most people would take him over Ellis too.

      • Kerry

        Well there can only be 1 number 2, 1 number 3 , 1 number 4 and 1 number 5 Joe Johnson is way better point blank, Eric Gordon is better not much but better and Iguodala is better point blank, any given night JR Smith is better he just isn’t consistent, not like Harden is that consistent neither.

        There is no way he is there with Ginobili, Johnson and Iguodala, no way.

      • Kerry

        Iguodala is definitely a 2 , majority of his career is based on the 2 just cause people call him a “swingman” because he can play SF as well, doesn’t mean anything most players player other positions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1608245 Blake Kobashigawa

    I’m as big of a Lakers fan as it gets, but I don’t see how
    the Show are the clear cut favorites. There’s just too many variables going
    into the season: Nash’s age, Kobe’s age, Jamison’s age, Metta’s age, Dwight’s
    back, ordan Hill’s continued development, Mike Brown’s offense and every issue
    pertaining to adding two major pieces to a team (just a small detail…). That’s a LOT of revolving parts. Too
    many I think. When you look at the Thunder, they have four stars under 25 years
    old who a) all competed in the Olympics this summer, b) have played together
    for four years (continuity is EXTREMELY important in the NBA) and c) are only
    getting better. Yes, the Lakers have a lot more talent, but harnessing it is
    the big question. If everything goes right, the Lakers BLOW AWAY the field, but
    right now before any of that happens, you can’t really say they’re the
    favorites in the West. Just can’t.

    http://thegreatmambino.blogspot.com/2012/08/are-lakers-clear-cut-favorite-for.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=5136849 Andrew Kennedy

      Yeah I think that’s the point too, a ton of variables. All goes well they could be a ridiculously scary team. My biggest hope is just that these two teams end up meeting in the WCF.

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  • A.I

    I think OKC has the advantage due to their youth and experience of the Finals. Perkins is a great low post defender and I think is only 1 of 3 players able to contain Dwight, the others are Chandler and Bynum. Ibaka is the best shot blocker in the league. Durant is and will stay unguardable, even with Metta World Peace on him. Kobe tends to struggle with Sefolosha on him and Westbrook is much younger, stronger and quicker than Nash. Plus OKC’s bench is better, Harden is undoubtedly better than anyone on the Laker’s bench by far, Maynor is coming off an injury, but still a decent backup, Collison is a scrappy PF and good at drawing charges, plus OKC has Perry Jones III, who was considered to be a top 10 player in the draft. OKC has good defenders at all of the Laker’s strong positions.