3 Players who will need to step up against the Oklahoma City Thunder

Dyson Daniels & Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Dyson Daniels & Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /
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Jaxson Hayes Play-In
Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Jaxson Hayes

This one may sound strange initially, but hear us out. Yes, Jaxson Hayes has only appeared in two of the team’s last nine games. And yes, he does currently sit third on the depth chart at his position (behind Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr.).

But, as we said, playoff basketball is like boxing – the styles make the fights. And in this particular fight, Hayes’ style could prove to be very important.

To explain, Oklahoma City typically deploys a super small lineup comprised of players that stand primarily between 6’4 and 6’8. In those lineups, they tend to switch everything, shrink the floor, and send aggressive doubles teams to induce turnovers (they are third in opponent turnover percentage).

Valanciunas can bully smaller guys on the block in isolation, but he struggles dealing with aggressive double teams, as he’s a relatively slow decision-maker in those spots. Plus, he’s a slow-footed, ground-bound defender – those qualities don’t usually hold well against young, athletic wings/forwards. As a result, he was relegated to only 16 minutes the last time these two teams played and a +/- of -12.

Nance, on the other hand, is a much more agile, mobile body. His problem is that he might not be a good enough defender to make up for his lack of offense. Also, he can’t play all 48 minutes, so he’ll need someone behind him he can tag in.

Hayes brings the athleticism that Nance does on defense while also adding more of a vertical element on the offensive end. On the year, Hayes is averaging 3.5 dunks per 48 minutes, compared to Nance’s 2.3.

Hayes played nearly 32 minutes in their last meeting, contributing eleven points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in that time. Coach Willie Green should seriously consider working him back into the fold for this game.