We’re two games into the Thunder-Grizzlies series and two years removed from the 2011 Western Conference semifinals matching the same two franchises. In a relatively rare sign of stability, each team starts four of the five starters it had in 2011, and OKC would be 5-for-5 if not for Russell Westbrook’s injury.
So what’s changed. How do the combatants compare to what we saw in 2011?
Kevin Durant: Better. Much better. Durant has gone from budding superstar to bonafide superstar. Durant now is an unstoppable force. The acclaimed second-best player in the world. Memphis is having many more problems with Durant now than it had in 2011.
Marc Gasol: Better. Again, much better. In 2011, Gasol was a solid center who made us realize that the Grizzlies didn’t get completely swindled in the Laker trade that sent Pau Gasol West. In 2013, Gasol one of the NBA’s three best centers and makes us ask if it’s the Lakers who were swindled.
Serge Ibaka: Better. He’s not necessarily playing that way in these two games, but Ibaka is better. A better shooter. A much better defender. Better shot-blocking instincts, though he had great shot-blocking instincts back then.
Zach Randolph: Worse. Not a lot worse. Only a little. But worse. Randolph was a total load in 2011; now the Thunder seems to handle him a tad better. Truth is, Randolph was the primary big man in 2011, with Gasol as sidekick. Now those roles are reversed.Randolph is still hard to handle down load, but he’s not the offensive threat he was.
Thabo Sefolosha: Better. Same spirited defense, able to guard points guards and big wins alike. But Sefolosha is a better offensive player. His shooting has improved to where he’s a threat. And Thabo’s athletic ability is displayed more often, thought not in this series, with Russell Westbrook injured.
Mike Conley. Better. Much better. Conley was a young and raw point guard in 2011. Nothing raw about him now. He’s a much-better shooter and facilitator. Really solid. A budding star. That’s what Conley is.
Kendrick Perkins. Better. At least on defense, which is where Perk earns his keep. Perkins’ offense seems to have disgressed, but his defense is better than ever. Perk out on the perimeter still can hold his own.
Tony Allen: Better. Allen actually has his moments offensively, though he hasn’t displayed them in this series. Allen is a junkyard defender who can beat you up.
Nick Collison: Same. Like I wrote earlier, Nothing ever changes with Collison.
Darrell Arthur: Better. But not by much. And Arthuri isn’t playing much — just 61/2 minutes in Game 4.
So there are your veterans from the 2011 series. Most players have improved. Which only stands to reason. The 2010-11 Thunder won 55 games; the 2010-11 Grizzlies won 46. This season, the Thunder went 60-22; the Grizzlies were 56-26. These teams are better. That’s for sure.