Tag Archives: Dennis Rodman

Thunder Halftime Report: 2013-14 Edition

durant fisher thunder

Forty one down, forty one more to go. The first half of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder has played out like a full season. From injuries, to returns, to reinjuries, to MVP pushes, it has been a roll coaster of emotion that has run the gamut. Through it all, the Thunder have found a way to win 31 games and remain near the top of the Western Conference standings.

Here are 10 thoughts from the first half of the season:

10. The Western Conference is head and shoulders above the Eastern Conference in terms of competitiveness.

The Western Conference features 10 teams at .500 or above, while the Eastern Conference, until recently, only had 3 teams with that same win percentage range. Within the past week, three teams have joined the fray in the Eastern Conference with records of 20-20. The fact still remains, though: there’s an ocean sized gulf in the competitive balance between the two conferences. While Indiana and Miami are the crème de la crème of the EC, the West has at least 6 suitors for the top spot.

I have no doubt the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers will be a great 7-game affair. But the amount of work that both of those teams have to put in to get to that point will pale in comparison to the battles that will be waged in every single round of the Western Conference playoffs. While that makes for a battle tested representative from the West, it also makes for a tired or injured representative that has survived a war of attrition. Something to watch for as we move on.

9. Scott Brooks needs to be considered for Coach of the Year.

Coach of the Year is usually given to the coach whose team unexpectedly excels despite what the prognosticators predicted in the preseason. If that is the case, then this award will come down to a battle between Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns or Terry Stotts of the Portland Trailblazers. When Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich have only combined for 3 COY awards between them, you know this is a fresh-face award. And that does not bode well for Brooks’ candidacy.

brooks jackson thunder

But consider this, the Thunder are tied for the 3rd best record in the league, while missing a top-10 player for about half the season so far. When Russell Westbrook was in the line-up, the Thunder had the best record in the league during that stretch. And the Thunder have had to incorporate new young players into the rotation that did not garner heavy minutes last season. The balance and willingness to adapt that Brooks has shown throughout the season makes this his best coaching job to date, and one that I think garners consideration for COY.

8. Serge Ibaka has been the glue that has held this team together.

Through all the changes that have occurred this season, the only constant has been Serge Ibaka. From Westbrook to Reggie Jackson to the young bench’s emergence to Kevin Durant’s dominance, the one factor that usually determines a Thunder victory is how well Ibaka plays. In games in which he has a double double, the Thunder are 14-3. In games where Ibaka scores 16 or more, the Thunder are 16-2.  It’s as simple as this: if Ibaka plays well, the Thunder usually win. And he’s been playing a lot more consistently this season. He’s gotten smarter defensively and is concentrating more on positioning than on chasing every shots that comes into the lane. His play has been solid enough this season to garner a real look at him making the All-Star game.

7. Kendrick Perkins currently has more value to this team than Thabo Sefolosha.

For all the chastising that Kendrick Perkins receives from fans and media members alike, he still has value on this team. Is he probably the worst offensive center in the league (starting or not)? Yes. What takes longer to get off the ground: Kendrick Perkins or an 18 wheeler using a manual jack? Probably Perk. But the experience Perkins has as a post defender is invaluable when the opponent has a player like Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, or LaMarcus Aldridge. His knowledge of defensive principles in the post also helps the Thunder out. And, well, he’s a hell of a screen setter. Is he worth $8.7 million (and over $9 million next season)? Of course not, but from team hierarchy perspective, Perkins is the guard dog that patrols the Thunder’s house, on and off the court.

sefolosha perkins thunder

Thabo Sefolosha is the team’s main perimeter defender and the anointed “corner 3” guy. Over the past two seasons, that role has worked out great for Sefolosha. He shot over 40% from 3-point territory and was, without question, the best perimeter defender on the team. This season though, his 3-point shooting percentage is down to 31% and his role as a one-on-one defender has started to decline. Also, the drafting of Andre Roberson and the emergence of Jeremy Lamb have given the Thunder options if Sefolosha leaves via free agency this offseason.

6. The team made the right choice in sticking with Jeremy Lamb. 

Heading into the last offseason, the Thunder’s biggest trade asset was guard Jeremy Lamb. Along with the No. 12 pick, the Thunder could have packaged their young asset to move up in the draft. Instead they kept their pick and chose to stay with Lamb. It has proven to be a wise choice. Lamb has provided valuable perimeter shooting to a team severely lacking it, and has been a great glue guy, providing whatever needs to be provided to win.

5. Steven Adams was made to play for this team.

When the Thunder drafted Adams, I envisioned a year full of trips down I-44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa for the big man. Instead, Adams is probably in the second tier of rookies vying for Rookie of the Year. He brute physicality and footwork have helped him adjust to the pro game a lot quicker than most expected. He has shown flashes of an offensive game (hook shots, a developing mid-range jumper) and leads the league in PEFG (players ejected from game).

steven adams thunder vince carter

He is developing in this teams’ version of Bill Laimbeer or Dennis Rodman. A guy that who raises the ire of other players, but who also remains as cool as the other side of the pillow. He starting to develop a reputation around the league as a dirty player, but, really, he just plays strong. And this generation of player does not like getting physical.

4. When completely healthy, the Thunder are the deepest team in the league. 

The Thunder are constructed to have a little bit of everything. If you need big men, the Thunder can trot out 4 or 5 that get regular minutes. If you need veteran savvy, the Thunder can give you Nick Collison or Derek Fisher regularly. If you need scoring off the bench, I present to you Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. If you need a jack of all trades, here’s Perry Jones. And that’s without even getting into Durant, Ibaka, and Westbrook. The Thunder are loaded when the entire team is available. When the starters sit, the bench has the ability to either chip away at deficits or blow the game wide open. If you want small ball, the team can put out 2 or 3 different combinations that are all very effective.

The point of the James Harden trade was to not only have financial flexibility, but also roster flexibility. Instead of having just one combo guard off the bench, you now have a combo guard, a shooting guard, and a developing big man. More parts for less money is always a win in any business.

3. Point guard is the hardest position to learn in basketball.

Combo guards sometimes have the most difficult job in basketball. A pure point guard has to worry about distributing first, then scoring. But a combo guard has to read the situation and determine whether he should pass or shoot. Sounds like the same situation, but there are two totally different mentalities involved. We saw that with Russell Westbrook, who had all the tools to be a combo guard, but had to neuter that a bit to learn how to be a starting point guard in this league.

jackson thunder

Reggie Jackson is learning how to make that transition. Even though he’s in his 3rd season, this is basically his 2nd season of playing. He was thrown into the fire his rookie season with Eric Maynor’s injury, but got sent back to the bench once the team signed Derek Fisher. In his 2nd season, he shuffled between the end of the bench and Tulsa for the first half of the season before finally being given the reins to the bench in the second half of last season. With the Westbrook injury, Jackson has had to commandeer the first team and has done a commendable job. Is he making mistakes? Yes. But he’s also showing signs of “getting it” and will be a valuable asset for the team moving forward.

2. Russell Westbrook’s health is the single most important factor in the Thunder contending for a championship.

That statement is self-explanatory. I don’t care what Russell Westbrook has to do to stay healthy for the remainder of the season. If he has to take every 3rd game off, let’s do it. If he has to be on the “Tim Duncan/Dwayne Wade” rest regiment, I’m down.  Whatever it takes to get this man healthy and ready for the playoffs. Because if he misses any time in the playoffs, the chances of the Thunder advancing drops dramatically.

Russell Westbrook

The team is able to tread water during the regular season because there a ton of factors that don’t exist in the playoffs. The scouting reports are shorter for regular season games. The travel is more daunting during the regular season, which leads to fatigue. But during the playoffs, when a team has days to scout their opponent and there are no back to backs, this is where the team will need Westbrook. Get well Russ!

1. If it wasn’t for the championship resumè, Durant would be considered the best player in the game. 

It’s funny how the narrative in a 41-game stretch can completely change. When the season started, everyone was wondering whether Paul George would overtake Durant for the No.2 spot in the imaginary player ranking that many media members have. Then, when Lebron James came out the gates shooting over 60% from the field, the MVP award was basically handed to him by most media members. But Durant just kept plugging along, doing what he does. Efficient, ruthless, and calculated.

Then when Westbrook went down again after Christmas, many thought the momentum that the Thunder had built up to that point would come crashing down. Rewind back to last season when Westbrook went down in the playoffs. Durant knew he needed to step up, and he did. But, I don’t think he trusted his teammates enough to allow them to do the heavy-lifting. Instead of focusing only on scoring, Durant instead became the de facto point guard, the best rebounder, and the best perimeter defender. In the end, that began to affect his stamina, and he found himself completely winded by the middle of the 4th quarter.

This season, though, Durant has trusted his teammates more and the results have spoken for themselves. Ibaka has started to become an extremely reliable mid-range release valve, and a great partner in the pick and roll. The team is rebounding and defending as a whole better. The bench offers more roster flexibility. And the offense, while still stagnant at times, has enough wrinkles to quickly get out of funks.

durant thunder batum trailblazers

But in the end, it’s all about Durant. And his play in January (37 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.9 apg on 52/39/88 splits) has been one for the ages. While MVP’s are not won in January, Durant is just now learning how to dominate, while not interfering in the game plan. He is doing this all within the flow of the game. It’s scary for the league when Durant is probably a season or two away from reaching his prime.

There’s forty more games to go. The Thunder defeated the Portland Trailblazers in raucous fashion to begin their next 41. The season is still a long ways from being over and many things can happen during that time. But, I, for one, am extremely impressed by what I’m witnessing from this team and what the future holds. Here’s to health and 16 more victories after the 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.