Tag Archives: Al Jefferson

The Three That Will Never Be: The Legacies of Scott Brooks, Kendrick Perkins, and Derek Fisher

ibaka perkins durant fisher thunder

As the Oklahoma City Thunder embark on a new season, some of the same things from the past still remains. First off, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook should all be back and healthy. Secondly, the expectations of winning a championship will also be there. But for some reason this season feels different. Not a bad different, just a “lack of familiarity” type different. Something was missing, and that something was three component that had been a part of the Thunder for all or parts for their 7 seasons in Oklahoma City. Those three components were Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins, and Scott Brooks.

For 7 seasons prior, one or more of those pieces were always there to provide an anchor of calmness even in the most choppiest of seas. For the first time since the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City, neither of those three will be a part of the Thunder organization. From the time Scott Brooks took over for PJ Carlesimo on November 22, 2008, the organization has relied on his calming demeanor and almost fatherly-like approach to the development of the stars of the team. That approach to coaching is one of the reasons Brooks will be highly sought after once he decides to return to coaching. Teams are always in one of three phases in their developments: rebuilding, learning how to win consistently, and contending for a championship. Brooks mastered the first two phases of that process with relative ease, taking the Thunder from one of the worst teams in the league to championship contending in a four year span. That type of ascension is almost unheard of without the help of a superstar free agent being signed by the team.

What Brooks lacked in coaching acumen, he made up for with his interpersonal relationships with his players. Say what you want about his late-game play calling, but the players on the team would run through a wall for Brooks. Many in the media heap praise upon Phil Jackson for his career, but Jackson was never known as a great X’s and O’s coach. He had great assistants (Tex Winters, Jim Cleamons), and more importantly, great players. But he was also one of the best at managing superstar egos, which falls under the realm of interpersonal relationships. Brooks could have had a Jackson-like career, but lacked great assistants, and his great players were just coming into their prime during his tenure. Instead, Brooks will likely have a Doug Collins-like career as a coach that could have been one of the greats, but just happened to be the coach at the wrong time.

When the Thunder were starting their ascension, most of the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference had All-Star or near All-Star level centers and power forwards. The Los Angeles Lakers had Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. San Antonio had Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Memphis had Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Dallas had Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brendan Haywood. Utah had Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. To contend in the Western Conference at that time, a team needed a big body in the middle that could defend and rebound. In their early run, the Thunder had a front line of Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, and an “even skinnier than he is now” Kevin Durant. They had Serge Ibaka on the bench, but he was still pretty raw during that time and had trouble keeping his fouls under control. It wasn’t until the Thunder met the Lakers in the inaugural playoff run in 2010 that they realized what they needed to continue the upward trend of the team’s development.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 09: Head coach Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder talks with Russell Westbrook #0 and Kevin Durant #35 against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The Thunder won 118-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

At the trade deadline the next season, the Thunder traded Green and Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Even though Perkins was coming off a serious knee injury he suffered in the previous season’s Finals, he was the defensive anchor the team so badly needed. A couple weeks after arriving in Oklahoma City, the Thunder extended Perkins for four more seasons. Perkins immediately became the veteran presence the Thunder’s young players needed. He graciously helped in the development of Ibaka, taking his own experience from when Kevin Garnett took him under his wing in Boston and applying that to Ibaka. He gave the team a mean streak they didn’t have before his arrival. He quickly became the locker room buffering agent between all the Thunder’s young players as they learned how to succeed in the NBA individually and as a team (a major downfall of many young, up and coming teams in the past).

He was a great locker room presence. And if he was getting paid $5 million or less, that would have been fine. But in actuality, he was one of the highest paid players on the team and his performance on the court, especially on the offensive end, was often one of the most polarizing themes in sports. The knee injury he suffered while with the Celtics in the Finals the year before sapped the little bit of athleticism Perkins had going for him. While he was one of the best post defenders in the league, he was often a net negative on offense. As the NBA’s moved towards smaller, more skilled line-ups that could space the floor, the effectiveness of Perkins on the floor became more and more muted with each passing season.  When athletic power forwards started masquerading as centers, the need for a hulking presence down low became almost non-existant.

Compounding the polarization of Perkins was the trade of James Harden to Houston. Many thought the reason the Thunder traded Harden was purely financial, as they couldn’t afford to have 4 players on max or near max salaries (Harden, Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka), along with Perkins’ $9 million annual salary. In addition to the trade itself, the fact the Thunder had the opportunity to waive Perkins under the amnesty provision, provided the framework for the “Thunder choosing Perkins over Harden” frame of thought that many in the media portrayed. In reality, the Harden trade had little to nothing to do with Perkins. Harden wanted to have his cake and eat it too, wanting max money and the opportunity to run his own team.

In the end, Perkins was relegated to being a back-up big in his final season with the Thunder before being traded to Utah for Enes Kanter. His tenure with the Thunder will forever be remembered for his defensive chops, menacing scowl, and “Shaq-tin a fool” moments. But his presence on the team forever shaped the maturation of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka. He helped navigate them through their first few seasons of success and kept them even-keeled.

The signing of a veteran is a rite of passage for a team that is moving into championship contending status. A veteran that has been where the players on the team want to be and has played a big part in previous championship games. That veteran for the Thunder was Derek Fisher. At the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Thunder lost back-up point guard Eric Maynor to a torn ACL. The only other point guard on the roster, besides Westbrook, was rookie Reggie Jackson. The Thunder managed for half a season with the rookie taking on back-up point guard duties, but when the opportunity arose to sign a waived Fisher, they pounced on the opportunity. Fisher paid almost immediate dividends as a calming, veteran presence and as a floor spacer.

Fisher went on to be part of the Thunder for the next two seasons after that one. He basically played the same role in each of the seasons as he attempted to capture that elusive 6th championship ring. Fisher never got that ring, but became, a lot like Perkins, a revered and respected figure in the locker room. A championship point guard his entire career, Fisher went on to retire and immediately became the head coach of the New York Knicks who were being run by Fisher’s former coach, Phil Jackson.

There’s a point in every player’s maturation where they eventually become the veteran. They become the guy that “has been there before” or “has seen it all before”. The Thunder brass probably felt like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka were ready to take the next leg of their journey on their own. They had grown under the watchful guise of Brooks, under the sturdy hand of Perkins, and under the guiding presence of Fisher to become what they are today. Sure they’ve faced some injury difficulties along the way, but those also have a way of toughening up a players’ resolve.

As fans, we always cheer for the superstars. But true fans cheer for the guys who make it despite their obvious flaws. The guys who are the bedrock over which championship sod is laid upon. There’s a sense of commonality between those players and someone who works a 9-5 and goes home everyday to a family and a mortgage. There’s a very real possibility the Thunder win a championship without any of those three guys within the organization. If that does occur, three of those championship rings better be sealed in a box and delivered to New York, NY (Fisher), Beaumont, TX (Perkins), and northern California (Brooks), because the DNA of any Thunder championship will definitely have the imprint of those three on it.

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2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southeast Divison

Southeast Division Preview

1. Washington Wizards

beal wall gortat wizards

Last season: 44-38 (2nd in the Southeast Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Indiana Pacers

Key Additions:

  • DeJuan Blair – Sign and trade from the Dallas Mavericks
  • Kris Humphries – Sign and trade from the Boston Celtics
  • Paul Pierce – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Trevor Ariza – Signed with the Houston Rockets
  • Trevor Booker – Signed with the Utah Jazz

Season Preview – The young players for the Wizards finally started coming into their own last season. John Wall became an All-Star for the first time, and Bradley Beal showed signs of being one of the best 2-guards in the league. In addition, the acquisitions of Nene and Marcin Gortat have given this team an inside/outside balance that is one of the better ones in the league. The loss of Trevor Ariza may show itself more on the defensive end, but Pierce should be an adequate stop-gap as the Wizards wait on the development of Otto Porter. The only trip up I see with this team is perimeter depth. If Wall or Beal go down for any extended amount of time, this team could be in trouble.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Wizards make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 49-33

2. Charlotte Hornets

walker jefferson hornets bobcats

Last season: 43-39 (3rd in the Southeast Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Miami Heat.

Key Additions:

  • P.J. Hairston – Draft (No. 26 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Brian Roberts – Free agent signing
  • Lance Stephenson – Free agent signing
  • Noah Vonleh – Draft (No. 9 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Marvin Williams – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Luke Ridnour – Signed with the Orlando Magic
  • Josh McRoberts – Signed with the Miami Heat
  • Anthony Tolliver – Signed with the Phoenix Suns
  • Brendan Haywood – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Chris Douglas-Roberts – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – The Hornets (formerly the Bobcats) come into this season with as high of expectations as they’ve ever had in their 10 year reincarnation. Michael Jordan and GM Rich Cho have slowly put together a balanced team that is built on defense. The key now will be developing the young talent they’ve obtained over the past 2 seasons, while also learning how to consistently win. Al Jefferson provides the Hornets with a go-to scorer, while Stephenson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be nightmares on the defensive end for opposing wings. If the Hornets can find consistent scoring from the perimeter, they may be a surprise team in the East.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Hornets make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

3. Miami Heat

wade bosh heat

Last season: 54-28 (1st in the Southeast Division, 2nd in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 loss in the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Luol Deng – Free agent signing
  • Danny Granger – Free agent signing
  • Josh McRoberts – Free agent signing
  • Shabazz Napier – Draft (No. 24 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • LeBron James – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • James Jones – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Ray Allen – Unsigned
  • Shane Battier – Retired
  • Rashard Lewis – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Toney Douglas – Signed overseas
  • Michael Beasley – unsigned

Season preview – It was a good run, boys. The four year “Big 3” experiment yielded four consecutive trips to the Finals and two championships. “Not 1, not 2…” wait, yeah, only 2. LeBron James returning back to Cleveland has brought the Heat back down a notch or two on the NBA spectrum. While Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are still in tow, the engine that made the team run is no longer there. The team that we’ve seen for the past four years will be completely different. No longer will the threat of a driving James cause defenses to collapse into the paint, leaving a plethora of wide open shooters. Instead, Miami will likely run its offense inside/out through Bosh. Gone are the shooters that provided that floor spacing for James and Wade to operate. And the lingering concern over Wade’s health still remains. The Heat will still win games, but there will be a significant drop-off from the previous four seasons.

2014-15 will successful if: The Heat make it to the Eastern Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 44-38

4. Atlanta Hawks

horford millsap korver hawks

Last season: 38-44 (4th in the Southeast Division, 8th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Indiana Pacers

Key Additions:

  • Kent Bazemore – Free agent signing
  • Adreian Payne – Draft (No. 15 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Thabo Sefolosha – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Lou Williams – Traded to the Toronto Raptors
  • Elton Brand – Unsigned
  • Gustavo Ayon – Signed overseas
  • Lucas Nogueira – Traded to the Toronto Raptors

Season preview – If there is a team in the league that wants the season to start already, it is the Atlanta Hawks. The offseason can be a cruel time for a team that is embroiled in controversy. The Bruce Levenson/Danny Ferry race fiasco is a situation that probably won’t be completely resolved until next season. On the court, Atlanta is one of those teams that’s always good enough to win more games than it should, but loses out on getting a good draft pick because of that. Al Horford returns after missing most of last season with a torn right pectoral muscle. Their front line of Horford, Pero Antic, and Paul Millsap will be one of the more dynamic front courts in the league. The addition of Sefolosha will help shore up the perimeter defensively, but will provide little from an offensive standpoint.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Hawks make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

5. Orlando Magic

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando Magic

Last season: 23-59 (5th in the Southeast Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Evan Fournier – Obtained in a trade with the Denver Nuggets
  • Channing Frye – Free agent signing
  • Aaron Gordon – Draft (No. 4 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Ben Gordon – Free agent signing
  • Willie Green – Claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Elfrid Payton – Draft (No. 10 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Luke Ridnour – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jameer Nelson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Arron Afflalo – Traded to the Denver Nuggets

Season preview – The Magic are at the point in their rebuild where they need to decide on what to do with some of their young guys. Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris will be coming up on restricted free agency next offseason, with Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless, and Fournier coming up with offseason after that. The Magic will probably be a big player at the trade deadline as they need to start moving some of their young pieces for either a big name player or assets. On the court, the Magic will continue to be an uptempo transition team, especially with Payton manning the point. Victor Oladipo will need to show improvement on his jump-shot, but Ben Gordon and Frye will provide some of the spacing Oladipo needs to operate. I see the Magic slightly improving, but still struggling to consistently win.

2014-15 will be successful if: The young guys continue to develop and the Magic end up with a Top 7 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 26-56

Charlotte Bobcats vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 60 of 82)

ibaka mcroberts thunder bobcats

  • When: Sunday, 02 March 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder finally got back to their winning ways against the Memphis Grizzlies. It took a bit of a scare in the 4th quarter via Mike’s Miller 19 point outburst in the quarter, but the team hung on to, hopefully, right the ship. That’s two straight games where Russell Westbrook and the team appear to be back in sync. Westbrook had at least 21 points and 6 assists for the 2nd straight game, while Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson appeared more comfortable in their roles.

This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder won the first meeting of the season, 89-85. Kevin Durant led the Thunder in that game with 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists. While the Thunder have dominated the Bobcats in the last few season, the Thunder needed to hold off the hard charging Bobcats in that game and needed every point from Durant to do it.

The Opponent

Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker

The Bobcats currently stand at 27-31, good for 7th in the Eastern Conference. These aren’t your 18 month old son’s Charlotte Bobcats. This team finally has a post presence and a scoring threat from the perimeter. They still need some assistance on the offensive end, only putting up 95 points per game (27th in the league), but make up for that with one of the scrappier defenses in the league, allowing only 96.7 points per game (4th in the league). The Bobcats are led by free agent acquisition Al Jefferson, who gives the Bobcats their first post presence in the existence of the franchise. The double/double machine averages 20.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Kemba Walker guides the offense as a scoring point averaging 18.3 points per game, while shooting 34.6% from 3-point land. Defensively, Gerald Henderson and Bismack Biyombo anchor one of the better defenses in the league. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the possibility of being a jack of all trade-type player, but is still trying to find his niche in this league in his 2nd season. The Bobcats’ bench received a bit of a boost by the addition of Gary Neal at the trade deadline.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Charlotte Bobcats

  • PG – Kemba Walker
  • SG – Gerald Henderson
  • SF – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • PF – Josh McRoberts
  • C – Al Jefferson

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Perry Jones
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Next man up – With two starters out due to injury (Perkins and Sefolosha) it’ll be up to Steven Adams and Perry Jones to not be the weak links in the starting 5. It’ll be more on Adams, as Gerald Henderson is not that much of an offensive threat. Al Jefferson is a crafty veteran that gives many players fits.

perry jones thunder

2. Outscore them – A lot like the Memphis Grizzlies in the previous game, if the Thunder play their style of basketball, they should be able to outscore the Bobcats easily. The important thing is to make sure the Bobcats don’t all the sudden become an offensive juggernaut also.

3. Hasheem – Hasheem Thabeet finally got meaningful minutes in the last game. And he almost committed 3 counts of accidental manslaughter. While I loved the effort Thabeet showed in the Memphis game, he also almost got himself and Nick Collison injured on a number of plays in the 2nd quarter.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Charlotte Bobcats preview (Game 29 of 82)

westbrook kidd gilchrist thunder bobcats

  • When: Friday, 27 December 2013 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC

Coming off of a rousing performance in Madison Square Garden on Christmas, the Oklahoma City Thunder look to keep things going as they travel to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats. In that Knicks games, Russell Westbrook secured a triple double by the middle of the third quarter and Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka combined for 53 points on 20/30 shooting. The bench played spectacularly and kept their foot on the pedal for all of the 4th quarter. Of course, the Thunder were aided by the fact that Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton were out because of injury.

The Thunder won the season series against the Bobcats last season 2-0. The most memorable of those games was the one played in Oklahoma City, where Charlotte came into the game with a 7-5 record and a little bit of a puffed up chest. The Thunder proceeded to take a 40 point lead into halftime and tacked on 5 more points by the end of the game. The loss was so severe that Charlotte didn’t win another game for over a month. The Thunder have won 5 straight meetings between the two teams encompassing the last 3 seasons.

The Opponent

zeller tolliver walker henderson jefferson bobcats

In the midst of all the carnage that is the Eastern Conference, it’s good to know that one of the teams with a losing record is actually improving from last season. Charlotte didn’t win their 14th game last season until March 12th, but already stand at 14-15 this season. The defense is much improved under new head coach Steve Clifford, and the team is finding ways to win close games. They’re the 2nd worst scoring team in the league, at 92.4 points per game, but combat that by being the 3rd best at opponent’s points per game, at 93.6. The Bobcats’ offense is initiated, and usually, finished by PG Kemba Walker. Joining him in the back court is Gerald Henderson, who is quietly one of the better 2-way guards in the Eastern Conference. Up front, free agent acquisition Al Jefferson has paid dividends, almost averaging a double double with averages of 16.7 points and 9.6 rebounds. Their bench depth has been decimated by injuries lately, with Jeff Taylor going down with an Achilles tear and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still recovering from a broken hand.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Charlotte Bobcats

  • PG – Kemba Walker
  • SG – Gerald Henderson
  • SF – Anthony Tolliver
  • PF – Josh McRoberts
  • C – Al Jefferson

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

EDIT: Russell Westbrook had arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out for 6-8 weeks.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Force the issue – The Bobcats have depth issues due to injuries. Drive the ball inside and try to force fouls. The more fouls you force, the more the chances that someone like Jeff Adrien or Jannero Pargo will have to minutes.

2. Perimeter defense – Al Jefferson will do what he does. The key will be not completely collapsing on him and giving streak shooters like Walker and Ben Gordon the opportunity to heat up.

durant ibaka thunder

3. Small ball – We usually react to teams and play small ball in response to their line-up. I think this would be a good game to force the Bobcats to play small ball. A line-up where Jefferson and McRoberts would have to keep up with Ibaka and Durant would be wonderful for transition opportunities.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz preview (Game 78 of 82)

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  • When: Tuesday, 09 April 2013 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

One of the most dangerous things to face in the final week of a season is a team fighting to get into the playoffs. Their “win or go home” mentality surfaces with every game leading to the playoffs. Most playoff bound teams are on cruise control in the final week of the season. Some may be battling for playoff positioning, but if you are a team that has an end of alphabet letter (X,Y,Z) by your name in the standings, you’re usually pretty content. But for teams like the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, or even, Dallas Mavericks, these final few games are their play-in games to get into the NBA post-season tournament.

I don’t know if the Oklahoma City Thunder are indifferent as to whether they get the No.1 seed in the Western Conference or not. Both the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs seem pretty content with their position in the conference, and are probably both confident they can win the conference whether they have home court advantage or not. With that said, the Thunder will be facing a desperate team trying to put space between themselves and the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot.

Los Angeles Lakers v Utah Jazz

The Jazz come into the game surging, having won 7 of their last 8 games. With Mo Williams finally healthy and Derrick Favors beginning to live up to his potential, the Jazz seem to finally have found their groove. They’ve settled into a consistent rotation of 8-9 players that attacks with balanced offense (inside with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, and Favors and on the wings with Williams, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks) and consistent work on the boards.

For the season, it has been a home court advantage type of series between these teams with the Thunder dominating their two games in Oklahoma City and the Jazz dominating in their one game in Salt Lake City.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Utah Jazz

  • PG – Randy Foye
  • SG – Mo Williams
  • SF – Gordon Hayward
  • PF – Paul Millsap
  • C – Al Jefferson

Oklahoma City

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Control the paint – This is a team that the Thunder can actually sag off the shooters a bit and help out in the paint. The Jazz only make about 6.2 threes per game, which puts them in the bottom quarter of the league in 3-point makes per game. Kendrick Perkins has had a fair amount of success defending his former Boston battery mate, Al Jefferson.  And Ibaka and Collison have had success against Millsap and Favors. But those three can collectively change the game with the rebounding ability and offensive production in the paint.

al perk

2. Shooters – As in, Oklahoma City shooters. Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher, and Ibaka should all be on high alert as they should receive their fair amount of opportunities to attempt open jumpers. The Jazz always have trouble defending Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Look for the Jazz to shade a defender over, leaving someone open on the perimeter.

Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors

3. Durant and Westbrook – Hey, no one on the Jazz can guard you guys. Begin CDI (Complete Dominance Initiative).

Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 65 of 82)

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz

  • When: Wednesday, 13 March 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s getting to that point in the season where mostly every game carries some sort of importance, either for playoff seeding or draft lottery probabilities. The Oklahoma City Thunder are coming off a road loss to the San Antonio Spurs, where they had the opportunity to overtake the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Utah Jazz, on the other hand, are on the opposite end of the playoff spectrum. The Jazz held onto the 7th seed in the West as recently as one week ago, but losses in 7 of their last 9 games has the Jazz looking up at the hard charging Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot in the West. With that said, there are heavy playoff implications for both teams in this game.

This is the 3rd meeting of the season between these two Northwest division rivals. The Thunder easily won the first game at home, 106-94. In that game, Russell Westbrook nearly notched a quadruple double with 23 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists, and 7 steals. Kevin Durant chipped in with 25 points and Kevin Martin added 19 points off the bench. In the 2nd meeting of the season, the Jazz basically flipped the score while playing in Salt Lake City, 109-94. In that game, the Jazz dominated the paint, with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap combining for 41 points and 17 rebounds (9 offensive).

Probable Starters

Utah Jazz

  • PG – Randy Foye
  • SG – Mo Williams
  • SF – DeMarre Carroll
  • PF – Paul Millsap
  • C – Al Jefferson

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

Post Defense – It can’t be said enough against teams that have two functional big men how important it is to control the paint defensively. In the first game between these two teams, Jefferson and Millsap were held to 29 points on 12-29 FG shooting (41.4%). In the second game, a Thunder loss, the Jazz duo combined for 41 points on 19-36 FG shooting (52.8%). It’s up to Perkins, Ibaka, and Nick Collison to contain these two.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz

Defensive Rebounding – Related to the post defense, defensive rebounding is extremely key when dealing with the Jazz. The Jazz grabbed 21 and 16 offensive rebounds, respectively, in the two games against the Thunder. Offensive rebounds lead to extended offensive possessions and more shots for the opposition. The Jazz shot 17 and 19 more shots, respectively, than the Thunder in the two games they played against them.

durant carroll

Durant – The Jazz don’t really have any answers for guarding Durant. DeMarre Carroll will attempt to get physical with Durant, but will eventually succumb to foul trouble and Durant’s speed. And Durant is usually a horrible match-up for Gordon Hayward. I expect Durant to get at least 30 points in this game.

 

The OKC Thunder and their trade deadline moves

presti-sam

After so much speculation and rumor, this was just about the most anti-climactic trading deadline ever. Other than the Sacramento Kings unloading Thomas Robinson in a “scratch your head” trade to Houston, most teams played it safe and kept their assets. This is probably the first visible sign of how the new CBA will affect how teams view their assets moving forward.  The name of the game is cap space and most teams stuck with what they had instead of taking on salary and risk.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were a microcosm of the trading deadline, itself. The Thunder had one player who was a virtual lock to get traded, in Eric Maynor. The rumors were that teams were interested in Maynor as a solid back-up point guard, but were unwilling to unload a first round pick in exchange for him, which was the asking price from the Thunder. Then on Wednesday, a big rumor sprang up involving the Thunder and the Phoenix Suns. In the proposed trade, Phoenix would send Marcin Gortat and PJ Tucker to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, and a 1st rounder. Though the rumor died down as the day went along, it gained a little bit of momentum late Wednesday when Perkins was a late scratch in the Thunder’s game because of a knee sprain. By Thursday, though, the deal was all but dead. In the end, the Thunder traded Maynor, kept the asset train rolling, and obtained a veteran lock-down defender for virtually nothing.

Deal 1 : Oklahoma City sends Eric Maynor to the Portland Trailblazers for a $2.35 million trade exception and the rights to Georgios Printezis

Eric_Maynor_20130221145500_320_240

One of the greatest things in the world is receiving an extension to a deadline. The Thunder were facing the possibility of losing Maynor for nothing this offseason. While the Thunder didn’t receive the 1st round pick they were initially looking for, they did receive an asset that could help them immensely in the future. The trade exception is actually a little more than Maynor’s actual salary. In essence, the Thunder got a 1 year reprieve on Maynor’s expiring contract, without having a live body taking up a roster spot.

For a player that many fans thought wouldn’t garner anything of value, the Thunder made the best of the situation and got themselves a valuable asset. With possibly 3 draft picks (2 first rounders and a 2nd rounder) in the upcoming draft, look for Oklahoma City to put a package together to get something of high value on draft night.

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As for Georgios Printezis, he’s a 6’9” PF that currently plays for Olympiacos in the Euroleague. His game is similar to that of Luis Scola of the Phoenix Suns, but with a little more range on his jumper. He is best known for hitting the game winning shot in the Euroleague finals against CSKA Moscow. The 28 year old recently signed a 3 year extension with Olympiacos that will probably keep him in Europe for the rest of his career.

Deal 2: Oklahoma City receives Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a 2014 2nd round pick.

One of Sam Presti’s tenants is that he never deals for a player with just one team in mind. When he dealt for Kendrick Perkins, many people thought he did that with only the Los Angeles Lakers (who had Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol) in mind. But the entire Western Conference is full of skilled big men, especially the playoff teams. Teams like Memphis (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph), Utah (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap), San Antonio (Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter), and the Los Angeles Clippers (DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin) all pose a threat on the inside to the Thunder.

With our recent struggles against the Miami Heat, many Thunder fans were clamoring for a big wing defender like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute of the Milwaukee Bucks or Jared Dudley of the Suns to be that mythical being called a “Lebron stopper”. The truth is, when you play a team that plays inside/out like the Heat or the Spurs, a big wing defender is tantamount when it comes to recovering on 3-point shooters. Players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dwayne Wade, and James are great at dribble penetrating, breaking down a defense, and finding the open guy on the perimeter. While the Thunder already have a great perimeter defender in Thabo Sefolosha, an extra set of long arms and active hands would not hurt.

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The New York Knicks, in an effort to slash some payroll and open up a roster spot, were looking to unload one of their perimeter defenders. The early rumor was that they were trying to trade Iman Shumpert for an offensively minded guard like Orlando’s  J.J. Reddick. Instead, the Knicks made Brewer available and the Thunder swung the deal for him. Brewer is regarded as one of the toughest big wing defenders in the league. He’ll be especially helpful to Kevin Martin and the bench unit as their best wing defender. Also, if necessary, in small ball line-ups, Brewer can be put in at SF or SG to help on the defensive end.

An added bonus is that Brewer’s salary is nearly half of what Maynor’s was ($2.3 million for Maynor compared to $1.2 million for Brewer). That saved money could be used to get a veteran free agent for the final roster spot, similar to what the Thunder did in obtaining Derek Fisher last season.

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Overall, I think these moves made the Thunder slightly better in the present and made them even more dangerous on the draft/trade front in the future. Whether Brewer proves to be of any use is still to be seen. But it’s better to have a player like that on your team than on your opponent’s team. With the more punitive luxury tax looming next season, many teams will be looking to dump some salary in the offseason. With all their assets they’ve accrued, the Thunder should feel pretty good about themselves as we move forward under the guise of this new CBA.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Preview (Game 52 of 82)

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  • When: Tuesday, 12 February 2013 at 8:00 CST
  • Where: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

It was great to watch the Tulsa 66ers play, what amounted to, an entire NBA game this past week. Whether it was Reggie Jackson making a nice dish, Daniel Orton carving out space and grabbing a rebound, Perry Jones III showing flashes of his crazy athleticism, or DeAndre Liggins playing full court defense when his team is up by 20, it was good to see that the Thunder’s youth movement in full effect. It’s a shame that Jeremy Lamb was out with a lower back strain during this four game blowout streak, because he would have had plenty of time to show off his 3-point stroke. But alas, all good things come to an end and I think the easy road ends tonight, when the Thunder play division rival Utah in Salt Lake City.

These two teams have previously met one time this season, in late November at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder beat the Jazz by a score of 106 – 94, in a game that almost featured a quadruple double by Russell Westbrook who finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists, and 7 steals. After being down by 16 to start the 4th quarter, the Jazz got it down to a 5 point deficit, but eventually got a steady dose of Westbrook and Durant, and succumbed to the Thunder down the stretch.

The Opponent

The Utah Jazz come into the game with a 28-24 record, good for 7th in the Western Conference. Statistically, they are a middle of the road team, averaging 98.1 ppg (11th in the league) and allowing 98.8 ppg (18th in the league). The Jazz are in the weird position where they are trying to jump start a youth movement, but are still good enough to get into the bottom seeds of the playoffs. They are led by their two big men, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who are both on the trading block due to their cost and impending free agency. Together they average 32.3 points and 16.8 rebounds per game. Marvin Williams rounds out the front court. On the perimeter, the Jazz have had a revolving door of point guards, to include Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley, and Randy Foye. All have been effective for short stints and then get replaced by the next point guard in line. The intriguing players for the Jazz are the one coming off the bench. This is the youth movement that the Jazz is looking to unleash once it gets out of all of its long term contracts this offseason. The Jazz have to see what they have in Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward.

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Probable Starter

Utah Jazz

  • PG – Jamaal Tinsley
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Marvin Williams
  • PF – Paul Millsap
  • C – Al Jefferson

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

  • Russell Westbrook – None of the guards the Jazz have can contain Russell Westbrook. They are either too slow or too week to stay with him. In the last game, Westbrook almost had a quadruple double and I don’t see anything different in this game. Westbrook was the Western Conference player of the week last week, and will start his campaign to repeat this week.
  • Controlling the paint – Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are dangerous players that can go off for double double games at any time. The Jazz offense runs through these two players when the starters are in, and the bench sets run through Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors when they are in. Kanter went off for a career high 18 points when he played against us last time. It is up to Perkins, Ibaka, Hasheem Thabeet, and Nick Collison to maintain the Jazz’s bigs and protect the paint. Paul Millsap, Hasheem Thabeet
  • Home vs. Road – The Jazz sport a .760 winning percentage at home and a .333 winning percentage on the road. Needless to say, they are a much better team in the confines of EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, UT. For a team looking to bolster its playoff odds, the Jazz will be seeing this game as a must win. Add the that the possibility that the Thunder may be looking ahead to their Finals rematch with the Miami Heat on Thursday, and this game is full of trap game implications. Sufficed to say, I think the Thunder starters will be playing in the 4th quarter of this game.

Crazy Uncle Perk

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We, as fans, sometimes view players as objects of entertainment. We look to them as visual and emotional toys that we unwrap every October, and hope to play with through June. When they no longer entertain us or completely frustrate us, they become highly expendable in our minds. We get on blogs and forums and completely blame that player for everything that is wrong with the team. It doesn’t matter whether the team is the best in the league or the worst in the league, there’s always that one player that catches the ire of most of the fanbase. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that they are humans too.  

There has developed a sort of love-hate relationship between Thunder fans and center Kendrick Perkins in the last couple of weeks. None of it is due to anything personal. For all intents and purposes, Perkins seems like an affable guy who is completely devoted to his family. A big extended family that includes his nuclear family and his Thunder fam. Some players talk about their team being a family, when, in reality, family just means people that they have to deal with for 6-9 months out of the year. Some players, though, really do live by the “team is family” creed, inviting teammates to their house and generally, trying to bond with them throughout the season, and sometimes, even after the season.   

As a team, the Oklahoma City Thunder are very family oriented. The leaders on the team adhere to this concept as does the organization as a whole. The foundational culture of the team is rooted in family. And included in that family, is the entire fan base. We, as fans, are all invested in the same cause, but at different ends of the spectrum. The players are the performers and the fans are the audience. But sometimes, it’s easy to forget that the family concept is a two way street. We, as fans, expect for the team to acknowledge us, either through charity work, through team interviews, or through slogans, such as “Team is One”. We expect players to sign autographs for us at all hours of the day, wherever we see them. But, the sad truth is that fans do a bad job of picking players up when they aren’t providing what we expect of them.   

team is one

Family means different things to different people. To me, family is the group of people you are born/raised into and the people you accept into your circle. It’s a set of people whom you accept and can depend on through the good and the bad. And as a sports family, we’ve accepted the Oklahoma City Thunder into our family. They are interwoven into our fabric from October through June. We have Thunder watch parties, talk about the team around the dinner table, and talk about the people in the organization like they reciprocate talking about us at their dinner tables.

Family dynamics are a difficult part of co-existing as a family. Not everyone is going to get along the same all the time. But if a family is to co-exist, they have to accept the good and the bad of a member and go with it. For example, every family has that one family member. You know, the black sheep that’s kind of an outcast and rough around the edges. Its usually an uncle. They may have either served some time in jail or have a short temper. And they usually have drama with a wife, ex-wife, girlfriend, or baby momma (or a combination of all four) that spills over into family events. And when something goes down involving a bar, a fight, and a woman, you know Uncle was involved. But here’s the thing about Uncle, though. He’s full of wisdom and has a great ear for listening. And, he’s great at some sort of handy work, usually mechanics or carpentry. And when you need him, he’s always there, no questions asked.

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Well, that Uncle is Kendrick Perkins. He’s a little rough around the edges with the scowl and the intimidation. He’s probably on the naughty list of most of his opponents. And, he’s had some injury issues in the past. But when we need him to guard a Dwight Howard or a Marc Gasol, he’s there with his hard hat on, no questions asked. When we needed him to play through a torn groin and a wrist that needed to be surgically repaired, he gutted it out and performed beautifully. When his young teammates need an ear to vent to, he’s there to listen with some Southern drawl wisdom to accompany it. Whenever we need Perk, he’s there. And yet, when he is used incorrectly, or he doesn’t perform to our standards, we chastise him and await his presence with a pink slip in our hands.

If comparing Perkins to a family member doesn’t help you see his value, let me give you some tangible evidence versus some of the top centers in the game:  

Before Perkins 

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  • 2009-10 – including playoffs vs. Bynum (LAL), Howard (Orl), Perkins (Bos), Duncan (SA), M.Gasol (Mem), and Nene (Den) – 9-16 
  • 2010 thru Feb 23, 2011 – vs. Duncan (SA), Bynum (LAL), M.Gasol (Mem), and Nene (Den) – 2-6 

With Perkins 

  • March 14, 2011 – end of season (including playoff) vs. Bynum (LAL), Jefferson (UTA), Nene (Den), and D. Jordan (LAC) – 13 – 6 
  • 2011 – 2012 – 66 game season including playoffs vs. Bynum (LAL), Howard (Orl), M.Gasol (Mem), Duncan (SA), Jefferson (Uta), and D. Jordan (LAC) – 19 – 11  
  • 2012 – through the New Year 2013 – vs. Howard (LAL), M.Gasol (Mem), Duncan (SA), D.Jordan (LAC), and Jefferson (Uta) – 4 – 2

Excluding the first season the Thunder were in Oklahoma City, the team went 11 – 22 against top tier centers in the league before the arrival of Perkins. That’s a .333 winning percentage. After the arrival of Perkins, the team has gone 36 – 19 against top tier centers. That’s a .655 winning percentage. Looking at the raw data, Perkins has nearly doubled the chances of the Thunder winning versus a team with a top tier center.

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Understandably, the correlation is not one to one. The players around Perkins have gotten better as they have aged. But the Thunder doesn’t improve as quickly as it has without that rock in the middle. And there is no way the Thunder make it to the Finals last season without Perkins manning the middle. The defensive job he did on Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bynum, and Tim Duncan was a big reason the Thunder were Western Conference Champions. While his performance against the Heat in the Finals exposed his flaws, it wasn’t like he was put in a position to succeed by Coach Scott Brooks, either. Brooks needs to understand that against smaller, quicker teams, Perkins’s strengths will be negated. Conversely, Perkins needs to understand that against these teams, he may have to sit more time than usual. But that’s the thing about those crazy uncles. They are usually stubborn as a mule.

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.