I’ll offer you the same advice for trying to watch all 14 games on tonight’s NBA schedule as I would for anyone planning to single-handedly take down a Thanksgiving feast tomorrow: Good luck. Pacing and strategy are necessary for both, though there’s a good chance you’re going to fall asleep on your couch in both situations having failed to take in it all. There’s no shame in trying, though. The best way to fight off sensory overload — eight games begin between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Eastern alone — is to find a matchup to focus on. I’m not talking about that can of cranberry sauce versus your stomach. I’m talking about Eric Bledsoe and Russell Westbrook‘s unique defense-to-offense skills that come from their leaping.
The guard matchup you’ll see most often in tonight’s 7:30 p.m. Eastern Oklahoma City/Clippers game with a combined record of 16-5 is Chris Paul and Westbrook. It’s one of the most salivating on the entire night for good reasons both defensively and offensively. Both hold two of the best offensive skillsets for point guards in the entire NBA, and their defense ranked them first and fifth in steals last season, respectively.
I’m going to be watching Bledsoe and Westbrook, however, because of the way their leaping advantages (which doesn’t just translate against fellow guards) create highlights, save buckets and score points on both offense and defense. This isn’t a slight on Paul: He’ll steal your lunch money and embarrass you with a hanging drive at the other end with zero hesitation. His 106 consecutive games with at least one steal is an NBA record, of course. Though it might be the only thing he isn’t superior to other guards in, his hops aren’t on the level of these two. Bledsoe and Westbrook add a vertical element to their games that allows both to dunk like a small forward and block like centers.
Westbrook has been a starter all but 17 games of his 323 career games, while Bledsoe, who was drafted by Oklahoma City in 2010, has blossomed in tightly controlled roles, usually off the bench. Forget the disparate career arcs so far because they’ve both become standouts defensively: In the last two seasons the Clipper’s averaged 2.4 and 3.1 steals per 36 minutes and Westbrook’s averaging 1.7 and 1.6. So who’s defending and turning defense into offense best early in these guards’ careers? We’ll let you decide and watch tonight’s game to see if they add any more to these highlights. And remember, don’t overdo it tonight or tomorrow.
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THE STEAL AND SLAM
Westbrook’s wingspan exceeds his height by 5.5 inches, and Bledsoe’s 7.5 inches, per DraftExpress and Beckley Mason, giving them advantages to poke the ball out. Here Westbrook knocks it out from behind Ty Lawson before finishing with the power he’s become famous for.
Bledsoe creates and finishes all on his own against San Antonio after taking the steal from behind Gary Neal.