Tag Archives: Charlotte Bobcats

Thunder sign Reggie Williams to a 10-day contract

Iowa Energy v Tulsa 66ers

The Oklahoma City Thunder have signed Reggie Williams of the Tulsa 66ers to a 10-day contract. In 20 games played for Tulsa, Williams is averaging 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.9 assists on 38.7% shooting from the 3-point line.

Williams, 27, played 4 seasons in the NBA from 2010-2013. He played for the Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Bobcats during that time and averaged 8.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists on 37.1% shooting from the 3-point line. His best seasons were his first two in Golden State,  where he was primarily used as the main scorer off the bench.

Williams brings 3-point shooting and perimeter defense to the Thunder. With Thabo Sefolosha injured, Williams may see some time at the SG/SF position. The Thunder’s roster now sits at the max allowable 15 players.

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Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 61 of 82)

jackson carter williams thunder 76ers

  • When: Tuesday, 04 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder have started to look like themselves once again. After starting the 2nd half of the season 0-3, and looking lost with Russell Westbrook back at the point guard helm, the Thunder have strung together two straight victories over quality opponents (the Grizzlies and the Bobcats). Injuries are still playing a factor as starters Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha are possibly out for the rest of the regular season. But the Thunder have weathered these storms this season and will continue to adapt.

This is the 2nd meeting of the season between these two clubs. The Thunder won the first meeting 103-91 in Philadelphia. In that game, Kevin Durant messed around and got a triple double (32 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists), while Serge Ibaka had double/double with 25 points and 11 rebounds.

The Opponent

wroten carter williams 76ers

Philadelphia is turning rebuilding (“TANKING!”) into an art form this season. In the beginning of the season, the Sixers’ three best players were Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Thaddeus Young. Only Young still remains and all Philadelphia has to show for Hawes and Turner is 3 second round picks and some guy named Henry Sims.  Their record currently stands at 15-45 and they are riding a 14 game losing streak. During their current losing streak, they’ve lost their games by an average of 18.9 points. Leading the team is rookie pg Michael Carter-Williams, whose play has been one of the few bright spots in this season. He’s second on the team in points and leads the team in assists. On the wing, Tony Wroten can be a menace defensively and Thaddeus Young leads the team in scoring at 17.7 points per game. Their bench is a lot like their team, in general: a few developing players, but plenty of weaknesses.

Probable Starting Line-Up

Philadelphia 76ers

  • PG – Michael Carter-Williams
  • SG – James Anderson
  • SF – Hollis Thompson
  • PF – Thaddeus Young
  • C – Henry Sims

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Don’t look at the record – The Thunder have this bad habit of allowing bad teams to stay in games until the 4th quarter. Even though the team is bad, they are all still paid professionals with some modicum of pride. With that said, I will be highly disappointed if this game is not decided by the beginning of the 4th quarter.

2. Kevin Durant – Everyone will be wanting Durant to respond to the 61 point performance put on by Lebron James on Monday against the Charlotte Bobcats. A couple things to note: Lebron played the entire 4th quarter when his team had a 19 point lead to begin the quarter and Charlotte was on the 2nd night of a back to back that had them traveling from Oklahoma City to Miami. With that said, I fully expect Durant to have more of a triple double-type game than a scoring explosion.

caron butler thunder

3. Welcome, Caron Butler – Scott Brooks will have a new toy to play with off the bench. I say toy, because Butler is a veteran and he can shoot the 3-pointer. Nothing makes Brooks happier than a veteran that can shoot the 3-ball.

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.

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.

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.

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

thunder western conference champs

5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings | 5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

The first part of this series focused on the beginnings of the Thunder organization in Oklahoma  City. For the second part of the series, I want to focus on what was the apex for these first five years of Thunder basketball, the 2012 NBA Finals. For a little comparative perspective, there are 9 NBA teams (in their current city/team format) that have never reached the NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans have never tasted the fine champagne of a conference championship. I’m excluding the Brooklyn Nets from the list because they’ve only been in Brooklyn for one season and went to the Finals as the New Jersey Nets twice. The proximity of Brooklyn, NY to Newark, NJ (about 15 miles apart) negates a huge change of fan base because of distance. I’m also excluding the Washington Wizards because they made it to the Finals as the Bullets, but decided to change the team’s name in 1997 due to the negative connotation between actual bullets and WashingtonDC being mentioned in the 90’s as the murder capital of the US.

The road to the Finals that season was like the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits album; that is to say a long, strange trip. To begin with, it was a season that almost never was. Although this lockout never reached the DEFCON 4 levels the ’98-‘99 lockout did, it was still nerve-wracking to watch every labor meeting end with the two sides having separate press conferences to disparage the other side. It was like watching your parents, after a nasty divorce, arguing over your custody.

nba lockout

When you are a fan of a team that is drastically improving and just entering the prime of its championship window, the last thing you want is a work stoppage. Anything that cuts into a year of your team’s development when you are close to becoming a perennial contender is the ultimate of detriments. The chemistry built from the previous seasons basically gets thrown out the window if players are allowed to sit for 15-18 months with no access to team coaches or trainers. Not to mention, the veteran players would be a year older and there would be a ton of questions regarding roster moves.

But alas, on November 26th, 2011, after months of hearing about BRI, luxury tax, hard caps, and mid-level exceptions, cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached between the NBA and the players’ union. Instead of playing an entire 82 game schedule, the regular season would be trimmed to 66 games with the first day of the season beginning on Christmas. If seeing your team in the NBA Finals is Christmas in June, then seeing the NBA come back from a lockout was, literally, Christmas on Christmas. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

2013 OKC Thunder Draft: A Postscript

2013 NBA Draft

The NBA draft to me is a time of hope. Whether your team has the first pick or the last pick in the draft, there’s always a sense of optimism that the guy your team drafted is destined for great things. And that’s why I’ve always enjoyed the draft. When the Thunder started becoming one of the better teams in the league, their position on the draft board started rising into the late first round. Their draft position from the last 5 seasons went as followed: 4th (still as the Seattle Supersonics), 3rd, 18th, 24th, and 28th. Even with those high draft numbers though, we’ve been able to get good players late in the draft, namely Reggie Jackson and Perry Jones III.

Flash back to October 28th, 2012. As soon as the details of the James Harden trade came out, and I saw that we got a first round pick from what was almost guaranteed to be a lottery team (Toronto) and a 2nd round pick, which was almost guaranteed to be in the lower to mid 30’s (Charlotte), I started paying more attention than usual to the 2013 NBA draft. I would visit sites dedicated specifically to the draft (NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com) and would study up on the prospects. I knew how to spell Giannis Adetokunbo before he Greek-a-nized his last name to Antetokounmpo.

For a team that was on the cusp of a championship the season before, the lottery pick could have been the final piece in the championship puzzle. While it is true that the Thunder gave up a big piece in Harden, having a possible lottery pick may have made finding his replacement a bit easier. Also, the possibility of drafting a good player on a rookie salary for, at least, 4 seasons is like manna from heaven for a team teetering on the luxury tax line.

Needless to say, when the Thunder were eliminated in the 2nd round of the playoffs, my focus quickly switched to the NBA draft. With two picks in the first round, No. 12 and 29, and one early pick in the second round, No. 32, in what was deemed to be a weak draft, my expectations were that we weren’t going to be using all the picks. By most accounts, the teams in the top 5 weren’t necessarily exalting the selection of prospects at the top of the board. I thought the Thunder were going to do something big (i.e. trade up or trade for good veteran player).

It’s a funny thing about expectations, though. They can sometimes cloud your vision. When the picks started coming in, and guys that I thought were high on the Thunder’s draft board (Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, and CJ McCollum) started dropping, I thought it was prime time to make a trade and move up. But as those players started getting drafted, and every “We have a trade,” from David Stern yielded nothing for the Thunder, I started to feel disappointment.

len, noel, mclemore

As the draft went along and we only made minor moves, I literally had a feeling of utter dejection about this draft. I mean, this was the “Harden redemption” draft. We were supposed to get ourselves a blue chip prospect to join with Jeremy Lamb in order to have a feeling of success when it came to the James Harden trade. And it didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the players we drafted. It just felt like we let a golden opportunity go by without even trying to do anything.

But, alas, a little bit of sleep and a little bit of retrospect usually puts things into perspective. The more I thought about the players we got in this draft, the more I liked it. First off, this was not your draft if you are into instant gratification. This was a developmental draft, just like the last two drafts for the Thunder have been developmental drafts (Jackson, Lamb, and Jones III). As I analyzed this draft, I saw that we obtained players that will greatly help us in the future.

 

No. 12 – Steven Adams – C, University of Pittsburgh

adams draft

The Thunder don’t necessarily have a good track record with it comes to centers. Since they’ve arrived in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have drafted two flame-outs and one Eurostash: Byron Mullens, Cole Aldrich, and Tibor Pleiss. The carryovers from the Seattle days (Mouhamed Sene, Robert Swift, and Johan Petro) were 21 feet of nothingness, and the current placeholder, Kendrick Perkins, just posted a negative PER in the playoffs. To say that the center position is a position of need is an understatement.

The 7 footer from New Zealand is a late bloomer, but has the tools to be successful in the NBA. He’s an athletic big man with quick feet known for his defense. He won’t be asked to contribute immediately and may spend a good deal of his rookie season in Tulsa playing for the Tulsa 66ers. With two of the top 10 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder don’t necessarily need an offensive savant in the middle. What they do need is someone that can move around, play defense, grab rebounds, catch a pass, and finish when they are within 5 feet of the basket. I have no doubt that Adams will be able to do that.

 

No. 26 – Andre Roberson – SF-PF, University of Colorado

Roberson from the University of Colorado shakes hands with NBA Commissioner Stern after being selected by the Timberwolves as the 26th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft in Brooklyn

This pick was a bit of head-scratcher to me. Not necessarily the pick itself, but the fact that the Thunder moved up 3 spots (albeit just for cash) to make the selection. Roberson was creeping up on every mock drafts, but wasn’t in line to be picked in the first round. Every mock draft had him falling to the beginning of the second round. Why the Thunder felt the need to move up to grab him? We may never know. Being that he is a Kawhi Leonard-like player, maybe the Thunder caught wind that the San Antonio Spurs were looking to draft him with the 28th pick.

Roberson is a bit of an enigma. He’s 6’7, but has a 6’11 wingspan and was second in the NCAA in rebounding at 11.2 per game. Also, he’s one of the premier defenders in college. Those traits usually translate very well to the pro game. His offensive game is a different story. He struggles for consistency on the perimeter, but excels if he gets close to basket on dribble drives, cuts, and offensive put back. Because of this, he is often compared to Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman.

rodman

In a system and on a team that values players that can guard multiple positions, Roberson should eventually find a spot in the rotation as a defender. It wouldn’t surprise me if Roberson saw the most minutes with the Thunder of all the Thunder rookies.

 

No. 32 – Alex Abrines – SG-SF, FC Barcelona (Spanish ACB League)

alex abrines

Abrines is a stash pick that will probably stay in Europe for 1-2 more seasons. He asked teams not to drat him late in the first round, as the guaranteed money would be less and he would probably have to fit some of the bill for his buyout. The Thunder took a chance and drafted him with the second pick of the second round. He is a smooth shooting wing player with a flair for the dramatic that many have compared to Rudy Fernandez and Drazen Petrovic.

At 19 years of age, Abrines will have to improve his game and strengthen his body before he’ll be able to compete in the NBA. The only negative for the Thunder is that Abrines is young enough to improve to the point where going the NBA would not make financial sense, causing him to stay in Europe for the rest of his professional career.

 

No. 40 – Grant Jerrett – PF, University of Arizona (selected by Portland, traded to Oklahoma City for cash considerations)

grant jerrett

Just when I thought there was no way we would draft three rookies to actually play on the team this upcoming season, the team goes and acquires a shooting big man in the 2nd round. At 6’10, Jerrett showed great potential as a shooter and as a stretch 4 in the NBA. At this point though, perimeter shooting is his only noticeable strength. Jerrett has a tool the team needs, but will need to put in a lot of work to make the opening day roster. He may be a Ryan Anderson-type player, but he may have benefited from another season in college. If his strengths don’t outweigh his weaknesses in Summer League and during the preseason, Jarrett, as a second rounder, is a good candidate to not make the team.

thunder team

Surprisingly, this draft said more about the players already on the team than those that were drafted. The team’s unwillingness to part with Jackson, Lamb, or Jones III to move up showed the confidence the team has in the young guys, and shows how the team values cohesiveness and development. With three rookies on the roster, look for the team to try to sign one or two veteran free agents to even out the youth on the bench.

The Thunder and the 32nd pick

draft pj 3

The Oklahoma City Thunder hold 3 draft picks in this upcoming draft. They have two in the first round, No.12 and 29, and one in the second round, No. 32.  While people are usually enamored by the first round picks, it’s the early second round picks (No. 31-35) that hold more value to teams. It’s an opportunity to grab first round talent without the constriction of a guaranteed contract. Here’s a list of notable players that have been drafted in the 31-35 range in the last 5 season: Nikola Pekovic, Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Singler, Jeffery Taylor, Jae Crowder, Draymond Green. The difference in talent from the last 5 picks of the first round and the first 5 picks of the second round is infinitesimal.

For teams holding a slot in those first 5 picks of the 2nd round, it is an opportunity not only to draft a talented player, but also to procure a trade for an asset. The fact that a team can take a flyer on a player without having to offer a guaranteed contract, makes these picks more valuable than those in the lower end of the first round. These picks becomes doubly valuable before the beginning of a maddening free agency season. When teams vying for free agents want to clear cap space and/or not take on anymore guaranteed salary, they dump players and first round picks in exchange for high second round picks.

presti

Thunder general manager Sam Presti took advantage of this during the last frenzied free agency class, where he also owned the 32nd pick. We arm-chair GM’s love to talk about the would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves. But we have that beautiful thing called hind-sight in our back pockets. Real NBA GM’s don’t have that advantage, but those few great  GM’s have a little thing called foresight. While we focus on our team in the present tense, great GM’s look at the health of other franchises and plot how they can take advantage of their needs. Presti is great at this and seems to be on the prowl again in this draft.

On July 27th, 2009, the Thunder traded Damien Wilkins and Chucky Atkins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Etan Thomas and 2 second round picks. Most people thought this was just one of those offseason trades where a team trades 2 bench players for another bench player. But the haul in that trade was actually the 2nd round pick that turned into No. 32 in the 2010 NBA draft.

Etan Thomas, Andrew Bynum

The 2010 offseason was known for one thing and one thing only….the summer of Lebron. That was the offseason where most of the bumper crop from the 2003 draft class was coming up on their 2nd extensions, while other players like Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and Joe Johnson were also coming up on unrestricted free agency. If you were a team that believed in quick fixes, this was the summer for you. While a handful of teams were trying their hardest to unload as much salary as possible, the other teams were more than willing to take on decent players (salary) and first round picks.

The Thunder had assets galore in the 2010 draft with 3 picks in the first round (18, 21, and 26) and 2 picks in the second round (32 and 51). The consensus with most teams is that you don’t head into training camp with five rookies. So, the Thunder knew they had to wheel and deal to get what they wanted in this draft, which was a defensive minded big man and more assets. Their first move was to trade the 32nd pick to Miami for the 18th pick and Daequan Cook. Miami was looking to cut salary to position themselves for the summer of Lebron. The Thunder knew they couldn’t get what they wanted at 18, so they traded it to the Clippers for a future first rounder. They eventually traded up to the 11th pick where they picked Cole Aldrich. The future first rounder from the Clippers helped to facilitate the trade with the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins at the trading deadline that following season.

benchmob

There are a lot of similarities between this offseason and the 2010 offseason. First off, the top tier in this free agency class includes some franchise players, such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Josh Smith. Secondly, these free agents are available and willing to hear out every offer on the table. Thirdly, there are team already vying to dump salary and 1st round draft picks to clear cap space. And, fourthly, the Thunder have the 32nd pick.

The story behind the 32nd pick is akin to the story of Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years in the book of Exodus. A little bit of controversy, a little bit of disobedience, and finally back to where it ultimately needed to be. On December 19, 2011, the Thunder traded Byron Mullens to the Charlotte Bobcats for their unprotected 2013 2nd round pick. Simple, right? Wrong! When the Thunder traded for Perkins, they sent Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green to Boston along with that Clippers draft pick. Everything was going good until doctors discovered the following season that Green was suffering from an aortic aneurysm, would need immediate surgery, and would miss the entire 2011-12 season. Boston contended that Oklahoma City knew of this condition previous to the trade. On June 16, 2012, the NBA decided to give Boston the Charlotte pick as compensation for the Green debacle. On July 20, 2012, the Celtics traded the pick to the Houston Rockets as part of a three team trade for guard Courtney Lee. Finally, on October 27, 2012, the pick was sent back to Oklahoma City as part of the James Harden trade. I’ve joked that, to everyone outside of Oklahoma City, the trade between OKC and Houston will be known as the James Harden trade. But to the people in Oklahoma City, the trade will be known as the “reacquisition of the Charlotte 2nd round pick” trade.

Oklahoma City is in prime position to make a significant move to improve their team in this draft. The rumor mill is already rampant with teams wanting to dump salary and picks for a chance at one of the top tier free agents. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports reported that Houston is looking to unload the No. 5 pick from last season’s draft, Thomas Robinson, in order to clear further cap space. Chad Ford of ESPN.com reported that the Dallas Mavericks were looking to trade away the No. 13 pick in order to avoid the $1.6 million cap hold that the pick carries. Also, Atlanta has picks 17 and 18, but are also looking to throw their hat in the free agency fray. There will be plenty of opportunities to nab a necessary piece on this draft day.

Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony

Also, there is one more thing to look out for in this draft. There might be an epic free agency class coming up next offseason. Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade all have early termination options to become free agents in 2014. Add to that, the 2014 NBA draft is predicted to be a lot stronger than this draft class, and you have the perfect storm for further wheelings and dealings. Look for the Thunder to not only get what they need in this draft, but also to pick up assets for the 2014 draft. Let the madness begin!

Scoreboard Watching

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Last month of the season. A time where every game has meaning. Teams are either jockeying of playoff positioning or draft positioning. The worst teams are balancing between increasing their chances in the NBA draft lottery and creating a late season winning attitude to carry over into the next season. And the best teams are either trying to solidify their spot in the playoff rankings in an effort to get home court advantage throughout the playoffs, or trying to get into the playoffs.

For most teams in the playoff hunt, the only thing they are worried about is playoff seeding. For these teams, their draft picks for the next draft will be in the 15-30 range, and unfortunately, there aren’t too many franchise saviors drafted in that range. What these teams will end up drafting in this range are solid rotation players, Euro-stashes, and players that most fans won’t hear about again once their rookie contracts have run their course. But sometimes, due to prior trades or deals, some of these teams luck into a lottery pick.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in the position of battling for the number 1 seed in the Western Conference and picking in the lottery in the following NBA draft. When the Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets, some of the assets that OKC obtained were draft picks. These are the 3 draft picks the Thunder obtained in that trade and their restrictions:

  • Dallas Mavericks 1st round pick (Top 20 protected until 2018)
  • Charlotte Bobcats 2nd round pick (no restrictions)
  • Toronto Raptors 1st round pick (Top 3 and 15-30 protected in 2013 and 2014, Top 2 and 15-30 protected in 2015 and 2016, Top 1 and 15-30 protected in 2017 and  2018, unprotected after that.)

The Dallas pick probably won’t come to fruition in this draft as Dallas is currently in the lottery and has a very small chance of even reaching the 21st pick if they make the playoffs. They would need to win out and have the 7 other playoff teams currently under 45 wins completely fall apart. A scenario that is very unlikely. The Toronto and Charlotte picks, on the other hand, are in play for the 2013 Draft. As a fan of the Thunder, this has made scoreboard watching in April must-see-TV.

Toronto Pick (Teams that warrant watching – Philadelphia, Washington, Minnesota, Sacramento, New Orleans, and Toronto)

Again, this pick is Top 3 and 15-30 protected for this upcoming draft. Since the Raptors aren’t making the playoffs this season, you can eliminate the 15-30 protection from their draft pick. As of April 1st, the Raptors are slated to pick No.8. With 8 games left, the Raptors have the possibility of picking as high as third (if they lose out) or as low as 13th (if they win out). The position of the Raptors’ pick is not only dependent on their play, but also on the play of the teams around Toronto in the league standings. This is how the teams listed above are currently slotted and how far apart they are in games as of April 1st:

11. Philadelphia          –

10. Washington           3

9. Minnesota               3

8. Toronto                   3.5

7. Sacramento             3.5

6. New Orleans           4.5

So there are currently 3.5 games separating Toronto from the Number 11 slot in the draft and 1 game separating Toronto from the Number 6 slot in the draft. A lot of movement is possible in the standings within the final 2 weeks of the season.

Charlotte Pick (Teams that warrant watching – Orlando and Charlotte)

The Charlotte pick is not protected meaning wherever Charlotte’s pick falls in the 2nd round, that’s where Oklahoma City will pick. Granted, 2nd round picks are more miss than hit. The players selected in the 2nd round of the NBA draft fall into one of four categories. You have the 1st round talents that slipped into the 2nd round for a myriad of reasons, the Euro-stashes, the upper classmen that may surprise and make it onto an NBA roster, and the players that are a reach. Usually, the higher you pick in the 2nd round, the higher the probability of success in the NBA.

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With the worst record in the NBA, the Charlotte Bobcats would get the 1st pick of the 2nd round (pick No. 31). Here’s a list of the last 5 players selected with the 31st pick:

  • 2008: Nikola Pekovic (currently with the Minnesota Timberwolves)
  • 2009: Jeff Pendergraph (currently with the Indiana Pacers)
  • 2010: Tibor Pleiss (still playing in Europe, rights owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder)
  • 2011: Bojan Bogdanovic (still playing in Europe, rights owned by the Brooklyn Nets)
  • 2012: Jeffrey Taylor (currently with the Charlotte Bobcats)

These are 3 quality players that were obtained with the first pick in the 2nd round, along with two Euro-stashes whose NBA careers have yet to begin. The allure of a 2nd round pick is that the contract is not initially guaranteed. Every player selected in the first round gets a contract that is guaranteed in the first two seasons with team options for the next 2 seasons at a set salary depending on where they were drafted. Most second round players have to prove their worth in summer league and training camps before the team offers them a guaranteed contract.

For a while it appeared that Charlotte had a stranglehold on the bottom spot in the NBA. In the last few weeks, though, Orlando has lost their veteran interior presence (Glen Davis) to injury, traded their veteran wing/bench scorer (JJ Redick), and lost their starting shooting guard (Arron Afflalo) to injury. Combine that with the general rebuilding nature the franchise currently finds itself, and that has led to Orlando losing 9 of its last 10 games. Orlando trails Charlotte by only 1.5 games for the final spot in the NBA.

bobcat magic

Is there a difference between the 31st and 32nd pick? I don’t know, but of the last 5 players selected with the 32nd pick, only one is still the NBA (Dexter Pittman) and one is still in Europe. The other three have fizzled out and are currently out of the league. Based on this recent history, it is definitely better to get the 31st pick instead of the 32nd pick.

Number 1 seed in the Western Conference (Teams that warrant watching – San Antonio and Oklahoma City)

With the Oklahoma City Thunder trailing the San Antonio Spurs by one game for the top spot in the Western Conference, every game from here on out is of tantamount importance to both teams. The two teams play each other one more time on April 4th. As I mentioned in a previous article, home court advantage may be more important to the Thunder this season than it was last season, when the Thunder beat the No.1 seeded Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder had an overhaul to their bench before the season began, and have a couple unproven players (as far as playoff experience goes) that perform better at home than on the road.

perk smash

Every day that goes by offers a game that is of importance to the Thunder. It is a fun time to be a fan of the team, and a fan of the NBA in general. Whether it affects their future or present, you can be certain that Thunder fans will be watching that scoreboard every day until the season ends.

The Thunder and their tradeable assets

After the pomp and circumstances that was the NBA All-Star Weekend, it is now time to get to the meat of the NBA season. But before we even reach that point, there’s a little something called the trade deadline that can change the fates of aspiring championship teams. For the next 4 days, you will hear every sort of rumor, from the asinine to the very believable. And that is what makes this time of year one of my favorites.

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In the last two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have made some sort of move at the trade deadline. In Feb. 2010, they traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Last season, they eschewed a trade, instead choosing to sign veteran guard Derek Fisher for their playoff run that went all the way to the Finals. This season, the Thunder made their big splash before the season started, trading reigning 6th man of the year James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. The Thunder went from a team with hardly any assets to one brimming with them. Any one of those assets or combinations of assets could be used to make a bigger move to help the Thunder either in the short term or in the long term.

Here are the top 5 tradable assets for the Thunder in terms of their desirability from other teams.

5. Eric Maynor

Two seasons ago, when the Thunder made a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, Maynor was viewed as one of the top back-up point guards in the league. The fervor that is currently surrounding Los Angeles Clipper’s back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe was akin to what was being said about Maynor two seasons ago. A young floor general that was good enough to start for many other teams, and maybe even good enough to start ahead of Russell Westbrook. 

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The Thunder, sensing that Maynor’s rising stock may make him difficult to keep, drafted guard Reggie Jackson in the 2011 NBA draft. At the beginning of last season, it became increasingly evident that Maynor’s game had stagnated and hadn’t really improved that much during the offseason. Then, before the season was even 10 games old, Maynor tore his ACL and was lost for the season. While Maynor was rehabbing, Jackson was receiving his baptism by fire and earning precious playing time on a championship contending team. When this season started, Maynor was given the opportunity to earn his spot back as back-up point guard. He played as the primary back-up point guard for the first 23 games of the season. What became evident was that the injury had sapped Maynor of what little athleticism he had, and the Harden trade had robbed Maynor of his greatest asset off the bench. Thunder coach Scott Brooks chose to go with the more athletic Reggie Jackson off the bench to anchor the 2nd team from there on out.

reggie jax

Maynor is in the final year of his rookie contract that owes him $2.34 million. He has value as a cheap rental for a team looking to scout point guards for next season. Maynor has recently shed his bulky knee brace and is moving around a lot better than he did at the beginning of the season. He is just 14 months removed from major knee surgery and may be getting back to being healthy again.

Percentage the Thunder move Maynor: 65% (The Thunder aren’t going to move Maynor just to move him. If they are able to acquire any value, such as a high 2nd rounder or a young player, they’ll make the move. If not, they’ll roll with Maynor for the rest of the season as the insurance point guard.)

4. Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick

Second round picks are usually tossed back and forth between teams in almost comedic fashion. Most players selected in the 2nd round usually never make it onto an NBA roster, instead spending most of their careers in the D-League or overseas. The beauty of 2nd round picks, though, is that their contracts aren’t guaranteed and don’t fall into the pay scale system of the 1st round picks.

The valuable 2nd round picks are those that fall in the 31-35 range. In those picks, you can get a good player that has slipped into the 2nd round for a variety of reasons. A good example would be Dejuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs, who slipped into the 2nd round because of injury concerns with his knees. Being that this pick belongs to Charlotte, who currently owns the worst record in the league, it could be a good asset as the first pick of the 2nd round.

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Percentage the Thunder moves this pick: 0.000001% (The Thunder fought long and hard to get this pick back. They initially obtained this pick in the trade that sent Byron Mullens to the Bobcats. The pick was later given to the Boston Celtics by the NBA as punishment for the deal involving Jeff Green, who had a heart condition that the Thunder may or may not have known about. Boston then sent the pick to the Houston Rockets in an off-season deal that sent Courtney Lee to the Celtics. And then the Thunder re-obtained the pick in the James Harden deal. I honestly think Thunder GM Sam Presti would have dealt Kevin Durant to get this pick back.)

3. Kevin Martin

This was the player the Thunder got back in the James Harden trade that could be labeled as “of equal or comparable value”. Martin is one of those fringe All-Star players that can average 20 points per game in the NBA, but bring little else to the table. Martin has done a good job this season of reproducing the offensive production that Harden gave the Thunder last season. Martin’s trade value, though, comes in the fact that he has a $12 million expiring contract.

kevin-martin-thunder

Martin is still a really good player that could still average 20 points per game if he were on a bad team. He’s one of the top players in free throw percentage and 3-point FG percentage and averages 15 points per game off the bench. He had done a good job of assimilating himself to his role on the Thunder and assimilating himself to the culture of the city. He has made it known that he would like to stay in Oklahoma City and sounds like he would be willing to take a pay cut to stay. (Annnd, cue Thunder fans saying “We’ve heard that before”).  

Percentage the Thunder move Martin: 12.5% (Having already made a major trade to start the season, I doubt the Thunder make another major trade in the middle of the season. They have the 2nd best record in the league and Martin has been a willing participant in his bench role. Unless the Thunder are able to acquire 2 players for the price of one, I think the Thunder head into the playoffs with Martin as their 6th man.

2. Jeremy Lamb/Perry Jones III

When you are a rookie on a championship contending team, playing time can be at a premium. This is where the Thunder and their rookies currently find themselves. Besides end of blowout situations, Lamb and Jones III have gotten most of their playing time with the Thunder’s D-League affiliates, the Tulsa 66ers. Their lack of playing time is not indicative of their potential, though. On a bad to mediocre team, these two would be logging major minutes. But on this team, their major function this season is in developing their game.  

lamb-jones

The league still views them as rookies dripping with potential. And that is where their value lies. I’m pretty sure many trade proposals have started with Eric Maynor and ended with one or both of these rookies. Young players on rookie deals are like gold in the NBA, and the Thunder have 2 bars in their safe.

Percentage the Thunder move either of these players: 10% (With their future salary cap situation (2 max players in Westbrook and Durant, Ibaka’s upcoming extension, Perkins’ contract, and Martin possibly resigning), the Thunder place optimum value on young players on rookie scale contracts. Both of these players emulate the Thunder model (athletic, long, and able to play multiple positions) and have performed well in their time in Tulsa.  

1. Toronto’s protected 1st round pick (2013 – Top 3 and 15-30 protected, 2014,2015 – Top 2 and 15-30 protected, 2016,2017 – Top 1 and 15-30 protected, 2018 – unprotected)

Before Toronto acquired Rudy Gay, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 6-8 range. Since the Gay trade, Toronto seems to be a much tougher out for opponents and reeled off 4 straight wins before the All-Star break. The Raptors currently sit 6 games out of the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference, so while it is not an impossibility for them to make a run at the playoffs, the hole they dug themselves before the trade may be too much to overcome this season.

Rudy-Gay-Raptors

For a team looking to rebuild, a pick in the lottery is a steal. Any draft pick is a gamble, but those in the lottery have a higher percentage of panning out than those outside of the lottery. The Raptors picks is now looking to be in the 10-14 range.

Percentage the Thunder deal this pick: 10% (The same logic that applies to the Thunder and why they probably won’t deal Lamb or Jones III, applies to this draft pick. Earlier this season, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 4-6 range. But even where it stands today, this pick probably has more value for the Thunder than for another rebuilding team, especially in a draft that is perceived to be weak.).

One thing to look out for is the empty roster spot the Thunder have. If they don’t fill this spot with someone in a trade, look for the Thunder to sign veteran forward Rasual Butler. Oklahoma City fans may remember Butler from his days with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. He is currently playing for the Tulsa 66ers and may be what the Thunder need in a 3-point shooter and perimeter defender.

butler 66ers

The fact is that the Thunder have the 2nd best record in the league and are coming off of a Finals appearance. Sam Presti is not known to deal in haste or for a quick fix. He believes in sustainability and cap-flexibility, so any deal will have to work for the Thunder’s present and for their future. Needless to say, I don’t really see the Thunder making a move this trading deadline….but I’ll be watching.