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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Is being left-handed an advantage?

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 24, 2014 at 4:25 pm •  Published: April 24, 2014
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Oklahoma City 's Kevin Durant (35) celebrates a 3-point basket in front of Memphis' Tony Allen (9) during Game 1 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Saturday, April 19, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City 's Kevin Durant (35) celebrates a 3-point basket in front of Memphis' Tony Allen (9) during Game 1 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Saturday, April 19, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Perhaps you’ve heard by now, Kevin Durant took a shot at me at the Thunder’s practice on Tuesday. The Morning Animals on WWLS had a high time with the exchange.

But I was thinking about writing about Memphis’ left-handers. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Grizzlies have a ton of southpaws. Mike Conley. Zach Randolph. Tayshaun Prince. Ed Davis. Beno Udrih. Memphis plays a ton of left-handers.

I thought that was interesting. So I asked Durant about it.

Me: “Kevin, a little bit of a silly question, but Memphis has a bunch of left-handers. Does that make it where you’ve got to concentrate more on defense more, remember this guy’s left-handed, or figure out who might go which way?”

Durant: “That tells how much you know about the game.”

Me: “What does it say I don’t know about the game.”

Durant: (shaking his head) “Left-handers really don’t matter when we’re playing defense. Those guys can go both ways.”

The jock-sniffers on the Thunder payroll sort of snickered.

And I don’t blame Durant for being prickly. He’s having a tough time with Tony Allen. Any question is likely to annoy him.

But he’s wrong. There is something about playing left-handers.

First off, have you seen Wes Matthews guarding James Harden in the Portland-Houston series? Matthews sets up outside of the left-handed Harden’s left shoulder.

Second, I called Derek Fisher to the stand. The 39-year-old veteran is a left-hander himself. I asked him a similar question.

“I don’t know if you can measure it,” Fisher said of any advantage for left-handers, because of the lack of southpaws in the NBA. “It’s unique and it’s different and I do think a lot of players, even though they realize the guy’s left-handed, it’s the opposite of what you do against 85 or 90 percent of the other guys that you play against.

“So I think it is, not necessarily an advantage, but it is something you do have to keep in mind. Whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, the difference is whether you’re good or not. There’s a lot of left-handers out there that don’t play as well as some of the left-handers they have. I think it’s more about their ability than which hands they are.

“Part of our job is to understand our personnel and who we’re matched up against. The things they like to do, their strengths and weaknesses. You find ways to try to make it more difficult for them to be who they are. But it’s the NBA. Professional basketball players. Whether he’s left-handed or right-handed, it’s about making it more difficult for ‘em. You’re not going to shut him out. When you’re a really good player, it’s hard to do that. It’s a collective thing. We don’t really care who’s left-handed or right.”

Good points. No one said left-handers are the ticket to the Hall of Fame. I just said playing a whole team of left-handers is sort of strange, and how does that make a team adjust over a playoff series.

Turns out I’m not the only one who ever thought of this.

Last year, Yahoo wrote a story about these very Grizzlies, who also had five left-handers (four of the same, plus Tony Wroten instead of Udrih). And that Yahoo story referenced a Wall Street Journal story that analyzed the advantages of left-handers in the NBA. It even quotes Oklahoma City physician Frank Lawler, who has studied the issue and even written a paper about it. You can read that Wall Street Journal story here.

But the evidence suggests that despite my self-deprecation, it was not a silly question. Left-handers are rare in the NBA. A team with five lefties in the rotation is even stranger. It’s an advantage to Memphis, in some form or another.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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