I have to hand it to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not only were they blessed with the Number 1 pick in a loaded draft, but they were also lucky enough to land the Number 1 player in the NBA during free agency. Getting Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James in the same offseason is enough to give Cleveland the offseason championship, outright.
Despite what many Thunder fans may lead you to believe, the Thunder are having themselves a great summer. Many fans will focus on the fact the Thunder missed out on Pau Gasol, let a $6.6 million dollar traded player exception expire, and used a first round pick on someone named Josh Huestis. But, quietly, the Thunder are putting together a quality championship contender that may be more dangerous than last season’s team. Here are 10 reasons why the Thunder are winning this offseason.
10. The acquisition of Sebastian Telfair
There are a couple characteristics a team wants from a veteran 3rd string point guard. First of all, a team would like them to be cheap. Like, vet minimum cheap. Secondly, a team wants them to come in knowing that they are not competing for a starting job. The job application says “3rd string point guard” for a reason. And thirdly, a journeyman with a story would be a great addition for the youngsters on the roster.
Telfair: Check, Check, Check
After spending a season in the Chinese Basketball Association, Telfair turned down a far more lucrative extension to get back into the NBA. The deal is for the vet minimum and is currently non-guaranteed. That means it is basically a near risk free transaction for the Thunder. With that said, Telfair is still a serviceable player. He never quite reached the potential that was bestowed upon him for being a NY point guard legend out of high school and for being Stephon Marbury’s younger cousin, but he has put together a quality decade long NBA career.
Third string point guards usually only play in blowouts and in cases of injury. But with Reggie Jackson possibly starting, Telfair is still young enough (29) and skilled enough to be used as the primary back up point guard also. For that reason alone, Telfair is probably the perfect choice for 3rd string point guard.
9. Jeremy Lamb seemed more willing to absorb contact
Many people will focus on Lamb’s 3-point shooting (or lack thereof) during Summer League. He shot 4-23 (17.4%) from downtown. Not necessarily a number you want to see from someone you consider to be one of the few perimeter threats on the team. Take away the 3-point shot attempts, and Lamb shot a more respectable 12-27 (44.4%) from the field.
But the number I want to focus on is 20. That is the number of free throw attempts Lamb shot in the 3 games he played, good for a 6.7 per game average. One of the knocks on Lamb last season was the he shied away from contact too much and settled for too many jumpers. He only averaged 0.8 free throw attempts per game last season. Increase that to 3 FTAs per game, and his points per game average should increase also.
For comparison, let’s look at James Harden’s 2010 summer league stats: He shot a dismal 1-14 from 3-point territory, but averaged 12 free throw attempts per game for the 4 games that he played. When it comes to summer league, we never know what the organization says to the player going into summer league play. Maybe the coaches told Lamb to assert himself offensively, but also to work on driving into the lane and drawing contact. More than anything, we may be seeing the maturation of Lamb’s game.
8. Andre Roberson looked more comfortable offensively
Roberson was already working on his resume as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league last season. Anytime he was in the game, he caused havoc with his athleticism and length. But his offense (or lack thereof) was a liability and prevented him from staying in games for long stretches of time.
The Thunder envision Roberson as a Thabo Sefolosha replacement and even tried him out for 16 starts when Sefolosha injured his calf after the All Star break. The dream scenario would be for Roberson to develop a consistent 3-point shot, especially from the corners, while also providing All-NBA-type defense from the perimeter.
Roberson did shoot 33.3% from 3-point territory in Summer League, but only on 6 attempts. He did average 9.5 points per game in 4 SL games on a variety of drives and put-backs. The most important thing was that he seemed confident with the ball in his hands. He’ll probably never be a play maker, but if he’s able to confidently drive to the basket, that can provide some semblance of an offense until he gets his shot figured out.
The only negative was his inconsistent free throw shooting. The good news is that he attempted 25 free throws in 4 games (6.3 a game). The bad news is that he only made 8 of those free throw attempts. That is a putrid 32% from the free throw line. For someone who shot 70% from the line in the regular season, here’s hoping that was just an anomaly.
7. Perry Jones was aggressive and attacking
The biggest knock on Jones coming into the 2012 NBA draft was his motor. His athletic tools made him better than most of his counterparts in high school and college, but he also had a tendency to disappear in games and not necessarily push the issue on offense. That, and a medical report on his knees (we’ll get to that later), scared teams from picking him in the first round until the Thunder took him at 28.
Jones hasn’t really done much in his 2 year career to alleviate those fears from draft day. He’s an athletic specimen, but seems content with just being there. Instead of attacking, he chooses to float around the perimeter and occasionally puts up shots. Last season, he showed the makings of a consistent 3-point shot and also showed the makings of a good defensive player. The job he did on LeBron James in January showed the type of potential Jones had.
In Summer League, Jones finally showed what he could do when he was aggressive and looking for his shot. He drove to the basket and shot the 3-point shot well (9-19). He kept on attacking even after missing a couple of shots. If he can translate into the regular season, the Thunder may have found themselves another dynamic weapon on the team.
Unfortunately, Jones had to have arthroscopic knee surgery after Summer League. He should be fine for training camp, but it is a bummer that he couldn’t continue to work on his game and improve upon his confidence in this offseason.
6. Steven Adams was a man among boys
Steven Adams was strong and played physical. Plus, he busted out a little jump hook. Nothing really different than what we saw in the regular season. Good enough for me.
5. Mitch McGary was a revelation
I know you are supposed to take Summer League performances with a grain of salt. But, oh man, was that grain tasty. I had no idea what to expect of McGary coming into Summer League. He was coming off back surgery and hadn’t played in an organized setting in over half a year. Hell, I didn’t even know whether he was going to suit up or not.
But, play he did. And very well, at that. When names like Kevin Love and Bill Laimbeer are thrown around as comparisons, no matter how hyperbolic they may be, you know you have yourself a pretty good player. A more fitting comparison would be a more offensively apt Nick Collison. McGary averaged 14.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 4 games. He shot 50% from the field and showed range out to 15-17 feet, even attempting (and missing) two 3-point attempts.
His greatest quality might be his hustle. It appears that we’ve once again gotten a player that isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, much like we got from Steven Adams last season. He shows great role player potential and appears to be ready to contribute this season.
4. The signing of Anthony Morrow
The goal all along was to sign a shooter. That much was certain when the Thunder drafted another big man and another perimeter oriented defender. Yes, when presented with the opportunity, the Thunder flirted (actually, lusted) with the idea of signing Pau Gasol. But that would’ve been a luxurious want. A shooter was always the necessary need.
The Thunder, a team predicated on the greatness of two perimeter oriented, dribble drive players, had no one on the team that shot over 40% from 3-point territory. Without a floor spacer, teams packed the paint and dared the team to beat them from the perimeter. Durant and Westbrook still registered great regular seasons, but their stats, especially Durant’s, suffered a bit during the playoffs.
Once the flirtation of Gasol ended with him signing with Chicago, their attention was immediately turned to finding a shooter. The only available options for the Thunder were Mike Miller and Anthony Morrow. Once James signed with Cleveland, Miller going to the Cavs became an inevitability. The Thunder immediately set their sights on Morrow and signed him to a 3 year deal worth $10 million dollars. Not only is Morrow is a top 4 three point shooter in the league, but he was also signed for below market value for a top 10 shooter. The top 10 3-point shooters from last season will make an average of $4.77 million dollars next season.
3. The Thunder still have money under the tax line
Even with 16 contracts on file, the Thunder are still around $500K under the luxury tax line. Hasheem Thabeet, Sebastian Telfair, and Grant Jerrett all have non-guaranteed contracts. With one of those three likely on the chopping block, the Thunder are actually around $1.5 million under the tax line. Where this will help the Thunder is at the trade deadline. With two expiring contracts in Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, the Thunder will be able to be a player at the deadline with the ability to absorb an extra $1.5 million in salary.
2. Most contending teams got worse.
Most of the teams that contended last season have gotten worse, some significantly.
- Miami Heat – Lost LeBron James. ‘Nuff said.
- Houston Rockets – Lost Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik. Signed Trevor Ariza, but lost a ton of depth. Plus, there are some rumblings that the two superstars on the team aren’t very well liked in the locker room.
- San Antonio Spurs – Basically have the same squad, but they are a year older and recovering from surgery-necessitating injuries (Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili)
- Brooklyn Nets – Lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston and still feature the oft-injured Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez.
- Golden State Warriors – May have improved a bit with the Livingston signing, but may be embroiled for much of the season in the Kevin Love sweepstakes.
1. The Thunder still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson)
With the Miami Heat losing LeBron James, it’s always good to remember the Thunder still have a young, and still improving quartet that features the current MVP, possibly the top point guard in the league, the best two way PF in the league, and a dynamic 6th man/combo guard.