1st Annual NTTB Mock Draft

2015 nba draft

I tried doing this last year, but I was stuck on the beautiful Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Since I’m currently in Oklahoma for this summer, here goes nothing. A couple things: First off, this is done as the draft currently is right now. Trades happen, and it seems like this draft is going to be especially active. But this mock draft will go as if no trades were to ever happen on draft night. Team needs will be taken in consideration. Second of all: Mock drafts are pointless and usually incorrect….but they are fun as hell.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl Anthony Towns – C/Kentucky – He’s basically already been given a promise. Towns was last seen buying snow shoes and snow tires. Moving on..

2. Los Angeles Lakers – Jahlil Okafor – C/Duke – Los Angeles loves their franchise big men. And Okafor is about as offensively talented as they come. If the Lakers stay with the pick, they’ll choose Okafor.

3. Philadelphia 76ers – D’Angelo Russell – G/Ohio State – Philly was said to covet this draft for the guards at the top. Well, they get first dibs.

4. New York Knicks – Emmanuel Mudiay – G/Congo – If (IF) the Knicks keep this pick, look for them to go after the dynamic guard out of the Congo. Phil Jackson probably thinks he can lure another franchise player via free agency, so drafting a possible franchise guard will be the cherry on top if he accomplishes his wishes during free agency.

5. Orlando Magic – Kristaps Porzingis – PF/Latvia – The slender Latvian who’s ceiling many are saying is Dirk Nowitzki falls to the Magic who await with open arms.

6. Sacramento Kings – Mario Hezonja – G/Croatia – Who knows what the Kings will do? But if they keep this pick, look for them to pair franchise center DeMarcus Cousins with this Croatian dynamo that has drawn comparisons to Drazen Petrovic (R.I.P). If you young’ins don’t know who that is, do yourself a favor and YouTube him.

7. Denver Nuggets – Justice Winslow G/F/Duke – Denver, a team chock full of bad shooters and undersized big men, goes on the defensive with their pick and gets one of the better two-way wings in the draft.

8. Detroit Pistons – Stanley Johnson – G/F/Arizona – Stan Van Gundy loves to surround his big man with shooters. While Johnson may not be as prolific a shooter as some other names in the draft, he is one of the better two-way players in the draft, and will immediately be the best perimeter defender for the Pistons.

9. Charlotte Hornets – Frank Kaminsky – F/C/Wisconsin – With their recent moves (getting Nic Batum, Spencer Hawes, Matt Barnes, and reportedly Jeremy Lamb), the Hornets seem to have shored their perimeter needs. That frees them up to take the best player available and that player, to them, is Kaminsky. The Hornets rave about Kaminsky and would love nothing more than to pair him with Al Jefferson as an inside/outside post combo.

10. Miami Heat – Trey Lyles – F/Kentucky – The Heat are in that weird state where they don’t know if they are good enough to contend in the East, but they also don’t want to start rebuilding. Lyles will provide them with good depth at the forward spot, and may even start at small forward.

11. Indiana Pacers – Cameron Payne – PG/Murray State – Payne would give the Pacers a change of pace from incumbent starter George Hill, who had injury issues last season. Pairing Payne with Paul George would allow the Pacers to run a lot more.

12. Utah Jazz – Myles Turner – F/C/Texas – The Jazz are looking for post depth and Turner plays a different enough style to add another dynamic to the Jazz.

13. Phoenix Suns – Willie Cauley-Stein – C/Kentucky – One of the biggest weaknesses for the Suns last season was interior defense. Cauley-Stein fixes that immediately.

14. Oklahoma City Thunder – Devin Booker – SG/Kentucky – OKC finally/hopefully/maybe gets the SG they’ve been coveting to pair with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

15. Atlanta Hawks – Kelly Oubre – G/F/Kansas – Atlanta would love for Oubre to be their version of Kawhi Leonard. Someone that can guard multiple positions and also develop a dynamic offensive game.

16. Boston Celtics – Sam Dekker – F/Wisconsin – The departure of Jeff Green and the continued development of James Young have opened up a wing spot for the Celtics heading into next season. Dekker may seamlessly transition into that spot if he is take with this pick.

17. Milwaukee Bucks – Rashad Vaughn – G/UNLV – The Bucks are said to really like Vaughn’s offensive repertoire and see him as a key piece of their puzzle.

18. Houston Rockets – Tyus Jones – PG/Duke – The uncertain future of Patrick Beverly mixed with the desire to maybe want a floor general who will push the ball more leads the Rockets to pick Jones.

19. Washington Wizards – Bobby Portis – PF/Arkansas – The versatile Portis will give the Wizards a different look than what Kevin Seraphin currently provides them as a back-up PF/C. Portis is a madman on the full, chock full of energy and ability.

20. Toronto Raptors – Montrezl Harrell – PF/Louisville – The Raptors have a lot of questions from their PF position (Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough are both expiring, while the question lingers whether Lucas Nogueira is ready for consistent mintues). Enter Harrell and his toughness.

21. Dallas Mavericks – Jerian Grant – G/Notre Dame – Yep, that Rajon Rondo trade really worked out. Hence, Grant.

22. Chicago Bulls – Delon Wright – G/Utah – Derrick Rose gets injured a lot. Kirk Heinrich is old. Aaron Brooks is short and is a free agent. Enter, Wright.

23. Portland Trailblazers – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – F/Arizona – Portland may be in a world of hurt if LaMarcus Aldridge walks in free agency. At least they got Noah Vonleh from the Hornets. Now, they pick Hollis-Jefferson to eventually replace Nic Batum.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers – RJ Hunter – G/Georgia State – What better than to surround LeBron James and Kyrie Irving with another shooter.

25. Memphis Grizzlies – Jarell Martin – PF/LSU – Martin would fit in well with the Grizzlies’ front court, as there are rumors that the Grizzlies have already given Martin a promise to draft him.

26. San Antonio Spurs – Guillermo Hernangomez – C/Spain – Other than Minnesota and the Towns pick, this was probably the easiest pick to guess in the draft. Spurs…a Euro big man…possible championship contributor incoming.

27. Los Angeles Lakers – Justin Anderson – G/F/Virginia – Let’s see, an aging Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, and Jordan Clarkson. Yeah, you take the perimeter defender who can hit 3’s.

28. Boston Celtics – Kevon Looney – F/UCLA – The Celtics go with the versatile front court player who still has upside.

29. Brooklyn Nets – Terry Rozier – PG/Louisville – If there is one player the Nets are dying to get rid of somehow, its Deron Williams. Rozier is a step in the direction.

30. Golden State Warriors – Rakeem Christmas -PF/C/Syracuse – With David Lee likely not being on the team next season, Christmas give the Warriors an athletic big man that works in their system.

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Ten Prospects for the Thunder in the 2015 NBA Draft

ibaka durant westbrook thunder

After a disappointing 2014-15 season that was riddled with injuries, the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the 2015 NBA Draft with a sense of optimism. If Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka can remain relatively healthy next season, then this team is still a championship contender. With that said, the Thunder are basically playing with house money when it comes to this draft. Will they be drafting an integral piece to the present championship puzzle? Maybe. Or maybe they’ll be drafting a piece that won’t pay dividends for another year or two. Or maybe they won’t be drafting anyone at all. There are a ton of options at the Thunder’s disposal and this draft is shaping up to be one of the most active for the team. Here’s a look at 10 prospects the Thunder may draft at different stages in the draft.

The Trade-Up Prospects

There have already been rumors that the Thunder are looking to trade Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and Steve Novak ahead of the draft. While this group of players isn’t necessarily attractive to most teams, to a team needing perimeter shooting, this haul may be a steal. There are two teams in the draft that are desperate for shooting and have already made moves this offseason to shore up that need. Detroit, under the direction of Stan Van Gundy, is looking to surround Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond with perimeter shooters, a la Dwight Howard in his Magic days. While Detroit already obtained Ersan Ilyasova from Milwaukee, they may want some more shooting at a cheap price. A likely deal would be Lamb, Jones, and No. 14 & 48 for Anthony Tolliver (who has a partially guaranteed contract) and No. 8. Detroit could use a wing defender and may be able to find one at 14.

Conversely, Charlotte is another team in serious need of perimeter shooting. The Hornets finished with the worst 3-point shooting percentage in the league. Earlier in the offseason, they traded Lance Stephenson for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. But if they can get more perimeter shooting, it may completely transform the dynamic of their team. A likely deal would be Lamb, Jones, Novak, and No. 14 for Gerald Henderson (1 year at $6 million) and No. 9.

Edit: The Hornets traded Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh to the Portland Trailblazers for Nic Batum. And, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the Thunder traded Jeremy Lamb to the Hornets for Matt Barnes. So there goes that theory!

So if the Thunder move, who do they take?

1. Stanley Johnson – Arizona/Freshman/6’7″ (6’11” wingspan)/240 lbs

One of the best two-way wings in the draft. Compares favorably to Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls. Great size for a wing, and has shown the ability to score in a variety of ways (transition, 3-point shooting, shooting out of the pick and roll). Needs some seasoning. Struggles with finishing at the rim. Likely won’t contribute too much in rookie season.

stanley johnson arizona

2. Devin Booker – Kentucky/Freshman/6’6″ (6’8″ wingspan)/210 lbs

One of the best, if not the best, shooter in the draft. Shot over 40% from 3-point land on 3.7 attempts per game. Great from deep and from mid-range. Compares favorably to Eric Gordon of the New Orleans Pelicans. Good size for  a wing. Youngest player in the draft. Not a high flyer or overly athletic. Extremely low steal rate. Likely won’t contribute too much in rookie season.

3. Mario Hezonja – International/FC Barcelona/6’8″ /210 lbs

Doubtful Super Mario falls to the No. 8 or 9 spot. But if he’s there and the Thunder have traded up, they may seriously consider drafting Hezonja. Gifted with a great jump shot, athleticism, and unabashed confidence, Hezonja plays a lot like the Thunder’s own Russell Westbrook. He has great size for a wing and has the potential to be good on the defensive end. Consistency is the biggest issue with Hezonja. He’s had games where he looks like the best player on the floor, and then he has games where he disappears for long stretches.

Prospects at 14

There could be a possibility that the Thunder like a player they can draft at the 14th spot. The draft has a weird way of shaking out sometimes, and players that you thought wouldn’t be available at your spot, suddenly become available. Here are the prospects the Thunder could pick at their spot.

1. Kelly Oubre Jr. – Kansas/Freshman/6’7″ (7’2″wingspan)/205 lbs

GREAT size for a wing. Can likely develop into a good defensive player based on his physical attributes alone. Compares favorably to James Posey or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Shot the ball well from 3-point territory in his freshman year (36% on 2.6 attempts per game). Good mid-range game. Solid defensive rebounder from the wing, with an ability to keep balls alive on the offensive end. Strong, wiry frame that can easily add 10-15 lbs of muscle. Struggles with creating offensive (only 0.8 assists per game) and consistency. Likely won’t contribute immediately, and may benefit from some time in the D-League.

kelly oubre kansas

2. Cameron Payne – Murray State/Sophomore/6’2″ (6’7″ wingspan)/185 lbs

Playmaking point guard that can score in a variety of ways. Compares favorably to Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks. Has good size for a point guard with a wingspan that will help him immensely on the defensive end (nearly 2 steals per game in college). Does a great job of changing speeds to keep defenses off balance. Did a great job of balancing his playmaking and scoring, dishing out 6 assists per game, while scoring 20 points. Has a good, but not great shot. Needs to put on more weight. Struggles finishing at the rim, instead choosing to shoot floaters (nearly 3 per game,which led all college players). Small school competition stigma.

3. Bobby Portis – Arkansas/Sophomore/6’10.5″ (7’2″ wingspan)/245 lbs

A high energy player with a relentless motor, Portis reminds me of Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. The SEC Player of the Year led the Razorbacks in points (17.5) and rebounds (8.9) per game. He gets most of his points off his energy in transition and put backs. But he is a very skilled all-around player, shooting 53.6% from the field overall and 46.7% from 3-point territory on nearly one attempt per game. His major downfall is that he isn’t overly athletic. His game stays closer to the ground than most NBA scouts would like. He is actually my darkhorse for this pick.

4. Sam Dekker – Wisconsin/Junior/6’9″ (6’11.5″ wingspan)/220 lbs

Dekker is an all-around talent that is good at most things, but not necessarily great at any specific skill. He has great role player potential and can play multiple position (naturally a 3, but can likely play small-ball 4 also). Defensively, Dekker can guard multiple positions. His size and strength allow him to guard bigger players, and his lateral quickness allows him to keep up with wings. He will likely be able to compete immediately on the pro level. He’ll need to hit his 3’s more consistently at the next level to be an elite contributor. May be a bit redundant for the Thunder if they re-sign Kyle Singler.

Trade Down Prospects

Another possibility for the Thunder is to trade down later into the first round, while possibly picking up another asset. If the Thunder have a player in mind that they can possibly be taken lower than 14, they’ll likely look to move down. Remember, as you get deeper into the first round, the cost of the player goes down. And with the Thunder likely to be in the luxury tax, anything that can bring the price tag of the tax bill down will be a relief.

1. RJ Hunter – Georgia State/Junior/6’6″ (6’10.5″ wingspan)/185 lbs

Three-point specialist that shot only 30% from deep this past season, as defenses keyed in on him as the focal point of their attention. Compares favorably to Jeremy Lamb. He also averaged 3.5 assists which highlighted his playmaking ability. Good mid-range shooter. Can be a bit streaky as we saw in the Georgia State’s first game in the NCAA tournament against Baylor. His length allows him to be a menace on the defensive end, as he averaged 2.1 steals and 1 block per game. Body frame doesn’t seem like it can pack on too much more weight. Small school competition stigma.

rj hunter georgia state

2. Jerian Grant – Notre Dame/Senior/6’4″ (6’7.5″ wingspan)/200 lbs

Combo playmaking guard that led Notre Dame in points (16.5) and assists (6.6). Compares favorably to former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. Does a real good job of changing speeds and has a quick first step. Good upper body strength that allows him to get to the rim and score through contact. Good, not great, shooter. Solid defensively. Strength allows him to not be too affected by screens and his lateral quickness allows him to keep up with guards. Can take bad shots early in the shot clock. Can be a bit inconsistent at times. Will be 23 years of age at the beginning of the season. Likely ready to contribute right now, but does not have a ton of upside.

3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Arizona/Sophomore/6’7″ (7’2″ wingspan)/210 lbs

One of the better wing defenders in the draft. Compares favorably to Tony Allen and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Length, strength, and athleticism give him the potential to be a top-flight perimeter defender in the league. Scores most of his points in transition and straight line drives to the basket. Rebounds well for his position, especially on the offensive end (2 offensive rebounds per game). Hollis-Jefferson’s biggest weakness is his jump-shot. He just under 21% from 3-point territory. With the Thunder already having an elite defender that struggles with his jumper (Andre Roberson), it may be a bit redundant to draft a similar player that will be a net negative on the offensive end.

The Thunder have a ton of options in this draft. They could take one of these 10 players, or they could surprise everyone and draft a complete unknown (hello, Josh Huestis). Thunder GM has plenty of cards up his sleeves, and will pull the one he feels will make the Thunder a better team for next season and for seasons after that.

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Oklahoma City Thunder 2015 Draft Preview

durant westbrook mcgary thunder

In life, well laid plans seldom come to fruition as easily as we’d like them to. After four straight season of near perfect health, which culminated in an NBA Finals appearance in 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder have seen three straight seasons cut short by ill-timed injuries. In 2013, Houston Rockets’ point guard Patrick Beverly launched himself into Russell Westbrook’s right knee in the first game of the playoffs, causing Westbrook’s meniscus to tear. In 2014, Serge Ibaka’s calf injury caused the Thunder to fall behind 2 games to nothing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. A hole too insurmountable to climb even when Ibaka returned for Game 3 of that series. And then the nightmare that was last season, as the Thunder bench looked more like a triage unit at times with all the leg casts, hand casts, and men in suits.

With all the injuries though, the Thunder were still in the playoff race til the end of the last day of the regular season, as they finished with the same record as the New Orleans Pelicans, but lost out on a playoff spot because of a tie breaker. The Pelicans won the season series 3-1, with the final game of the series being decided on a near halfcourt double clutch 3-pointer by Anthony Davis to win the game as time expired. That shot was a microcosm of the Thunder’s entire season: so close, yet so far away.

With the playoffs out of the picture, the Thunder found themselves in an unfamiliar positon: picking in the lottery. They likely did not envision themselves picking in the top 14 for the foreseeable future. Being the team with the best record to not make the playoffs, the Thunder fell into the 14th spot in the lottery. They also have their 2nd round pick, No. 48.

The first question that needs to be asked is, “What is available in this draft that the Thunder needs?” When completely healthy, the Thunder are as good as any team in the league. They have a scoring machine in Kevin Durant, a beast of a point guard in Russell Westbrook, a 3 and D power forward in Serge Ibaka that has led the league in blocks 3 of the last 4 seasons, and two young centers that are still developing in Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. What is missing out of that group is a consistent two guard.

roberson thunder

To the Thunder, a consistent 2-way shooting guard is about as rare as an albino unicorn that spits fire. The Thunder used a sort of platoon system when it came to their 2-guard position last season. The de-facto starter was Andre Roberson, whose is one of the better wing defenders in the league, but is a liability on offense due to his unreliable shooting. The other 2-guards on the roster also had their flaws. Dion Waiters is likely a better overall player than Roberson, but has a tendancy to not be very efficient on the offensive end. Waiters’ role on this team is likely better served as a 6th man. Anthony Morrow is one of the best 3-point marksmen in the league, but struggles on the defensive end. And Jeremy Lamb is the enigma wrapped up in the question mark at the end of the bench.

With all those 2-guards on the roster, the next question likely becomes, “Why would the Thunder draft another 2-guard?” Therein lies the dilemma with this team. It is loaded! They have 2 point gaurds, 6 wings, and 5 post players (assuming they match any offer for Kanter) all under contract for next season. The thing is all 13 of those players can play. That number doesn’t take into account Kyle Singler, who is a restricted free agent and Steve Novak, who will likely get traded to shed salary. In addition, the Thunder also have Josh Huestis, their first round pick from last season, who delayed signing his rookie contract in order to get more experience with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the Blue. There’s a possibility that Huestis may delay signing his rookie contract for a second season if the Thunder doesn’t feel he is ready to play in the league.

“Could the Thunder trade the pick?” is a valid question. Not many teams are in a position to not need a lottery pick while picking in the lottery. But the Thunder could realistically be in that position. Thunder GM Sam Presti is all about parlaying assets into something more valuable in the future. While the Thunder’s high-valued assets are likely untouchable (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Kanter, Adams), this lottery pick could likely be had for the right price.

booker dekker

But then the question becomes, “Would the Thunder forego the opportunity to get another young piece that will be on a rookie contract for the next four seasons?” If the right player is available, I think the Thunder stay the course. But who is that right player? If you look at the players the Thunder have brought in for workouts, you’ll see a pattern developing. Names like RJ Hunter, Jerian Grant, Devin Booker, Sam Dekker are not only players that will likely be there at 14, but also similar in skillset. The outlier may be someone like Bobby Portis, who has worked out for many of the teams in that 10-18 range, and has been rumored to have received a promise from several of those teams. I don’t buy into the Cameron Payne hype because the Thunder already have two point guards on the roster, and have a third one that they love in the D-League (Semaj Christon).

The most likely scenario for the Thunder is to trade out of the lottery but stay in that 18-24 range. Doing that, the Thunder can still draft a player they like and snatch another asset in the process (likely a future 2nd round pick). It wouldn’t surprise if the Thunder drafts Portis, Grant, or Hunter in that position.

As for the 2nd round, look for the Thunder to select a draft and stash player. The Thunder brought in Nikola Radicevic, a 6’5″ Serbian point guard, for a workout about a week ago. Radicevic likely has ties to Thunder assistant coach Darko Rajakovic.

When it comes to the Thunder and this draft, nothing would surprise me. They hold all the cards. They need nothing, but could use a little bit of everything. Thursday night will likely be a busy night for the Thunder.

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The Thunder hire Monty Williams to be their top assistant coach

monty williams thunder

On Tuesday, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan addressed the need for NBA experience on his bench by hiring former New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams to be his top assistant. The Pelicans made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, but were quickly dispatched by the Finals-bound Golden State Warriors in a sweep. Although the series was a lot more competitive than many had thought, the Pelicans’ front office still felt it was time to move in different direction. Williams finished with a 173-221 record in his five seasons in New Orleans. He was 2-8 in the playoffs in that time.

While never heralded as a masterful tactician, Williams’ strengths as a coach lie more in building a special rapport with his players. For an example, read the Chris Ballard piece for Sports Illustrated on how Williams helped Pelicans’ forward Ryan Anderson deal with the passing of his girlfriend. Williams is the type of coach that players run through walls for. He’s the type of coach the can conform a malcontent, and turn him into an effective contributor.

Williams will likely be the ying to Donovan’s yang. Donovan and Thunder GM Sam Presti seem to be in lockstep in their love and understanding for how analytics can help a coach better understand the game. Williams, on the other hand, seems more like an “eye test/gut feeling” type of coach. That balance between coaching ideologies could be something that helps the Thunder finally get over the hump. Former Thunder head coach Scott Brooks never fully embraced the idea of analytics, and that was likely part of the reason why he was let go.

In addition, it’s always a plus to have an assistant coach that has keen insight into what will likely be one of the next great superstars in the league, in Anthony Davis. Having someone on the bench that knows Davis and his nuances will definitely be a positive moving forward. Another perk of having Williams on the OKC bench is that he has a history with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook through USA Basketball. As both players approach unrestricted free agency in the next two seasons, having a trusted voice on the bench may prove tantamount in retaining the two superstars.

This move likely completes the assistant coaching staff for the Thunder. Former Alabama Tide head coach Anthony Grant, who was an assistant for Donovan at Florida, has already been hired onto Donovan’s staff and will likely be the “defensive coordinator” of the team. Darko Rajakovic and Mark Bryant, who were assistant coaches under the Brooks regime, have also been retained.

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Thunder U to Thunder Men: How the maturation of its star players helped the Oklahoma City Thunder make their coaching change

Oklahoma City Thunder vs San Antonio Spurs

Let’s hark back to a time when we were all young. Let’s examine our lives from 18-24 years of age. You have high school graduation, then either college or work (or both, or neither). You have significant others, one night stands, friends with benefits, friend zones, etc. It’s a time of exploration; a time to make mistakes. You only hope is that the mistakes made during this time period don’t affect you for the rest of your life. Usually, it’s good to have someone that is older and much wiser around you to support you during these times. Not necessarily someone that tells you that you are doing it wrong, but someone that allows you to figure it out on your own, while also giving their own nuggets of advice along the way.

Eventually, though, we all reach that fork in the road of life. Take one path, and you’ll eventually become the old guy that never fully matured and always harks back to his younger years (hello, ‘peaked in high school’ Rob Lowe). Take the other path, and you become the mature adult that you were destined to be. Along the way, the benefactor that helped you in your younger years, may not necessarily be the same person that helps you in your maturing years. Usually, the new benefactor is a more professional role model; someone that you try to emulate as you mature. This new benefactor is usually not as coddling as the old one, and almost always demands that results be brought to the table in order to keep the relationship going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder fired Scott Brooks, they didn’t just get rid of their coach for the past 7 seasons. They got rid of their coddling, doting benefactor. Don’t get me wrong, though. Scott Brooks did many great things in his time in Oklahoma City. His style of coaching was necessary for a team that was just coming into its own. His ability to develop and culture young talent was/is tantamount to the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Take the ‘players coach’ persona away from the Thunder and replace it with a hardened disciplinarian, and you may have had a scenario where the players got tired of the demanding coach and either wanted out or loathed the thought of coming to practice everyday. It’s basically the reason Brooks replaced PJ Carlesimo as head coach seven seasons ago in the first place.

In the last two seasons we’ve seen the complete maturation of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both these players have gone from great players to bonafide MVP candidates (or winner as in the case of Durant). Durant has gone from just a great scorer to a great all-around player, while Westbrook has gone from questionable point guard to something entirely different that has never been seen from the floor general position. While these two players will continue to add facets to their games as they mature, they’ve essentially reached their point of maturation.

durant westbrook thunder

While many will look at the last two injury plagued seasons as cursed, it has in fact been a great learning tool for both Durant and Westbrook. Their dependency on each other was shucked out the window in the last two years. In its stead, both players were forced to figure things out on their own. Durant went from all-world scorer to all-world all-around player after Westbrook sat out much of the 2013-14 season with various knee ailments. Durant’s scoring and rebounding numbers remained consistent, but his assist numbers went up to 5.5 per game. Based on these numbers and the fact that the Thunder remained atop the Western Conference (2nd, behind the San Antonio Spurs), Durant went on to win the MVP award last season.

Fast forward to this season, when the onus of carrying the Thunder fell on Westbrook as Durant recovered from a broken foot most of the season. Always vilified as being a shoot-first point guard, Westbrook was finally able to balance both scoring and assisting to finish with one of the greatest statistical seasons on record. His numbers in February and March have become things of legend. The media finally began to accept Westbrook for what he was: something they had never seen before. Westbrook’s season will likely not end an MVP award, as the Thunder failed to make the playoffs, but the full maturation of Westbrook has been a beautiful thing to watch. His ability to run the Thunder offense and pick and choose where to go has been tantamount to his success this season. The chemistry Westbrook developed with Anthony Morrow and Enes Kanter in such a short period of time probably shows the full maturity of his game more than anything else.

It’s in this maturity that Thunder GM Sam Presti felt it was finally time to cut the umbilical cord to the doting, coddling coach. Too many times the Thunder hid from the fact that Brooks, while great as a communicator, lacked as an X’s and O’s coach. While the team was successful, it was in those critical in-game moments late in the playoffs where Brooks’ warts showed the most. Will new head coach Billy Donovan be able to overcome those deficiencies to take this team to the next level? That remains to be seen. But the players he will be inheriting in Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, will be finished products that will be ready to win. The worst thing that could have happened to Brooks was the complete maturation of Durant and Westbrook without the finality of a championship. Regardless of whether injuries were involved or not, this was a move Presti had to make to get this team to the next level.

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The Thunder hire Billy Donovan to be their new head coach

Billy Donovan I

Per league sources, the Oklahoma City Thunder have hired Billy Donovan from the University of Florida to be their new head coach. The team and Donovan agreed to a 5 year contract, with the terms yet to be disclosed. The hiring comes after the Thunder parted ways with long-time head coach Scott Brooks after the season.

Donovan coached at the University of Florida for 19 seasons, garnering two national championships (2006, 2007), four SEC titles, and three SEC Coach of the Year awards. With an impressive NBA player tree that includes names like Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Chandler Parsons, Mike Miller, and Bradley Beal, Donovan’s ability to coach NBA-ready players is second only to Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari. His coaching tree is starting to pick up steam, as young coaches like Shaka Smart, Donnie Jones, and Anthony Grant, who were previous assistants at Florida under Donovan, start to leave their marks in college basketball.

Donovan’s system is tailor made for the NBA. His pick and roll-heavy offense plays for the Thunder’s personnel. And the addition of Enes Kanter as an interior scorer should make this offense that much more dynamic. His defensive approach will also play well into the Thunder scheme of pressuring the ball and defending the paint. The Thunder will have more chances to transform defense into offense under Donovan’s coaching. Donovan is known for his great rapport with his players, but also for holding them accountable for their actions on the court. That’s one area where he and Scott Brooks will likely differ. Donovan’s system has slowly been making its way to Oklahoma City, as the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, have a head coach (Mark Daigneault) that used to be an assistant under Donovan. In addition, the Thunder’s basketball information analyst, Oliver Winterbone, is a former video coordinator under Donovan, and likely helps out in the advanced metrics department.

Donovan comes into a situation many will deem as a dream and a possible nightmare. While the first job of many head coaches usually involves a struggling, rebuilding team, Donovan has been gifted with two of the best players in the world. The Thunder will enter next season with championship aspirations, as they have the last four seasons. But with Kevin Durant’s impending free agency in 2016, every misstep will reverberate even louder than it normally does. For a coach that has never coached in an NBA game, it will be tantamount that he know how to handle that pressure. Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Cleveland’s David Blatt faced similar pressures as first year head coaches heading into this season, and both have been successful. On the other hand, Derek Fisher has had a disastrous first season with the New York Knicks.

While its been reported that Thunder GM Sam Presti has not directly involved Durant or Russell Westbrook in the coaching search, that doesn’t mean the players have not done their homework. Durant stated that he spoke with several former Gator players and is, “generally positive” about the Thunder’s hiring of Donovan. While many will view this response as questionable (why wasn’t he fully positive about it?), one has to also take into account the loyalty Durant has for Brooks. A full endorsement would almost be like a disparaging comment against Brooks. Like any new relationship, this will take time. But I think this will work out fine. Presti has been scouting Donovan for years, and conversely, Donovan has likely been watching the progress of the Thunder from afar these last few seasons. This was not a decision made in haste. In fact, this was likely a decision that has been years in the making.

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Posted in News

Ten Possible Candidates for the Oklahoma City Thunder coaching vacancy

thunder brooks kalamian pack

For the first time in seven seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in search of a new head coach. Since their arrival in 2008, the Thunder have always had a head coach in place. PJ Carlesimo started as the head coach for the Thunder in 2008, but after beginning OKC’s inaugural season 1-13, Carlesimo was let go in favor of assistant coach Scott Brooks. Though he initially started with an interim tag, Brooks quickly shed that tag after finishing the last 50 games of that season with a 20-30 mark. In the next 6 seasons, Brooks led the Thunder to 1 Finals appearance and 3 Western Conference Finals appearances. He was awarded the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year award, and was the coach behind James Harden’s 2012 6th Man of the Year award and Kevin Durant’s 2014 MVP award. But as successful as he was in developing top-notch talent, he was just as lacking in a lot of the coaching aspect of coaching. His offense was very simplistic, but the coup de gras may have been is inability/stubbornness to change on the fly, in-game. With that in mind, the organization decided that Brooks had likely hit his glass ceiling with this team and parted ways with him.

No separation is ever without tension. But this one seems to be amicable on both sides. The Thunder, and Brooks, himself, did not want to go into this next season with the lame-duck status over their heads. With Durant’s impending free agency quickly approaching, any misstep or change in-season could be seen as a desperation move. The organization decided that if a change was going to be made, it had to be now, so that there is some consistency heading into the season. With that said, this becomes the first ever head coaching search in the history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. As soon as Brooks’ departure was announced, several names were dropped as potential candidates for the now vacant head coaching job. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka currently in tow, this is likely one of the more desirable jobs for a head coach. Here are 10 possible candidates for the Thunder’s head coach gig.

Internal Candidates

Rex Kalamian – Kalamian has been one of Brooks’ top assistants for the past 5 seasons. He has overseen the development of the Thunder’s players and has also been the coach of the Thunder’s summer league team the last 3 seasons, winning the Orlando Summer League in 2013. Kalamian has been an NBA coaching lifer, starting as scouting assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1992, and moving onto to stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Sacramento Kings, before settling into his current position with the Thunder. He appears to have a great rapport with the players and a hiring like this would lessen the blow of the coaching change.

Troy Weaver – The Thunder’s current vice president/assistant general manager also has an extensive coaching portfolio. He started by coaching AAU ball in the Washington D.C. area from about 1992-1996. He went on to be an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh, University of New Mexico, and then onto Syracuse University, where he is credited with recruiting Carmelo Anthony to the school. In 2004, he became the head scout for the Utah Jazz. Later he promoted to director of player personnel in 2007, and held that post through the end of the 2008 season. He was then hired by the Thunder in his current position, where he assists with roster building (NBA Draft preparation and free agency) and day to day basketball operations. Remember, the Spurs, whom the Thunder tend to emulate, once hired their general manager as their coach and went on to win 5 championships in a 16 year period.

College Coaches

Billy Donovan – The current University of Florida coach has a good relationship with Thunder GM Sam Presti, who hired two of Donovan’s assistants in the past year (Mark Daigneault as the coach of Oklahoma City’s Development League team and Oliver Winterbone as a basketball information analyst). Donovan currently boasts a 467-186 record at Florida, leading the Gators to consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007. He has been named SEC Coach of the Year in three of the last 5 seasons. He has a reputation as a great player developer and values depth on the offensive end and toughness on the defensive end.

billy donovan kevin ollie

 

Kevin Ollie – The current UCONN coach has a history with the Thunder that can still be felt today. Ollie played his final season in the NBA with the Thunder and was sited as the veteran that taught Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook how to be men in the NBA. Durant even notes him as being the purveyor of the current culture that is the Thunder. After retiring from the NBA in 2010, he went on to be an assistant coach under Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. After two seasons, he took over for Calhoun and went on to win the 2014 NCAA Championship. According to various media outlets, Ollie has removed his name from consideration for the Oklahoma City job.

Fred Hoiberg – The Iowa State coach is one of the hottest commodities in current coaching circles. His innovative, almost Spursian-like offense, made the Cyclones one of the top scoring teams in the NCAA’s throughout his coaching tenure. Players to come out of Hoiberg’s system are usually jack of all trades that are good at all aspects of the game, but not great at any one thing. In his 5 seasons in Ames, he has amassed a 115-56 record. He also has professional experience, as he worked in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office from 2007-2010.

NBA Coaches and Assistant Coaches

Tom Thibodeau – The current Chicago Bulls coach is known as one of the best defensive minds in the game. Before working in Chicago, he was one of the top assistants in the league from 1989-2010. The work he has done with the Bulls the past few injury-racked seasons has proven his worth as a coach that is able to excel, even in difficult situations. The Bulls’ coach has amassed a 255-139 record in his 5 seasons in Chicago. The knock on Thibodeau has always been the amount of time he plays his main players and his lack of player development/depth. That may come into play with the Thunder’s top players suffering from injuries in the past few seasons. Various media outlets have reported that Thibodeau may be on his way out in Chicago, regardless of where they finish this season.

Alvin Gentry – Gentry is currently the associate head coach for the Golden State Warriors, serving under head coach Steve Kerr. His “Spursian/Phoenix Suns 7 second or less hybrid” offense has worked wonders for the Warriors. Gentry is currently one of the highest paid assistants in the league. In his career, Gentry has gone 335-370 in previous stints with Miami, Detroit, the Clippers, and Phoenix.

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six

Rick Carlise – While there is nothing that points to Dallas letting go of Carlisle, his frustration over the Rajon Rondo situation may boil over in the offseason, especially if the Mavericks don’t get out of the first round. Carlisle will be heading into the final year of his contract next season. If the team or Carlisle don’t see eye to eye on the future direction of the team in the offseason, I could definitely see a Scott Brooks situation where Carlisle walks away from the final year of his contract to go to another team with a guaranteed long-term deal. Carlisle has amassed a 619-431 record in his 13 years of coaching with Detroit, Indiana, and Dallas. He won a championship with Dallas in 2011.

Spurs’ Assistant Coaches

Chip Engelland – The Spurs assistant is credited with honing the shots of many Spurs’ players. He is known as the top shooting specialist in the league, and has built his portfolio up as an assistant in the past decade around the league.  He has a reputation for developing a great rapport with his players and is routinely tasked with monitoring the Spurs’ players training/shooting regiments in the offseason.

Ettore Messina – Before being hired on by the Spurs as an assistant coach, Messina was the top European coach in basketball. He led two Euroleague teams (Virtus Bologna and CSKA Moscow) to two championship apiece and was twice named Euroleague Coach of Year in 2006 and 2008. Messina is revered in basketball circles as a great basketball mind, almost like a European Larry Brown. Messina’s coaching philosophy fits in line with the Spurs’ model of floor balance and ball movement. He loves to balance the floor to keep the defense moving, especially with post-ups. With the Thunder’s recent acquisition (and hopeful re-signing) of Enes Kanter, they now have an interior scorer that could completely balance the floor in a Messian-run offense.

Wild Cards

Jeff Van Gundy – Anytime a good coaching vacancy opens up, Jeff Van Gundy’s name is always brought up. The former Knicks’ and Rockets’ coach has been out of coaching for the past 8 years, and while he has never said that he is interested in coaching again, he’s never said he isn’t interested in coaching again. Van Gundy amassed a  430-318 record in his 11 seasons of coaching. With a nice broadcasting gig with ESPN and ABC, Van Gundy can wait for the right opportunity to get back into coaching. If both parties (the Thunder and Van Gundy) are interested, he could be possible candidate.

Coach-K

Mike Krzyzewski – Coach K is well on his way to being on the Mt. Rushmore of college basketball coaches. He just got done capturing his 5th NCAA championship this past season. For the past 10 seasons, he has been the head coach for USA Basketball, where he has coached Durant and Westbrook in international competitions. What if for a second, Coach K decides that there is nothing else he can accomplish in college basketball and would like to see what he could do in the NBA before it comes time for retirement. The Thunder vacancy would be the perfect opportunity of Coach K to pursue this.

The Thunder coaching vacancy is one that should generate plenty of interest. The opportunity to coach Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and possibly Kanter in their primes has to a dream for many coaches. As it stands right now, Donovan seems to be the front runner for the job. But if the Thunder still have not decided on a coach within the next two weeks, look for the Thunder to be leaning towards one of the coaches in the NBA circle.

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Posted in Offseason Beat, Random Thoughts
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