Rip Hamilton: OKC, not GS, will win the West

The Golden State Warriors‘ 24-0 start had many people wondering how you possibly topple them in random regular-season games, let alone do it four times in a seven-game series when the postseason comes around. Even after dropping a game to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Warriors are still heavy favorites to reach historic levels in wins for a season and end up on the podium and receive their second straight championship in June. It would take an incredible effort from someone out West to take them down, especially with the way reigning MVP Stephen Curry is playing this season.

CBS NBA analyst Rip Hamilton believes the Oklahoma City Thunder will be the team to do just that. On Wednesday, he tells Raja Bell and Nick Kostos that he’s picking the Thunder to win the West. The reason he believes the Thunder can pull off what would still be a pretty impressive upset is Russell Westbrook‘s impact on the game.

So does Hamilton truly believe the Thunder will finish ahead of both the Warriors and Spurs? “I do,” Hamilton says. “The reason I say that is because if OKC has to match up with Golden State, I think Russell Westbrook can put enough pressure on Curry to force him to defend and play both sides of the floor. Most teams, he doesn’t have to do that against.”

That seems to be part of the strategy most teams would love to unleash on the Warriors. Make Curry defend. It’s not that Curry is a bad defender anymore. While he used to be a bit of a traffic cone on defense and just gambling for steals occasionally, Curry has become a good defender over the last couple years. The strategy behind it though is trying to get Curry to wear down over the course of a game and the course of a series so that he’s not able to be as potent on offense in the big moments.

Westbrook certainly has the ability to do that, and the Warriors will have to decide how they defend the duo of him and Kevin Durant. Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Harrison Barnes will see the majority of the time defending Durant. That leaves Klay Thompson, Curry, and Shaun Livingston as the defenders thrown at Westbrook. Curry will see some time there, but the Warriors would like to hide him on Dion Waiters or Andre Roberson as much as possible.

Even if that’s the case, the Thunder can run a lot of pick plays to force the Warriors to switch Curry onto Westbrook. The Warriors typically switch most of those plays anyway, so it could end up working if the Thunder are patient with that. The key for the Thunder will be getting stops and putting the pressure onto the Warriors’ transition defense to try to get such a strong unit and system to crumble.

Fellow CBS NBA analyst Raja Bell agreed with that strategy laid out by Hamilton.

“Valid point though,” Bell said. “Russell Westbrook is the one point guard in the league who may be able to put enough pressure on Steph to wear him down.”

However, Bell believes the Warriors are too deep across the board to take them down, but to beat them, you have to find a way slow down and wear down the MVP of the league.

Will the Thunder come out on top in the West? (USATSI)
Will the Thunder come out on top in the West? (USATSI)

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