Tag Archives: bench

Thunder At A Glance – 06 September 2018

img_4063Royce Young (ESPN) on Mo Cheek’s relationship with Russell Westbrook: “For Westbrook, it has always been about controlled chaos, like Pecos Bill trying to rope the cyclone. Cheeks is often the lasso, the intermediary between the method and the madness.”

Ryan Harris (Welcome To Loud City) on whether the Thunder’s bench improved enough: “Ideally, the Thunder would be able to rest Russell Westbrook and Paul George at the same time and not get killed. The additions to the bench over the offseason were nice, but the younger guys from last seasons squad need to take a step forward this year as well. Right now, it isn’t 100% clear who will start between Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson. For this post, I’ll assume Patterson is on the bench, though I think both guys will get their opportunity to start.” Continue reading Thunder At A Glance – 06 September 2018

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Thunder sign Royal Ivey to a 10-day contract

durant ivey thunder

Royal Ivey signed a 10-day contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder to bolster their point guard depth following the loss of Russell Westbrook to arthroscopic knee surgery. This is Ivey’s second stint with the team. He played with the Thunder for 2 seasons (2010-2012), appearing in 59 games and averaging 1.9 points in 8.3 minutes per game. The 10 year vet has not played this season, after being waived by the Atlanta Hawks on October 25, 2013.

Ivey should be a great addition to the locker room and will provide added depth to the bench. He will be active for tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets.

Welcome back Cheez.

Growing Pains: The Thunder’s young bench

jeremy lamb reggie jackson thunder

Injuries are an inevitability in sports. When you have bodies constantly in motion, there are going to come times when those bodies either collide or move in ways that cause injury. It’s the reason team sports have reserve players. In the wake of injuries, a team should have a healthy balance of veteran players and young, developing players. It’s the line that allows teams to sustain success while also building for the future. Have too much of either on the bench, and a team risks cutting into their current success or into their future success.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have always had a decent balance of veterans and young players on the bench. But with the James Harden trade, they decided to rely on youth instead of looking for veteran help in free agency. At the time of that trade, they received rookie SG Jeremy Lamb, a lottery pick from the Toronto Raptors (that eventually turned into Steven Adams), and an early 2nd rounder from the Charlotte Bobcats (that eventually turned into Spanish guard Alex Abrines, a Euro-stash). Along with that, the Thunder already had 2nd year guard Reggie Jackson and rookie Perry Jones III in tow. In essence, the Thunder have been grooming this new bench mob for the past season and a half.

kevin martin hasheem thabeet eric maynor thunder

Another addition to the Harden trade was veteran guard Kevin Martin, who slid into the 6th man role that Harden occupied. Last season’s bench was veteran-laden with Martin, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, and Hasheem Thabeet getting the lion’s share of the reserve minutes. About a third into the season, Maynor was replaced by Jackson and Derek Fisher joined the team after the All-Star break. The problem with our veteran bench last season was two-fold: there wasn’t any offensive versatility to it and it was inconsistent defensively. The scoring was either coming from Martin or it wasn’t coming at all. As his efficiency declined in the second half of the season, so did the bench’s offensive effectiveness. It got to the point where either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook had to be on the floor with the bench unit for it to be effective. Defensively, the bench struggled to match the athleticism of other younger benches.

On paper, the bench last season was a good mix of veterans and young players. But most of the young players spent their time in Tulsa and never got to test their mettle against NBA competition. Last season, Lamb spent 801 minutes (regular season and postseason combined) in the D-League and only 147 regular season minutes with the Thunder. Perry Jones spent 588 total minutes in the D-League and only 280 regular season minutes (plus 5 playoff minutes) with the Thunder.

perry jones thunder

 

Now, those two players, along with Jackson and Adams, are being asked to carry the second unit for a title contender. Veterans Derek Fisher and Nick Collison still play a prominent role off the bench, but the team is dependent on the young players to provide the team what the bench couldn’t provide last season, which was offensive versatility and defensive consistency. For the most part, the bench was starting to become one of the top benches in the league, before the Westbrook injury. After, though, it has been more inconsistent. And therein lies the problem with depending on such a young bench.

When the San Antonio Spurs suffer injuries to their starters, they can depend on veterans Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, and Patty Mills to come in and step up until those injured players get back. The same goes for the Miami Heat. When their line-up needs to be shuffled, they know they can fall back on the likes of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Rashard Lewis. Veterans that not only know their roles, but also have championship experience to boot. These players know how to work through slumps and how to affect games in ways other than scoring. These young Thunder players are just now learning how to do these things.

steven adams griffin thunder clippers

There are positive signs though. The last time the Thunder played the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder were down for most of the game and Lamb was having a miserable game, shooting 2-7 FG with 2 turnovers. But he found ways to affect the game via his rebounding and defense, and made the plays necessary in the 4th quarter to help the Thunder win the game. Perry Jones has affected numerous games with his defense and ability to hit 3-point shots. And Jackson is showing signs of being a good combo guard, similar to Eric Bledsoe.

Reggie Jackson got his baptism by fire in the playoffs last season after Westbrook went down with his knee injury. But other than him, and 5 minutes of Perry Jones in Game 1 of the Houston series, none of the young bench players have any playoff experience. Could that come back to bite the Thunder in the rear during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals? It could, but nothing teaches quite like experience. Here’s hoping that the growing pains of the regular season turn into the epiphanies of the post season.

Kevin Martin’s Future with the Thunder

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One of the biggest decisions facing the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason is whether or not to keep Kevin Martin past this season. Martin was the other big name in the blockbuster deal that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets a couple days before the 2012-13 season began. Martin was brought in to maintain the scoring provided by Harden off the bench and has nearly matched Harden’s bench output from last season when Harden was the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year. Though he has struggled at times this season in his new role, especially in home/road splits, Martin has performed well enough to be an integral part of the Thunder, who are once again, championship contenders.

People tend to think of contract negotiations, exclusively, as an offseason event. But the chess pieces that are the “Kevin Martin negotiations” have been shuffling around the chess board all season long. There are always two sides to any negotiation, but there are so many variables that influence the final decision. Those variables are the chess pieces the Thunder and Martin have been playing around with for the entire season. In this article, I’ll look at some of those variables and see how they will influence the upcoming negotiations between these two parties.

Kevin Martin’s chess pieces

Background – Martin comes from Zanesville, OH, which has a population of about 25,000 people. He has maintained very close ties to that community and is constantly involved in community events (basketball camps, 3-on-3 tournaments, etc.) during the offseason. With that said, it doesn’t seem that big city lights have the same effect on Martin as it does with many other players in the NBA. He started his career in one of the smaller markets in the NBA (Sacramento), and then played in one of the bigger markets in Houston. A community like Oklahoma City probably reminds Martin a lot more of Zanesville than a city like Houston would.

zaneville

Personality – If Russell Westbrook’s personality can be described as hyperactive and intense, then Martin’s can be described as cool, calm, and collective. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player who touches the ball so much, have so little emotion. It’s not hard to imagine Martin committing a turnover and reacting by saying, “Darn,” in little more than a whisper while jogging to the other end of the floor. And I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing either. On a team full of emotionally charged players (Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka), it’s good to have players on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum to balance things out.

Also, Martin’s personality traits are more conducive to accepting a bench role, instead of wanting to be the man. Martin tried that for 9 seasons in Sacramento and Houston with mixed results. He had good stats (21.5 ppg from 2006-2012), but his teams were never good enough to make the playoffs. In an interview with Hoopsworld in late December, Martin stated, “…I’m so happy right now and being with these guys has given me an extra pep in my step. It’s just fun being here. It’s a great organization and great guys. I’m happy right now.” The burden of carrying a team can be pretty daunting, and statements like this lends to me think that Martin is happier being a contributing player on a successful team, than being the man on a mediocre team.

Community-oriented – Martin is known as one of the most affable and approachable players in the league. He is heavily involved in the community in his hometown and even won the 2008 Oscar Robertson Triple Double Award, which is a community involvement award given out annually by the Sacramento Kings. If there’s one thing the Thunder organization places utmost importance on, it’s community involvement. Most players do community activities because the League relegates that they have to. But, Martin is one of those players that truly enjoys being involved in the community.

martin community

On record – When Oklahoma City first got a team, one of the things that detractors hung their hats on was that players weren’t going to want to play or stay in OKC. That the players would skip town at the first opportunity, or never even consider OKC in free agency. In an interview with Marc Stein of Yahoo! Sports in late January, Martin put it on record, saying, “This summer, hopefully everything works out here. I haven’t said that too often. But I will put it out there; hopefully I have found a home in the NBA. I love playing with this group of guys. The organization is great to me. The community has been great to me. It’s the happiest I have been during my NBA career.” While many Thunder fans may take that statement with a grain of salt, after James Harden basically said the same thing in the offseason, there’s an air of wisdom and experience in Martin’s statement that makes it sound more believable.

Production – The trade in late October sent one of the best bench units in the league into complete disarray. Gone from the team were Harden, who was the reigning 6th Man of the Year, Cole Aldrich, who was thought to be the team’s back-up center, and Daequan Cook, who was their situational 3-point shooter/floor spacer. In addition to that, the back-up point guard position was shaky at best, with Eric Maynor coming off of an ACL injury and Reggie Jackson still learning how to play point guard in the NBA. In essence, the Thunder got rid of 4 bench players for one bench player (Martin) and one project player (Jeremy Lamb).

kevin-martin-thunder

It’s taken a little bit more than half of the season, but the bench seems to have solidified itself into a stable outfit. Martin is one of the league leaders in bench scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game. He’s assumed the role of 3-point specialist (43%) and floor spacer when he’s on the floor with Durant and Westbrook, especially late in games. And he’s begun to develop a chemistry with Nick Collison that is akin to the chemistry Collison and Harden had together.

Thunder’s chess pieces

Leverage – The player Martin was shipped with to Oklahoma City in the James Harden deal may ultimately be the reason Martin becomes expendable. Since the moment he donned a Tulsa 66ers jersey, rookie Jeremy Lamb has been lighting up the D-League to the tune of 21.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game in 16 games. While success in the D-League doesn’t always equate to success in the NBA, Lamb has flashed the tools to be a consistent scorer/shooter at the NBA level.

Jeremy Lamb, DeSagana Diop

Comparable players – These are four players (and their salaries) that are comparable to the role that Martin plays on the Thunder.

  • Jamal Crawford – Los Angeles Clippers (4 years / $21.35 miillion)
  • JJ Redick – Milwaukee Bucks (1 year / $6 million)
  • Jason Terry – Boston Celtics (3 years / $15.675 million)
  • Ray Allen – Miami Heat (2 years / $6.32 million)

All of these players are perimeter oriented bench scorers who are average to below average defenders playing for playoff teams.

Home vs. road splits – It’s no secret that players usually play better at home than on the road. There’s the familiarity factor of the arena, the fact that you get to sleep in your own bed, and the boost from the home crowd. As a bench player, Martin is needed to supplement the offense when the starters (namely, Durant and Westbrook) are out of the game. This is very important on the road, especially in the playoffs. Here’s a look at Martin’s home/road splits through the first 61 games of the season:

  • Home – 16.1 ppg on 47.9% FG, 50% 3ptFG, and 92.2% FT
  • Road – 12.7 ppg on 41.3% FG, 35.6% 3ptFG, and 86.7%FT

That’s a 21% drop off in scoring (and noticeable drops in every shooting percentage) outside of the friendly confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena. This may become a factor in the playoffs as the Thunder move forward.

CBA and luxury tax – This may be the biggest hindrance in keeping the Thunder from resigning Martin. Starting next season, the Thunder will have $54.19 million allocated to 4 players (Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins). That leaves about $16 million in pre-luxury tax cap space for 11 roster spots. While the Thunder may have to eventually get into the luxury tax to stay competitive, they will try to stave it off for as long as possible.

Prediction

A lot still remains to be seen concerning Martin and the Thunder. While Martin has performed well in the regular season for his career, he’s never been overtly tested in the playoffs. The last time Martin was on a team that made the playoffs, his teammates included Ron Artest, Bonzi Wells, Shareef Abdul Rahim, Mike Bibby, and Corliss Williamson. While he performed well in that one playoff series, it still remains to be seen how Martin will perform as the team advances in the playoffs.

artest martin

Martin seems to be getting more acclimated with his role off the bench. He’s developed a 2-man game with Nick Collison that defenses have to respect. And his ability to space the floor has opened up driving lanes for back-up pg Reggie Jackson. Martin also seems to be getting more used to his role as a shooter/floor spacer late in games with Durant and Westbrook on the floor.

When the Thunder acquired Martin before the season, I think they had every intention on keeping him and seeing how things played out throughout the season. Even though his $12.5 million expiring contract may have been a valuable commodity at the trading deadline, Martin’s name was never mentioned in any trade rumors leading up to the deadline. One of the reasons why the transition from Harden to Martin has been mostly seamless is because Martin provides a lot of the same production that Harden did. He’s an efficient shooter and a good scorer, who’s always looking to attack the defense. That’s a rare commodity to have when a team can rest its starters and still keep the defense on their heels with its second unit. While the trade brought big changes to the roster, the Thunder never had to change any of their game planning because of the similarities in the styles of play of Harden and Martin.

team

Martin, for his part, seems to be genuinely happy in Oklahoma City. I think there are several reasons for his happiness that may work in the Thunder’s favor in resigning Martin. First off, the pressure of being “the man” on the team is no longer on Martin. While Martin is a good scorer, I don’t think he ever embraced being the No.1 guy on a team. Some players are meant to be alpha males, while others are meant to be great role players. Martin seems to fall in the second category. Secondly, he’s playing on a championship contending team. I don’t know how Martin feels about his legacy, but playing for championships tends to enhance your legacy as a player. Thirdly, Martin may actually increase his longevity in the role that he is currently playing. Martin has always been known to be injury prone, playing in over 60 games only 5 times in his 10 year career (to include this season). Coming off the bench on a championship contender, Martin is playing the least amount of minutes since his 2nd season. And he’s going to the FT line a lot less, meaning that he is not driving or putting his body in harm’s way.

The most important factor in all of this is money. How much is Martin willing to sacrifice, and how much are the Thunder willing to offer? Every championship team has an elite bench scorer or a combination of capable bench scorers. I’m sure that even Martin knows he’s not worth the $12.5 million he’s currently getting paid. If the Thunder offer Martin anything comparable to what Jamal Crawford or Jason Terry are making, will he take that offer? Or will he jump at an offer from another team desperate for a shooting guard (Utah, Minnesota, Dallas) that will likely be substantially more than what the Thunder can offer? Another option for the Thunder is Jeremy Lamb. Is Oklahoma City willing to go into next season with Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson as the main components of their bench unit?

fingerroll martin

I think the Thunder see Martin as their firepower off the bench for the next few seasons. If they were willing to go into the luxury tax for Harden, you can be sure that they’ll keep Martin at a much lower price. My prediction is that Martin will sign a contract comparable to what Jason Terry got (possibly 3 years/ $16.5 million) in the offseason. Martin seems like a mature person that realistically knows his strengths and his weaknesses. He knows that this as a great opportunity to play on a team, and in situations, that matter. In the end, I think he’ll choose legacy and longevity over money.

….The More They Remain The Same

Any time something catastrophic happens, people always measure time from that point forward. In the show “Revolution”, everything is measured from the blackout, which is the catastrophic event in the show. Similarly, anytime something shocking happens to a sports team (i.e. trade, injury, retirement, suspension, etc), everything is measured from that time for the immediate future. No matter what they tell you, Clevelanders are still thinking about Lebron and The Decision. It’ll take a nice playoff run or two from Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and the young Cavs to start to erase the time clock from their collective memory. Chicagoans have become quite adept at handling these differentiating time clocks for the past 20 years. They’ve had Michael Jordan’s first retirement, his comeback, his second retirement, and, finally, Derrick Rose’s knee injury. They are just chomping at the bit to start the Derrick Rose comeback timeclock.

The Oklahoma City Thunder experienced something very similar a month ago. On October 27, 2012, the Thunder traded James Harden, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward, and Cole Aldrich to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 future first round picks, and a 2013 2nd round pick. The Thunder were just coming off a trip to the Finals with their young core just coming into its own. They had their world-class scorer in Kevin Durant, their hyper-competitive floor general in Russell Westbrook, their pogo-stick blocking machine in Serge Ibaka, and their “jack of all trades” in James Harden. All under 24 years of age at the time. THIS team was supposed to grow together and contend for the next decade. Instead, after not being able to come to terms on a long term extension, Thunder GM Sam Presti decided to pull the trigger on the trade,  and send Harden to Houston. 

The first thought amongst Thunder fans was how Martin would compare to Harden. The players, while similar in some facets, were completely different in other facets. Both were great shooters who were very adept at drawing fouls when driving to the basket. The major difference between the two players was that Harden was more of a playmaker, while Martin was more of a scorer. That major difference was of chief concern to Thunder fans because Harden was usually the go-between when Durant and Westbrook were on the floor together in the 4th quarter. When Durant and Westbrook were out there on the floor together, teams had an idea on how to guard the duo. But add Harden to that mix, and the floor spaced out like the Red Sea of Moses.  

Basketball skills aside, the primary concern was how this trade would affect the Thunder’s chemistry. This Thunder team was one that had been hardened by its experiences. The struggles of learning how to win followed by the lessons of winning when favored. It was a 180 degree turn that many teams never experience. Many teams have trotted out young talented rosters that have either failed to pan out or were destroyed from within when it was time for contract extensions. The best comparison I have for the Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka Thunder was the late 90’s Dallas Cowboys of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Eliminate one of the Triplets from that mix, and the Cowboys aren’t winning 3 Super Bowls in four seasons. This is the current dilemma facing the Thunder.

One month in, and the transition has been about as smooth as it can be when changing out key parts. There have been some transitional growing pains, but that is to be expected when a core shattering trade is made 4 days before the start of the regular season. What is important is the Martin seems to be integrating quite nicely into his role as the team’s 6th man. Luckily, the team’s schedule has been home-heavy in this early going with the opponent’s collective win percentage being under .500. On the other hand, against teams with strong playoff pedigrees, such as the Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers, and Celtics, the team has struggled and is 1-3 against those teams. The surprising revelation is that compared to James Harden’s stat line from last season’s first 15 games, you would almost not even notice a difference.

  • Stat                                       Harden (11-12)      I       Martin (12-13)
  • Minutes per game                     30.0                              30.7
  • Points per game                       16.3                              15.9
  • Turnovers per game                  1.8                                 1.8
  • Steals per game                         0.8                                1.3
  • Blocks per game                        0.2                                 0.1
  • Assists per game                       3.1                                 1.8
  • Rebounds per game                  3.9                                 2.7
  • FT Attempts per game               6.5                                 4.6
  • FT Made per game                     5.7                                 4.4
  • FT %                                             86.7%                           94%
  • 3pt FG attempts per game          4.6                                4.9
  • 3pt FG made per game               1.7                                 2.4
  • 3pt FG %                                       36.2%                           50%
  • FG attempts per game                 9.9                                9.9
  • FG made per game                      4.5                                4.6
  • FG %                                              43%                              46%
  • TS %                                               66%                             66.5%
  • eFG %                                            58.2%                          58.3%
  • Thunder Record                            12 – 3                            11 – 4

Other than the difference in assists per game, Harden and Martin have virtually the same offensive stats. Eventually, even the assists may be a wash, as Martin has shown a willingness to become more of a playmaker. People tend to forget that Martin has been the main offensive option on most of the teams that he’s played on and has been given the green light to shoot at will. But, with teammates like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka on the floor, Martin has shown that he can find the open man for an easy bucket or two. 

Defensively, Martin has been a liability, but Harden wasn’t necessarily on his way to being named to any of the All-Defensive Teams. This first half of the season will be one lesson after another for the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook have been learning on the fly how to incorporate Martin into their crunch time offense. And Martin has been learning how to be more aggressive as a bench player. Overall, the transition has gone a lot smoother than many Thunder fans had feared. With Harden coming to town on Wednesday with his new team, the cycle seems to have come full circle. The more things change…….

On the Road Again

I’m a child of the late 80’s / early 90’s. It was during that time that I was in elementary school learning, as most of the world was, about computers. And, of course, the best way to learn is to interactively play games that also teach you about the subject matter. My favorite games to play on those old floppy-disc induced Apple computers was Oregon Trail. If you, either, don’t remember, or were too young to know what a floppy disc was, it was a story-based game of a journey through the Oregon Trail. You are the wagon leader of a party of settlers going from Independence, Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette Valley over the Oregon Trail in an oxen-drawn wagon. Along the trail, you have to make decisions concerning food and directions to survive the trail. You and your fellow settlers can die from a range of maladies from drowning to snake bites to dysentery. Needless to say, it is a game about the difficulties of being on the road.

 

Many teams in this young strike shortened season are probably looking at their road records and wondering whether the entire team is suffering from a bout of cholera. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, only 6 have a winning record on the road. While most teams struggle on the road in any given season, shortened or not, the upper echelon teams usually buck that trend and win wherever they play. Such has not been the case this season. 

  • The Southwest-leading San Antonio Spurs have an 8-4 record overall, but are an awful 0-4 on the road.
  •  The Pacific-leading Los Angeles Lakers are also 8-4 overall, but carry a 1-3 road record. 
  • The veteran Boston Celtics, a team that is supposed to know how to play on the road, is 1-3 in its games away from Massachusetts.

 Winning on the road usually involves a balanced combination of veteran leadership, youthful legs, good defense, and good bench play. It should come as no surprise that the 6 teams with winning road records have some semblance of each of those 4 characteristics needed to be a good road team.Oklahoma City (5-1), Chicago (7-2),  Miami(5-2), Orlando(4-2), and Indianapolis and Atlanta(both at 4-3) are all defensive minded teams with a nice mix of vets and youth, and good to great benches.

  •  5 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for point differential. 
  • 4 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for opponent’s PPG. 
  • 5 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for opponent’s FG%. 
  • Oklahoma City and Chicago have 2 of the best benches in the league.

 

 While it is still early in the season, trends like these don’t tend to change too much throughout the course of the season. We are already at least 1/6th of the way through the season (unless you are the Los Angeles Clippers). At this point, most teams are Denny Green (“They are who we thought they were!”). In the playoffs, you have to know how to win on the road. So take a good look at the 6 teams with winning road records. More than likely 2 of those teams will end up playing in the Finals.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In late February of last season, when the Oklahoma City Thunder first acquired Kendrick Perkins, one of the biggest changes occurred on the offensive end of the floor. The lanes that were once open with the spacing provided by the perimeter games of Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green were no longer there. In its place, those lanes were replaced by “box and 1” defenses with defenders hedging off of Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha. 

Mainly used for his defense, Sefolosha’s inability to consistently hit jumpers limited the first team’s offensive production. The opposing shooting guard, usually one of the better ball hawks on the floor, was able to play off of Sefolosha and help defend throughout the floor, whether it was doubling down on Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, or plugging up an open lane in the interior. In addition, the team replaced one of the better shooting centers in the league with one of the more offensively-challenged centers in the league. Perkins does all of his work in the interior. While he may step out and try a 15 footer from time to time, his best play is no more than 5 feet from the basket. Krstic’s biggest offensive impact wasn’t necessarily his shooting; instead, it was in keeping the opposing center away from the basket. Also, Serge Ibaka’s midrange game had yet to develop any type of consistency. In essence, the team seemed like it was playing 2 on 5 on the offensive end with this line-up most of the time. 

This had the biggest effect on the play of point guard Russell Westbrook, whose game is predicated on using those lanes to drive to the basket. Westbrook’s stat line for the regular season remained consistent at 22 ppg on 44% FG shooting to along with 8.2 assists. But when the game slowed down as it usually does in the playoffs, his scoring increased to 23.8 ppg, but it was on 39% FG shooting to go along with 6.2 assists and 4.6 turnovers per game. Westbrook became less efficient in the playoffs and the offense, as a whole, became less efficient because of this. It was during these playoffs that the glaring need for a spacer became very evident. 

Once the season ended, the consensus was that the next step in the evolution of this team was to replace Sefolosha with 6th man James Harden in the starting 5. Harden was a much better shooter and creator than Sefolosha, which would’ve added another dimension to the starting 5. No longer would the wing defender be able to help by hedging off of Sefolosha, as Harden’s ability to consistently hit 3’s would negate this. This would’ve opened at least one extra lane for Durant and Westbrook to drive through. Add this to Ibaka’s improving midrange game, and this should have brought the offense back to where it was pre-trade, with good spacing and perimeter options. Seemed simple enough.

 But the devil’s advocate to this move has always been to ask where the bench scoring was going to come from once Harden was lifted off the bench. Every great team has at least one player from the bench that is able to take over when the bench unit is in there. The Mavs had Jason Terry and JJ Barea. The Lakers had Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. The Spurs had Manu Ginobili. The Bulls had BJ Armstrong (first 3-peat) and Toni Kukoc (second 3-peat). And who could forget the Bad Boy Pistons and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. Due to the Thunder’s great durability and good luck, we’ve never had to see what the second unit would look like without James Harden for an extended period of time. 

The Thunder’s bench unit has been a well-oiled machine for the past 2 seasons. With point guard Eric Maynor running the show, Harden doing the scoring, Daequan Cook providing spacing, and forward Nick Collison providing the muscle, the Thunder bench has been one of the most efficient in the league during that time. This season, the bench averaged 39 points per game in the first 5 games, with Harden doing the most damage at 16 ppg. Where the starting line-up falters, the bench usually picks up. 

Then the last two games happened. With Sefolosha dealing with a sore foot and flu-like symptoms and Cook also dealing with flu-like symptoms, the Thunder’s usual 10 man rotation was shortened to 8, with rookie Reggie Jackson and second year player Lazar Hayward filling in the missing pieces. With Harden in the starting line-up for the second half of the Dallas Mavericks game and starting outright in the Portland Trailblazers game, Thunder fans got a glimpse of what life would be like with Harden in the starting lineup. 

In the second half of the Mavericks game, the trio of Durant, Harden, and Westbrook scored a combined 31 points with 3 assists while trying to come back from a second half deficit. The rest of the team scored 9 points in the second half with only 5 coming from one bench player (Maynor). In thePortlandgame, the trio combined for 64 points and 16 assists, but struggled from the field, shooting only 40% from the floor combined. The bench, on the hand, had only 14 points on 6/17 shooting. 

While the trio figure themselves out, the bench is left to fend for itself without a valid scorer on tap. This is where an acquisition like Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter, or Tracy McGrady could’ve come in handy. While I like what I see from the future starting line-up, I also think the team is incomplete without a scorer off the bench. Which leads me to the weirdest thing I’ve said this young year: Damn, I miss Thabo Sefolosha.

Wu-Tang vs. OKC Thunder

 

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If you are like me, you are growing tired of the weekly late night sessions by the players’ union and owners. The meetings always seem to start off with a hint of hope, only to be crushed when we finally see the sides emerge into their separate press conferences after the meeting. Its almost like getting set up on a blind date. The anticipation builds, you’ve heard all the good reviews from your friends, and then when you see her, she looks like a close up shot from one of the Ren and Stimpy cartoons.

When I started this blog, I intended it to be solely an OKC Thunder blog. But as is the case with many of my ventures, my AOADD (adult onset attention deficit disorder) won’t allow me to concentrate on just one aspect of something. I have to try to encompass everything about that subject. Since the Thunder are a part of the NBA, and the NBA, as a whole, is the story of the moment, I’ve kind of shifted my writings from strictly Thunder subjects to more NBA (read:lockout) subjects. But I’ve decided, enough with all this lockout madness (for now). While there isn’t much to write about since there is a lockout, there is no better time than the present to start using the creative side of my brain. I mean, I am a lefty, so we are supposed to be more in tune with the creative, artistic part of our brain. Key word being “supposed to be”.

When there was an NBA season with some Thunder games, we constantly heard about the sacred 9-man rotation. That rotation sometimes got bumped up to a 10-man rotation when everyone was healthy, but usually stayed at the comfortable number of 9. Now, I bring this up, because my favorite rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan, consists of 9 core members (generals) but also, usually, includes an extra 1-2 associated rappers that round things out (you know, in case someone dies or gets arrested, which is the sports equivalent of someone being injured (arrested) or out for the season (dead)). I’ve always associated the Thunder’s 9-man rotation with the Wu’s 9 generals and thought it would be fun to do a comparative piece about the 2 groups.

Before I get started, let me introduce you to the Wu-Tang Clan if you are not a fan of rap or were born before 1975. The Wu is a 9-man rap group from Staten Island NY consisting of the RZA, the GZA/Genius, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa. In addition, Cappadonna and Streetlife usually appear on the group’s albums and are considered unofficial members of the group. The unique thing about this group is that even though each rapper has his own style, they usually mesh seamlessly on their group albums to produce good music.

The RZA is……….Russell Westbrook. The RZA is usually the main and only producer on the group albums. He’s the one that makes the beats and arranges the album. He would be akin to a table-setter where the rest of the rappers just put their platters (rhymes) on said table. He’s the creator, just like Russell is the creator on the floor. While not as wildly popular as other members of the group, the RZA is very well known and respected in the entainment industry. Which almost sounds a lot like Russell Westbrook. While not the most popular on the team nationally, he is well respected by most and shows the potential to be an alpha dog on most teams.

Method Man is………Kevin Durant. Method Man is, by far, the most popular member of the Wu. His witty, humerous lines and strong cadence make him an easy rapper to follow and like. He’s also the first of the group to try other ventures such as acting (How High, anyone?) and directing. His charismatic personality and sense of humor makes it very easy for him to gain mass appeal. This relates very well to Kevin Durant. Without a question, the most popular player on the Thunder, KD is the unquestioned offensive leader of this team. At the same time, his affable personality and yeoman-like work ethic make it very easy for people to relate to him and admire him. In terms of production, everyone wants to see KD perform, just like everybody at a Wu concert wants to see Meth perform.

GZA/Genius is ………. Nick Collison. The veteran of the group, he’s the one that is always consistent with his flow. He never gets too high or too low. You know with the Genius what you are going to get every time out. Same thing with Collison. The veteran leader of this young crew, he keeps an even keel and you usually know what he’s going to provide night in and night out. And just like Collison is our no-stats MVP, if you ask any Wu fan who there no-stats MVP is, they would say it’s the GZA.

Ghostface Killah is……… James Harden. A mystery when the group first came on the scene, Ghost has come along as probably the 2nd most productive emcee of the group. Constantly working, he has carved out his own niche and has a huge following in the rap industry. With his witty word-play and rapid fire delivery, Ghost has made himself into a heavy-weight in the rap game. As our first lottery pick, Harden’s arrival on our team provided a bit of mystery. Would he supplant Thabo Sefolosha as the starting SG? Or would he be our main offensive weapon off the bench? Honestly, those questions are still a mystery 3 years in. But, Harden has acclimated himself very well in the league and is well on his way to becoming one of the top SG’s in the game.

Raekwon is……….Serge Ibaka. Raekwon is a lunch pail rapper. He puts in his work and goes home. When it comes to a rap group of 9, not everybody can rap on every song. But the guy that puts in the most work and has appeared on the most songs is definitely Rae. His ability to tell stories in rhyme form are what set him apart. Serge is one of the harder workers on the team, especially on the defensive end of the floor. His ability to guard the paint have made him a menace to opposing teams. Plus, his journey to the NBA is a great story that should be told.

Inspectah Deck is……….. Eric Maynor. Deck is the ultimate glue guy on the Wu-Tang roster. His verses can sometimes blow you away, but they can also, at times, leave you underwhelmed. This describes Eric Maynor at this point in his career. There are times where Maynor’s play leaves you awestruck and salivating for more (Game 2 of the WCF’s), but then there are games where you wonder if Maynor will ever shed the “back-up” tag.

U-God is……….Thabo Sefolosha. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Uey. He brings some rough and rugged raps that hype you up. But his cadence and word play sometimes leave you wanting more. Which brings up to Thabo Sefolosha. Sef is primarily a great defensive player, but leaves you wanting a lot on the offensive end. He sometimes has a gem of a game, but he usually stays in the background and doesn’t add much other than defense.

Masta Killa is……..Kendrick Perkins. Were you really expecting anyone else to be compared with a guy who goes by the name of Masta Killa? Mostly a witty battle rapper, MK is usually good to drop a verse that will get the crowd hyped, but loses himself when he tries to venture into autobiographical or story-telling lyrics. If you want someone on the team to go to battle with, who else would you choose other than Perk? He’s our intimidator and presence on the interior. When he tries to do anything else other than be an intimidator, he usually ends up getting himself and the team in trouble.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard is ………..Nate Robinson and Reggie Jackson. The only guy in the group crazy enough to have two players compared to him. Before his death, ODB was the resident idiot savant of the group. Someone who rapped in outlandish ways, but somehow, it made sense in an ODB kind of way. In a room full of hyped rappers, he’s the one that brought the energy. To that respect, he’s very much like Nate Robinson. Watching Nate cheer the team on from the bench is a joy to watch as a spectator. The energy derived from him has to account for at least an extra 0.2 points per game. But ODB was also a mystery. As much information as he put out to his public, there was always an air of mystery surrounding Dirt McGirt. Which brings us to our 2011 draft pick, Reggie Jackson. What can this guy bring to the table for us? Based on his tools and style of play, he seems like a poor man’s Russell Westbrook. But will he play that way once the season starts?

Cappadonna is ………..Daequan Cook. Cappadonna is the Wu-Tang Clan’s unofficial 10th member. He usually on every album, but also fills in to form the core 9 whenever one of the members is missing (see: ODB’s incarceration and ODB’s death). Like Cappa, Daequan is our official 9th or 10th member off the bench. He does his job, and tries his hardest not to get in the way.

Streetlife is ………Nazr Mohammed. Streetlife is a protégés of Method Man who has found a niche as the Wu’s unofficial 11th member. He’s appeared on most Wu-related albums and comes up with very energetic verses. While not very energetic, Nazr does provide some scoring up in the post off the bench that sometimes comes in very handy.

The Wu-Tang Clan have been going strong in the rap business for almost 20 years now. They’ve had their ups and downs. They’ve faced triumphs and tragedies. But through it all, they’ve remained together. I know that sports teams will never remain together for that long, but if there is a suitable sports equivalent (> 7 years?), I would hope that the Thunder can achieve that and be successful in the process.