Tag Archives: David Lee

Exit Interviews: Thunder roster and outlooks

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant walks with his head down after a teammate fouled a Memphis Grizzlies player in Game 5 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoffs in Oklahoma City.

With Oklahoma City’s 84-88 loss to the Memphis Grizzles in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-finals, the Thunder find themselves in an unfamiliar place: out of the playoffs before the conference finals even begin. As everyone knows, the major cause of that early exit was the season ending knee injury to Russell Westbrook in Game 2 of the Thunder’s first round match up against the Houston Rockets. After dispatching those pesky Rockets in 6 games, The Thunder found themselves matched up against one of the best defensive teams in the league. Though every game was close, the Thunder eventually succumbed due to late game execution issues and an inability to find a consistent secondary scorer to pair with Kevin Durant.

Whenever a season ends, be it in mid-April at the conclusion of the regular season or mid-June at the conclusion of the NBA Finals, every team holds exit interviews with each player and coach on their team. Exit interviews serve two purposes: either to tell the person what to work on for the next season or to advise the person of their intentions in regards to extensions or standing on the team. With the Thunder’s ouster, it’s time to hold exit interviews with certain people on the team.

Scott Brooks – Head Coach

brooks

  • Season Record – 60 – 22 (.732)
  • Season Review – Amid an earth shattering trade at the beginning of the season, Brooks kept the Thunder ship afloat with his calm demeanor and positive approach to player management. He fostered the chemistry that eventually formed from a team in flux and guided the Thunder to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the 2nd best record in the league. In the playoffs, though, after the loss of Westbrook, the simplistic formations on the offensive side of the ball played right into the Grizzlies hands. With them only having to control one superstar, the Grizzlies continuously harassed Durant while the offense looked completely out of sync at times.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $4.0 million
  • View from the Front Office – This coach is a rock of stability. He’s never too high and never too low, which is a positive trait for such a young team (yes, they are still young). He always protects his players in the public and in the media and never resorts to “media-driven” motivation tactics. He’s improved every year in the regular season and, if not for a freak injury to one of his star players, probably would’ve kept on that upward plane. His stubbornness is both a gift and a curse though. It gives the players a sense of comfort and organization, but it also neuters the development of some of the younger players on the NBA stage.
  • Future Outlook – A team doesn’t show 4 consecutive years of improvement on talent alone. Brooks has had as much a hand in the Thunder’s ascension as has Durant and Westbrook. But, this postseason has knocked a little of the luster off Brooks’ shine. His lack of a contingency plan when Westbrook went down may foreshadow the beginnings of an ugly truth. The realization that Brooks has entrusted the lion’s share of the offense on 2 players, while never developing a fall-safe system in case one of the two got hurt may eventually be his downfall.

Ronnie Brewer – Guard/Forward

brewer

  • Season Averages (w/OKC) – 10.1 mins /0.9 pts /2.9 rebs /0.7 asts /0.6 stls /0.0 blks (14 games)
  • Season Review – The Thunder obtained Brewer from the New York Knicks in a trade deadline deal for a 2014 2nd round pick. When he was first acquired, I had visions of Brewer being a big wing defender to help against the likes of Lebron James. But Brewer never saw much playing time and played in only one postseason game.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown as player is an unrestricted free agent
  • View from the Front Office – Brewer is a great end of the bench option as a big wing defender. But, offensively, he was atrocious. The hitch on his jumper seems to have gotten worse and his offensive confidence seems to have been shot on the few opportunities he had out there on the floor for the Thunder. Through the tough times though, Brewer remained a consummate professional and said all the right things in public.
  • Future Outlook – Ronnie Brewer, we hardly knew ya. Unfortunately, we never got to see if the acquisition of Brewer would be helpful against the Lebrons of the world. I hope he got to see the Murrah Building Memorial and the Museum of Osteology, because I don’t think he’ll be back in Oklahoma City next season.  

Nick Collison – Forward/Center

collison randolph

  • Season Averages – 19.5 mins /5.1 pts /4.1 rebs /1.5 asts /0.6 stls /0.4 blks
  • Season Review – Collison was one of the stabilizing forces for the Thunder when the trade at the beginning of the season went down. He anchored the bench unit until Kevin Martin started feeling comfortable with his role, and even developed a great 2-man game with Martin along the way. Collison did what does best throughout the season: rebound, play smart defense, and provide a little bit of offense whenever necessary.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $2.59 million
  • View from the Front Office – Though there are signs of slowing down, Collison is still performing at a high level for a back-up big man. Also, his decreasing salary is not a hindrance to the team’s cap structure. Has a future in coaching when his playing days are over with.  
  • Future Outlook – Collison is a main stay on the team. His small salary and production make him a must for a championship contending team that is hovering around the luxury tax line.

Kevin Durant – Forward

durant

  • Season Averages – 38.5 mins /28.1 pts /7.9 rebs /4.6 asts /1.4 stls /1.3 blks
  • Season Review – 50/40/90. That’s all you need to know about this season. Durant averaged career highs in assists, steals, and blocks, while decreasing his turnovers. He became amazingly efficient at scoring the basketball and could have averaged more points if he wanted to. Durant became more of a playmaker in the absence of James Harden and had the best season of his career.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $18.77 million
  • View from the Front Office – The team couldn’t ask more from their superstar player. A scoring savant that wants to be great at all facets of the game. Has a work ethic that matches his scoring ability. Consummate professional and image conscious. A dream to have on your team.
  • Future Outlook – Durant (along with Westbrook) will continue to be the pillars upon which the team’s championship aspirations will rest upon. Durant has improved some facet of his game every year since he got into the league, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do that during this offseason. I will say this though: Kevin, you’ve had a crazy 18 months of basketball with hardly any break. Rest this offseason. Work on getting stronger, but give your body the break it deserves.

Derek Fisher – Guard

d fisher

  • Season Averages (w/OKC) –14.4 mins /4.1 pts /0.9 rebs /0.7 asts /0.6 stls /0.0 blks
  • Season Review – For the second consecutive year, Fisher joined the Thunder after the trading deadline to help provide a spark off the bench. While he had some rough stretches shooting the ball while working himself back into shape, he eventually found his stroke in the playoffs, which proved to be very helpful when Westbrook went down with his injury.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown as player is an unrestricted free agent
  • View from the Front Office – Veteran leadership and outside shooting. Those are the things that Fisher brings to the table. Undersized combo guard that can burn red hot or ice cold. Like most of the vets on the team, provides the team with a calming presence. Defensively capable, but age and lack of height can get the best of him at times.
  • Future Outlook – It would not surprise me one bit if history repeated itself for a 3rd time next season. The players seem to enjoy Fisher’s presence and he fills a niche for the team. I think a lot will be dependent on roster spot availability and how the young guys develop (Lamb, Liggins, Jackson, and any future draft pick).

Serge Ibaka – Forward/Center

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Season Averages – 31.1 mins /13.2 pts /7.7 rebs /0.5 asts /0.4 stls /3.0 blks
  • Season Review – Ibaka was asked to step up offensively after the Harden trade, and he did, averaging career highs in points, FG attempts, 3pt FG attempts, and rebounds. He became one of the best mid-range shooters in the game and also added a corner 3 to his burgeoning repertoire. He became the mid-range release valve in the Thunder’s offense that had been missing since the team traded away Nenad Krstic two seasons ago. Ibaka also continued his dominance as a paint protector and continued his development as a one on one post defender. Ibaka’s effort on the defensive end earned him All-Defense 1st Team honors.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $12.5 million
  • View from the Front Office – One of the foundational players of the organization. He’s the superstar of defense and balances out the two offensive superstars on the team. A team-first guy as evidenced by taking less money on his extension than he probably would have gotten in free agency. As scary as it sounds, he is still developing and still learning the game.
  • Future Outlook – Again, one of the pillars of the franchise. He is the defensive yin to Durant and Westbrook’s offensive yang. Having signed his full extension, Ibaka should be a part of the Thunder’s future for the next 3-4 seasons. Hopefully he continues to develop his game, especially his post game and ability to create his own shot.

Reggie Jackson – Guard

allen jackson

  • Season Averages – 14.2 mins /5.3 points /2.4 rebs /1.7 asts /0.4 stls /0.2 blks
  • Season Review – After starting the season as the 3rd point guard on the roster, Jackson was sent to the Tulsa 66ers in December for a couple games of development. His per game averages for those 3 games: 28.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.3 assists on 60/36/100 shooting. Shortly after that stint, the Thunder brass decided that Jackson was ready to be the full time back-up point guard in place of the struggling Eric Maynor. Jackson played steadily throughout the year, showing glimpses of possibly becoming a great combo guard in the league. After Russell Westbrook went down in the 2nd game of the playoffs, Jackson took over and played well enough to keep the Thunder afloat.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $1.33 million
  • View from the Front Office – When you have superstars making superstar money, you need good young players that are still on their rookie deals to contribute. That’s where Jackson comes into play. He, along with a couple of the other young Thunder players, will be the foundation of the bench and the gap fillers on the roster. How they continue to develop may determine how far the Thunder go in the future. Jackson proved during his run in the playoffs, that he is an effective pressure player, making clutch free-throws to ice games, but also young enough to make mistakes at critical times.
  • Future Outlook – If Jackson develops his jumper this summer, he could very well become a 6th man of the year candidate. Defensively, he has the ability to guard most guards in the NBA and will be an effective crunch-time player moving forward. Best case scenario is that Jackson becomes a Harden-type player off the bench.

Perry Jones III – Forward

jones da iii

  • Season Averages – 7.4 mins /2.3 pts /1.6 rebs /0.3 asts /0.1 stls /0.2 blks (38 games)
  • NBADL Averages – 32.5 mins /14.3 pts /7.3 rebs /1.7 asts /1.2 stls /0.6 blks (15 games)
  • Season Review – A lottery talent that surprisingly dropped to the Thunder with the 28th pick, Jones was used sparingly on the Thunder’s roster this season, but was a major player with the Tulsa 66ers.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $1.08 million
  • View from the Front Office – Tremendous athlete that dropped in the draft because of injury and motor concerns. A front court tweener that hasn’t yet found his niche in the league. Is he a stretch 4, a huge 3, or an undersized 5? A player that has amazing potential and upside, but needs to pick what he wants to be and start working on that. Part of the young core of the team that will make up the bulk of the bench.
  • Future Outlook – Jones will need to continue working on his mid-range jumper. He has the ability to make it, but needs to be more consistent. Also, needs to bulk up, as he is too skilled to just be a stretch 4. His motor issues may come into play in how much he wants to work on developing his game. According to Jones’ exit interview, he will be staying in Oklahoma City during the offseason to work with the Thunder’s staff on bulking up. I’m sure the organization and player in tune in how they want Jones to develop.

Jeremy Lamb – Guard

lamb_second_rr1_130415

  • Season Averages – 6.4 mins /3.1 pts /0.8 rebs /0.2 asts /0.1 stls /0.1 blks (23 games)
  • NBADL Averages – 32.8 mins /21.0 pts /5.3 rebs /3.0 asts /1.2 stls /0.8 blks (21 games)
  • Season Review – Lamb was one of the players sent over from Houston in the Harden trade. Although he did not get many minutes with the Thunder, he was, arguably, the MVP of the Tulsa 66ers.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $2.11 million
  • View from the Front Office – Probably the key component for the Thunder in the Harden trade. His development as an outside shooter and wing defender could determine whether this trade was a success. Good outside shot already. Very athletic. Has the tools to be a good to great defender. Needs to add bulk. Part of young core of bench players.
  • Future Outlook – Lamb’s development is extremely important to the franchise’s continuation of success. Has the skill set to be a starting 2-guard in the NBA. Needs to work this summer on consistently making his outside shot, as that will be his role on this team moving forward.

DeAndre Liggins – Guard/Forward

d liggs

  • Season Averages – 7.4 mins /1.5 pts /1.4 rebs /0.4 asts /0.5 stls /0.1 blks (39 games)
  • NBADL Averages – 34.2 mins /11.6 pts /6.9 rebs /4.3 asts /1.7 stls /0.4 blks (19 games)
  • Season Review – Liggins was a long shot to make the roster at the beginning of training camp, but showed enough defensively to be given the final roster spot. He was used primarily as a wing defender with the Thunder and also spent significant time with the Tulsa 66ers. In the playoffs, Liggins was used as a perimeter defender in the Houston series.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown – Conflicting reports whether Liggins’ contract was only for one season or whether the Thunder can opt into any team option years. Liggins most likely is an unrestricted free agent.
  • View from the Front Office – With the paradigm shift on offensive philosophy changing quickly in the NBA (lane penetration and 3-point shooting), having a young wing defender that can develop some semblance of an offensive game is a plus. Liggins showed a developing offensive game with his corner 3 and ability to drive.
  • Future Outlook – If Liggins is a free agent, he would be one of my top priorities in the offseason. He can be signed for cheap and will provide some defensive stability for the 2nd unit. Has the skill set, with the Thunder organization, to be a starting SG in the Thabo Sefolosha mold. Must develop a consistent 3-point shot and get a little bit stronger.

Kevin Martin – Guard/Forward

k martin zbo

  • Season Averages – 27.7 mins /14.0 pts /2.3 rebs /1.4 asts /0.9 stls /0.1 blks
  • Season Review – Martin was one of the players acquired in the Harden trade. After being a starter with free reign for most of his career, Martin had to adjust to coming off the bench with the Thunder. He was basically put in the Harden role and was expected to produce quick offense once he entered the game. He struggled with consistency in his new role. As the season went on, though, he seemed to assimilate a little better, and was being more consistent by the end of the season. In the playoffs, his inconsistency proved to be a detriment in the absence of Westbrook.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown as player is an unrestricted free agent.
  • View from the Front Office – Martin was brought in to be a stop gap for Harden’s role on the team. Great shooter that struggles with consistency at times. Used to be able to draw fouls in bunches earlier in his career, but now resorts to strictly being a spot-up shooter. Tends to disappear when his shot is not falling. His game can be predicted with what happens with his first couple of shots. Struggles defensively. Can be a great piece off the bench, but asking price may be too high.
  • Future Outlook – I was on the Kevin Martin contract extension bandwagon earlier this season, but his offensive inconsistencies and defensive struggles, coupled with his probable mid to high asking price (probably starting at $6 million and up), have me thinking that other options may be a better way to go. For what Martin gives the team, the Thunder may be able to find a cheaper replacement that may be as consistent of a shooter, while being better defensively.

Daniel Orton – Center

d orton

  • Season Averages – 8.0 mins /2.5 pts /2.0 rebs /0.3 asts /0.3 stls /0.2 blks (13 games)
  • NBADL Averages – 28.2 mins /12.5 pts /7.8 rebs /1.9 asts /1.1 stls /2.2 blks (29 games)
  • Season Review – Brought in after the Harden trade to fill in a roster spot, Orton has played sparingly with the Thunder, spending most of the season with the Tulsa 66ers.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown. A lot like Liggins’ contract situation, there are conflicting reports as to whether Orton’s contract was only for one season or whether the Thunder can opt into any team option years. Orton most likely is an unrestricted free agent.
  • View from the Front Office – Developmental project that will take time. Has shown flashes of being able to play some minutes in the NBA. Big, strong frame that can clear space. Has to learn how to use that frame to get rebounds and play positional defense without fouling. Needs to be more offensively aggressive, as his size . Injury prone.
  • Future Outlook – Depending on who and how many the Thunder draft, Orton may be candidate to come back as that last big off the bench. A little bit more time in the D-League will do nothing but help his development. He seems to be close to putting it all together and being a small time contributor on this team.

Kendrick Perkins – Center

gasol perk

  • Season Averages – 25.1 mins /4.2 pts /6.0 rebs /1.4 asts /0.6 stls /1.1 blks
  • Season Review – Perkins does what he does. Rebound. Defend the paint. Intimidate opponents. He had his ebbs and flows throughout the season, but was still an integral part of a 60 win team. In the playoffs, though, came into question as he was a liability in the Houston series and was partially ineffective in the Memphis series.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $8.48 million
  • View from the Front Office – Stingy post defender. Struggles offensively due to general immobility caused by prior injuries and natural slowness. Surprisingly, guards wing players well in short periods of time on pick and roll switch outs. High basketball IQ, especially defensively and in the post. Great teammate and veteran.
  • Future Outlook – Probably gets saved from the amnesty clause due to the fact that it makes no sense, financially, to cut a player that you’ll still have to pay, and that still has some value. Perkins’ skills have steadily declined every season he has been in OKC. I believe Perkins will still be the starting center come the first game of 2013-14, but his minutes will be severely reduced throughout the season depending on match-ups.

Thabo Sefolosha – Guard/Forward

Thabo Sefolosha, Tony Allen

  • Season Averages – 27.5 mins /7.6 pts /3.9 rebs /1.5 asts /1.3 stls /0.5 blks
  • Season Review – Sefolosha was a lot more aggressive offensively this season, averaging 3.2 three point shot attempts per game, making them at a 42% clip. He also shot a career high 48% overall, while scoring his highest full season scoring average since arriving in Oklahoma City. Sefolosha’s bread and butter, though, is as a premier wing defender, and he excelled at that again this season.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $3.9 million
  • View from the Front Office – One of the better wing defenders in the league. Long, but strong enough to bang with some of the bigger wings in the NBA. Improved 3-point shooter. Good ball handler that can make mistakes in the open floor. Consummate professional.
  • Future Outlook – Sefolosha is in the final year of his contract. He has value as a wing defender, and may be a tradable asset in the near future. While I would love to sign Sefolosha to an extension, it may make more sense, financially, to go with one of the younger options that are waiting in the wings (Liggins or Lamb).

Hasheem Thabeet – Center

hash zbo

  • Season Averages – 11.7 mins /2.4 pts /3.0 rebs /0.2 asts /0.5 stls /0.9 blks
  • Season Review – Coming into the season, Thabeet was thought to be battling it out with Cole Aldrich for the back-up center position. After the Harden trade, Thabeet was given the reigns to the back-up center position, and performed surprisingly well. A draft bust as the 2nd overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, Thabeet has shined in his chance at redemption, focusing on defense and rebounding.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $915,852
  • View from the Front Office – Defensive minded big that has finally figured out how to play in the NBA. Strong-willed, as others would have probably folded when the word “bust” was used to describe their career. Uses his height and length well. Offensively challenged, but has good hands and can produce offensively, if put in the right position. Lack of lateral movement can lead to foul trouble. Has the ability to start if he can stay out of foul trouble.
  • Future Outlook – Thabeet has been a surprising success. While he will never live up to his No. 2 selection, he has the ability to carve out a long career as a back-up, and possibly, starting, center in the NBA. Now that he has gotten used to the speed of the game on the defensive side of the ball, it is time for him to work on his offensive skill set. He already has good hands, and for a center, that’s half the battle.

Russell Westbrook – Guard

rw hurt

  • Season Averages – 34.9 mins /23.2 pts /5.2 rebs /7.4 asts /1.8 stls /0.3 blks
  • Season Review – Westbrook’s value to this team was never more prevalent than when he missed most of the postseason due to a knee injury. The offense sputtered, the points in transition went drastically down, and the defenses keyed in entirely on Kevin Durant. Westbrook had a great regular season, and for stretches of time, was the best player in the league. This one man fast break constantly kept defenses on their heels and keyed one of the most prolific offenses in the NBA. His assist numbers went up, while his turnovers went down. And he averaged a career high in rebounds.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $14.69 million
  • View from the Front Office – Electric athlete. One of the fastest players with the ball from end to end in the world. Explosive leaper that would like nothing more than to dunk on someone’s head. One of the quickest first steps, but also has the ability to stop on a dime and make mid-range jumpers. Gets a lot of elevation on his jump shots. Drafted as a defensive stopper, but gambles a lot at times, to the detriment of the defense. Improving 3-point shooter. Not very media friendly, but not mean-spirited, either.
  • Future Outlook – As Sam Presti stated in his exit meeting with the press, Westbrook and Durant are the “caretakers of the organization” and the “drivers of our culture”. I think both relish that role, especially Westbrook. He is the heart of the team, and how he goes, so does the team.

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Five

Even though the playoff exit was a lot sooner than most of us expected, the future is indeed bright for this team. Take away the reckless dive at Westbrook’s knee by Patrick Beverly, and this team is likely playing against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. But, as they say, injuries are a part of the game. It’s a sentiment that could probably be echoed in Oakland (David Lee), Los Angeles (Kobe Bryant), and Chicago (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Kirk Heinrich, etc). Thankfully, Westbrook’s injury isn’t one that should affect him in the future. With the assets obtained in the Harden trade, it will be up to Thunder GM Sam Presti to make use of the toys he has to work with.

Enjoying the Storm: Westbrook and Reality

westbrook injury

There’s a saying for any situation in life. Believe me, I know. My mother has spouted off at least 85% of those sayings to me, all in Spanish. When the news came down that Russell Westbrook would be having surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear, I went through the 5 stages of grief pretty quickly:

  • Denial – I thought it was a joke. I mean, the man played on the injury the entire 2nd half of game 2 and racked up 29 points. One time I ripped a hang nail from my finger and was out of commission for 3 days. You’re telling me this man tore a shock absorber in his knee and was able to play 24 more minutes of playoff basketball successfully? There’s no way he would be needing surgery.
  • Anger – Damn you Patrick Beverly. Yes, the “play on the ball before a timeout” play is one that a lot of players, Westbrook included, make to the tune of a 0.00000001% success rate. But injuries very rarely happen on those plays, especially surgery-requiring injuries. The fact that he completely launched his  body into a defenseless Westbrook was reckless and inexcusable. So, again, damn you Patrick Beverly.
  • Bargaining – After realizing that this upcoming surgery was not a joke, I started bargaining on Westbrook’s knee. I figured since he played on the injury, it must not be that bad. So, if it wasn’t that serious, maybe he’ll have surgery and come back in 12 days, like Crazy Uncle Ron Ron (Metta World Peace). I figured, at worst, he’d be out for 2-4 weeks. My logic was that if we could somehow push our 2nd round opponent to more than Game 5 or actually make it to the Western Conference Finals, then maybe there was a chance that Westbrook may come back to play for the Thunder this postseason. As you can tell, there was a lot of maybe’s in my bargaining session.
  • Depression – When the news came out after the surgery that Westbrook would be out for the entire playoffs, this was when “basketball fan” depression set in. The Thunder had battled all season long, not only to garner the Number 1 seed in the West, but also to exorcise the demons that remained from the James Harden trade. And now, against Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, to have it all disintegrate on a reckless, stupid play, was completely and utterly disheartening.
  • Acceptance – Almost immediately after hearing that Westbrook would be out for the remainder of the playoffs, and after the depression wore off, I accepted that Russell Westbrook would not be walking through those doors in a jersey this season. It was after I accepted this fact that my mindset on this team changed. It was no longer championship or bust. Now it was about getting better and hardening our will for future success. Would I love to see a historic championship run this season? Of course, but the basketball analyst/realist in me knows, that without Westbrook, the mountains that are the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat just got a lot higher to overcome.

thunder starters

Once I had gone through my stages of grief, I started thinking about some of those sayings and how they apply to this current team. The first one that comes to mind is, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I’ve always wondered how this team would react to a serious injury to either Kevin Durant or Westbrook. The Thunder have been beyond blessed when it has come to the health of their players, especially the starters. Since March 14th 2011, to include the regular season, the postseason, and the first 2 games of this postseason, the starters for the Thunder have played in 96.8% of those games together. That’s unheard of in the NBA. And none of the injuries have ever been serious. Now, the team is having to regroup on the fly due to an injury to their Iron Man.

reggie jax

From a player development standpoint, though, this is not a bad thing. What better way to cut your teeth than in the NBA playoffs? Reggie Jackson has steadily progressed in the last two seasons from a wide eyed rookie using his off arm to protect his dribble in traffic to leader of the bench unit on a championship caliber team. The time he is getting as a starter will have the same effect on his confidence as when Durant, Westbrook, and Harden all played in the Olympics. The “knowing that you belong” aspect of professional sports is often overlooked, but is very important in a young player’s maturation process.

Moving Jackson over to starting point guard also opens up a spot in the rotation for another bench player. Playing against a team that relies heavily on small ball lineups, pick-n-rolls, and 3-point shooting, DeAndre Liggins has done his job extremely well in his allotted minutes. Used mainly as a perimeter defender, Liggins has averaged 10 minutes per game and is a +11 combined in the two games since Westbrook’s injury. He’s disrupted the Rockets’ rhythm on PnR’s, has jumped out on the shooters, and has been surprisingly good on the defensive boards. This real time experience in the playoffs can do wonders for a player’s confidence moving forward. As the team (hopefully) moves ahead in these playoffs, it will be interesting to see whether any of the other young, seldom used bench players (Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Daniel Orton) will contribute any meaningful minutes. The “next man up” motto holds very true for the Thunder in these playoffs.

DeAndre Liggins, Omer Asik

As the Thunder continue battling in the playoffs, another saying comes to mind: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just because one of your best players goes down, doesn’t mean that you stop playing. Look at the Golden State Warriors. David Lee goes down with a torn hip flexor in game 1 of their series against the Denver Nuggets and the team (especially Steph Curry and Jarrett Jack) responds to give them a commanding 3-1 series lead. Kevin Durant knows what’s ahead of him. He knows that from now on he will be Option A, B, and sometimes C for the Thunder. He knows that defenses will key on him with not only their best perimeter defender, but also with a 2nd and, possibly, 3rd defender. He knows this, and he’s ready. Players like Durant train for this moment their entire lives.  There was a time, six years ago, when Durant couldn’t even bench press 185 pounds. Now, he’s ready to carry, not just a team, but an entire city on his back.

durant

The last quote that comes to mind when I think of this Westbrook situation is, “after the storm, comes the calm.” The storm was the Westbrook injury and the chaos that ensued. But from this experience, I believe the team will be stronger, smarter, and hungrier. Players know that championship windows can close as quickly as they open. A snap of a ligament here, a tweak of a back there, or the stupidity of an over-zealous bench player, and your franchise could be set back a decade. The Thunder now know this. They won’t forget the fragility of championship opportunities. Though the expectations have been lessened, the excitement has not. It’s a new world out there just waiting to be explored.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Golden State Warriors preview (Game 79 of 82)

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors

  • When: Thursday, 11 April 2013 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: ORACLE Arena, Oakland, CA

Hello, number 1 seed in the Western Conference. It’s nice to see you again. The last time we met, you only stayed for about 24 hours before you went back with your older friend. That’s fine. I get it. But I’m ready to commit to you now, number 1 seed. Let’s work on this tonight. (…and cue cheesy saxophone music).

Once again, the Oklahoma City Thunder control their own destiny in the Western Conference. Match the San Antonio Spurs in these final 4 games, and the conference, and home court advantage throughout the Western portion of the playoffs, is yours. The more difficult stretch of those final 4 games begins tonight in Oakland versus the upstart Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors, under coaches Don Nelson and Keith Smart, used to be a team that was all offense and little, to no, defense. Under coach Mark Jackson, though, the Warriors have become the epitome of a balanced team. This balance has led to a 45-33 record, good for 6th in the conference. The defense, though not necessarily great, has focused primarily on interior defense and rebounding. David Lee is a walking double-double machine, and Andrew Bogut, while working himself back from 2 injury plagued seasons, has been consistent defensively. The offense revolves around the perimeter shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, with rookie Harrison Barnes providing most of the wing scoring. Off the bench, the Warriors don’t miss a beat with Festus Ezeli and Carl Landry providing the interior support and Jarrett Jack doing the work from the perimeter.

warriors

The season series between these two teams has been a home affair, with the home team winning each game.  The two games in Oklahoma City were one-sided affairs with the Thunder winning both games by double digits. The one game in Oakland was a back and forth affair the Golden State took control of in the 4th quarter to win by 5.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Golden State

  • PG – Stephen Curry
  • SG – Klay Thompson
  • SF – Harrison Barnes
  • PF – David Lee
  • C – Andrew Bogut

Oklahoma City

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Board Work – Rebounding will be very important to the outcome of this game. Golden State is second in team rebounds in the league. Much like the Indiana Pacers game, if the Thunder want to shut down one of the Warriors’ strengths, they need to be disciplined on the glass. With their propensity to shoot the 3-ball, expect many long rebounds and tap outs. Rebounding will need to be a total team effort in this game.

Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka

2. Perimeter Defense – As balanced as Golden State is, their bread and butter begins with the perimeter shooting of Curry and Thompson. Making each of these two players hesitate on their shots and put the ball on the floor is a defensive victory. Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook will need to stay on their man and not get sucked into the vacuum of the interior.

martin

3. Kevin Martin – If this turns into a perimeter shooting contest, the Thunder will need Martin to help Kevin Durant, Westbrook, and Sefolosha from the outside. While Martin had been mired in a mini slump this month, he played great from mid-March on and had a good game against the Knicks. This would be a great game for him to break out of his funk.

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

Record for the week – 3 – 1

Overall record – 21 – 6

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

Games played:

Feb 6th – @ Portland

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

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

Feb 7th – @ Golden State

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

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

Feb 8th – Off day

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

Feb 9th – @ Sacramento

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

Feb 10 – @ Utah

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

Player of the Week: Serge Ibaka

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

3 In The Paint

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

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

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

Thunder UP!!!!