Monthly Archives: February 2012

Game Preview – Oklahoma City Thunder @ Philadelphia 76ers (Game 35 of 66)

The Oklahoma City Thunder start the second half of the season on the road, facing a 3 game East Coast swing. The trip starts in Philadelphia where they face the surprising Atlantic division leading Philadelphia76ers. This is the first, and only, meeting between these two teams for this season. The Thunder won both meetings last season, but each game was close, with one going into overtime.

The Opposition

The 76ers come into the game with a 21-14 record, good for 1st in the Atlantic division and 4th in the Eastern Conference. They trounced the Detroit Pistons in their previous game, but had lost their previous 5 games before the All Star break. The Sixers are very similar to the Denver Nuggets in that they don’t have an established superstar, but have good players and have a deep rotation. They have 10 players that average at least 17 minutes per game. They are the best defensive team in the league, in terms of points allowed, giving up only 87 points per game. They have 6 players who average double figures, led by their backcourt trio of Lou Williams (15.6 ppg), Jrue Holiday (13.5 ppg), and Andre Iguodala (12.3). The front court is led by veteran Elton Brand (10.1 ppg and 6.6 rpg) and Thad Young (12.9 ppg and 4.7 rbg). Starting center Spencer Hawes is out with an Achilles injury. Due to their versatility, the bench is one of the more stronger ones in the league, led by guards Evan Turner and Lou Williams, forward Thad Young, and rookie center Nikola Vucevic.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Philadelphia

  • PG – Jrue Holiday
  • SG – Jodie Meeks
  • SF – Andre Iguodala
  • PF – Lavoy Allen
  • C – Elton Brand 

Oklahoma City

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Daequan Cook
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

Match-up to Watch Out For

Russell Westbrook vs. Jrue Holiday

When Russell Westbrook was an unheralded sophomore, Jrue Holiday was the highly recruited freshman point guard that everyone was talking about. Needless to say, things have changed a bit since then. WhileHolidayhas begun to carve out his own niche in the league, Westbrook has taken the league by storm and become one of its top point guards. WhileHolidayis a better shooter, Westbrook is a better at getting into the paint due to his strength and height advantage.

3 In The Paint

  1. Like Denver, this is a team that constantly bombards you with fresh players. With 10 players that average over 17 minutes, this is the perfect team for this compacted schedule. The key for the Thunder will be to constantly drive the ball inside and try to get a few of the key players in foul trouble.
  2. Don’t expect to see Kendrick Perkins a lot in this game. The Sixers are very guard-oriented and their bigs are perimeter-oriented, except for Brand.  You’ll see a lot of small ball lineups with KD playing the 4 and Ibaka/Collison playing the 5.
  3. It will be key to limit the turnovers and guard the 3 point line. The Sixers have 5 rotation players that shoot over 38% from the 3-point line. The Sixers are No.1 in the league in turnover differential. They protect the ball, while forcing you to give it up.
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The Great Unknown:Growing as a Fanbase

Let’s imagine a scenario. You go on a blind date with this girl (or guy, you make the scenario fit to your liking). When you finally meet her, you think, “Hey, she’s easy on the eyes.” The first date is exciting, but ultimately ends a little awkwardly. She has a youthful grace about her, but can be a little immature at times. Everything goes well enough, though, that you both agree to another date. You continue to date for that month, but you constantly think about what your ex is doing and how you guys had better chemistry. The dates are good; some end up great, some disappointing. But there’s enough of a spark to continue dating. 

The next month things get even better. You start to hang out more and there are less and less “weird” moments. She even reveals to you that she trained as a world class chef before taking on her current job. She invites you over for a couple dates at her house to try out her culinary skills, and needless to say, she has “skillz”. The girl can throw down in the kitchen, and you know the saying referencing a man’s heart and his stomach. All those thoughts about your ex start to fade away and become non-existent. 

In the 3rd month of dating, you feel like you are ready to make this an exclusive relationship. There are less dates and more time together. You start to synchronize your schedules to have more time together. You start to want to hang out with this girl. Then she gives you the surprise of your life and buys you a brand new sports car. You start to turn it down, but she insists that she has been saving up a lot of money and needs to spend it for “tax” purposes. The L-word even starts to get tossed around playfully.  

In the 4th month, you hit a little hiccup in the beginning of the month. You bicker back and forth about “young-relationship” things. You begin to wonder whether you are even going to continue the relationship. But alas, you work through it and hopefully come out stronger in the end. And, this is where you are currently at. 

For the past two months, she has surprised you with something big. You begin to wonder what she has in store for you this month. Then you realize how selfish that sounds. You have a great girl that has given of her heart in the short time you two have been together and now you are expecting something from her. You begin to see that you have been spoiled, and, just maybe, to the detriment of your ethics and expectations. You realize that you have devalued the past and the present with the expectations of the future. 

Now, before you become concerned and think that my sports blog has turned into a self help or relationship blog, please realize that I used this scenario as an analogy. Change the word girl to team (namely the Oklahoma City Thunder) and change the word month to season. There you have Oklahoma City’s relationship with the Thunder in our 4 short years together. And I mean it when I say that we have been completely and utterly spoiled.

 Oklahoma City’s situation has been so rare and unique that it is really difficult to find something comparable. First off, OKC had a tryout, of sorts, with the two seasons the Hornets played at the Ford Center after Hurricane Katrina. We proved that OKC was a viable market and took advantage of our surprising opportunity. This is back when we weren’t spoiled. This is back when we were a hungry market yearning for attention and respectability. 

After a year hiatus from the NBA, we took full advantage when the Thunder came rumbling to town, selling out our season tickets in record time, and showing up in droves to the games. Then we realized we had a crappy team. Young, but still crappy, nonetheless. We longed for the days of the ever-improving Hornets who were quickly becoming the darlings of the Western Conference. But we stuck with it and started seeing results in the 2nd half of the season. At this point, we were still building a relationship with our new team. 

That improvement from the 2nd half of the previous season continued into the 2nd season, where the Thunder finally took off and never looked back. They more than doubled their win total and made it into the playoffs, pushing the eventual champs to an unexpectedly tough 6 game series. We applauded our team and cheered them on, but always kept wondering when the other shoe was going to drop on our fairy tale story. At this point we were enjoying our successes, but wondering how fragile they are. 

During that summer between our 2nd and 3rd seasons, we were overjoyed to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of our players, represent the country in their pre-Olympic tournament in which they were belittled by their own country’s media (“B-team”) and expected not to medal. Instead, led by the two Thunder players, the team took home the gold with nary a blemish on their record. We, as a fan base, puffed out our collective chests and walked around with pride in preparation for the next season. 

Heading into the 3rd season, expectations were high, not only locally, but also nationally. With a big move at the trading deadline, the Thunder did not disappoint making it all the way to the Western Conference finals losing to the eventual NBA champs. Fans were beginning to become accustomed to winning because it is all they had known with this franchise. 

Presently, the team sits tied for the best record in the league at the half-way point in a strike shortened season. We’ve seen Kevin Durant be named All Star game MVP, while Russell Westbrook performed exceedingly well in the same game. But what should be a feeling of joy and accomplishment is sometimes flipped into a feeling of anger and disgust whenever we do actually lose a game. It’s almost like we are expecting to win every game, while at the same time, expecting the clock to strike 12 and for this team to turn back into a big ugly pumpkin with some scurrying mice. 

Are we spoiled? Hell yeah we’re spoiled. Our track record has been nothing but an upward trend. In a league that is cyclical in terms of team success, we’ve been a straight line in the positive direction. But, can you be spoiled, and still be appreciative of what you are watching? That’s what worries me about this fan base. What’s going to happen to it when we hit our first big bump in the road? 

We’re an extremely young fan base that has grown with this team. You can say that we have experienced bumps in the road with the losses in the playoffs. But, expansion teams and rebuilding teams go through years of futility before they finally start to see the fruits of their labor. We haven’t had to go through the years of futility. We had one horrible year and the rest have been magical. My only fear is what happens when making it to the playoffs isn’t magical anymore. 

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a Debbie-downer (or is it a Dreary-Dougie?). I love and respect our fan base to no end. Many media pundits have called us the best home crowd in the league. And I agree whole-heartedly, as I’m one of the crazies screaming my ass off in the middle of the 2nd quarter. But, in taking in the last 3 ½ seasons, I want something malleable that I can compare it to. They say that history repeats itself, but sometimes it’s scary when you are the one making the history. I don’t know how this story will end and that’s the exciting part about all of this. We are the archetypes when it comes to a franchise that had to move while rebuilding and experienced quick success as soon as it arrived at its new location. With that said, let’s continue on with our magical season. There is still much to be written in this story.

Oklahoma City Thunder – Halftime Report

Any time I hear the word halftime, this is the first thing I think about.

We’ve reached the half-way point in this strike-shortened season. Half time, baby! Everyone to the locker room, or as it’s called in the NBA, All-Star Weekend. Coming into the season, I didn’t know what to expect. We were bringing back our entire 10 man rotation, plus a couple young guys that had potential. But with a very short training camp, no summer league, and only 2 preseason games against the same team, it was a little difficult to gauge how the team would come out the gates. Conventional wisdom would say that in a shortened season, a team that experienced hardly any change would benefit the most early in the season.

That thought has not proven to be incorrect when it comes to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are currently tied for the best record in the league at 25 – 7 and have a 2 game lead in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. If natural progression is the law of the land, then the Thunder are right where they are supposed to be. After finishing 4th in the conference last season and making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder are poised to take the next step in their natural progression.

Individual Grades (alphabetical order): I take into account what was expected of the player before the season started and how that player has fared in this first half of the season.

 Cole Aldrich (Stat line: 12 GP, 7.6 mpg, 1.8 rpg, 0.6 blks, 0.4 stls, 2.6 ppg)

After spending last season shuffling between the Thunder and the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League, Aldrich was expected to continue developing into a rotational big man. When Nazr Mohammed was re-signed before the beginning of the lockout, it was an indication that the organization wanted Cole to continue to develop. In the 12 games that he has gotten in, Cole has shown a knack for causing havoc on the defensive end with his long wingspan and penchant for blocking or altering shots. On the offensive end, he has shown flashes of a nice post-up game (hooks, drop step, put back dunks), but has yet to fully assert himself and ask for the ball on the block consistently. He tends to be a bit over zealous on the defensive end and is prone to picking up fouls pretty quickly, especially on pump fakes. Aldrich shows great heart on the floor, though, constantly diving for loose balls. #FreeCole!

Expected Grade – C              Mid-Term Grade – C+

 

Nick Collison (Stat line: 31 GP, 20.5 mpg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.3 blks, 0.5 stls, 4.5 ppg)

The No-Stats MVP. The ultimate glue guy. Collison was expected to continue being the first big man off the bench. A key cog that can be plugged in seamlessly if foul trouble or defensive lapses rear their ugly heads. Collison has not disappointed in his role. He is basically the same guy from last season with more of a willingness to unleash the soul crushing 12-15 foot jumper. A charge magnet, the 2nd unit gets their defensive identity from Collison. One of the smartest players in the league that is usually in the right place, at the right time (and not by coincidence). Future coach potential.

Expected Grade – B+               Mid-Term Grade – A-

 

Daequan Cook  (Stat line: 31 GP (12 GS), 19.7 mpg, 2.6 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.3 blks, 0.5 stls, 5.6 ppg, 34% 3pt FG)

One of the wild cards coming into the season, Cook started last season in a rut that eventually led to him getting over 30 DNP-CD’s in the first half of the season. When finally given an opportunity to play, Cook became the deep threat that the Thunder had hoped for when they traded for him on draft night in 2010. Cook has continued to provide the deep threat for the Thunder this season and has also become a more integral part of the rotation, even starting 12 games in place of injured SG Thabo Sefolosha. He has improved his man on man defense and has involved himself more on the boards.

Expected Grade – C+              Mid-Term Grade – B-

 

Kevin Durant (Stat line: 32 GP (32 GS), 37.8 mpg, 8.2 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 blks, 1.3 stls, 27.7 ppg)

A candidate for MVP coming into the season, Durant has not disappointed. While his scoring may have gone down just a tad bit, his rebounding, assists, and blocks are at career high levels. He is scoring at the most efficient rate in his career and he is starting to be relevant defensively, especially on the boards. He is learning how to get the ball in better spots and how to position himself to get better shots in crunch time. The only negative I can see in his game is the turnovers.  The athletic part of Durant is starting to mesh with the cerebral part. And that is a scary reality for the rest of the league. 

Expected Grade – A                 Mid-Term Grade – A

 

James Harden (Stat line: 31 GP (2 GS), 31.6 mpg, 4.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 0.2 blks, 0.9 stls, 16.8 ppg, 37% 3pt FG)

The glue that holds the “feuding” yin and yang that is Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook together. We all know that the “feuding” part of that statement has proven to be false as this season has progressed. What started as an improvement over the 2nd half of the season last year morphed into calls for Harden to be the starting 2-guard as the new season began. Coach Scott Brooks kept Harden on the bench and he has turned into arguably the best 6th man in the league, providing instant offense off the bench, ala Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford. Along with being the unquestioned leader of the bench unit, he’s also in the game with the starters to close it out in most games. His playmaking ability and penchant for getting foul calls make Harden an offensive weapon to be marveled. While steadily improving defensively, he can still be had by good 2-guards, especially if quickness is a factor. Also, the home/road splits were an issue in the beginning of the season, but have normalized since then. Hopefully that doesn’t come up in the playoffs.

Expected Grade – B+               Mid-Term Grade – B+

 

James Harden’s Beard (Stat line: No stats can measure the greatness)

Seriously, this needed its own section. We’ve seen this thing grow from when Harden first joined the Thunder in June 2009. It started off so small and has blossomed into something so much greater. Olympic gods now bow in the presence of the Beard.

Expected Grade – A+              Mid-Term Grade – Infinity on a 4 point scale

 

Lazar Hayward (Stat line: 12 GP, 5.9 mpg, 0.9 rpg, 0.2 apg, 1.5 ppg)

Haywardwas obtained in a deal with the Timberwolves before the season. Hayward’s presence on the team is more as a practice player than as a regular rotation player. I believe, the bigger bodied Hayward has allowed Durant to simulate what its like to go against a stronger defender and to see what works against these types of defenders and what doesn’t. In his time on the floor,Hayward has shown to be a good transition player. He needs to be more consistent with his shot, especially from the 3-point line. Defensively, Hayward is an average defender.

Expected Grade – C                 Mid-Term Grade – C-

 

Serge Ibaka (Stat line: 32 GP (32 GS), 7.7 rpg, 0.5 apg, 3.3 blks, 0.5 stls, 8.3 ppg)

Just like James Harden (and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook before them), Ibaka was expected to make the big 3rd year leap that we’ve seen from developing Thunder players. At the beginning of the season though, Ibaka seemed a bit out of sync. He wasn’t as aggressive and was settling for jumpers, instead of trying to do his damage from the inside. But over the last month, we’ve seen the Ibaka that we love and that opposing teams hate. In the last 3 weeks, we’ve seen 3 double digit block games, a man’s triple double (points, boards, blocks), and a disruptive defensive force not seen since the heydays of Ben Wallace. He still leaves a lot to be desired on the offensive end of the court as an inside presence. Though he sometimes leave us salivating with Olajuwon like post moves, he still prefers the 15 footer, which he is starting to hit with more consistency lately. His penchant for going for blocks usually leaves a gaping hole in the middle for offensive rebounders.

Expected Grade – B                 Mid-Term Grade – B+

 

Royal Ivey (Stat line: 9 GP, 9.7 mpg, 0.7 rpg, 0.2 apg, 2.1 ppg)

Ivey’s role on the team is that of veteran point guard. He’s a defensive minded player that probably pushes Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor in practice. When he has received playing time, Ivey has made a couple 3 pointers and played good defense. He has recently been called to duty a lot earlier in games because of some injuries to players. His defense keeps him in games, but his lack of a true identity (not really a point guard, but not very consistent with his jumper) can be a detriment if the team starts to struggle offensively.

Expected Grade – C                 Mid-Term Grade – C

 

Reggie Jackson (Stat line: 26 GP, 12.2 mpg, 1.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 stls, 3.7 ppg)

My expectation for the rookie was that he would split time between the Thunder and the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League, gaining valuable experience against lesser competition in preparation to possibly be a regular rotation player next season. But with the injury to Maynor, Jackson was thrust into the rotation as the primary back up point guard. The results have been par for the course for a late first round rookie point guard. Some flashes of decent play sandwiched between lessons from the school of hard knocks. They say that experience is the best teacher, so hopefully this is a blessing in disguise for the future. But in the present, Reggie has shown that he has the athletic ability to play in this league, but is still trying to figure out the nuances of the point guard position. If he is on the floor with one of the three main ball handlers (Westbrook, Durant, or Harden), he immediately defers to them to run the offense. Also, defenses have learned to pressure the rookie into making bad decisions. With all that said, though, I like what I see in Jackson and believe this experience will help him immensely in the future.

Expected Grade – C                 Mid-Term Grade – C

 

Eric Maynor (Stat line: 9 GP, 15.2 mpg, 1.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.6 stls, 4.2 ppg)

As a third year player, I fully expected Maynor to make that leap from okay player to good player. Already labeled by some to be the best back-up point guard in the league, Maynor’s steady hand at point made him the quarterback of one of the best bench units in the league. Like many players in this condensed season, Maynor’s play at the beginning was a bit careless, as he was averaging less assists and more turnovers. Nine games into the season though, Maynor suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season. For all intents and purposes, Maynor’s recovery seems to be going ahead of schedule and he will be ready for training camp next season.

Expected Grade – B                 Mid-Term Grade – Inc.

 

Nazr Mohammed (Stat line: 31 GP (1 GS), 12.4 mpg, 3.0 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.6 blks, 3.1 ppg)

The old man of the crew. In a room full of 20-somethings, Mohammed is the revered veteran. Mohammed’s role is that of back up center. Last season, he was invaluable as a stop gap until Kendrick Perkins came back from injury and as Perkins’s backup. There have been times this season where Mohammed has looked as spry as a spring chicken. And then there’s been blocks of game where Mohammed has literally looked like he has cement shoes on. That’s what you get with a 14 year vet. You take the good with the bad.

Expected Grade – B                 Mid-Term Grade – B-

 

Kendrick Perkins (Stat line: 31 GP (31 GS), 26.5 mpg, 5.9 rpg, 0.9 apg, 1.2 blks, 0.3 stls, 4.4 ppg, 10 technicals)

One of the most polarizing players on the team. Last year, Perkins was coming off major knee surgery and was slowed by bulky knee braces and the weight he put on while recovering. Vowing to come into camp more in shape, Kendrick came in 30-40 pounds lighter and shed the knee braces. But it’s been the same ol’ Perkins; a good post defender who does well against traditional centers, but gets lost if a team has an athletic and/or undersized center. Offensively, Perkins is a turnover waiting to happen. I don’t know if he lost some coordination during his recovery from surgery, but when he puts the ball on the floor, he usually loses it. When he attempts a shot, it’s usually a flat jump hook that is easily rejected. I don’t like to blast on Perkins since the Thunder’s record is so good with him in the lineup, but his biggest asset to the team is that he frees up Ibaka on the defensive end to be the NBA’s version of a roaming free safety. Another negative is the boneheaded technicals that Perkins picks up. He putting himself in a position to get suspended and miss time because of his hard-headedness.

Expected Grade – B                 Mid-Term Grade – C

 

Ryan Reid (Stat line: 2 GP, 5.0 mpg, 0.5 rpg, 4.0 ppg)

Every year there’s that one guy that you, as a fan, attach your heart strings to. The underdog. The runt of the litter. Ever since the Thunder drafted Reid in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, I’ve followed his career in the D-League. I was pleasantly surprised when the Thunder offered Reid the final roster spot for this season. This organization rewards “those” types of players that work hard to pursue their dream, even if everyone else has told them they have no chance. Last season it was Robert Vaden. Next season it may be Latavious Williams or Tibor Pleiss. When Reid finally got some run on the Valentine’s Day game, I was texting my brother in law in all caps. Literally, this was my text, “RYAN REID SCORED!!!!!!!!!” Honestly, in his limited game time, he has shown a good mid-range jumper and has shown the potential to be a future glue guy.

Expected Grade – D                 Mid-Term Grade – C+

 

Thabo Sefolosha (Stat line: 18 GP (18 GS), 20.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 blks, 0.9 stls, 5.2 ppg, 48% 3-pt FG)

Another polarizing player on the team. While he is one of the best wing defenders in the league, his offensive inefficiencies can sometimes lead to the Thunder playing “a man down” on the offensive side of the court. The clamoring for a change in the starting line-up only got louder as last season’s playoffs pushed forward, and teams began corralling Durant and Westbrook. The thinking was that Harden, as a floor spreader, would allow Durant and Westbrook more room to operate on the offensive end. Hypothetically, this would seem like the correct way to go. But, as this season has shown, the value of a great wing defender should never be lost in the search for more efficient offense. The game is played on both ends of the court.  As an added bonus, Sefolosha had shown signs of being more offensively efficient this season. He had begun to drive the ball more to the basket and was shooting the 3-pointer at a 48% clip. Not that he shot that many, but of the few that he did shoot, he was making almost half of them. I still cringe when I see him lead a fast-break, though. Unfortunately though, Sefolosha has been battling foot issues and has been limited this season and is expected to miss one more month.

Expected Grade – B-               Mid-Term Grade – B+

 

Russell Westbrook (Stat line: 32 GP (32 GS), 4.8 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.9 stls, 23.4 ppg)

Probably the most polarizing player on the Thunder. Last season, ironically, Westbrook’s 3rd, he went from good player to superstar. He, along with Derrick Rose, became the new standard for point guards: hybrids that could score 25 ppg and dish out 8 assists per game, while constantly breaking down a defense and doing their damage from the paint. You knew that Durant could score and that all he needed to do was refine the finer points of his game (rebounding, playmaking, etc). But you didn’t know where the learning curve would take you with Westbrook. Because of the criticism that Westbrook was receiving in last season’s playoffs and in the off-season, and the upcoming contract extension, I didn’t know what to expect from Westbrook. In the first 2 weeks of the season, it seemed like Westbrook was in the funk of all funks. His shot wasn’t falling, his assists were down, and there were rumblings of a true feud between he and Durant. Thankfully, things seemed to turn around in the middle of January (coincidentally once Russell signed his new contract) and Russell has been playing great ever since, garnering a couple Western Conference Player of the Week awards along the way. With Derrick Rose’s injury woes this season, Russell Westbrook has taken the role of premier point guard with his driving ability and consistent mid-range jumper. He still turns the ball over way too much and doesn’t always work to involve his teammates, but what I’m seeing from Russell this season is surprising because he’s still improving at a tremendous clip.

Expected Grade – A-               Mid-Term Grade – A

 

Surprises:

  • It’s amazing how important a real training camp and 4+ preseason games are to players in their preparation for a season. I noticed that in many of the Thunder players’ performances. They didn’t really take off until after the 2nd week of the season, which in actuality, would be the same amount of time as training camp and preseason games in a normal regular season.

 

  • I kept hearing about how injuries would shape this season because of the condensed schedule. But I had no idea it would be this bad. The Thunder have never experienced many injuries in their 4 season in Oklahoma City. An ankle sprain here. A pulled hamstring there. But this season, we’ve seen Maynor go out with a torn ACL, Sefolosha miss significant time with foot issues, and other players miss 1-2 games with general soreness.

 

Looking ahead:

  • The schedule gets tougher from here on out. We play the Lakers 3 more times, Miami and the Clippers twice, Chicago, Philly, Dallas, and San Antonio once each, and 6 more games against division rivals. We have a 3 game East coast trip after the All-Star break and a 5 game West Coast trip close to the end of the season. Needless to say, if we stay at the top the Western Conference, we would have definitely earned it.

 

  • Possible trade targets – Since the trading deadline is on March 15, I looked a possible trade targets for the Thunder and their struggles on the bench:
    1. James Anderson (Spurs)
    2. Tracy McGrady (Hawks)
    3. Stephen Jackson (Bucks)

Thunder UP!!!!!!

 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Week in Review (February 13th – February 19th)

Record for the week – 3 – 1

Overall record – 24 – 7

One word to describe this week: FUN!!!! Yeah, we had that one hiccup in Houston, but had a nail-biter and two blowouts in the other 3 games.

Games played:

February 14th – vs. Utah

Valentine’s Day Massacre. I could only wish that we could play the Utah Jazz for every game the rest of the way. The issue with the Jazz is that they aren’t in full rebuild mode yet, but still have some good veteran players. So they have blocks of the schedule where they look good and then blocks of the schedule where they look bad.

 

And OKC just happen to play them twice in a block where they looked bad. All you needed to know about this game is that Kendrick Perkins had 6 assists and no turnovers. If you follow the Thunder any, you know that Perkins is a turnover machine when he gets his hands on the ball. But in this game, he channeled his inner John Stockton and went all ‘team basketball’ on the Jazz. The Core 4 (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden) all had yeoman-like efforts in the game and got to rest in the 4th quarter of a 111 – 85 blowout.

February 15th – @ Houston

Oh, the roller coaster that is a condensed season. One day you’re fawning over your past successes and the next you’re wondering what the hell happened. After throwing up on ourselves in the first quarter (29-13), the Thunder made a valiant effort to catch up and actually had a 3 point lead with 1:01 left in the game. But we didn’t score anymore from that point and lost the game 95-96.

 

Other than the horrible first quarter, two things doomed the Thunder: turnovers and Kevin Martin. The Thunder and Rockets were nearly identical in FG’s made, 3-pt FG’s made, and FT’s made. But the Thunder had 21 turnovers compared to the Rockets’ 13. When you leave that many opportunities on the table in such a close game, you’re bound to lose. Kevin Martin going off for a season-high 32 points on 10-18 shooting shows the value of Thabo Sefolosha on this team. While Thabo may not provide much offensively, it’s what he takes away from the opposing team that shows his true value to the Thunder.

February 17 – vs. Golden State

The team that takes years off my life. These two teams usually play each other close, and because of the Warrior’s style of play, they are usually high scoring affairs. After keeping the M.O. of this series with a close first quarter, the Thunder blew the lid off the game, outscoring the Dubs 64 – 41 in the 2nd and 3rd quarter. James Harden had a game high 25 points, while Kevin Durant poured in 23. Every Thunder player that was active scored on their way to a 110 – 87 victory. My heart thanks the Thunder.

February 19 – vs. Denver

The greatest regular season game I’ve ever seen live. To see 3 feats of excellence in one game was awesome. To have all 3 of those feats performed by members of the team you cheer for was great. To see it live with your kids in tow was priceless. For some reason, whenever my kids go to the game, the Thunder win in dramatic fashion. Last season was the Knicks game winner. And this season it was this game.

I don’t even know where to start. Kevin Durant’s career high 51 points. Russell Westbrook scoring 40 points and having 9 assists. Serge Ibaka getting a man’s triple double with 14 points, 15 boards, and 11 blocks. KD and Russ combining for 91 points on 35/57 FG shooting (61%), 8/12 3pt shooting (67%), and 13/15 FT shooting (87%). Or everyone not named Durant, Westbrook, or Ibaka only combining for 19 points.

 

That’s the beauty of this game. Every point that Westbrook and Durant poured in was necessary. There was not a cheap basket anywhere. Sometimes, when a player is trying to reach their career high, they tend to just hog the ball in order to reach that plateau. But because of our horrible transition defense and no one on our team, not named Westbrook or Durant, being able to buy a bucket, every single point from these two was needed.

As for the game, it was a one of runs. OKC patched together a 20-0 run from the 2nd to the 3rd quarter. Denver patched together a couple 12-1 runs throughout the game. No lead was safe in this one. The only difference was we had two closers and they had none. We applied the clamps in overtime and rode out to a 124 – 118 victory.

Player of the Week: Kevin Durant

Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played great this week. But Westbrook had a bit of a stinker, in terms of point guard play, in Houston (4 assists, 6 turnovers), and Durant scored a career high 51 points in last night’s game. It’s sometimes so difficult to choose between these two, but for this week, Durant beats Westbrook to the finish line by a head.

Stat line for the week: 32 pts, 8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.75 blocks per game.

3 In the Paint

  • I’m loving Serge Ibaka’s progression. He started off a bit slow this season, and I was beginning to wonder whether his ceiling was going to be much lower than his actual production. Silly me. Like many other players, the first 15 games of this season were being treated like the training camp, preseason, and first 2 weeks of a normal regular season. We are starting to see many players round into form and Serge Ibaka can certainly be included in this group. That 3rd year leap that happened to Durant and Westbrook, is beginning to take hold of Ibaka. He has become the defensive player of the year candidate we all expected him to become at the beginning of the season.
  • Rumble the Bison should have a birthday every game. Last season, his birthday game was the game winner versus the New York Knicks. This year it was probably the greatest regular season game I’ve ever seen. For those who aren’t familiar with this, when a mascot has a birthday, it’s a game where about 8 other mascots from other teams come and have fun with the “home” mascot. It’s a great game to bring the kids to.

 

  • The turnovers need to go down. There has been a straight forward correlation between the number of turnovers and the effects on whether it is a close game that we could potentially lose, or whether its an easy victory for us. Smart basketball usually leads to wins with this team.

Thunder UP!!!

Cause and Its Effect: A Jeremy Lin Comparison

Ever since Linsanity gripped the nation about a week and a half ago, people have been trying to find a similar situation to compare the phenomenon to. Its human nature to take something new and try to relate to something that has already occurred. Prior knowledge is one of our most important tools, but it can be clouded by our insistence on recency.

So when Jeremy Lin started dropping 25 points per game and leading the New York Knicks on a 5 game winning streak, people were hard-pressed to find a comparable variable. So, naturally, people looked in the direction of the last phenomenon, which was Tebow-mania. Which is a little strange, because the two phenomenon could not be anymore different. The only thing connecting them is the hype.

For a comparison to work, the basic elements of the hype have to be similar. And that’s where the similarities stopped with Timothy Tebow. He didn’t come out of nowhere. He was hyped coming out of high school and hyped coming out of college. Which is the complete opposite of the hype associated with Lin. A more apt comparison for the Lin-fueled hype is Kurt Warner.

There are two basic elements that make the Warner and Lin story very similar. First, it’s what I like to call ‘The Struggle’. We all know Warner’s story. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, he signs with the Green Bay Packers who cut him, but advise him he has potential. Warner goes back home to stock shelves at his local Hy-Vee grocery story while working as a graduate assistant for Northern Iowa. He gets his opportunity to play football in the Arena Football League with the Iowa Barnstormers and goes on to have two of the best statistical seasons of any quarterback in league history while leading his team to two straight Arena Bowl appearances (they lost both Bowl games by the way). He finally gets an opportunity to try out for an NFL team with the Chicago Bears, but isn’t able to go because of a spider bite on his throwing elbow sustained during his honeymoon. He goes back to the Arena league and has his best statistical season of his Arena League career. In 1998, he finally gets an opportunity to try out for an NFL team, and eventually gets signed by the St. Louis Rams as their 3rd string quarterback. Warner barely plays in that first season and the team arranges for him to get some reps in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals. In his second season with the Rams, he’s promoted to 2nd string quarterback and watches as starting quarterback Trent Green tears his ACL in a preseason game. Warner finally gets his opportunity and goes on to have one of the greatest seasons for an NFL quarterback ever. The hype machine starts humming, churning out names like “The Greatest Show on Turf” to describe the Ram’s offense and labeling Warner the greatest quarterback ever to play. It was Warner-mania.

The ‘Struggle’ for Lin started when he was in high school. He led his high school to the state championship beating famed powerhouse Mater Dei and was named Northern California Division II Player of the Year. After not receiving any scholarship offers from any Division I schools, Lin decided to play for Harvard, who showed interest but could not offer a scholarships due to never traditionally offering athletic scholarships. Lin played four seasons for Harvard and left school as one of the greatest modern day Ivy League players. Many had him tabbed as a possible 2nd round pick as draft day rolled around, but he ended up being undrafted. His underdog status and play in college gave Lin a bit of a cult following, which only increased when he was signed by his hometown Golden State Warriors. The cult following continued to gain steam because of the Bay Area’s large Asian population.

Lin had an up and down rookie season, as he showed flashes of potentially being a good player, while being shuffled back and forth between the Warriors and their D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. After the lockout ended, Lin was cut in a cost cutting move in an attempt to sign budding big man DeAndre Jordan. Lin was picked up by the Houston Rockets two weeks before the season started, but succumbed to the same fate a day before the start of the season as the Rockets cut him in a cost-cutting measure in order to sign big man Samuel Dalembert. The New York Knicks claimed Lin two days after the season started, and had him on the bench for most of the first month and a half. But injuries and lackluster guard play led to Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni taking a chance and putting Lin in the starting lineup. And what has happened since then, has been nothing short of remarkable. It’s a feat that has never been seen in modern basketball history. In Lin’s first 4 starts, he scored the most points ever by someone starting for the first time. Ever! We are talking about greats like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, etc. None of them scored as much in their first 4 starts as Lin. And of course, the hype machine took off after that, naming the phenomenon ‘Linsanity’ and causing New Yorkers to freak out and try to buy into any and everything Lin.

In both cases, the Struggle made each of their successes fascinating stories. People love stories that make them feel good. Stories about underdogs who continue to believe in their dreams and eventually succeed on a grand scale, critics be damned. It’s the American dream, encapsulated in leather, and shown on either a hardwood floor or a grassy field. But what makes these stories even grander is ‘The Cause’ behind each stories that gives it that extra push.

In Warner’s case, the ‘Cause’ was his openness about his religious beliefs and his “ahh shucks” persona. He wasn’t your typical braggadocio superstar that we were used to seeing. Instead, he was humble hard worker who caught his break and succeeded like the public never thought he would. He usually thanked God and his wife during interviews. We hear athletes thank God all the time during interviews, but very seldom do we hear them thank their wives. Warner was Tebow before Tebow was ever heard of.

People like to attach their values to their athletics, and religion, whether you believe in it or not, is usually at the core of their values. So when an athlete not only performs great on the field, but also praises the same deity you worship openly, you tend to cheer for that guy a little harder. It’s an attachment that goes beyond the playing field. The ‘Cause’ fuels the hype machine to an extent that the ‘Struggle’ never could by itself. We all love underdog stories, but if that underdog represents a cause that you live for, then you not only cheer for the athlete, but also for the cause, which usually wields a much stronger influence on your psyche.

The funny thing about the ‘Cause’ is that the person championing it (i.e. the athlete) usually doesn’t intentionally choose to represent that cause. In Jeremy Lin’s case, his cause is as a representative for the worldwide Asian community, but more importantly, for Asian American. There have been Asian superstars, but they have always been from the Motherlands (i.e. China or Japan). There has never been an Asian American superstar that the public can invest in and support. That’s what Lin represents. And to do it all in New York, at MSG, makes it even more magical.

We know how the Kurt Warner story played out. His play oscillated from injury plagued bad to redemption good, which led to him becoming a polarizing figure amongst fans. But, for the most part, he still remained a well-liked figure because he never wavered from his ‘Cause’. We are just now witnessing the beginning of the Jeremy Lin story. I have no idea how it will play out. I’ve constantly thought that the next game would be the one where he finally returns back to Earth, but it hasn’t happened yet. Along the way, I’ve gone from apathetic observer to curious seeker to all-out fanatic. While I’m not Asian, I am a minority, and do understand the pride that builds up when “one of your own” succeeds on the highest level. Last night, in the game against Toronto, in Toronto, the cheers for the opposing player weren’t just for his stellar play. The cheers were mostly for what he represents….and that’s the Cause.

OKC Thunder vs. Utah Jazz (Game 28 of 66)

The Oklahoma City Thunder finally got to sleep consecutive days in their own beds and will enjoy the confines of their abode from now until the All-Star break, sans one trip to Houston. This will be the second of 3 meetings between the two teams this season. The Thunder’s last game was against these Jazz, while for the Jazz, this will be their 3rd game in as many nights. The Thunder won the last meeting going away 101 – 87.

The Opponent

The Utah Jazz have the definition of consistently inconsistent. They started off the season losing 3 of their first 4. Then the reeled off 9 wins out of their next 11 games. And now they’ve lost 6 of their last 10 games. They currently sit at 14-13, good for 4th in the division and 9th in the conference. The Jazz are led by their front court of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Together they are averaging 35 points and 18.6 rebounds per game. Though a bit undersized, they are one of the more formidable front courts in the league. Last season’s first round pick, Gordon Hayward, is rounding into a good role player providing more scoring, rebounding, and playmaking as the starting SF. The backcourt of Devin Harris and Raja Bell is veteran-laden, but a bit limited in all facets of the game. The bench for the Jazz can be inconsistent, with veterans CJ Miles, Josh Howard, and Earl Watson getting the bulk of the bench minutes. The Jazz’s defense is pretty suspect as they allow 97.2 points per game, which is 23rd best in the league. This will be the 3rd game in as many nights for the Jazz, while the Thunder haven’t laced them up since last Friday.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Oklahoma City

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

Utah

  • PG – Devin Harris
  • SG – RajaBell
  • SF – GordonHayward
  • PF – Paul Millsap
  • C – Al Jefferson

Matchup to look out for

Russell Westbrook vs. Devin Harris

When the Utah Jazz chose their poison in the last game and decided to focus all their defensive attention on Kevin Durant, it freed up Westbrook to take advantage of the smaller Harris and score 28 points on 10/20 shooting from the field. It will be very interesting to see how the Jazz choose to defend Westbrook this time around and how Westbrook adjusts to this.

3 in the Lane

Turnovers. Please gentlemen, let’s keep these turnovers to a minimum. I don’t know a good number, but the more you turn it over, the more you give the other team opportunities to score on their end. Everyone on the court is an NBA player, and eventually, if given enough opportunities, even bad teams will score on their increased opportunities.

Interior defense. Millsap and Jefferson are very similar to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in that they aren’t overly athletic, but are very fundamentally sound and have good mid range games. For being undersized, Millsap is deceptively good on the interior. It’ll be very important that Ibaka, Perkins, Mohammed, and Collison stay with these guys at all times, as they have been know to drop 30 and 15 type games.

Offensive schema. There is no one on the Jazz that can consistently guard Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Durant is so much bigger than Bell,Hayward, or Howard. And Westbrook is so much stronger than Harris and quicker than Watson. The key will be the shooters (Cook, Sefolosha, and Harden). If they are making their shots, the defense won’t be allowed to collapse on Durant and Westbrook, as their primary defenders will need help throughout the game.

OKC Thunder Week in Review (Feb 6th – Feb 12th)

Record for the week – 3 – 1

Overall record – 21 – 6

One word to describe this week: tiring. With a 4 game West-Coast trip, every game usually finished around midnight, our time. And all 4 games were close enough that you had to watch them in their entirety. No blow-outs this week.

Games played:

Feb 6th – @ Portland

There comes a game in every season where you just sit back and say, “Wow, the refs got that all wrong.” Two years ago, in a tightly contested overtime thriller against the Utah Jazz, they got the benefit of a no-call at the final horn to escape with a 1 point victory at home. It was very apparent that Kevin Durant was hacked as he attempted the last second 3-pt heave. But the refs swallowed their whistles and the game went down in the record books as a Jazz victory. A day later, the NBA apologized because it had gotten the call wrong.

Fast forward to the Portland game on Monday. With 7 seconds left, KD drove to the basket with the Thunder down by 2. At the same time that the ball hit the backboard, LaMarcus Aldridge swatted the ball from behind. A close call, but the refs called a goal-tend and awarded the two points to Durant to tie the game. After a failed attempt by the Trailblazers at the end of regulation, the Thunder used timely scoring from their big three (Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden) and great defense by Kendrick Perkins on LaMarcus Aldridge to pull out a 111 – 107 victory. A day later, the NBA apologized for the blown call by the refs in awarding the goal-tending call to Durant. Sometime you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail.

Feb 7th – @ Golden State

Golden State games are the only games that give me heartburn, especially if they are in Oakland. Hypothetically, looking at the records, we should be able to clamp down defensively on this team and cruise to an easy victory. But for some reason, be that style of play or the fact that our defensive weaknesses match up so poorly with their offensive strengths, we can never quite have a comfortable lead against this team. We usually end up winning, but it a very close affair all the way until the end. In the last four seasons, including this one, we are 9 – 4 against the Warriors, but the average score has been a “too close for comfort” 111 – 109. And why would Tuesday night by any different?

The game was actually a microcosm of the games these teams have played in the last 4 seasons. Every time someone pushed a lead to 7 points, the other team went a 12-1 run to capture the lead. No lead was safe. The torrid pace was fun, but many Thunder fans lost at least 1 year of their lives because of this game. The Warriors were led by Monta Ellis who had a career high 48 points and by David Lee who notched his 2nd career triple-double with 25 points, 11 boards, and 10 assists. But while the Dubs had 2 great players, the Thunder relied on 4 players who between them scored 100 points (Durant (33), Westbrook (31), Harden (19) and Cook (17)). The 4th quarter was the Big 3 with a Cook show. All 4 players provided timely baskets to keep the Thunder within striking distance throughout the 4th quarter. With 17 seconds to go and the Thunder down by 1, they went to ol’ reliable (Durant), who went to the bank and put the Thunder up by 1. The Warriors didn’t score the rest of the way. 119-116 Thunder.

Feb 8th – Off day

And on the middle day of a back to back West Coast sandwich, Thunder Nation rested.

Feb 9th – @ Sacramento

If there was one game in this set where you said to yourself, “This is going to be an easy game,” this was definitely it. A young, inconsistent team who had fired their coach earlier in the season and had 2 mercurial young stars (Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins). On paper, this was a gimme. But, as the saying goes, this is why you play the game. The Thunder pulled the same M.O. from their 2 games; keep it close, apply the clamps at the end, and make timely shots. The only problem was that the Kings shook the clamps off late in the 4th quarter and those timely shots weren’t falling for the Thunder in this game. In their only nationally televised game, with a playoff atmosphere that hadn’t been seen since the glory days of Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, and a raucous crowd that was all blacked-out, the young Kings rose to the occasion and outlasted the Thunder 106-101. Was there any reason to think that the Thunder would win when Chris Webber shows up to call a game and ends up putting a Kings jersey on?

Feb 10 – @ Utah

There are just some games where everything works out for you. In a game where Durant deferred offensively, Russell Westbrook happily stepped up and scored 28 points on 10 – 20 shooting. It just felt like one of those games where we held the Jazz at bay, but knew that they could string together a 10-1 run at any point. It never materialized, in part to the double doubles posted by each Kendrick Perkin and Serge Ibaka, which negated anything from the Jazz’s front court duo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. The Thunder coasted in the second half to a 101 – 87 victory.

Player of the Week: Serge Ibaka

In a week where Durant and Westbrook averaged nearly 30 ppg each and hit timely shots, this week’s award is going to someone on the defensive end. If there was a picture next to the words ‘interior defender’, it would be of Serge Ibaka. For the week, his ridiculous stat line was as follows – 4 games played (10.3 ppg on 55% FG shooting and 82% FT shooting, 9.8 boards per game (with 4 per game coming offensively), and 4 blocks per game). He single handily kept us in games with his offensive rebounding and paint protection.

3 In The Paint

1. Russell Westbrook’s assist numbers (or lack thereof) are really starting to worry me. I completely understand that our offense is iso-oriented and Durant and Harden’s assist numbers are going up. But I think a lot of our early game struggles are due to the fact that we are not finding a groove offensively with the first unit and instead have to wait until the 2nd unit gets in to find any kind of cohesiveness on the offensive end. If Russell would think involvement instead of attack when the game starts, I think that would make a lot more things open up for the starters earlier in the game.

2. Some teams have no closers. Some teams only have one. But we have the luxury of having 2. Durant and Westbrook were mostly great in their late game executions this week. Westbrook had the mid-range game working late in games and Durant hit the big shot when it needed to be hit (even if he had a little help from the refs on one of those occasions).

3. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. A lot of the reason why teams are able to hang around till the end with us is because of our penchant for turning the ball over. If this number goes down, the number of close games will probably go down to.

Thunder UP!!!!

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Utah Jazz Preview (Game 27 of 66)

The Oklahoma City Thunder are probably sick and tired of their decked out first class plane. I’m all for team bonding, and being on the road can accentuate this, but 8 road games out of 9 is a bit much in a 14 day span. Oklahoma City doesn’t have a circus in town, and when the rodeo comes, they only stay for a couple days. The last time they played at home, Jeremy Lin was still riding the pine in New York. Now, they hit the final leg of their tour, against division rival, the Utah Jazz. This will be the first of 3 meetings between the two teams this season. The Thunder won the season series last year 3-1, but the Thunder will find that this year’s Jazz team has a completely different look than last season’s. 

The Opponent 

The Utah Jazz have the definition of consistently inconsistent. They started off the season losing 3 of their first 4. Then the reeled off 9 wins out of their next 11 games. And now they’ve lost 6 of their last 9 games. They currently sit at 13-11, good for 3rd in the division and 8th in the conference. The Jazz are led by their front court of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Together they are averaging 35 points and 18.6 rebounds per game. Though a bit undersized, they are one of the more formidable front courts in the league. Last season’s first round pick, Gordon Hayward, is rounding into a good role player providing more scoring, rebounding, and playmaking as the starting SF. The backcourt of Devin Harris and Raja Bell is veteran-laden, but a bit limited in all facets of the game. The bench for the Jazz can be inconsistent, with veterans CJ Miles, Josh Howard, and Earl Watson getting the bulk of the bench minutes. The Jazz’s defense is pretty suspect as they allow 97.2 points per game, which is 23rd best in the league.

 Probable Starting Line-ups 

Oklahoma City

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Daequan Cook
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins 

Utah

  • PG – Devin Harris
  • SG – RajaBell
  • SF – GordonHayward
  • PF – Paul Millsap
  • C – Al Jefferson

 Matchup to look out for 

Al Jefferson vs. Kendrick Perkins

These two were supposed to be the future front court for the Boston Celtics in the early 2000’s. As both have attested to, they developed a great bond while in Boston and continue to be great friend off the court. Perkins tends to get up for games against rivals or old friends. He got Boston for 7 points, 5 boards, and 1 block earlier this season. And I know he’ll more than be up for this game tonight. 

3 in the Lane 

Turnovers. Please gentlemen, let’s keep these turnovers to a minimum. I don’t know a good number, but the more you turn it over, the more you give the other team opportunities to score on their end. Everyone on the court is an NBA player, and eventually, if given enough opportunities, even bad teams will score on their increased opportunities.

Interior defense. Millsap and Jefferson are very similar to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in that they aren’t overly athletic, but are very fundamentally sound and have good mid range games. For being undersized, Millsap is deceptively good on the interior. It’ll be very important that Ibaka, Perkins, Mohammed, and Collison stay with these guys at all times, as they have been know to drop 30 and 15 type games.

Offensive schema. There is no one on the Jazz that can consistently guard Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Durant is so much bigger than Bell,Hayward, or Howard. And Westbrook is so much stronger than Harris and quicker than Watson. The key will be the shooters (Cook and Harden). If they are making their shots, the defense won’t be allowed to collapse on Durant and Westbrook, as their primary defenders will need help throughout the game.

The Evolution of Daequan Cook

In a season where you have the best record in the league after 25 games, a lot of things have to go right as far as player development is concerned. Your young guys have to keep developing, while the veterans have to either add new wrinkles to their games or maintain the status quo from the previous season. While a big part of our success this season is due to the continued development of our young core (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka), one of the biggest developments this season has been the evolution of Daequan Cook.

Mind you, Cook has always been a talented player. Though he was overshadowed for most of his high school career by OJ Mayo in Ohio, he was still considered a great player in his own right, and was a highly touted prospect that landed in Ohio State’s vaunted 2006 recruiting class, which also included Greg Oden and Mike Conley. For his one and only college season, he averaged just under 10 points per game as the Buckeye’s main outside threat on a team that made it all the way to the national championship game.

Coming off his freshman season, many thought Cook needed another year of seasoning at the college level to continue building his game. Instead, he chose to go the NBA route with his freshman brethren Conley and Oden. Here are some of the online scouting reports that were written about Cook:

Matthew Mauer of www.thedraftreview.com wrote:

“Unlike many young players he possesses an excellent mid-range game. Moves well without the ball, and understands how to fully utilize the entire floor to get his shot off. Has an NBA ready body that has shown development from his senior year of high school. Explosive scorer who can reel off big points in a hurry…Possesses legit three point range on his jumper. Unselfish and shows solid court vision to get teammates involved in the offense. Is a good athlete who contributes on the boards nightly. Has the ball handling ability and quick first step to break his man down on drives. Excellent finisher in transition and can end plays in dramatic fashion. Has a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability, rarely does he get rattled by the moment. Has all the physical gifts needed to emerge as a defensive presence…Defensively Cook has a habit of gambling too much and being impatient This exposes him to pick up quick fouls by reaching in or defending his man too aggressively”

Joseph Treutlein of www.draftexpress.com wrote:

“Cook already can score the ball at an NBA level, and with the trend towards undersized shooting guards of late, he has a very good chance to make significant contributions for a team in his future. The most notable thing about his scoring ability is how he can hit a shot with a hand in his face and how he’s so strong and able to hit shots nearly effortlessly from long range, as easy as he does from 10-15 feet out…In terms of things Cook brings to the table other than scoring, he’s not really going to wow you in any other area just yet…Cook did a solid job on the defensive end, but at 6’4, he’ll be at a bit of a disadvantage at the next level, even with his good physical tools.”

From the scouting reports, it appeared that Cook was going to be a good offensive player with the ability to develop other facets of his game (i.e. defense and playmaking).

After being chosen with the 21st pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, and then promptly traded to the Miami Heat, Cook showed great promise in his rookie season. He averaged 8.8 points on 33% shooting from the 3 point line, but gave little else in the form of rebounds, playmaking, or defense. In his second season, he increased his scoring average to 9.1 points per game, but saw a decrease in every other major category.  On a positive note, though, he won the 3-point shooting contest at the All-Star game. In his 3rd season, nagging injuries and a falling out of favor with his coach led to Daequan playing in the least amount of games in his professional career and saw his scoring average dip to 5 points per game. After being an integral member of the Heat’s young core, Daequan’s position on the team could best be summed up by blogger Albert Random of www.heathoops.com :

Daequan Cook: No surprise here. He’s playing at a D-League level yet he’s set to make $2.2 million next season, after Riley inexplicably picked up his option. He is shooting 29% from the field, and 29% from beyond the arc. Need I say more? The hope is that he turns things around, because he will be on the Heat roster in 2010/11. Grade: F” 

With the impending free-agent frenzy of the summer of 2010, the Heat positioned themselves into being able to offer 3 max contracts to the likes of Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, or Chris Bosh. In one of their final cost cutting moves, they traded Daequan Cook and their No. 18 pick to Oklahoma City for the Thunder’s second round pick (No.32).

Daequan was allotted a new start on a young, up and coming team. Not too different from the situation he was in while playing for Miami. He came in as a necessary sharp shooter, but had to find his spot in the rotation on a playoff team that returned its entire rotational roster from the previous season. Daequan was kind of force-fed into the rotation in the first 8 games of the season, and the results looked a lot like the 2nd half of the previous season with Miami. He struggled, averaging 1.9 points per game while shooting just 19% from the 3-point line. But the coup de grace was in what else he provided…which was basically nothing. He gave the Thunder 5 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals TOTAL in those 8 games. Not to mention he had a -7 differential in those early season games.

Scott Brooks did what any good coach with a struggling young player would do. He sat him down and told him to earn his spot in the rotation through his performance and effort in practice. In coachspeak, that basically means, “Everyone struggles offensively in the NBA at some point. It’s what you can provide other than the scoring that can keep you on the floor.” If you are a one trick pony who isn’t performing your one trick, while giving little else, the NBA machine will chew you up and spit you out pretty quickly. Some players crumble under this pressure and are never to be heard from again in NBA circles.

Daequan decided to put in work. He could’ve cried and complained to his agent that he wanted out of Oklahoma City. Instead, he sat for 36 of the next 37 games honing his craft in practice and adapting to the Thunder way. Daequan had always been a good offensive player with the “potential” to become a good all-around player. When he finally got his opportunity to perform in late December, he relished that opportunity and played with effort every night. He notched a couple double-digit scoring games and became an integral part of the rotation as a sharp-shooter and floor spacer. But the important thing was that he was invested on the defensive side of the floor and gave effort in the other facets of the game (rebounding, making smart plays). Did he have overly impressive numbers? No, but he impressed with his effort as the season played out.

In the offseason, Daequan re-upped with the Thunder for 2 years. His role on the team would remain the same, but, hopefully, without the whole transition period. He has not disappointed in this early season run, providing 3 point shooting at a 41% clip, while being solid defensively and a great help on the defensive glass. In the past 5 games, he has started for the injured Thabo Sefolosha, and has averaged 9.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks on 46% shooting from the 3-point line. This has provided a stop-gap to keep James Harden on the bench where he is much more effective coming in with the second unit. The Thunder are 4-1 in these past 5 games.

 Every championship team has a guy or two like this; specialists that perform a specific job. It necessitates that a role player perform one act greatly. Usually that is all the player is asked to do. But if that one player can also provide other things to the team other than his skill, then he becomes an invaluable asset. And that is what Daequan Cook has become to the Thunder. “All Dae, Er’r Dae!”

The Anatomy of a Dunk

Dunks happen every day on the basketball court. There’s a 10 foot rim and a lot of tall men. So there are going to be many instances within the flow of the game where these tall men jump up and push the ball through the cylindrical rim. It’s the easiest shot on the court. Most of the time there is no one in the way between the dunker and the rim. But sometimes, in that special moment, you get a situation where the dunker is challenged by someone to prevent them from pushing the ball through the rim. If the dunker succeeds, then he is awarded two points.

But every once and a while, a dunk happens that completely shatters any modicum of normalcy. It adds a blast of color to a black and white slate. It’s a series of actions that in that instant, completely empowers the dunker, while absolutely emasculating the victim. Everybody who attempts to block a dunk knows there’s a chance they might get dunked on. But, in these instances, the psychological impact that is expounded on the victim is so much, that they lose themselves for a little and forget what its like to be themselves.

There have always been 2 elements to every play in basketball. You have the scorer and the defender. But when this type of play happens, you have to encapsulate all the reactions from everyone on the floor, in the arena, and in the viewing audience to get of complete understanding of what exactly took place. The anatomy of the dunk encompasses so much more than the two players involved in the play. You have the reactions from the teammates of the dunker and from the teammates of the victim. You have the reaction of the fans in the stadium. And then you have the reaction of the opposing fans.

These dunk usually become synonymous with a point in time. It could become someone’s seminal play as their career begins to ascend.  It could be the decisive play in a playoff series that completely changes the outlay of that series. When a play like this happen, fans remember them. If the moment has future ramifications, people remember it even more.

Off the top of my head, I can only remember about 5 core-rattling dunks in my life.

In chronologic order:

  1. 1)      1991 Playoffs – Michael Jordan over Patrick Ewing
  2. 2)      2000 Olympics – Vince Carter over Frederick Weis
  3. 3)      2007 Playoffs – Baron Davis over Andrei Kirilenko
  4. 4)      November 2010 – Blake Griffin over Timofey Mozgov
  5. 5)      January 2012 – Blake Griffin over Kendrick Perkins

1991 NBA Playoffs –Chicago Bulls vs.New York Knicks

This is Michael Jordan at the height of his popularity. Tongue wagging, wearing the Number 5’s. Defending his first title. And here were these “bully on the block” upstarts from New York causing trouble and trying to build their own dynasty. They had their enforcer by the name of Patrick Ewing who patroled the paint and protected the rim. When these two forces met, it would change the course of this series and possibly the course of these two players’ careers.

The first thing you notice is the sick spin cycle move that Jordan puts on Charles Oakley and John Starks. I’m going this way, then, NOPE!, I’m going back towards the basket. Next thing I notice is the great screen by Horace Grant. One common theme in these dunks is that the victim is either screened or late in getting to the dunker. As the dunk is coming, you see Jordan and Ewing contiuously rising. But at one point, that bitch named Gravity takes a hold of Ewing, and he starts coming back down to Earth, while MJ is still rising. Then….BAAAAAMMMM!!!!!! And-1.

The Bulls bench doesn’t really react that greatly. Either they got to see that all the time (it being Jordan and all) or they were just tired of constantly cheering for the greatest ever. Just ask the Vice President whether his hands and glutes get a workout every State of the Union Address, having the get up and clap every 5th word. Hubert Davis, of the Knicks, reacted like his children just got eaten by wolves. Horace Grant decided that the shoes weren’t making him “like Mike” so he decided to slap the butt of Mike. And poor Patrick Ewing decided to shove an invisible man.

You love when these dunks happen on the road. You have that, “OOOOOOOOOO” sound from they crowd where they love the play, but feel bad that it was their guy that got posterized. Nowhere better for that to happen than in Madison Square Garden.

2000 Olympics – United States vs. France

Everyone knows the knock on Vince Carter. Great player who had to tools to be an all-time great player. But, he never played with the necessary determination to be one of the greats. He was okay with just being good. But for one summer, he became a beast. He literally took on the attitude that he was not going to be fucked with. He became the shooting guard version of Kevin Garnett. And then he got a steal in the open court against France with only 7’2″ Frederick Weis between him and the basket. James Bond, Jack Bauer, and Jason Bourne together couldn’t have fixed this international incident.

First off Frederick, you’re 7’2″. If you’re going to be in a poster, at least attempt to block the shot. The whole, “I’m going to stand here and take a charge” thing doesn’t really work out too well when the guy in front of you just won the NBA Slam Dunk competition in resounding fashion 6 months earlier. Read the scouting reports Weis! Secondly, other than the time they interviewed him after winning a title, this is the only other time I’ve ever seen KG not know what the hell to do with himself. Its almost like he said to himself, “I’ve got to match Vince’s intensity, so I’m going to chest bump-push him and show him my war face. Then I’m going to mean-mug the already wounded Frederic Weis.” It was classic KG. Thirdly, look at Vince’s face after the dunk. And then go look any picture of the rap group Onyx (especially Sticky Fingaz) and tell me Vince wouldn’t have been a perfect 4th member at that time. “SLAAAAMMMM! Duuh Duuh Duh Duuh Duuh Duuh Let the boys be boys!!!!” And lastly I love the reaction by French guard Laurent Sciarra. He was literally scared for his life and trying his hardest not to get into Vince’s bubble of unkempt rage. The man doesn’t even want to make eye contact with Carter.

As for the fans, they loved it. International fans love when Americans abuse them. They may not say it out loud, but there’s a reason they come out to see the best in the world. As you can tell in the video, even the French announcers love it.

Side note:  I think Vince Carter is the modern day Samson. When he grows his hair out, he becomes one of the best basketball players on the planet. But when he shaves it, he becomes just a good to great player. Who’s his Delilah?

2007 NBA Playoffs – Utah Jazz vs Golden State Warriors

After upsetting League MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the No. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round, the Golden State Warriors were riding on cloud-9 heading into their 2nd round matchup with the Utah Jazz. The Bay Area was buzzing with Warriors fever and ORACLE Arena was a house of horror for visitors. After losing the first two games of the series in Utah in close fashion,  the Warriors returned home for their turn in this tango. The house was rocking with the Warrior faithful wearing their golden “We Believe” t-shirts. The Dub’s were up by 20 with 3 minutes to go and looking to put this puppy away. A jump shot or lay-up would have sufficed, but a self esteem-shattering dunk is just what The City ordered.

First thing I notice about this dunk is the crowd. As a season ticket holder for the Oklahoma City Thunder, I can honestly say that this crowd, and the one in Portland, are the only crowds that can compete against OKC’s. Good job Dub’s fans. Secondly, as Baron rises up for the dunk, it almost seems like his body and Kirilenko’s body become one. Almost like Baron is South America and Andrei is Africa and they are finally joined once again. Then the dunk happens and all hell breaks loose. Baron shows us that when he cares, he has a flat belly. And the fan at 0:30 seconds finally has an orgasm for the first time in his life. And Mikeal Pietrus does the internation sign for, “I need a wave cap”. And Matt Barnes walks away and shows some fans what his head would look like with a faux-hawk. And Dick Bavetta shows us how he seduced Charles Barkley. It honestly looked like a club that Stefon talks about on one of his SNL skits (You gotta be an SNL fan to get this one).

I love the reaction that the teammates of the victim have. They usually look away from both parties. They don’t want to feed into the fire that burns in the now powerful dunker. But they don’t want to completely deflate their brethren by letting them know they just saw that. Either way, its comedic gold at its finest.

November 2010 – New York Knicks vs. Los Angeles Clippers

We know this won’t last. In a couple season, the post game will develop and the knees will start to hurt a little bit from all the jumping. Once the game develops, the need to jump over people will cease to exist, as the player will play both with his mind and with his body. But until then, hot damn this guy can dunk!!!!!!! He was already on the map, but this one put one of those bold, capital stars next to his name. He was not only on the map; he was to be recognized now.

My first thought, after discussing the Baron Davis dunk, is why do Americans hate Russians? They have beautiful women who become spies, and they make Vodka. What more can you ask for? All kidding aside, whether this was a dunk or not is irrelevant. He gets high enough to just throw the ball into the hoop from a parallel angle. He supplied the arc of the ball, instead of releasing it and letting gravity determine the arc of the ball. Funniest thing about this is the reaction from the ref near the Knick’s bench. He did a pelvic thrust that a porn star would be proud of. Another reaction that teammates of the victim have is that they just stand in place and hardly move. And that’s exactly what Amare Stoudemire, Wilson Chandler, and Landry Fields did. The Knick’s bench actually did a pretty good job of containing the basketball fan within them. All except Kelenna Azubuike, who was inactive, but still had a Tourette Syndrome moment next to Ronny Turiaf.

It can’t be forgotten that Timofey Mozgov actually added fuel to his own fire. When Griffin’s weight was on him, Mozgov pushed him off and in the process, propelled Griffin even higher into the stratosphere to make it look even more impressive. Elevator going up. You know you’ve arrived for all the wrong reasons when you last name is synonymous with being climbed over and dunked on.

One thing I am extremely disappointed in is the crowd’s reaction. I don’t know if they didn’t realize what happened, or didn’t look up from their smart phones in time to see the play, but the react from the crowd is pathetic. You will see this play in the pantheons of great dunks and 95% of you fools are still sitting down. Shame on you Clippers fans. You surely won’t get a chance to redeem yourself from this one…..

January 2012 – Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers

Oooops, spoke entirely too soon. In the NBA, with the greatest players in the world, you are bound to see great dunks night in and night out. I know I can’t forget Kirk Snyder’s dunk over Von Wafer in which he leaped over him Vince Carter-style. I saw it live and still count it as one of my all time favorite plays. But some players feast on doing this all the time. Names that come to mind are Dominique Wilkins, Jordan, Carter, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Griffin. And sadly, it happened to my team, against my starting center.

As you can tell, I’ve been thinking about this dunk a lot. It was the prompt that made me start writing this article. It was almost identical to the Mozgov dunk, in that Griffin when up against a defender that pushed him up instead of over. I must say that this dunk was a bit more impressive though. Griffin actually reaches the rim, albeit with only a couple fingers.

But what I found completely interesting was Perkins’ reaction. In most plays, Perk will either be jacking his jaw at the refs or at his teammates or at the opponent. Or he’ll be putting on that Perkins Scowl. After this play, NOTHING. Just a face that says, “I admit defeat in this battle, but the war still continues.” As a big man, you’re destined to get dunked on from time to time. But you don’t expect to get posterized.

As far as the atmosphere, good job by the Thunder bench to not ever react at all to the dunk. I don’t know whether they say Griffin assault Perkins or whether they say paint dry. Way to at least support your man, Thunder bench. The Thunder that were on the floor did the customary “don’t look at the two involved in the play and don’t hardly move from where you’re at” bit. But, I do have to give props to the Clippers fans. They did what you are supposed to do after a great play. They stood up and applauded and acted a little bit happy. Baby steps, I guess.