Tag Archives: Detroit Pistons

Thunder @ Pistons preview (Game 49 of 82)

okc logo vsPistons_logo_new

 

 

 

 

  • When: Saturday, 27 January 2018 at 4:00 pm CST
  • Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
  • TV: FSOK
  • Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
  • Line: OKC -3.5 | O/U – 207.5

The Set-Up: The last time the Oklahoma City Thunder had a 6-game win streak, injuries (and a bad call) brought that tumbling down. In December, the Thunder were hitting on all cylinders during a streak that saw them beat division opponents, Houston, and Toronto. Then Paul George goes out with an injury (and the refs blow an egregious call on a game-winning play) and the streak comes to an end.  Continue reading Thunder @ Pistons preview (Game 49 of 82)

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Good Riddance, Reggie Jackson

reggie Jackson pistons

Let me preface this by saying I wish Reggie Jackson nothing but the best in his future endeavors. He’s a part of the Oklahoma City Thunder family tree and will forever be linked to the organization one way or another. As is usually the case with break-ups that are other than amicable, the ugly details leading up to the split usually don’t become apparent until after the split is finalized.

Jackson’s season with the Thunder up until the trade deadline had been, in a word, underwhelming. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook missing games due to injuries in the beginning of the season, Jackson was tasked with leading the Thunder during that rough patch. Jackson actually did a commendable job in the absence of the superstar duo. Not only were Durant and Westbrook out, but other key contributors such as Perry Jones, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, and Andre Roberson were also shuffling in and out of the line-up due to various injuries. In the 13 games in which both Durant and Westbrook missed, Jackson averaged 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and 1.1 steals on 41.6% shooting from the field and 27% shooting from the 3-point line to go along with 4.7 free throw attempts per game. The numbers were very “Westbrookian,” but the team ended up with a 3-10 record during that stretch.

Despite the record, though, Jackson’s game showed signs of improvement from the previous season during that 13-game stretch. It was exciting to think of the prospects of Durant and Westbrook getting healthy and Jackson continuing this type of play. The feeling was that it would give the Thunder a 3-headed monster that hadn’t been seen since the days of James Harden. The Thunder, for as rough as the start of the season has been, would get healthier throughout the year and would, hopefully, form a sort of juggernaut that would be hard for teams to contain.

durant jackson thunder

Instead, Jackson’s play progressively tapered off from the first month of the season. He eschewed his bread and butter (driving to the basket) in favor of step back 20-footers and unreliable 3-point attempts. He waffled on defense, consistently getting beaten off the dribble and almost never putting forth the effort to recover. He visibly pouted on the court and the frustrations from his teammates grew as the season pushed on. In the 37 games after Westbrook returned from injury, Jackson, as a reserve, averaged only 10.2 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.6 rebounds on 44.3% shooting from the field and 28.4% shooting from deep, while only attempting 1.5 free throw attempts per game. His minutes dipped every month of the season, going from 38.2 in November to 28.4 in December to 21.1 in January and finally to 19.2 in February.

The writing on the wall became clearer when the Thunder traded for Dion Waiters in early January. There was no reason for the Thunder to trade for another high volume scorer/shooter if their intentions were to keep Jackson for the rest of the season. The minute Waiters joined the team, Jackson’s minutes took a hit and he was relegated to 8th or 9th man duties off the bench. The two bench scorers seemed to get in each other’s way when they were on the court together. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it was ineffective. Another sign was that Waiters and Morrow were closing close games out, instead of Jackson.

The Thunder knew there was a possibility this would happen. Starting from the end of last season, Jackson was not shy of letting his intentions be known that he wanted to not only start, but also to lead his own team. With that statement, Jackson basically drew a line in the sand. If this was a team that had any instability at the point guard position, that might have been an option. But the Thunder are as stable at point guard as they are at small forward. There was no possibility, outside of a catastrophic injury, that Jackson would leapfrog Westbrook on the depth chart. The organization gambled on the hope that the starting comment was actually a leverage play to get more money. But, apparently, Jackson really wanted the opportunity to lead his own team.

jackson monroe tolliver pistons

On that merit alone, I do not fault Jackson. As recently as a couple weeks ago, I wrote an article outlining why Jackson may have been holding back. Some people are content with falling in line and playing their role. Others want to explore all the possibilities laid out in front of them. Jackson fell into the latter ilk. He wanted to see how far he could push himself, and that wasn’t going to happen as a reserve on the Thunder. So for that, I do understand Jackson’s stance.

Then the trade happened. At first, I was happy for Jackson. He would finally get his chance to lead his own team. And to boot, it was a pretty good team, with talented young teammates (Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope). But then, honest Reggie had to open up his mouth, or Twitter account.

Really? Tears of joy? I understand finally getting your opportunity to prove yourself, but this tweet seems more apropos for something the ancient Israelites would say after they crossed the parted Red Sea lead by Moses. I mean, was Jackson caged in a dungeon and only allowed out to practice and play in games? Of course, Jackson then sent out 3 consecutive tweets thanking the community and the Thunder for his time in Oklahoma City. To me, the first tweet was much louder than the other three tweets that followed.

The worst part is that I actually like Reggie’s honesty. He was genuinely pained, and visibly upset, for the people of Moore when the tornado struck a couple years ago. He was visibly emotional after Game 4 of the Memphis series; a game in which Jackson single handedly kept the Thunder in the game and in the series. His honesty was a welcome antithesis to the manufactured answers most sports figures give in interviews. But, as Jackson showed, that honesty can cut both ways.

Then, Jackson played his first two games for the Pistons. And that’s when it really started bothering me. What we saw in those first two games with the Pistons was the Jackson from the beginning of the season and from last season. The Jackson that can put up 19 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 free throw attempts per game. The Jackson that could change a game with his ability to drive into the lane. That Jackson could have helped the Thunder immensely throughout this crazy season. Instead, we got 70% Reggie Jackson from December on. I understand wanting a change of scenery. But now I realize, I can’t respect the way Jackson did it. So for that, I say, good riddance Reggie Jackson.

Sifting through the rubble: A Thunder trading deadline postscript

jackson perkins thunder

From the time I woke up on February 19th to about 1:30 PM CST, I was almost certain that a certain Brooklyn Nets 7-footer would be a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Speculation was abound that the Thunder and Nets had rekindled talks revolving around Brook Lopez, Kendrick Perkins, and Reggie Jackson. All the information leading up to about 12:30 PM CST was that it was basically a done deal and that the Nets were awaiting Oklahoma City’s approval. Then the chatter stopped.

Trades usually come at you one of two ways. The first way is like the trade in which the Thunder acquired Dion Waiters. It comes at you in an instant and you barely have time to react. The second way is like the Brook Lopez (non)trade. You hear the rumors and speculation leading up to the trade, and usually it gets done after that. But sometimes, the chatter stops prompting one of two thoughts: either the teams are working on the specifics of the deal or the deal has completely fallen through. In the case of Brook Lopez, it was the latter.

The rumors started that the Thunder were doing their due diligence and were looking at all their options. Around 1:45 PM CST, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Reggie Jackson had been traded to the Detroit Pistons. Apparently the Jackson move was the linchpin that was holding everything back in the league. Once Jackson was dealt, all hell broke loose. About 30 players were traded in a 10 minute span leading to the trading deadline. The trade deadline literally napalmed the entire league. And these weren’t end of the bench players. These were former All-Stars, talented players on rookie deals, a former Rookie of the Year, and game-changers. This trade deadline was definitely worth it.

When all the dust settled, four new players were slated to be in Thunder uniforms, while four others became former Thunder players. Here’s an overview of the two deals the Thunder made at the deadline.

Deal 1:

  • Oklahoma City received Enes Kanter and Steve Novak from Utah and DJ Augustin, Kyle Singer, and a 2019 2nd round pick from Detroit.
  • Utah received Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the draft rights to Tibor Pleiss, and a 2017 lottery protected 1st round pick from Oklahoma City and a 2017 2nd round pick from Detroit.
  • Detroit received Reggie Jackson

The Jackson deal was actually a 3 team deal that also involved Kendrick Perkins and little used rookie forward Grant Jerrett. Jackson let his intentions be known at the end of last season and at training camp this season, that his main goal was to be a starter in the league. With Russell Westbrook in tow and Oklahoma City’s penchant for starting defensive minded, normal sized SG’s, the Thunder were never in a position to acquiesce to Jackson’s demands. As the trading deadline drew closer, Jackson’s agent, Aaron Mintz, asked the team to trade his client. From all the accounts, the locker room chemistry between Jackson and his teammates (specifically Kevin Durant and Westbrook) was reaching a boiling point of which there would be no returning from. The Thunder had to get a deal done and Detroit (and Utah) offered them the best deal in terms of known commodities.

dj augustin kyle singler pistons

I will say this. It was kind of hard to see Perkins go. On a team full of hares, Perkins was the tortoise. I know he was the bane of a lot of Thunder fans’ existences, but his effects on the team will be felt for years to come. He was the big brother on the team and he relished that role. When the younger players (to include Durant and Westbrook) had a bad day, they would usually turn to Perkins for advice. He was the protector of the inner sanctum. Only team members and a select few were allowed in their locker room (I’m looking at you, Joakim Noah). He made the team better defensively (don’t argue, just look up the stats), and toughened them up. Did he have his flaws? Of course. But he also personified the qualities that you and I take into our 9 to 5’s, and I for one, appreciated it.

Deal 2:

  • Oklahoma City received a protected 2016 2nd round pick from New Orleans.
  • New Orleans received Ish Smith, the draft rights to Latavious Williams, a 2015 protected 2nd round pick from Oklahoma City, and cash considerations.

The Thunder made this move to clear a roster spot for the incoming new players. The Thunder could have waived Smith, but his salary would have counted towards their final salary number of the team. With the team already being over the luxury tax, they didn’t want to add to the total amount they would have to pay to the league. Instead, New Orleans stepped in and took on Smith, who was subsequently waived.

When I look at the players the Thunder acquired, one word resonates in my mind: balance. This is the most balanced team the Thunder has ever yielded. You could argue that the 2011-12 team that made it to the NBA Finals was more balanced, but this team is more experienced. In the end, the Thunder lost a good player in Jackson and a team leader in Perkins, but got back so much more in depth and balance. The Thunder got back a true back-up point guard that can shoot, two sharp-shooters, and an offensively adept center that is only 22 years of age. In short, the Thunder got better.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Detroit Pistons preview (Game 10 of 82)

lamb adams jackson jennings thunder pistons

  • When: Friday, 14 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

For the first time this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been on the high side in two of the last three games. This was the stretch that was supposed to balance out the gauntlet that was the first 6 games of the season. The Thunder have seemingly adjusted to this new normal and are starting to hit their stride. They’ve played with the same 10 players for the past 2 games, which is saying something for this season, and have some rhythm moving forward.

This is the first meeting of the year between these two teams. The Thunder swept the season series last season. They kept the Pistons at bay in their first meeting of the season (aka the Steven Adams coming out party), and then needed a furious comeback in the 4th quarter of the second meeting (which was also the last game of the regular season) to secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The Thunder have won the last 10 meetings against the Pistons, dating all the way back to 2009.

The Opponent

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Detroit Pistons

The Detroit Pistons come into the game with a 2-6 record. The Stan Van Gundy era has gotten off to a rough start as the Pistons have struggled to find their identity on offense. They are averaging 93.3 points per game, good for 25th in the league. A good SVG offense is inside/out heavy with a dominant big man surrounded by shooters. The problem with Detroit is that their big men aren’t quite dominant yet and their shooters aren’t hitting their shots consistently. Brandon Jennings and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope man the backcourt. Jennings has been surprisingly consistent this season, while Caldwell-Pope is still learning the nuances of the game. Up front, the Pistons are still trotting out the inconsistent, yet possibly terrifying trio of Greg Monroe, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond. Smith is still inconsistent, but has shied away from taking so many 3-point attempts (going from 3.4 attempts last season to 1.5 attempts this year). Monroe has been their best player so far, averaging 17.3 point and 11 rebounds per game. The Pistons’ bench is of the more weaker ones in the league and features Caron Butler, Kyle Singler, DJ Augustin, and Jonas Jerebko.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Detroit Pistons

  • PG – Brandon Jennings
  • SG – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • SF – Josh Smith
  • PF – Greg Monroe
  • C – Andre Drummond

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Jeremy Lamb
  • SF – Lance Thomas
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Zone Defense – The defense has been trotting out a zone, especially in the 2nd and 4th quarters, that has been flummoxing opponents. The zone is especially dangerous when the Thunder are trotting out 3 bigs (usually Ibaka, Nick Collison, and one of either Kendrick Perkins or Adams). With Detroit’s tendency to be streaky from the perimeter, I would look for the Thunder to deploy this defense, especially when Detroit has their 3 bigs in the game.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Detroit Pistons

2. Rebounds – While Detroit appears to still be trying to figure out how best to use their three bigs, the one thing they can always do well is rebound. Between the three of them, they are averaging over 30 rebounds per game (with nearly 10 of those being on the offensive end). Detroit may miss a lot of shots from the perimeter, but they are able to buffer that by grabbing offensive boards. The Thunder may need “all hands on deck” in the rebounding department for this game.

3.  Perimeter Bigs – Ibaka and Collison may benefit the offense in this game by floating around the perimeter. Taking their man away from the paint, will allow Jackson and Sebastian Telfair room to operate and attack the paint.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Central Division

Central Divison Preview

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

lebron james varejao cavs

Last season: 33-49 (3rd in the Central Division, 10th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Brendan Haywood – Obtained in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets
  • LeBron James – Free agent signing
  • James Jones – Free agent signing
  • Kevin Love – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Shawn Marion – Free agent signing
  • Mike Miller – Free agent signing
  • John Lucas III – Obtained in a trade with the Utah Jazz

Key Departures:

  • Anthony Bennett – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Andrew Wiggins – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Spencer Hawes – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • C.J. Miles – Signed with the Indiana Pacers
  • Tyler Zeller – Traded to the Boston Celtics
  • Alonzo Gee – Traded to the New Orleans Pelicans
  • Sergey Karasev – Traded to the Brooklyn Nets
  • Luol Deng – Signed with the Miami Heat

Season Preview – No other team in the league made as big of an offseason improvement as the Cavaliers. The signing of James combined with the acquisition of Love immediately elevated the Cavs from lottery bound team to championship contender. The additions of Miller and Jones will provide the Cavs with the floor spacing they need to maximize the talents of LeBron, Love, and Kyrie Irving, who just finished an MVP campaign with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. The one thing that can derail the Cavs, besides injuries, is the lack of experience from key players. The Cavs will be putting a lot of the responsibility on four players who have never sniffed the playoffs in their careers (Irving, Love, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson).

2014-15 will be successful if: The Cavs make it to the Finals. Winning the Finals would definitely be icing on the cake, but this team is looking to build experience for sustained future success in the next 5 seasons.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 58-24

2. Chicago Bulls

rose noah bulls

Last season: 48-34 (2nd in the Central Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Washington Wizards.

Key Additions:

  • Aaron Brooks – Free agent signing
  • Pau Gasol – Free agent signing
  • Doug McDermott – Draft (No. 11 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Nikola Mirotic – Signed Eurostash

Key Departures:

  • Carlos Boozer – Amnestied; then signed by the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Nazr Mohammed – Currently unsigned
  • D.J. Augustin – Signed with the Detroit Pistons

Season Preview – The success of the Bulls rests on the health of Derrick Rose. After basically missing the last two seasons, Rose showed some of the form that made him a league MVP 3 seasons ago during the FIBA World Cup. If Rose comes anywhere close to being that type of player, the Bulls will once again be listed as a championship contending team. The addition of Gasol and Mirotic bolsters a front line that was already one of the better ones in the league. And adding a shooter like McDermott, to bookend with Dunleavy, will make this team even more formidable if Rose returns to form. This team, with a healthy Rose, has a great balance of defense and offense that will lead them far if everything clicks.

2014-15 will be successful if: Derrick Rose remains healthy and the Bulls make it to the Finals.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 57-25

3. Detroit Pistons

pistons drummond monroe jennings caldwell pope

Last season: 29-53 (4th in the Central Divison, 11th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • D.J. Augustin – Free agent signing
  • Caron Butler – Free agent signing
  • Aaron Gray – Free agent signing
  • Jodie Meeks – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Charlie Villanueva – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Rodney Stuckey – Signed with the Indiana Pacers
  • Chauncey Billups – Retired

Season Preview – Last season, the Pistons were an inefficient bunch that relied too much on perimeter shooting from players who weren’t weren’t great at shooting. This season, new coach (and GM) Stan Van Gundy, decided to bring in some shooters to supply that need. Meeks and Butler will provide the spacing that Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe will need to operate inside. In addition, Brandon Jennings will be able to be more of a drive and dish point guard, instead of a “let it fly” point guard.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Pistons make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 38-44

4. Indiana Pacers

paul george injury pacers

Last season: 56-26 (1st in the Central Divison, 1st in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • C.J. Miles – Free agent signing
  • Rodney Stuckey – Free agent signing
  • Damjan Rudez – European free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Evan Turner – Signed with the Boston Celtics
  • Lance Stephenson – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets

Season Preview – The story of this upcoming season for the Pacers was written on August 1st, when Paul George broke both bones in his lower right leg in a freak accident during the Blue and White scrimmage for USA Basketball. With that, and the departure of Stephenson, any chance of the Pacers contending in the Eastern Conference went out of the window. Stephenson and George were the only players on the team capable of creating their own shots. This season, the Pacers will have to rely on Roy Hibbert, David West, and CJ Miles to provide any semblance of offense. Hence why I think they’ll struggle this year.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Pacers make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51

5. Milwaukee Bucks

parker bucks

Last season: 15-67 (5th in the Central Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Jabari Parker – Draft (No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jerryd Bayless – Free agent signing
  • Jared Dudley – Obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Damien Inglis – Draft (No. 31 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Kendall Marshall – Claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Lakers

Key Departures:

  • Ramon Sessions – Unsigned
  • Ekpe Udoh – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Carlos Delfino – Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Miroslav Raduljica – Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – Much like the Philadelphia 76ers, this season will be all about development for the young core of the Bucks. The Bucks seem to have their wings of the future in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Parker. This season will be about evaluating the point guard and post positions. The Bucks will win more games this season than last because Parker and Antetokounmpo will make winning plays, but the rest of the team will need to follow their lead.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Bucks’ core shows improvement in their development and they net another Top 5 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 21-61

Detroit Pistons vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 82 of 82)

adams durant westbrook singler thunder pistons

  • When: Wednesday, 16 April 2014 at 7:00 PM EST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder have no one to blame but themselves for being in this position. The Thunder have had 2 opportunities to not only put the Clippers away in their chase of the No. 2 seed in the West, but also of resting their guys, namely Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Instead, the Thunder will have to play a real game on the last game of the season in order to hang onto the 2nd seed.

This will be the 2nd and final (duh!) meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder won the first meeting 119-110. It was a memorable game because Thunder rookie Steven Adams had 17 points and 10 boards in only his 5th game. That would end up being, statistically, his best game of the season.

The Opponent

drummond smith jennings monroe pistons

The Pistons come into the game with a 29-52 record. It is a season that has been mired in disappointment beginning with the firing of head coach Maurice Cheeks and culminating in the resignation of longtime GM and Pistons great Joe Dumars. The additions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith were supposed to get this team over the edge, but instead, these two players have been a huge part of the problem. Their lack of efficiency from the perimeter has made life that much harder for burgeoning big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. It’s a team that was not put together very well, and the effects are showing on the court.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Detroit Pistons

  • PG – Brandon Jennings
  • SG – Rodney Stuckey
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Greg Monroe
  • C – Andre Drummond

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

Perimeter Defense – Defensively, this game caters to the Thunder’s strength. Both Monroe and Drummond are post players that rarely venture further than 15 feet out. The Thunder post players (Ibaka, Perkins, Adams, and Collison) will be able to remain in their comfort zone in the paint. Where the Pistons could beat the Thunder is on the perimeter. With the inside contained, the Thunder players should stay with the shooters and defend the 3-point line.

adams jackson lamb jennings thunder pistons

 

Mind Games – The Clippers will be resting some of their players (Blake Griffin and JJ Redick), and claim they aren’t actively chasing the 2 seed. But that sounds like a psychological ploy to me. If the Thunder play lackadaisically and lose this game, you can bet the Clippers will deploy all available resources to win their game against the Blazers. Remember, the Clippers’ game starts as the Thunder game is ending. Also of note: The Blazers have nothing to play for (can’t move up/can’t move down) so they will probably be resting their players also.

3. Stay Healthy – We are playing for the second season, not this season. Stay healthy, gentlemen.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Detroit Pistons Preview (Game 5 of 82)

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  • When – Friday, 08 November 2013 at 6:30 PM CST
  • Where – The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI

The Oklahoma City Thunder embark on their 3rd road game of the season against the much improved Detroit Pistons. The Thunder finally started looking like themselves in their last game against the Dallas Mavericks. They set a season high in points and assists, and showcased the young talent that has been brewing on the bench and in Tulsa for the past year.

The Thunder come into the game with a 3-1 record. They swept the season series against the Pistons last season and have won 8 straight dating back to the Thunder’s inaugural season in 2008-09.

The Opponent

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The Pistons come into the game with a 2-2 record. After whiffing on free agent signees Ben Gordan and Charlie Villanueva in 2009, Pistons GM Joe Dumars aggressively pursued and signed free agent forward Josh Smith and traded for point guard Brandon Jennings. Those two moves combined with young big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe have a lot of people mentioning the Pistons as a dark horse playoff team. The Pistons have had their issues in trying to work Smith in as a small forward and Jennings has struggled with his 3-pt shot in the early going. Off the bench, the Pistons are led by veterans Charlie Villanueva, Kyle Singler, and Rodney Stuckey. Continue reading Oklahoma City Thunder at Detroit Pistons Preview (Game 5 of 82)

Trains of Thought: Thunder and the 2013 Draft

NBA: NBA Draft

Approaching a draft, there are always differing trains of thought as to whom a team should choose. A team has to analyze what their needs are and if they can realistically draft a player that will fill said need(s). This is especially true if you are holding one of the lottery picks. Teams picking in these first 14 slots usually have a plethora of needs to address. But for a championship contending team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have many of the necessary cogs already in place, a pick in the lottery can be the final piece of the puzzle to get the team over the hump. 

darko

Drafting a final piece is not always guaranteed to get a team over the hump, though. In the summer of 2003, the Detroit Pistons had just come off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and also held the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, which was loaded at the top. Easy pickings, right? Get the 2nd best player available and you should be set for the next 5 years. But success and good fortune can sometimes make you think you are smarter than you really are. In a draft where the Pistons could have chosen any of Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, or Chris Bosh, they instead decided to go with the experimental Euro-project named Darko Milicic. Even though the Pistons won the championship the next season, it had nothing to do with Milicic, who was famously tagged as the “human victory cigar” due to the bulk of his playing time coming at the end of blowout victories. The Pistons went on to lose in the NBA Finals in the next season and played in 3 consecutive Eastern Conference Finals after that. Add that up, and in a 6 year span, the Pistons played in 6 consecutive ECFs, went to the Finals twice, and won one championship. Nothing is guaranteed, but I think the number of championships would have increased if the Pistons had drafted one of the other players mentioned above. 

Granted, this draft is not as loaded as the 2003 draft was. But the Thunder find themselves in a position to draft a position of need, instead of having to pay for it through free agency or trade for it. There are probably two trains of thought for what type of the player the Thunder should draft with the 12th pick: either a defensive minded big man capable of developing some semblance of an offensive game or a scoring wing adept at making perimeter shots. In other words, either a replacement for Kendrick Perkins or a replacement for James Harden. The big man pick is more targeted towards future success, while the perimeter wing would be for more immediate results.

pacers

The conference finals and NBA Finals have given the Thunder a blueprint as to what they need for sustained success. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Indiana Pacers showed what two competent big men can do against the Miami Heat. David West and Roy Hibbert gobbled up offensive rebounds and scored in the paint, almost at will. In the Finals, the San Antonio Spurs have shown that playing the same brand of basketball as the Heat (dribble penetration and 3-point shooting) can befuddle and frustrate them, especially if the opponent is hitting 3-pointers at a 45% clip.

Train of Thought No. 1 – Big Man

perk ii

Everybody knows I love crazy uncle Perk (Kendrick Perkins). For a person who grew up on 90’s basketball, Perkins’ style of play harks back to that physical era. But, truth be told, he laid a complete goose egg in the playoffs this season. He surprisingly had a better run last post season when he played with a torn groin and a torn ligament in his wrist. That Perkins has no semblance of an offensive game is a known fact. But that is usually masked by constant attacking nature of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. When Westbrook went out with his knee injury in the first round of the playoffs, that lack of an offensive game led to the further stagnation of an offense that was already compromised. It wasn’t just that Perkins couldn’t get the ball in the basket, it’s that he was a walking turnover. He had a negative PER in the playoffs and was a liability not just on the offensive end, but also on the defensive end. I didn’t even know negative PERs existed.

Needless to say, with 2 seasons left on Perkins’ contract, it may be time to start looking for his replacement sooner rather than later. Picking up a big man at this slot would be a pick for the future, as big men generally take longer to develop and no post player in this draft has that “ready to play now” look to them.

Before deciding what type of big man could be drafted, it’s important to see what is already in the cupboard. Besides Perkins, the other starter is Serge Ibaka, one of the most versatile power forwards in the NBA. In addition to leading the league in blocks for the 2nd consecutive season, Ibaka also has a deadly midrange game that occasionally stretches out to the 3-point line. His next stage of development should be to learn a post move or two. Off the bench, Nick Collison is a heady post player who plays good defense, can score inside, and can occasionally hit a midrange jumper. The only negative with Collison is that he is getting long in the tooth and starting to show signs of that. Hasheem Thabeet is an average center who is just now learning how to contribute 10-12 solid minutes per game. Perry Jones III is still in the initial stages of his development, but has the physical tools to become a solid contributor. And Daniel Orton is probably the odd man out in the game of big man roulette.

adams noel

Any post player selected will be drafted with the intent to eventually be the starting center. The Thunder tried that 3 seasons ago with Cole Aldrich, but he never panned out. If the Thunder’s system remains similar for the next 3-5 seasons, a player with Perkins’ toughness and defensive chops, but better offensive potential would probably be the selection. Players that fall in that category would be Alex Len, Steven Adams, Mason Plumlee, and Gorgui Dieng. If the Thunder decides to go for an offensive-minded big man, look for them to select Kelly Olynyk or Cody Zeller.

Train of Thought No. 2 – Perimeter Wing

harden

The Thunder have a little more flexibility here than with the center position. When the Thunder made the trade with Houston, they not only traded Harden, but also Daequan Cook. These floor spacers are very important when the bulk of your offense is dependent on two perimeter oriented players. The drive and dish becomes a lot more driving into defensive walls if the dishees aren’t reliable 3-point shooters, especially in the playoffs.

Seeing as the NBA is becoming more of a drive and dish league, having penetrators and 3-point shooters is tantamount to a team’s success. It used to be that if you had a great big man, you were almost guaranteed a deep playoff run. That began to change with the elimination of hand checking. Once that happened, it unshackled quick wing players to have a more prominent role in the offense. No longer were defenders able to keep quicker players at an arm’s length, thus eliminating their speed advantage. Now, defenses had to converge on the quicker players, which opened up shooters on the perimeter, especially on the 3-point line. And, as any kindergartener will tell you, 3 is more than 2 any day of the week.

Looking at the Thunder’s inventory when it comes to wing players, the Thunder already have two of the best dribble penetrators in the league, in Durant and Westbrook. Add to that Reggie Jackson, and the team has their fair share of attackers on the offensive end. What’s lacking on the team is the amount of shooters. Thabo Sefolosha has improved his 3-point shooting to the point where he’s effective, but his slow release make him a liability against teams with long defenders. Kevin Martin was, for the most part, an effective perimeter shooter, but his inconsistency and disappearing act in key games, proved to be a big problem for the Thunder. DeAndre Liggins is on the team for defensive purposes, and Jeremy Lamb was never given a chance to show his shooting chops on the NBA level, though he was very effective in the D-League.

ben-mclemore-dunk

There are two choices for where the team wants to go with this train of thought. One choice is an instant offense type player off the bench. If this is the way the Thunder may be leaning, then look for them to choose CJ McCollum or Shabazz Muhammad. If the Thunder are looking for more of a complete player to eventually take over the shooting guard spot, then the options become Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Thunder will go into draft day with a couple players in mind and counter moves for each situation. In my opinion, the Thunder are extremely high on about 5 players: McLemore, Len, McCollum, Adams, and Oladipo. I think it’ll all be dependent on where the players fall. If McLemore or Len slip down to the 4-6 range, I think the Thunder will throw every possible trade, not involving Durant, Westbrook, or Ibaka, at those teams in that range.

The good thing is that the Thunder have options. Their high 2nd round pick affords them the possibility of obtaining an extra first round pick from a team looking to involve themselves in this year’s free agency. The ability to put a package together with multiple 1st round picks and young players can be very enticing to a team that is rebuilding. Soon enough, it’ll be draft day and Thunder GM Sam Presti will be able to put his plan into play.

Kobe Bryant’s Impact on the Thunder

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There’s something to be said about big brothers. I never had one growing up, and, honestly, most of the people I associated with while growing up were the oldest children in their families. But in the examples that I did see while growing up, big brothers can help shape and mold younger brothers into something better than what they themselves are. As we’ve seen with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, big brothers don’t even have to be related to their younger brethren to have an impact.

Big brothers serve two purposes in life: to frustrate and to motivate. The frustration part comes from the big brother’s ability to dominate over the little brother due to being older, bigger, and wiser. The motivation part comes from the little brother wanting to be better than the big brother. The thing about this big brother/little brother dynamic is that the little brother is able to take notes on how to best his big brother, while the big brother just has to wing being a big brother.

bryant perk

In a lot of ways, with all due respect to Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Royal Ivey, Kevin Ollie, and Desmond Mason, the best example of a big brother to the Oklahoma City Thunder has been Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. With his recent season-ending (and hopefully, not career ending) Achilles tendon tear, I was forced to evaluate Bryant’s legacy when it comes to the Thunder.

If there is one word to describe my feelings towards Bryant’s basketball ability, it’s respect. Off the court, though, Bryant is one of those people that I would try to avoid like the plague. His arrogance and A-type personality, combined with a penchant to place blame on others when things don’t go his way, would be a package that I would completely avoid, if possible, in real life. But on the court, those personality traits, and the fact that he plays for the most polarizing franchise in NBA history, make for must see TV. Bryant is a five tool player that has a lethal 6th tool: the overwhelming need to completely decimate his opponent night in and night out, year after year. Michael Jordan had this 6th tool. Larry Bird had this 6th tool. Bill Russell had this 6th tool. Russell Westbrook HAS this 6th tool.

To view Bryant as an opponent is to respect someone out of fear. Fear for what he could do against your team. Fear that he’ll conjure up some bulletin board material for his mental bulletin board, and go off on your team for no particular reason. Fear that he could miss 10 shots in a row, but the 11th shot, with the game on the line, will go in without hesitation. That’s the kind of respect that Kobe Bryant garners. And yet, it’s a fear that keeps you staring in awe. He’s the type of player that fans say, “I hate what he does to my team, but I love to watch him play.”

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Every successful up and coming team has that one hurdle they set their sights on. If you’re a team that is coming out of the dredges of the draft lottery, you mark successes in increments. First step is to be competitive on a nightly basis. Then the next step is to get into the playoffs. Then the next step is to be successful in the playoffs. You keep going until, hopefully, eventually, you win a championship. But along the way, especially in the early stages of the success journey, you always target that one team that’s been there and done that. For the Chicago Bulls in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was the Detroit Pistons. For the Orlando Magic in the mid 90’s, it was the New York Knicks. And for the Thunder, it was the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

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As fate would have it, that 2010 playoff series that pitted the No. 1 seeded Lakers vs. the No. 8 seeded Thunder was probably the best thing for the development of the Thunder. The fact that they were able to give the eventual champion Lakers a fight in the first round did wonders for the confidence of the young Thunder. But if you broke it down to its simplest form, the Thunder didn’t give the Lakers a test. They gave Kobe a test. They planted the seed in Kobe’s head that we would be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. When the crowd would chant, “Beat LA”, they were actually chanting “Beat Kobe”. Nobody feared Pau Gasol. Or Andrew Bynum. Or Derek Fisher (hehe!). We knew that Kobe had received the message. And that was both awesome and fearful (respectful) at the same time.

As the Thunder’s two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, progressed in the NBA world, they would eventually come in contact more often with Kobe Bryant. On Western Conference All-Star teams and, most importantly, the Olympics, Thunder fans can only hope that our superstars soaked up any of the psychological warfare that Bryant uses on a daily bases. Those blurbs that you hear from media members about Bryant talking trash to Durant, Westbrook, and at the time, James Harden during the Olympics, when they heard that the Lakers had acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, is just classic mental warfare from Bryant. It’s the equivalent of how the military drops leaflets into countries they are warring with stating how their government is endangering them, the common citizen.

Kobe+Bryant

So with that, I say, thank you to Kobe Bean Bryant. He has as much a stake in the Thunder’s ascension and success as does any of the veterans that played for the team. He was the target that we went after when we wanted to be successful. Much like an older brother, he frustrated us. But he also motivated us. And we learned much from facing him and defeating him. Here’s hoping that Bryant does come back, while, realistically realizing, that the Bryant we knew, may have gone down in a heap in the Staples Center on Friday night. Whatever the future holds for Kobe, just realize that the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder was shaped, in part, by the man in the Lakers uniform that we feared and respected the most.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 46 of 82)

grizz thunder

  • When: Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Welcome to the season opener for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Hold on, what? It’s not the season opener? It’s the 46th game of the season? Wow! With the amount of time we’ve been off (4 whole days) and the amount of time since the last home game (over two weeks), you can see how it feels like an entire off-season since we’ve last seen the team live. Also, this is the longest we’ve had to marinate after a loss since Game 5 of last season’s Finals. Needless to say, Oklahoma City is chomping at the bit to play a game at home.

Their opponent for their return back home is the new look Memphis Grizzlies, although Memphis may be a bit short handed tonight. Yesterday, the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi to the Toronto Raptors for Ed Davis and Jose Calderon. The Grizzlies then turned around and traded Calderon to the Detroit Pistons for Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. Unfortunately (or luckily for the Thunder), those players will not be available for the Grizzlies tonight.

But it’s not like this will be an easy game. This is basically the same team that took the Thunder to 7 games two postseasons ago in the Western Conference Semis. That team was also without Rudy Gay, who was out following in-season shoulder surgery. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in their first meeting this season, 107-97, in Oklahoma City. In that game, Rudy Gay hit every big shot in the 2nd half to keep the Thunder at bay. Much like what the Thunder were facing in their 3rd game of the season, the Grizzlies will be getting acclimated to life without a key component of their team.

The Opponent

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The Grizzlies come into the game with a 29-15 record, good for 4th in the Western Conference. Though they struggle to score points (93.4, 27th in the league), they more than make up for it with the best defense in the league, in terms of opponents’ ppg (89.5, 1st in the league). Offensively, they are highly dependent on post play and taking care of the ball. On defense, they use their physicality and brute strength to gobble up boards and get opponents out of position on offense. The offense is led by the big boys inside, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Though not a very athletic duo, their high basketball IQ more than makes up for their athletic shortcomings. Randolph, who was selected as a reserve to the All-Star game, averages 15.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Gasol, who has been struggling a bit this season, averages 13.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The offense is directed by Mike Conley, who is one of the better floor generals in the league. SG Tony Allen is one of the best defensive wings in the league. The bench is one of the more consistent ones in the league, with 6 players each averaging more than 14.5 minutes and scoring more than 5.5 ppg.

Probable Starters

Memphis Grizzlies

PG – Mike Conley

SG – Wayne Ellington

SF – Tony Allen

PF – Zach Randolph

C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG – Russell Westbrook

SG – Thabo Sefolosha

SF – Kevin Durant

PF – Serge Ibaka

C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

  1. Don’t give this team a chance – Yes, they just lost their best scorer. Yes, they will be shorthanded. But, don’t give this team a chance or they will steal this game. Memphis is a veteran bunch that has won without Rudy Gay before. Take advantage of their lack of depth and play transition basketball and try to draw fouls.  
  2. Control the boards – While Memphis may not score much, their bigs do get a lot of rebounds. This leads to extra opportunities offensively, which is big for a team that is short handed. If necessary, Kevin Durant may need to hedge over to the post to help out on the boards.ibaka randolph
  3. Play Randolph smartly – Serge Ibaka always seems to have trouble against crafty, non-athletic PFs (Randolph, Nowitzki, etc.). Don’t bite on the pump fakes and keep your hands straight up in the air. It seems like when the Thunder play the Grizzlies, Collison always ends up in the game for an extended period of time due to Ibaka’s foul trouble.