Tag Archives: draft

House of (Lottery) Cards – The Thunder and the NBA Draft Reform

frank underwood house of cards

On Wednesday, the NBA Board of Governors will be voting on whether to change the format of the NBA Draft Lottery process. In the reform, the 14 non-playoff teams will still vie for lottery positioning in a lottery style system. What does change are the percentages to vie for the top 3 picks. In the current system, the team with the worst record has the highest chance (25%) of getting the number 1 pick, while the lottery team with the best record has the lowest chance (0.5%) of getting the number 1 pick. The basic gist of the current system is, the worser your record, the better your chances of obtaining a top 3 pick. In the proposed new system, the 4 teams with the worst records each have a 12% chance of getting the first pick, with the 5th worst team garnering an 11.5% chance, and the 6th worst team garnering a 10% chance, and on down the line. Even worse, in the new system, teams aren’t as protected as they are in the current system from free falling to a lower spot in the draft. Under the current system, the team with the worst record can not fall lower than the 4th pick. In the new proposed system, the team with the worst record has the possibility of falling all the way down to the 7th pick.

Free agency is to big market teams as the draft is to small market teams. Big market teams are at an advantage because they can not only build during free agency, but also in the draft if they are lucky enough. Unfortunately, small market teams can usually only build through the draft. For as great as Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, New Orleans, and Milwaukee are as metropolises, they pale in comparison to the global cultural centers that are New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles.

The Thunder experienced this with Pau Gasol this offseason. While not necessarily a top 10 player, Gasol would have instantly made the Thunder the favorites to win the title in 2014-15. But when push came to shove, Gasol, having just completed a 7-year run with the Los Angeles Lakers, decided to go with the Chicago Bulls. One of the factors in his decision was the lack of cultural diversity in OKC. Whatever that is, when you compare OKC to Chicago, you kind of see what he is talking about. I don’t know when was the last time a small market team signed a marquee free agent (and by marquee, I mean a Top-20 player at the time of his free agency). The last one was probably when Peja Stojakovic signed with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in the 2006 offseason. At the time, Stojakovic was a fringe top 20-30 player in the league, but was beginning to show the signs of being injury-prone. The Hornets, of course, overpaid, and injuries were a major theme of Stojakovic’s term with the Hornets.

With this new draft reform, the NBA is essentially decreasing the life blood of talent to small market teams. The cycle of success to rebuild and back to success occurs a lot more regularly for small market teams than it does for big market teams. Small market teams have to rebuild when times get rough, and hope that they don’t make a big mistake. Big market teams can simply reload when the well runs dry. Is it always successful? No. But if the same mismanagement of funds that occurred with the New York Knicks from 2005-2012 would’ve happened to occur in Milwaukee, you can rest assured that Milwaukee would either be under new ownership or would be playing in a different city. The draft is the harbinger of hope for small market teams. And this new draft reform would lessen the opportunity for small market teams to nab a franchise talent like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or Anthony Davis.

mcgary presti thunder

The ironic part of all this is that the team at the center of this change is a big market team. The visual tank job that has been the Philadelphia 76ers in the past season and a half is at the root of all the draft reform discussion. In the past 18 months, the 76ers have sent away any veteran asset they had for draft picks and cap space. And in the last two drafts, the Sixers have taken 3 players in the lottery that were either injured (Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid) or not intending to come to the NBA for at least two season (Dario Saric). Strategic tanking has always been a part of the rebuilding process. A rebuilding team wants to shed salary and obtain assets, while at the same time putting a “competitive” product on the floor. But Philadelphia has completely eschewed the competitive part of the equation, and has blatantly put a subpar product on the floor in order to build for the future. It is no different than other tank jobs, with the exception of the blatantness of it all.

With all this on the table, it would almost seem to be a given that at least 8 teams would be against this draft reform. Philadelphia, for sure, would be at the forefront. But stepping up to the podium has been Thunder GM Sam Presti. Surprisingly, Presti, of the championship contending Thunder, has been leading the charge against draft reform. You see, Presti knows what’s at stake. Under the current system, a couple seasons of drought can lead to gold if you draft well and spend your money wisely. But under the proposed system, those couple of seasons of drought can lead to gold or they can lead to iron pyrite. And while draft position is never an exact science, a lot more superstars are drafted in the top 5 picks than anywhere else in the draft. Presti is always looking ahead and knows that there will come a time when Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka will no longer be donning Thunder uniforms. It could be in the next 2-3 seasons, just like it could be in the next 10 seasons. But when that day comes, the Thunder will likely look to the draft to rebuild.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports, Presti is struggling to come up with the six extra votes to block the 3/4 majority needed to pass the draft reform. Which is absolutely asinine to me. If those small market teams would realize how much more difficult it will be for them to land franchise talent with this change, it would seem like an easy decision for them to make. If anything, this is an opportunity for small market teams to flex a little muscle. Like Frank Underwood of House of Cards says, “There is no solace above or below. Only us – small, solitary, striving, battling one another. I pray to myself, for myself.” I can definitely see Presti working the back channels tonight like Underwood in trying to get those necessary 6 votes. And after he gets the votes, I can see Presti going to his hotel, opening up his balcony window, and cooly smoking one lonely cigarette while staring into the night.

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2014 Thunder Draft: A Postcript

mitch mcgary josh huestis sam presti troy weaver thunder

I’ve learned you never write about anything right when it happens. With emotions at a crescendo, you may exaggerate the highs and hyperbolize the lows. With that said, this draft was a bit of a disappointment. Not necessarily with the players that we got, but with the lack of activity from the Thunder. We’ll never know whether the Thunder intended to draft the two players they got from the get go. But with needs being what they are, the Thunder didn’t really fill any of their most glaring needs with their two draft picks. And that’s where the disappointment lies.

With that said, the Thunder do enter the free agency period with more cap flexibility and more money in hand than they have had in the past. Maybe they intended to get two players in the draft all along and decided to fill their needs via free agency. With perimeter shooting being one of the most glaring needs, the Thunder could easily get that after July 1st from someone like CJ Miles or Mike Miller. Or they may entice a team that is looking to rid themselves of salary in order to make a big free agency splash (i.e. Mike Dunleavy Jr from the Bulls using the $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception).

While the expectations leading up to the draft may have shrouded the draft in disappointment, it’s always important to remember where the Thunder are, in relation to the rest of the league. They were one of the Top 4 teams in the league and took the eventual champs to 6 games in the Western Conference Finals. While getting to the Western Conference Finals may no longer be a cause for celebration, it’s important to remember that this team is on the cusp of a championship and has their core pieces in place. I like to compare this team to a great album. The core players (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Jackson, and Adams) are the hits on the album, while the other players are the filler tracks. The better the filler tracks, the better the album. The Thunder are close to having a great album, and the filler track have enough time to grow on you.

Here’s a look at the three players the Thunder obtained in the 2014 draft:

No 21 – Mitch McGary – PF/C – University of Michigan

mitch mcgary thunder

When the Toronto Raptors chose Bruno Caboclo (who??!!), I was certain the Thunder would select either Clint Capela or Kyle Anderson. And I would have been happy with either of those selections. But then the Thunder selected McGary, and I was like “Huh?”. Let me preface this by saying, I was a huge fan of McGary’s in the 2012-13 season, when Michigan made their run in the tournament. I thought he had the potential to a Nick Collison/Bill Laimbeer type player for the Thunder. When he decided to stay in school for the 2013-14 season, I said to myself, “I wonder if he’ll be available for the Dallas pick (wherever that may end up being)?” With McGary being a potential lottery pick and the Dallas pick being protected for the top 20, I figured there was no way McGary would fall that far down.

But alas, McGary was injured for most of his sophomore season with a back injury and was facing a season long ban due to a failed drug test. With all that stacked against him, McGary decided to enter his name into the draft. With an injured back and a bit of a tarnished reputation, McGary’s stock fell. Adding to that fire, McGary refused to allow NBA doctors to perform a physical on him. Many people viewed that as a sign that he was damaged goods, but apparently that might have been a smokescreen due to a promise he received from the Thunder.

So what does McGary bring to the table? With Nick Collison aging and in the final year of his contract, McGary becomes a great development replacement for the veteran. He has a lot of the same skill set as Collison. He sets great screens, is good in the pick and roll, is a good passer, and has the (surprising) quickness and agility to get around most big men. He has great role player potential and will probably get meaningful minutes sometime this season.

No. 29 – Josh Huestis – SG/SF – Stanford University

josh huestis thunder

When you write a blog, one of the chores is to do research. So when the season ended, I immediately switched over to draft mode. I watched most of the draft video breakdowns at DraftExpress.com and NBADraft.net. I got to know the players who would logically be available when the Thunder chose at 29. But once again, the Thunder managed to surprise me and chose someone whom I did no research on. Josh Who-tis??? When I first saw his name, I thought he might have been hispanic. I thought his name may have been pronounced Josh Wes-teez.

Last season, it was Andre Roberson, who was billed as a perimeter defender and wing rebounder. This season, it was Huestis, who is being billed as a perimeter defender and wing rebounder. Whaaaatttt???? I’ve kind of gotten over the fact that we didn’t draft a wing that could shoot. But why rehash the “perimeter defender who needs to develop a shot” routine? And let me reiterate….this has nothing to do with Huestis. He seems like a hard worker and someone who will fit in the Thunder culture. But at what point do we stop drafting these types of players and start drafting more complete players? Even at 29, players like Kyle Anderson, Cleanthony Early, and KJ McDaniels were still available.

After looking around the internet, I happened upon some Huestis videos. He is definitely a big perimeter defender that does great in one on one situations. He seems to have a better shot than Roberson at this same point last season, but its a shot that still would not be deemed threatening to opponents. Word is that the Thunder intend to have Huestis develop in Tulsa for most of the season, but they said the same thing about Roberson and he ended up starting 16 games last season.

No. 55 – Semaj Christon – PG – Xavier University

semaj christon thunder

When I started looking at mock drafts around January, Christon’s name began showing up at the Thunder’s pick late in the first round. With the uncertainty surrounding Reggie Jackson’s future, the Thunder decided to buy Christon’s rights from Charlotte. Christon has good size for a point guard (6’3″) and carries a 6’6″ wingspan. He reminds me a lot of Marquis Teague of the Chicago Bulls. Someone that plays athletically and can get into the lane. But also someone who will have to work on his shot and develop more of a floor game as a point guard.

Will he make the team? I have no idea. It all depends on who the Thunder acquire during free agency. With 12 players already guaranteed and 2 on non-guaranteed team options (Hasheem Thabeet and Grant Jerrett), there may not be enough space on the roster for Christon to be signed. But you can guarantee that if the Thunder like Christon, they’ll find some way to keep him within the organization’s system as they did with Jerrett last season.

Again, as I wrote last season, this draft had as much to do with the players who were drafted as with the players who were still on the roster when the night ended. The team has extreme confidence in the young players within the organization and has plans to keep them on the roster for right now. They could have possibly included them in draft day deals in order to move up, but chose, instead, to stay the course and let that royal jelly work its magic on players like Lamb, Jones, Roberson, and Jerrett. With the draft over, it’s on to free agency.

Thunder’s Draft Day Options

jerrett roberson adams presti thunder

When it comes to draft picks, a team only has 3 choices: Move up, stay put, or move down (or out) in order to pick up more assets. These are the options facing the Thunder. Last season, with 3 draft picks in hand, they stayed put at 12 (Steven Adams), moved up to 26 from 29 (Andre Roberson), stayed put at 32 (Alex Abrines), and moved up (bought) 40 (Grant Jerrett). With the 21st and 29th pick this season, here’s a look at some of the players the Thunder may target if they move up, stay put, or move down.

Moving Up Into the Top 10

marcus smart joel embiid

As I’ve previously discussed, the Thunder do have some assets that could potentially entice a team to give up their higher draft pick. In addition to the 21st and 29th pick, the Thunder also possess a $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception, a bevy of young cheap players, and two expiring contracts (Kendrick Perkins ($9.4M) and Collison($2.2M)). So with all that in hand, how far up can the Thunder move? Well, you can pretty much throw out any chance of moving into the Top 10. The only option I could really see in the Top 10 is Sacramento at 8, but we’d have to probably give up one of our young players (Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, or Perry Jones) along with the draft picks to do so. If the Thunder make this type of move, it’s because they either love someone a lot or because someone they love (but thought wouldn’t be available) has dropped. There are only 3 players I could see causing this type of jump:

1. Marcus Smart – PG/SG / Oklahoma State / 6’3″ / 227 lbs /So. – Smart is one of those players that is hard to ping on mock drafts. We know he won’t go top 2, but he could possibly go anywhere from 3-10. Smart was tabbed as a Top 5 type player, but the incident with the Texas Tech fan and the fact that he didn’t vastly improve from his freshman year to his sophomore year, has caused some prognosticators to cool a bit on Smart. If he drops past 7, look for the Thunder to try to sneak in at 8 with their 2 draft picks and Reggie Jackson. Chances of this happening: 5%

2. Joel Embiid – C / Kansas / 7’0″ / 250 lbs /Fr. – Embiid’s worst enemies are the ghosts of Greg Oden and Sam Bowie. Especially in a draft that features not one, but two dynamic wing players. Embiid’s latest set back may cause teams to get “fragile center-itis”. Nerlens Noel was slated to go Number 1 last season before he tore his ACL in February 2013. He ended up dropping to 6th and sat out the entire year. If teams in the Top 10 are looking for someone who will play immediately, they may end up passing on Embiid. Chances of this happening: 2%

3. Elfrid Payton – PG / Louisiana Lafayette / 6’4″ / 185 lbs /Jr. – When the season ended, some mock drafts had us taking Payton…at 29! No one has moved up more in this draft process from mid-April to now than Payton. His physical attributes have some people comparing him to Rajon Rondo. Someone who isn’t a great shooter, but can get to any spot he wants on the floor. If you want a point guard than can get into the paint and create havoc from there, Payton is that guy. Chances of this happening: 10%

Moving Up Into the 11-15 Range

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament Michigan State v Michigan

Moving up into this range may be a bit easier and may not necessarily require one of the Thunder young players. Picks 21 and 29 may be enough for someone looking to pick up draft picks later in the draft (with lesser financial implications). Here are 3 players the Thunder may be looking at in this range:

1. Nik Stauskas – SG / Michigan /6’6″ /207 lbs /So. – Stauskas had an extremely successful sophomore year at Michigan and is probably one of the best sharpshooters in the draft. In a league where 3-point shooting is extremely valued, I could see the Thunder trying to move up to take Stauskas. Chances of this happening: 15%

2. Doug McDermott – SF / Creighton /6’7″ /220 lbs /Sr. – McDermott just finished a career in which he ended up in the top 5 of the NCAA career scoring list with 3,150 career points. He is a great shooter and great at creating a shot for himself. His athleticism, or lack there of, may be what limits him professionally. Oklahoma City is rumored to have had McDermott in for a workout. If he slips, he may definitely be a target for the Thunder. Chances of this happening: 25%

3. Gary Harris – SG / Michigan State /6’4″ /205 lbs /So. – With Thabo Sefolosha’s expected departure, the Thunder may be in the market for a SG that can play both ends of the floor. Though Harris may not be a great shooter, he has the tools to be a great defender. He may be someone that the Thunder targets if he falls. Chances of this happening: 20%

Moving Up To The 16-20 Range or Staying Put at 21

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament Michigan State v Michigan

There are about 10 players that could be selected in the 16-21 range. You won’t need too many assets to move up from 21 here, but this range is where the $6.6 million dollar TPE may come into play. Chicago has two picks in this range (16 and 19) and are vying for the services of free agent Carmelo Anthony. They need to get rid of salary and may also be willing to part with one or both of their picks. There also the possibility that the player may fall to the Thunder at 21 anyway. Here are 5 players the Thunder may be targeting at this range:

1. Adreian Payne – PF / Michigan State /6’10” /240 lbs /Sr. – Payne built his game up throughout his tenure at Michigan State, turning himself into a consistent outside shooter, with the ability to also play a little inside. With Nick Collison get older, Payne may prove to be a good replacement for the Thunder. Chances of this happening: 30%

2. TJ Warren – SF / NC State /6’7″ /220 lbs /So. – One of the things missing off the Thunder’s bench was scoring. Lamb looked great at the beginning of the season, but tailed off at the end, hurting the Thunder’s bench production. Warren is the type of player that can score in a variety of ways. He was one of the best scorers in the NCAA (24 ppg) and his game should translate as a bench player. Chances of this happening: 40%

3. Glenn Robinson III – SG/SF / Michigan /6’6″ /211 lbs /So. – Robinson failed to live up to the expectations set for him at the beginning of the season. But the skill set is there to be a great role player. He has solid size for a wing (6’6″) with a 6’9″ wingspan. He does a lot of things good, but nothing great. He could be a decent option to replace Sefolosha in a season or two. Chances of this happening: 40%

4. James Young – SG /Kentucky /6’6″ /215 lbs /Fr. – One of the needs for the Thunder is shooting from the wing position. Young can give you that and can grow into a consistent bench role for the Thunder this season. With Jackson and Lamb’s play making ability, there may be plenty of opportunities for Young to showcase his main skill. Though he may be a liability defensively, he does have the tools to be a good defender. Chances of this happening: 35%

5. Zach Lavine – SG / UCLA /6’6″ /180 lbs /Fr. – A freak athlete in the Gerald Green/Russell Westbrook mold, Lavine may take some time to develop, but may also have too much potential to ignore. If put through the Thunder development plan, Lavine may be a great pick 2 seasons from now. But if the Thunder are looking for immediate dividends, then Lavine may not be the man for this pick. Chances of this happening: 25%

Ultimately, if the Thunder stay within this range, they may be looking for someone who can pay dividends this season, and not a developmental project. They’ll definitely be looking for someone that can either provide scoring from the perimeter or someone to complement the bench.

Picking In The 22-30 Range

kj mcdaniels

This is kind of where it gets interesting. The Thunder can get a player of value in this range (Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones) if they play their cards right. Also, as seen last year, if the Thunder like a player, they aren’t opposed to trade up for a pick by using cash. Here are 3 players the Thunder may be looking at in this range:

1. Clint Capela – PF/C / Switzerland /6’11” /222 lbs – At this point in his career, Capela is a poor man’s Ibaka. He has great athleticisim, but lacks the experience and IQ to put it all together. He’s a project, but he’s also a workable project. He has the tools in place to be very similar to Ibaka defensively. Offensively, though, it’s a different story. It would probably be good if Capela stayed in Europe one more season to further his development before joining the Thunder. Chances of this happening: 50%

2. CJ Wilcox – SG /Washington /6’5″ /201 lbs /Sr. – Wilcox is a great shooter and someone who would benefit playing next to a chaos starter like Russell Westbrook. The Thunder are looking for shooting and if Wilcox is available, they may snatch him up. Chances of this happening: 25%

3. KJ McDaniels – SG/SF /Clemson /6’6″ /196 lbs /Jr. – If the Thunder don’t draft a wing player at 21, look for them to take someone like McDaniels. The 2013-14 ACC Defensive Player of the Year led the ACC in blocks (as a SG/SF) and is probably the best one on one defender in the draft at the wing position. The Thunder may have drafted their wing stopper last season in Andre Roberson, but if they like what they see from McDaniels, I think they may also draft him. Chances of this happening: 45%

Trading Down (Or Buying) Into The 2nd Round

damien inglis

 The Thunder may also either trade down into the 2nd round or buy a 2nd rounder like they did last season. Here are 3 players the Thunder may look at in the 2nd round.

1. Spencer Dinwiddie – PG/SG /Colorado /6’6″ /205 lbs /Jr. – Before tearing his ACL, Dinwiddie was one of the more diverse wings in the NCAA. He could score, shoot, and play-make. The Thunder may take a chance on Dinwiddie as a Tulsa stash to see how he fairs in his recovery. Chances of this happening: 40%

2. Mitch McGary – PF/C /Michigan /6’10” /266 lbs /So. – Before his back injury last season, McGary was seen as a lottery pick after his freshman season. But with him preventing the NBA docs from performing a physical on him, many have begun to label him as damaged goods. But as a project, McGary may be worth the risk. Chances of this happening: 15%

3. Damien Inglis – SF/PF /France /6’9″ /240 lbs – An athletic specimen, Inglis has a 7’3″ wingspan and a very muscular build. His shooting is his biggest flaw, but at only 19 years of age, this is something that can be developed as he ages. He has the potential to be a Boris Diaw type player with his ability to handle the ball and play-make. Chances of this happening: 45%

The Thunder have a ton of options in this draft. With a little bit of chaos swirling around with the impending free agency of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, many teams are trying to set themselves up to have the ability to sign one or both of these free agents. Armed with their assets, the Thunder will look to come out of this draft with a much stronger team than they had before the draft. Whether it’s with their draft picks or with veterans they’ve acquired, the Thunder should head into the 2014-15 season with a more complete team than the one that got ousted in the Western Conference Finals.

Thunder Offseason: Trade Partners and Draft Night

sam presti thunder

The Oklahoma City hold two first round picks in this year’s draft. Their own (No. 29) and Dallas’ first rounder (No. 21) obtained from Houston in the James Harden trade. In a daft and offseason that will be filled with intrigue heading into July 1st, assets are a powerful thing to be in possession of heading into the draft. The Thunder are on the cusp of becoming a championship team, having been in 3 of the last 4 Western Conference Finals and being on the losing end of the 2012 NBA Finals. With most of the core pieces in place, the Thunder may use these assets to get that final piece or two to finally get over the edge.

Assets

Other than the two first round picks in a pretty loaded draft, the Thunder also have the $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception (TPE) they obtained from the Kevin Martin sign and trade last season. The TPE can be used to trade for a player without having to add any players in order to make the salaries match. For example, Gerald Henderson of the Charlotte Hornets makes $6 million dollars in salary. If the Thunder wanted to trade for him, they could offer the Hornets their TPE for $6.1 million dollars and a draft pick or the draft rights to one of their Euro-stashes.

kevin martin

In addition to the TPE, the Thunder have 2 players in the final year of their contracts. Kendrick Perkins will be making $9.4 million dollars and Nick Collison will be making $2.2 million dollars next season. In addition, if the Thunder pick up Hasheem Thabeet’s final year, he’ll be making $1.25 million. In the NBA, expiring contracts become valuable because the receiving team can trade away a player (or players) of equal cost, but usually with more time left on their contracts. For example, let’s hypothetically say the Spurs were needing to trade Tiago Splitter to make space for Kawhi Leonard’s upcoming extension. Next season Splitter will be making $9.25 million, but has 2 more years left on his contract after that. The Spurs could hypothetically trade Splitter to the Thunder for Perkins and his expiring contract.

Also, the Thunder have a slew of young players all making under $3 million dollars a season (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, and Grant Jerrett) and two valuable Euro-stashes in Tibor Pleiss and Alex Abrines. The inclusion of these players in a deal are usually the things that either make or break a deal.

Targets

With Thabo Sefolosha going into free agency and some of the depth of the team either not coming back (Derek Fisher and Caron Butler) or getting older (Collison), the Thunder will probably be in the market for a starting 2-guard and some veteran depth for the bench. So what are some possible targets for the Thunder?

Mike Dunleavy

With Chicago wanting to try their hand in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the Bulls will have to rid themselves of some salary before even attempting to offer Anthony anything close to a max contract. The Thunder obtained some assets from Miami when they were making their run at LeBron James (and Chris Bosh) in 2010. In that draft, they obtained SG Daequan Cook from Miami and the No. 18 pick for the No. 32 pick. The Bulls will shed some salary by releasing Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause. But the Bulls will probably need a little more salary shed before they can offer Anthony a max (or very near max) deal. While Dunleavy is a weapon as a 3-point specialist, they probably won’t want to get rid of any of their young (cheap) wings such as Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell. In addition, rumors that Bulls’ Eurostash Nikola Mirotic is ready to join the Bulls may necessitate that the dump even more salary.

dunleavy bulls

The Thunder could target Dunleavy with the TPE, and then try to obtain one of the Bulls’ two first round picks (16 and 19) for the Thunder’s 29th pick. That way, the Bulls shed salary, but still have an asset that allows them to obtain a player in the future, in the form of the TPE. Also, the Bulls trade one of their 1st rounders, but stay in the first round with pick No. 29, albeit at a cheaper price.

Iman Shumpert

At the trade deadline this past season, there were rumors that the Knicks and Thunder were discussing a trade centered around Iman Shumpert and the Thunder’s first round pick. At the time, it was not known whether the Thunder would have a 2nd first round pick. With the season over and the Knicks under new management, it could be a good time to revisit those talks. Depending on how Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher view Shumpert could determine whether he is available during the draft.

Arron Afflalo

Probably the most difficult of the trades to do. Difficult, because Afflalo makes $7.6 million, which is too much to fit under the TPE. Unfortunately, the TPE is an all or nothing deal. Either you are able to obtain the player using the TPE or you’re not. TPE’s cannot be used in conjunction with something else in the same transaction. At $7.6 million, the Thunder would have to trade a player or two along with assets such as draft picks or Euro-stashes. So then the question becomes: Do the Thunder view Afflalo as the final piece of the puzzle?

arron afflalo

If you follow the history of the Thunder, you know that they trust in their system and their developmental program. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones will be entering into their 3rd year (or as its called in Thunder lore “The Year”) and Steven Adams will have an another offseason’s worth of training under his belt. So, no, I don’t think they will trade for Afflalo. Players like Shumpert and Dunleavy will take less assets to obtain, so I can definitely see the team going after someone like that.

In an offseason that may feature LeBron, Carmelo, and Bosh as free agents, Kevin Love as a moving target, and a vaunted draft class, you can expect to see plenty of moving parts around the league. With assets in hand, the Thunder may throw their hat into the fray to see what they can come out of it with.

Thunder sign Grant Jerrett for rest of the season

adams roberson jerrett thunder

Rewind back to last June when the Thunder had 3 of the first 32 picks of the 2013 NBA Draft. I thought there was no way that the Thunder would draft 3 players that would suit up for the Thunder this season. And I was right. Of the three players picked, only Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are on the Thunder roster. Alex Abrines, selected with the 2nd pick in the 2nd round, was kept in Europe for more development. But, apparently, I was also wrong. The Thunder, in addition to the 3 players mentioned above, also bought the rights to the No. 40 pick from the Portland Trailblazers. That pick turned out to be a stretch 4 from Arizona named Grant Jerrett. Jerrett’s game has been compared to Channing Frye’s of the Phoenix Suns.

Jerrett played on the Thunder’s summer league, and showed his potential. He scored in a variety of ways and was one of the Thunder’s top players on the team. But, he also showed that he had a lot of work to do in terms of defense and consistency. With a loaded roster, the Thunder pulled off a shrewd move and allowed Jerrett’s rights to expire when they didn’t sign him to a training camp roster. Instead of letting him go for nothing, the team worked out a deal where their minor league affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, would obtain the 1st pick in the D-League draft and would choose Jerrett. That way, Jerrett’s right would stay within the Thunder organization as long as they didn’t sign him to a contract during the D-League regular season.

grant jerrett thunder 66ers

With the 66ers season done, the Thunder signed Grant Jerrett for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. It took nearly the entire season, but the Thunder somehow ended up with three rookies on their roster. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed and it is unknown if the deal holds any future contractual obligations.

Scoreboard Watching (2014 edition)

durant westbrook thunder

If you are a fan of a team, you’re always aware of your team’s games. But, sometimes, if you are wholly invested in one team, you tend to miss what out on what is going on around the rest of the league. Last season, I wrote a similar article concerning the other teams Thunder fans should be looking out for as that season closed (namely the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors). In a vacuum, a fan should only be worried about their team. But, in reality, with playoff positioning and/or draft positioning at stake, watching how other teams perform at the end of the season can add some drama to a point in the season where drama is sometimes lacking. This season, there are 5 teams Thunder fans needs to be paying attention to than can affect their near future.

1. San Antonio Spurs

  • Why it matters: The No. 1 seed in the Western Conference (and in the league) is at stake.
  • Team’s outlook: Currently 59-16 (1st in West), with 4 road games and 3 home games remaining.

Serge Ibaka

This is very reminiscent to what happened last season. This time though, it seems like the Spurs are far enough ahead to not have to worry about the Thunder chasing down the No. 1 seed from behind. The Spurs are currently on a roll, coming into the Thunder game having won 19 in a row, and hold a 4 game lead over the Thunder. With their penchant to rest starters late in the season, the Thunder still have a slight chance to catch the Spurs. But it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Spurs will head into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the West. One thing to remember is that if San Antonio does stumble, the Thunder own the tie-breaker over them.

2. Dallas Mavericks

  • Why it matters: The Thunder own the Mavericks’ first round pick if it is outside the Top 20.
  • Team’s outlook: Currently 44-31, (7th in the West) with 5 road games and 2 home games remaining

The Thunder got this draft pick in the Harden deal from Houston. There are two factions when it comes to this pick. Those that want the pick this season (slotted to be in the 21-23 range) and those that want the pick to go all the way until 2018, when it becomes unprotected. It will all depend on if Dallas make the playoffs or not. If they make the playoffs, they’ll be one of the top 10 teams in the league, thus garnering a pick in the 21-30 range, which transfers over to the Thunder. If they don’t make the playoffs, the Mavericks will pick in the lottery and will keep the pick.

The Mavericks are battling with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns for the last two seeds in the Western Conference playoff race. Of the remaining games between the 3 teams, the Mavericks face the harder road with their opponents having a .525 winning percentage combined. But the road will not be easy for either one of the 3 teams because, NEWSFLASH!, they all play in the Western Conference. That being said, the Mavericks had their opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the other two teams, but flubbed an 8 game home stand to the tune of going 4-4. Luckily, all three teams play each other in the final week of the season.

I’m torn as to what I want to do with this pick. Part of me thinks that Thunder GM Sam Presti, with two draft picks late in the first round, could package those to move up a couple slots and get a shooter like Nik Stauskas of Michigan. But part of me also wants to see what happens if this pick actually reaches 2018 unprotected. Unless Dirk Nowitzki goes on Tim Duncan’s offseason training program, I see his effectiveness, and that of the Mavs, steadily going down in these next couple of seasons. And hopefully, they completely bottom out in the 2017-18 season.

3 and 4. Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat

  • Why it matters: The only teams that matter in the Eastern Conference
  • Teams’ Outlooks – With a virtual tie for the Eastern Conference top spot, these two teams meet one last time on April 11th. Indiana currently leads the season series 2-1.

heat pacers

With a 2.5 game lead over these two teams in the league standings, the Thunder are in control to maintain home court advantage against any of the East’s top teams if they meet in the NBA Finals. The major issue here is whether the Pacers will give Miami a run for their money and make the Eastern Conference Finals somewhat competitive. While Miami has been surging in the last 10 games, going 7-3, the Pacers have been doing the exact opposite, going 7-10 in their last 17 games.

The jump from being a good team to becoming an elite team is the hardest jump to make in the NBA. Not only do you have to start positioning your role players correctly, but your star players have to start taking that next step. For Indiana, a combination of questionable in-season moves and lack of player progression has slightly slowed that progression from good team to elite team. The mid-season trade that sent Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen has yet to bear fruit. And the mid-season signing of Andrew Bynum can probably be deemed a failure due to a reoccurrence of knee issues for the center. In addition, Paul George and Roy Hibbert have failed to significantly improve from where they were in the beginning of the season. With this recent slide, rumors of infighting and selfishness have begun to sneak into the vernacular that describes the Pacers. The mental aspect of making the jump from a good team to an elite team is the hardest thing for a young team to grasp, and its currently showing with these Pacers.

The reason this matters to the Thunder is because the Western Conference playoffs are going to be a gauntlet. The first round match-ups will be formidable and the series will only get tougher from there. If Miami is able to skip through the East playoffs easily, and get some rest in the process, that could spell trouble for the team that comes out of the West, regardless of who it is.

5. New York Knicks

  • Why it matters: The Denver Nuggets own the Knicks’ pick for this draft
  • Team’s Outlook – Currently 33-43 (8th in the East), with 3 road and 3 home games remaining.

Looking towards the future at division rivals, the team that has the best chance of getting better quickly is the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets suffered a myriad of injuries this season that prevented them from ever making a run at the playoffs. But with many of those players coming back next season and a potential lottery pick, the Nuggets are in position to get back to their winning ways. If the Knicks make the playoffs, their pick moves down to the No. 15 slot. But if the Knicks miss the playoffs, Denver will be slotted to pick in the 7-9 range, while also having the potential of getting a top 3 pick.

Seeding doesn’t seem to affect the Thunder that much. They know they can beat the Spurs in San Antonio, if necessary. Their main goals to finish this season are to stay ahead of the LA Clippers, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers, and to get/remain healthy. As the season rolls to a close, it’ll be interesting to keep a vested interest in these 5 teams, as their outcomes all have the potential of affecting the Thunder in the near future.

Toronto Raptors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 27 of 82)

adams draft thunder

  • When: Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

There was once a time when Oklahoma City Thunder fans really cared about the Toronto Raptors’ record. Not only would we scour the box scores for our games, but we’d also look at the Raptors’ games. Reason being, of course, because we owned the Raptors’ pick in the 2013 draft as part of the James Harden trade. The restriction was that the pick had to be between selections 4-14. Luckily the Raptors missed the playoffs and with that pick, the Thunder selected Steven Adams. Fast forward to this season, and we could really care less about Toronto’s record. The Thunder have beat the Raptors 3 straight times spanning the last two seasons.

The Opponent

valanciunas derozan raptors

The Raptors are team that you could term, “in flux”. The hired Masai Ujiri as general manager to take this middle of the road franchise, blow it up, and quickly rebuild it, like he did with the Denver Nuggets. His latest big move was to trade Rudy Gay and his $17.9 million dollar price tag (and possibly $19.3 million dollar next season if he opts in) to the Sacramento Kings for bit parts, most of whom are expiring after this season. That clearing of cap space will come in handy next season and beyond. But in the now, the Raptors are a bad team. Their back court is led by PG Kyle Lowry and wings Terrence Ross and Demar Derozan. All three players are talented, but are inefficient and need a high volume of shots to get to their averages. The front court is one of more promising ones this side of Detroit in the Eastern Conference. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are threats for a double double every time they step on the court. The bench play is a lot like the team itself, which is to say, not very good.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Toronto Raptors

  • PG – Kyle Lowry
  • SG – Terrence Ross
  • SF – DeMar DeRozan
  • PF – Amir Johnson
  • C – Jonas Valanciunas

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – Toronto is a terribly inefficient team from the perimeter. Their wing players who average at least 10 minutes per game combine to shoot 39.9% from the field. Lots of misses means lots of rebounds. Valanciunas and Johnson are adept at grabbing rebounds, especially offensive rebounds (grabbing 5.3 offensive rebounds per game between them).

westbrook perkins derozan johnson raptors thunder

2. Bench play – Toronto’s bench is veteran laden, but really lacking when it comes to anything offensive. This may be a time to take over the game as the Thunder’s bench has been humming lately.

3. Complacency/Trap Game – This game has all the makings of a trap game. Playing at home, against an inferior opponent, having just played the rival Spurs, and not playing again until the prime time tilt against the Knicks on Christmas. All a bad team needs is hope. It’s Christmas season, but let’s not be in a giving mood tonight.

The Thunder and the 66ers: Paying Dividends

lamb tulsa 66ers thunder

Last season I wrote about the Oklahoma City Thunder’s extensive use of their D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. After the Harden trade, the Thunder found themselves in the peculiar position of being a contending team, while also having a handful of players that they needed to develop. In the Harden trade, they received a good stopgap in Kevin Martin and an apt apprentice in Jeremy Lamb. The Thunder used Martin as their 6th man off the bench, and he performed serviceably for them, notching averages of 14.0 ppg and 2.3 rpg on 43% 3pt shooting. The wild card in the trade was Lamb, the rookie out of Connecticut who was the 12th pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

Lamb was used in spot duty throughout the season, but spent most of his time in Tulsa where he averaged 21 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in 21 games. There is no doubt that that experience helped Lamb in his transition to be a major cog off the bench for the Thunder this season.

Reggie Jackson spent only 3 games in the D-League last season, but he made his mark known. His per game averages for those 3 games were an astounding 28 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.3 assists on 60% FG shooting and 36% 3-pt FG shooting. After that 3 game stint, Jackson went on to get the majority of the back-up point guard minutes on the team and eventually led to Eric Maynor being traded to the Portland Trailblazers. That move paid dividends when Russell Westbrook went down in the second game of the 2013 NBA playoffs. Jackson performed well in his first foray as an NBA starter. Even though the Thunder lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs, Jackson provided enough of a steady hand that the Thunder knew, regardless of how the Kevin Martin negotiations went in the offseason, that they had a true 6th man already under contract.

jackson rose bulls thunder

While Jeremy Lamb was an unknown heading into the season, it was known that he would be part of the rotation. What wasn’t known was how Perry Jones III would fit into the equation. Would he be in the rotation? Would he be shuffled back and forth between Tulsa and Oklahoma City? What is known is the Jones was a combination of size, speed, and athleticism that is unparalleled in the league, outside of Kevin Durant and Paul George. A 6’11 hybrid that can possibly play every position not named point guard.

The key to Jones’ success is if he ever learns how to harness all the raw talent and ability into something feasible on the basketball court. Early returns this season have proven inconclusive. He has shown flashes of being a good rotation player, but also gets caught doing a lot of floating on the floor. Also, due to the rotation, he may be the odd man out at the moment. A little bit of extra seasoning in the D-League may be beneficial to Jones. Not necessarily an entire season’s worth, but maybe 10 games in 3-4 game stints would do wonders for this development. Continue reading The Thunder and the 66ers: Paying Dividends

Oklahoma City Thunder at Fenerbahce Ulker Preview

durant reggie jackson thunder

  • When: Saturday, 05 October 2013 at 8:00 AM CST
  • Where: Fenerbahce Ulker Sport Arena, Istanbul, Turkey

The time has finally arrived. After getting spoiled with 2 trips to the Western Conference Finals and 1 trip to the NBA Finals, last season’s second round exit made the offseason seems exponentially longer. But thankfully, the basketball gods listened to one of our prayers and gave us the first preseason game of the season (at 8:00 am CST, to boot).

The Oklahoma City Thunder will be playing Fenerbahce Ulker, one of the premier teams in Turkey. Its kind of cool when you think that Oklahoma City didn’t have a team 6 years ago and now, they are opening up the league’s preseason schedule in Turkey as one of their premier teams. The Thunder have a lot of work to do with Russell Westbrook being out for at least the first month of the season. They have to incorporate a couple new players and have to implement a couple young players into the rotation. Work aside though, I hope they take this experience (on the road, together) and build a ton of chemistry that will last them throughout the season.

bo ulker

Regarding FB Ulker, there’s nothing much I can tell you about the team. Their point guard, Bo McCalebb (pictured above) is not Turkish. He’s from New Orleans. Their starting small forward is Linas Kleiza, who was a pretty good player when he was in the league with the Denver Nuggets and the Toronto Raptors. He was usually used as a spark off the bench and could quickly catch fire from the outside. Ulker has a couple players that have been drafted by NBA teams, but they have yet to play a game in the league. Izzet Turkyilmaz was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft and Bojan Bogdanovic was drafted by the Miami Heat in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. Continue reading Oklahoma City Thunder at Fenerbahce Ulker Preview

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.