Tag Archives: Eric Bledsoe

NTTB Podcast (Episode 19) – Players’ Only Meeting

IMG_4109On Episode 19 of the NTTB podcast, we are joined by Tee (M3Tee) and Ryan (Triple R) of the OSC Podcast Network where we discuss the following topics:

  • Four game losing streak
  • Recap of the Clippers game
  • How the Big 3 played over the last 5 games
  • Worrying trends
  • Is Westbrook okay, healthwise?
  • Refereeing the Thunder
  • Eastern Conference
  • Eric Bledsoe trade
  • Liagenlo Ball controversy
  • Ric Flair 30 for 30

Intro/Outro music provided by OSC Productions

Thank you for listening. We will be doing a podcast once a week. If you have any Thunder or NBA related questions, make sure you hit us up on Twitter (@alexroig_NTTB or @Montero_A13).

We are on ITunes under the NTTB Podcast. Make sure you leave us a 5-star review if you can. As always, Thunder Up!

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The Oklahoma City Thunder tank conundrum: The difference between 14 and 18

adams kanter westbrook roberson waiters morrow thunder

With Tuesday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs (and New Orleans’ subsequent defeat of the Golden State Warriors), the Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves in a position they hadn’t been for the past month: outside the top 8 in the Western Conference. With only four games left and with New Orleans holding the tie-breaker between themselves and OKC, the likelihood of the Thunder missing the playoffs has become a very real possibility.

The 8th spot in the Western Conference is almost guaranteed to get the 18th pick in the draft, while the 9th spot in the Western Conference is slotted to be the 14th pick in the lottery, as they would hold the best record of all the non-playoff teams. The 14th worst team in the league has a 0.5% of getting the 1st pick, a 0.6% chance of getting the 2nd pick, and a 0.7% chance of getting the 3rd pick. The team that picks in the 14th spot has never won the draft lottery a.k.a the Number 1 pick. In 1993, the Orlando Magic won the draft lottery with a 1.52% chance of winning it. They had the best record of all the lottery teams and remain the team with the worst odds to ever garner the Number 1 pick. Since then, three more teams have been added to the NBA, so the odds are even lower now.

The possibility of Oklahoma City getting the top pick is damn near slim to none. Same goes for them getting the 2nd or 3rd pick. The question then becomes what’s more important for a championship contending team that has been saddled with bad luck: a higher draft pick or postseason experience for their playoff neophytes? More simply, is there a discernible difference between the 14th pick and the 18th pick?

leonard spurs antetokounmpo bucks

Looking back at the last five drafts, those five draft spots are extremely important for getting good role players, with the possibility of getting a lower tier superstar. The top three players that have been chosen in those spots in the past 5 yeas have been Kawhi Leonard, Eric Bledsoe, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Other players of high value include Nikola Vucevic, Dennis Schroder, Terrance Jones, Marcus Morris, and Jusuf Nurkic. Of all those players, only Marcus Morris was chosen with the 14th pick. Meanwhile, Terrance Jones and Eric Bledsoe were both chosen with the 18th pick.

From the numbers, there are no discernible differences between the 14th pick and the 18th pick. Without all the injuries, the Thunder are a championship contending team. If the team is able to keep Enes Kanter in the offseason, their needs will be peripheral at best. If the team is able to draft the mythical creature known as a 2-way shooting guard, then great. We’ve all seen grainy videos of two-way shooting guards that can shoot from the perimeter and defend their position well. According to lore, they still exist. Another need that could be addressed in the draft is another good shooter. Other than those two things, health is probably the only thing the Thunder need for next season.

Well, health and more playoff experience. Some of the remaining Thunder players that have survived the triage-apocalypse that has been this season, have never been featured players on playoff teams. Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, and Mitch McGary have never been to the postseason, and Enes Kanter made it to the playoffs in his rookie season with the Utah Jazz, but didn’t play many meaningful minutes as the San Antonio Spurs swept the Jazz in what was a lopsided first round series. The experience earned, even at the hands of a sweep by the Golden State Warriors, will be irreplaceable come this time next season.

reggie jackson kendrick perkins thunder

Think back to when the Thunder first played the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 postseason. Oklahoma City lost the series in 6 games, but the experience earned in that series fueled their next four postseason runs. The Thunder have a new set of players that have replaced some seasoned vets the Thunder had in their previous postseason runs (Kendrick Perkins, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher). Those new players need to experience what playoff basketball, at its highest, it like. I’d rather they earn that experience now, than have to earn it next season when the Thunder hopefully are chasing a title and the stakes are a lot higher.

The Thunder are in a position to get the best of both worlds: a solid first round pick and playoff experience. Is there risk for injury if the Thunder make the playoffs? Of course. But there’s a risk of injury any time any of these players gets on a basketball court, whether its in an NBA game or an offseason workout. Missing the playoffs on purpose makes no sense whatsoever, especially when there is only a 0.18% chance of obtaining a top-3 pick. Plus, there’s no way Russell Westbrook will ever stand by and allow the team to lose on purpose. The Thunder will try their hardest in these last four games, and will allow the chips to fall wherever they may fall.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns preview (Game 58 of 82)

bledsoe suns westbrook thunder

  • When: Thursday, 26 February 2015 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

When you are in the hunt for a playoff spot, you always look in two direction: the teams ahead of you in the standings and the teams you are warding off. Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff race, the most important task is staying ahead of New Orleans and Phoenix. Catching up to San Antonio and the Clippers would be nice, but with the main objective already met (getting to the 8th seed), it’s all about maintaining their current positioning from here on out.

This is the third meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder have won the previous two games. The first game was a blowout with Oklahoma City winning 112-88. The second game had a playoff feel to it and even had some extracurricular theatrics that ended with Russell Westbrook being ejected from the game right before halftime. Kevin Durant carried the team in the 2nd half and they eventually outlasted the Suns in overtime, 137-134.

The Opponent

Phoenix Suns v Philadelphia 76ers

The Phoenix Suns come into this game with a 30-28 record, good for 10th in the conference (2.5 games back of the Thunder). The trade deadline completely changed the look of the team, with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Miles Plumlee being shipped out in separate deals that basically netted the Suns Brandon Knight and trade fodder. It should come as no surprise that the Suns have struggled, losing 8 of their last 10 games. While still a high scoring outfit (106.1 points per game – 3rd in NBA), they allow the 3rd most points per game (105 points per game) and are 18th in the league in rebounding. With the departure of Dragic, Bledsoe becomes the undisputed leader of the team. Joining Bledsoe in the backcourt is the aforementioned Knight. PJ Tucker takes on the position of 3 and D wing, and is one of the more underrated ones in the league. Up front, Markieff Morris and Alex Len give opponents a contrasting front court, with Morris being more perimeter oriented, and Len being more post-oriented. Off the bench, Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, and Brandan Wright give the Suns an explosive reserve unit that can be a problem if they get hot.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SG – Brandon Knight
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Alex Len

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Enes Kanter

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – Outside of Alex Len and Brandan Wright, everyone else on the Suns is perimeter-oriented. Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe do a good job of serving as facilitators, while everybody else waits on the perimeter for an open shot. It starts with keeping the two guards in front of the defense. If Westbrook, Roberson, DJ Augustin, and Dion Waiters are up to task, this should mute the effectiveness of the Suns’ attack.

morris suns ibaka thunder

2. Rebounding – Being such a perimeter-oriented team keeps a lot of the Suns players outside the paint. Hence their No. 18 ranking in rebounds per game. The Thunder on the other hand, usually have at least 3-4 players crashing the boards on the defensive end, while the Thunder bigs are known for crashing the offensive glass. Keeping the Suns to one and done on the defensive end of the court, while grabbing a couple offensive boards on the other end of the floor will go a long to securing the victory in this game.

3. Russell Westbrook – He’s reaching the point where Durant was last season when he was bestowed the name Slim Reaper. The point where it is must see TV to see what crazy stat-line Westbrook will put up. Everyone keeps saying his play of late is not sustainable, but he’s not doing anything different than he’s done throughout his career.

Phoenix Suns vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 33 of 82)

durant westbrook adams thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 31 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s the last game of the calendar year and it finally feels like the Oklahoma City Thunder are starting to shed some of the bad luck that has hounded them these last few months. Everyone is healthy as Kevin Durant returns from a “mild” sprained ankle that kept him out for 6 games. When healthy, the Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, boasting a top 5 rated defense and a starting lineup that is pumping out some pluses on the offensive/defensive rating. It’s the staying healthy part of the equation that has been difficult. Hopefully, with the change in the year, maybe that part of the year will be behind us.

This is the 2nd of 4 meetings between these two teams. The Thunder completely dominated the Suns 112-88 in their first meeting. Of note, the Suns were without Goran Dragic in that game. The Suns are the current 8th seed in the Western Conference and sit 2.5 games ahead of the 10th-seeded Thunder.

The Opponent

dragic tucker green suns

The Suns currently have an 18-15 record, and have been the model of consistent inconsistency. Their last 30 games have gone as follows: W1, L2, W2, L2, W4, L1, W1, L2, W2, L6, W6, L1. Lately though, they seem to have found a formula that works. The 3 guard line-up of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Isaiah Thomas has been decimating opponents to close out games. To begin games, the Suns switched out Mason Plumlee for Alex Len, and the move has paid dividends not only in the development of Len, but in boosting the bench with Plumlee, who is more suited as an energy guy off the bench. Markieff Morris and PJ Tucker provide defense and perimeter shooting for the starting line-up. Off the bench, the aforementioned Thomas and Plumlee, along with Gerald Green and Marcus Morris, keep the pressure on defenses and can heat up at any time in the game.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Goran Dragic
  • SG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Alex Len

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Small Line-up – Much like the Dallas Mavericks without Tyson Chandler, the Phoenix Suns will likely try to force a mismatch with their small ball line-up of Dragic, Bledsoe, Thomas, and two bigs (usually Morris and Len). And if they really want to get fancy, they may throw Green or Tucker out there for an extremely small line-up. The Thunder have the appropriate counters defensively (Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Roberson, and even Ish Smith, if necessary), but some of those defensive counters are offensive liabilities for the Thunder. If it becomes a back and forth affair, the Thunder could be in trouble.

2. Alex Len vs. Steven Adams – Finally! We get to see the match-up from the 2013 NBA Draft that everyone has been waiting for. I may be exaggerating a bit, but with how these two have been developing this season, it is not outside the realm of possibility that this may be a premier center match-up in a season or two.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Kevin Durant – Welcome back Kevin. The last time we saw him in action, he was lighting the Golden State Warriors up for 30 points in 18 minutes in one half. Don’t get hurt anymore.

Phoenix Suns vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 24 of 82)

westbrook thunder dragic suns

  • When: Sunday, 14 December 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

While positions 1 through 7 are well represented and accounted for in the Western Conference playoff picture, the 8th spot is looking like if Kim Kardashian announced she was newly single at the BET Source Awards. Six games currently separate the 8th seed from the final seed in the conference. With a quarter of the season already played, there is still plenty of time for teams to make their moves to get into that final spot. One of the best things for a team to do in this position is to assert themselves by beating the teams around them in the standings. For the Thunder, those teams would realistically be the Suns, Pelicans, Kings, Nuggets, and Lakers. The Jazz and Timberwolves have little shot of moving up in the standings due to their inexperience and general direction of their team currently (rebuilding, player developing, etc.).

This is the first of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Phoenix Suns. The Suns’ run and gun style gave the Thunder issues last season as the Suns won 2 of 3 games in the season series and averaged 115.3 points per game in those three meetings.

The Opponent

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Atlanta Hawks

The Phoenix Suns come into this game with a 12-12 record, barely clinging on to the 8th seed in the Western Conference. After starting the season 9-5, they’ve gone on to drop 7 of their next 10. While the offense is still there (105.4 points per game, good for 5th in the league), the Suns have slipped defensively. They allowed 103.9 point per game (26th in the league) and grab only 41.8 boards per game, which is 19th in the league. As high-octane as their offense is, a lot of it is predicated on one on one play and perimeter shot making, which can make it inefficient at times. Leading the charge is the two-headed point guard duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Bledsoe is the havoc creator, while Dragic is the more efficient player. Between the two, they are averaging nearly 32 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. On the wing, PJ Tucker provides the perimeter defense for the Suns. Up front, Markieff Morris leads the team in rebounding at 6.5 per game, but spends much of his time on the perimeter in the mid-range. After having a breakout season, Miles Plumlee has regressed quite a bit, which has hurt the Suns’ interior play. The Suns feature one of the more offensively dangerous benches in the league, as Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Morris can all go off for 20 points in a game, easily.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SG – Goran Dragic
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Miles Plumlee

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Guard Play – So much of the Suns’ identity is dependent on guard play. Their recent struggles coincided with the 8-game absence from Isaiah Thomas due to a bruised ankle. The Suns’ strongest line-ups usually involve the trio of Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas. Luckily, the Thunder have options that can defend such a line-up. Don’t be surprise if Ish Smith gets some minutes in this game to counter the Suns’ guard play.

bledsoe suns durant collison thunder

2. The Interior – The Suns’ biggest weakness is their lack of an interior presence. In the last two weeks, the Suns have allowed Tyson Chandler to grab 18 boards, and Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan to grab 14 board each. While the Thunder don’t necessarily have a rebound-inhaler like those 3 guys, their big man can rack up the rebounding numbers if the opposing team is weak on the interior.

3. Playoff Intensity – It’s early, but the Thunder have to come out and assert themselves. They’ve been fortunate to have all the pieces come together during a stretch where they’ve played some of the worst teams in the league. This “mini training camp” has been instrumental in developing chemistry. But now, it’s time to put all that practice to work.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles Clippers

paul griffin jordan clippers

Last season: 57-25 (1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions:

  • Chris Douglas-Roberts – Free agent signing
  • Jordan Farmar – Free agent signing
  • Spencer Hawes – Free agent signing
  • Ekpe Udoh – Free agent signing
  • C.J. Wilcox – Draft (No. 28 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Joe Ingles – Australian free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jared Dudley – Traded to the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Danny Granger – Signed with the Miami Heat
  • Ryan Hollins – Signed with the Sacramento Kings
  • Willie Green – Claimed off waivers by the Orlando Magic
  • Darren Collison – Signed with the Sacramento Kings

Season preview – While one team gets embroiled in a controversy related to race (Atlanta), another team is getting out of their racial controversy relatively unscathed. With the Donald Sterling fiasco behind them, and with new ownership, the Clippers look to build on the success from last season. The highest scoring team in the league (107.9 ppg) brings back its main core, while also adding the perimeter shooting of Spencer Hawes and Chris Douglas-Roberts to the mix. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are legit MVP contenders and the Clippers should be in the thick of things when it comes to championship contenders.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Clippers make it to the Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Golden State Warriors

curry thompson splash bros warriors

Last season: 51-31 (2nd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers

Key Additions:

  • Leandro Barbosa – Free agent signing
  • Shaun Livingston – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Steve Blake – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
  • Jordan Crawford – Unsigned
  • Jermaine O’Neal – Unsigned

Season Preview – Golden State is one of those teams that seems to be on the cusp of becoming an elite team, but is missing that extra “oomph” to get them there. Unfortunately, whatever that oomph is was obtained in the offseason. The Warriors basically bring back the same team from last season. While Curry and Thompson may continue to get better, the rest of the team, for the most part, has already plateaued in terms of skill improvement/refinement. I see the Warriors still being good, but also, still not being good enough.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Warriors reach the 2nd round of the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 50-32

3. Phoenix Suns

dragic bledsoe suns

Last season: 48-34 (3rd in the Pacific Division, 9th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Tyler Ennis – Draft (No. 18 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded from the Sacramento Kings
  • TJ Warren – Draft (No. 14 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Tolliver – Free agent signing

Key Departures

  • Channing Frye – Signed with the Orlando Magic

Season Preview – The Eric Bledsoe contract situation has the ability to cast a huge shadow on this season for the Suns. After the feel good story that was last season, the Suns appear headed for a fork in the road with this Bledsoe situation. If he signs his 1-year qualifying offer, that could play out any number of ways, with some of those options blowing up in the Suns’ face. The Suns may be forced to trade Bledsoe, in order to keep Goran Dragic, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2015. All in all, I see this Bledsoe situation being too much of a distraction throughout the season for them to continue with what they started last season. Add to that the fact the Suns will no longer be able to sneak up on teams, and you are looking at a team-wide “sophomore slump”. This team will score a ton of points, and will be fun to watch, but will they be able to stop elite team on the other side of the court?

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 45-37

4. Sacramento Kings

demarcus cousins kings

Last season: 28-54 (4th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Omri Casspi – Free agent signing
  • Darren Collison – Free agent signing
  • Ryan Hollins – Free agent signing
  • Nik Stauskas – Draft (No. 8 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Jason Terry – Traded to the Houston Rockets
  • Aaron Gray – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded to the Phoenix Suns

Season Preview – The Kings seem to finally be on the upswing. They are starting to assemble a team around DeMarcus Cousins, with shooters on the outside (Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas) and rugged enforcers/rebounders on the inside (Reggie Evans and Jason Thompson). Rudy Gay will provide further perimeter scoring and Darren Collison will attempt to quarterback the whole thing. They will continue to fall short due to the weakness of the point guard position, but the maturation of Cousins will start to point the ship in the right direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings make a play for Rajon Rondo sometime this season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Kings surpass 35 wins.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 37-45

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Last season: 27-55 (5th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Carlos Boozer – Claimed off amnesty waivers from the Chicago Bulls
  • Ed Davis – Free agent signing
  • Jeremy Lin – Obtained in a trade from the Houston Rockets
  • Julius Randle – Draft (No. 7 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Pau Gasol – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
  • Chris Kaman – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
  • Jodie Meeks – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Kendall Marshall – Waived; Claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Kent Bazemore – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Jordan Farmar – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – As someone who respects Kobe Bryant, this is not how I envisioned his final years. The Lakers are going to struggle, and struggle bad. Kobe may have a couple Kobe games left in him, but Father Time remains unbeaten (unless your name is Timothy Theodore Duncan). The Lakers are loading up on short contracts to coincide with the end of Kobe’s contract. Then, the Lakers will look to do what the Lakers usually do: lure top talent with the auspices of Hollywood glitz. But until then, it will be a lot like Lolo Jones’ performance on Dancing With the Star, which is to say cringe-worthy.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Lakers keep their 2015 first round pick (Top 5 protected; if it’s outside of that range, it goes to Phoenix)

Projected 2014-15 Record: 29-53

The Yin and Yang of the Reggie Jackson situation

reggie jackson thunder

Overall, the Oklahoma City Thunder have had a pretty successful offseason. They signed a proven sharp-shooter in Anthony Morrow. Their draft yielded a possible rotation player in Mitch McGary. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook decided not to participate in the FIBA World Cup, which means they’ll be rested heading into the season. Serge Ibaka and his calf look good playing for Spain in the World Cup. And their young players all played reasonably well in Summer League.

One of the goals heading into this offseason was to sign Reggie Jackson to a contract extension. This past season was Jackson’s third in the league, which means the Thunder were the only team allowed to negotiate an extension for Jackson. If the Thunder and Jackson don’t come to an agreement by October 31st, then Jackson will head into restricted free agency next offseason. In restricted free agency, any team can offer the restricted free agent a contract. If the player signs the tender, then the retaining team has three days to match the offer. If the offer is unmatched, then the player moves on to the team that offered him the contract.

It’s a scenario that is currently being played with three prominent young players: Chandler Parsons, Eric Bledsoe, and Greg Monroe. Parson’s got a max contract from Dallas that his previous team, Houston, decided not match. Bledsoe and Monroe are currently embroiled in contract negotiations that may lead them to just play out this season on one-year tenders and then enter unrestricted free agency next offseason. The issue with restricted free agency is that if teams don’t offer the player a contract he feels he deserves, then the upper hand goes to the team the player is currently on. Monroe and Bledsoe both believe they deserve max or near max money, but most of the available money this offseason has dried up. The teams that do have cap space don’t want to blow it on players that are still unproven and probably not worthy of a max contract. How these negotiations play out will probably have a huge bearing on how future contract negotiations for Jackson will play out.

jackson durant westbrook ibaka thunder

If Jackson doesn’t sign this offseason, then the 2014-15 season basically becomes a contract year for him. For a championship contending team like the Thunder, a contract year for one their main players can be both a blessing and a curse. We saw last season how a contract year to a main player can implode a team (Indiana and Lance Stephenson). For a player like Jackson, all the hard work in their first 3 seasons is aimed at getting that first big contract extension. Going from a mindset of “I’m going to take these next few seasons to acclimate myself to the NBA and get better”  to “this is the season that’ll determine how much I get paid for the next 4-5 seasons,” can severely affect the chemistry of the team for that season.

Jackson has stated how he wants to be a starting point guard in the league. Be that with the Thunder or with someone else, he voiced his desire during his exit interview at the end of the season. Jackson has had to fill in for the injured Russell Westbrook on many occasions last season and for most of the playoff run two seasons ago. With Thabo Sefolosha’s departure, the starting shooting guard position is up for grabs on the Thunder. While Jackson started the last four games of the Western Conference Finals as the 2-guard, the Thunder will probably want to start a more defensive-minded perimeter defender this upcoming season. That player will probably be Andre Roberson. But if the Thunder liked what they saw last postseason, and like what they see in the preseason, maybe Jackson has a shot at being the starting 2-guard for the Thunder.

The “Jackson as a starter” narrative takes a bit of a hit if the Thunder don’t have a prominent scorer/creator off the bench. Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Anthony Morrow, and Perry Jones all have offensive ability, but struggle with creating their own shots. They are at their best when someone else is setting them up. That someone will likely be Jackson.

A contract year may be good for the Thunder, though. Contract years are known for two things: disrupted locker room chemistry and statistical anomalies. If Jackson is able to play an entire season at career high levels, he may the final piece the Thunder are missing as a championship team. The flip side to that is that Jackson may push himself out of the Thunder’s price range if he has a career year.

reggie jackson james harden thunder rockets

Whatever happens, the Thunder will go into this season with Jackson on the roster. This is not another James Harden situation. Jackson is the Thunder’s 6th man and one of the better combo guards in the league. His 3-point shooting is improving and he has shown to have ice water in his veins in pressure-packed situation. With that said, he is not James Harden. Even as a 6th man, Harden was viewed as the best young 2-guard in the league. Two seasons after the trade, that prognostication still holds true (even if he doesn’t play defense). Jackson, at this point in his career, is in the lower second or top third tier of point guards. Does he have the ability to move up on that list? Of course. But the league got the memo about a decade ago that good point guard play is tantamount to the success of your team. Since then, most teams have sown up their point guard positions. With Rajon Rondo and Eric Bledsoe likely to hit the market next offseason, Jackson may be 3rd on the point guard free agency list.

Compared to two seasons ago, the Thunder are in a much better place financially with plenty of cap flexibility. They have eschewed the luxury tax the entire time they’ve been in Oklahoma City, which means they don’t have to worry about the repeater tax. And Kendrick Perkins and his albatrossian contract comes off the books after next season. If Jackson’s situation mirrors that of Bledsoe’s this season, he may be more inclined to take the guaranteed money from the Thunder than to test his luck in restricted free agency.

There are still plenty of variables that need to play out between now and next offseason. Injuries, chemistry issues, and the performance of other comparable players have a way of influencing the marketability of a player. The Thunder are now much better suited to deal with this situation than they were to deal with the Harden situation two seasons ago. They may still eventually trade Jackson, but they’ll probably try to hold on to him as long as possible before visiting that option. Another factor that may influence the contract negotiations is the development of Semaj Christon. If Christon shows any ability to perform in the NBA, the Thunder may be more inclined to trade Jackson for assets and roll the dice with Christon. While the situation may draw comparisons to two years ago, the Thunder will probably fight as hard as possible to keep Jackson. It’ll be up to Jackson whether he wants to stay in Oklahoma City or not.

Summertime Blues: What’s Left To Do?

sam presti

This is always the most boring part of the year for me. Summer league is over with, most of the free agents have signed, the FIBA World Cup is still a month away, and football training camps just started. I like baseball, but not enough to pay attention to it day in and day out. In addition, the stability of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise makes time seem to drag even more. Don’t get me wrong, though. I enjoy the stability of the team. Our superstars and role players are all signed and the roster, for the most part, is already set.

But the work of an NBA GM is never done. It is during these quiet times that GM’s get most of their leg work done for future moves. Thunder GM Sam Presti has done a great job of creating a stable environment, but there is still work to be done before the season starts. Here are 3 issues the team still wants to take of before the season starts.

1. What to do with Semaj Christon?

Much like Grant Jerrett from last season, the Thunder see a lot of potential in their 2nd round pick-up from this draft. Christon is the prototypical Thunder point guard: long, athletic, and able to get into the lane. What he lacks is consistent perimeter shooting and experience as a floor general. The Thunder saw a little of what Christon is able to produce during Summer League. He averaged 11.3 points, 2.3 rebouds, and 2.8 assists on 48.5% shooting from the field. He played in 4 games and averaged 26.3 minutes per game. He showed a penchant for being a good on the ball defender and averaged 1.3 steals per game. This is a prime example of what the Thunder look for in a point guard.

semaj christon thunder summer league

With Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, and Sebastian Telfair already on the roster, the point guard quota for the Thunder is filled for this season. The question is how do the Thunder hold on to Christon without having a roster spot to offer him? Barring a late offseason trade, the Thunder already have the 15 players they will be going into the season with.

Will they maneuver another Jerrett-like move to hold onto Christon’s draft rights through their D-League affiliate? One thing that may be in the Thunder’s favor is the loyalty they showed to Jerrett last season. Jerrett went along with the move the Thunder made to rescind his rights before training camp, but draft him in the D-League draft. At the end of the D-League season, the Thunder brought Jerrett in for the last week of the season and for the remainder of the playoffs. Christon may see this and give the Thunder a chance to develop him in the D-League with the thought that he might be brought in at the end of this season or next season. The Thunder have been including Christon in a lot of their community related activities this offseason, so it’s obvious they see him as a part of their future.

2. The Hasheem Thabeet / Tibor Pleiss Conundrum

Since 2010, one of the questions asked every offseason for the Thunder is whether Tibor Pleiss would finally come over. The Thunder drafted the German big man with the 31st pick in the 2010 NBA draft and expected him to stay in Europe for a couple seasons to further his development. But with Pleiss turning 25 this year, it’s getting to the point where the Thunder either bring him over and see what type of player they have, or they move on and Pleiss becomes one of those names that gets included in a trade as filler. With the calendar nearing August, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Pleiss would stay in Europe this season.

tibor pleiss

The Thunder, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily in need of a big man. They already have Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams in tow, and have a team option for Hasheem Thabeet. Next offseason is a different story. Perkins will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, as will Thabeet if the Thunder pick up his option. The Thunder have until September 1st to make a decision on Thabeet. If they don’t waive him before that date, his salary becomes fully guaranteed.

Everything was expected to go as planned. The Thunder would head into this season with their three centers, and Pleiss would stay in Europe for at least one more year of seasoning. Then, on July 27th, international sports website Sportando quoted German national coach Emir Mutapcic as saying, “His agent told us that Pleiss is close to signing in the NBA.” It seems like every offseason there are conflicting reports whether Pleiss would come over or not, but this one felt different. Maybe it’s the fact that Pleiss hasn’t officially signed with a Euroleague team or the fact that no one in the Thunder organization has flat out said, “No, Pleiss is not coming over this season.”

It would make sense for the Thunder to bring Pleiss over this season in order to get him acclimated to playing in the NBA. If he’s going to be the primary back-up next season, he’ll need the experience. Plus, the Thunder have to see what they actually have in Pleiss. The only drawback will be the departure of Thabeet, whom the team loves as a locker room/chemistry guy. From a basketball perspective, though, it would be the best move to bring Pleiss over.

Reggie Jackson’s extension

Other than signing a 3-point shooter, no other move would complete this offseason like signing Reggie Jackson to an extension. Jackson just completed his third season in the league, which makes him eligible for an extension with his current team. If the Thunder fail to sign Jackson to an extension this offseason, then they risk him going into restricted free agency next offseason. This is a scary thought because if a team with cap space offers Jackson a lucrative contract, then the Thunder may have to turn it down and allow Jackson to walk away with nothing to show for it.

The question becomes, “What is Jackson worth?” He’s a 6th Man of the Year candidate with the skills (and chops) to be a starter in the league. In the past year, Jackson has filled in admirably in Westbrook’s absence due to injury, and has been part of the Thunder’s finishing line-up when Westbrook has been healthy. The Thunder, and Jackson, for that matter, are probably paying close attention to what happens in the Eric Bledsoe/Phoenix Suns contract negotiations. Jackson’s situation is very similar to Bledsoe’s, who was a 6th Man of the Year candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers, playing behind Chris Paul, before getting traded to the Suns where he became a full time starter. The Suns recently offered Bledsoe a 4 year/$48 million dollar contract, which Bledsoe rejected.

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

To the Thunder, Jackson is not worth $12 million a year. With max level contracts for Durant and Westbrook already in the books, and Ibaka receiving $12.3 million per season, the Thunder can’t really give out another max or near-max level contract. With Perkins and his $9.4 million dollar contract coming off the books after this season, the Thunder could hypothetically offer Jackson a 4 year, $30 million dollar contract. Anything more than that, and the Thunder are compromising their ability to sign Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka to future extensions.

Besides the money, another sticking point may be Jackson’s desire to be a full-time starter in the league. In his exit interview, Jackson made that desire known to the public. The Thunder like to start a traditionally sized, defensive minded shooting guard in the Thabo Sefolosha mold and probably would not commit to starting a duel combo guard starting line-up. In Jackson’s mind, if he’s able to get the money and the starting job, he may be willing to wait out this year and go to restricted free agency next season. If that’s the case, the Thunder may just have themselves another James Harden situation.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns preview (Game 62 of 82)

westbrook tucker durant bledsoe thunder suns

  • When: Thursday, 06 March 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ

With their recent 6 game home stand behind them, the Thunder hit the road for the first time since February 13th. With 21 games left, the final quarter of the regular season is about positioning and health. With two starters down because of injury, it’s the Thunder’s depth (and their two superstars) that has been their saving grace. Having the ability to spring a player like Perry Jones III or Andre Roberson off the bench to be a starter is a luxury most teams do not have. Bringing a player that has only logged 44 minutes the entire season, only to have him play 53 quality minutes over the next 3 games like Hasheem Thabeet has, is a testament to the Thunder’s “next man up” philosophy.

This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder, and the Phoenix Suns for that matter, have come a long way from that early November game. In that game, which the Thunder won 103-96, Russell Westbrook made his regular season debut after missing the last 9 games of the playoffs the previous season and the first two games of this season.

The Opponent

frye dragic morris green suns

The Thunder’s last opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers, were what the Phoenix Suns were supposed to be this season. Heading into this season, many thought the Suns would be one of the main contenders for the Number 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The Suns even appeared to be playing the part of a tanking team before the season started by trading starting C Marcin Gortat, PG Kendall Marshall, and SG Shannon Brown to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor, who was probably going to be out for the season with a neck injury, and the Wizards’ 2014 1st round pick (that was top 12 protected). Then the season started, and something weird happened. First year coach Jeff Hornacek allowed the team to play to its strengths, instead of trying to integrate his system. The Suns won 5 of their first 7  games with a run and gun style that is very reminiscent of the “7 Seconds or Less” Suns of a couple seasons back that featured Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Instead of Steve Nash, the Suns have the two-headed combo guard duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. And instead of Amare Stoudemire, they have Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye. They’ve kept on winning, and currently find themselves with a record of 35-25, good for 7th in a tough Western Conference. They are a rag-tag bunch of good athletic players that were mostly cast-offs from their previous teams. Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker are perennial journeymen who have seen their NBA dreams take them to different leagues in different countries, the Morris twins have been reunited, and Leandro Barbosa has found the fountain of youth in Phoenix (actually, its probably just Phoenix’s medical staff working their old man shaman magic).

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Goran Dragic
  • SG – Gerald Green
  • SF – P.J. Tucker
  • PF – Channing Frye
  • C – Alex Len

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Battle of Rookie Big Men – This past draft was touted to be one of the better ones to find a quality big man. Alex Len, Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Mason Plumlee, and Gorgui Dieng are all playing rotational minutes for NBA teams. Nerlens Noel would be playing if it wasn’t for his recovery from an ACL tear. This is the first regular season match-up between the two rookie centers. They met in the preseason and Len was a DNP-CD in their first meeting of the season.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns

2. Perimeter Defense – Phoenix is not afraid to jack up the 3’s. They are top 3 in 3-point field goals made and in the top 10 in 3-point FG%. They have a bevy of shooters (Frye, Green, Marcus Morris, Tucker) and a great paint attacker in Dragic. This is where the Thunder can lose this game.

3. Bench – Phoenix has been decimated recently by injury. Miles Plumlee, Leandro Barbosa, and Eric Bledsoe will all miss the game due to injury. While the Thunder have their own injury issues to deal with, they have better depth and should be able to take advantage of this. For the second straight game, the Thunder welcome another player, as recently signed D-Leaguer Reggie Williams will be active for tonight’s game.

Growing Pains: The Thunder’s young bench

jeremy lamb reggie jackson thunder

Injuries are an inevitability in sports. When you have bodies constantly in motion, there are going to come times when those bodies either collide or move in ways that cause injury. It’s the reason team sports have reserve players. In the wake of injuries, a team should have a healthy balance of veteran players and young, developing players. It’s the line that allows teams to sustain success while also building for the future. Have too much of either on the bench, and a team risks cutting into their current success or into their future success.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have always had a decent balance of veterans and young players on the bench. But with the James Harden trade, they decided to rely on youth instead of looking for veteran help in free agency. At the time of that trade, they received rookie SG Jeremy Lamb, a lottery pick from the Toronto Raptors (that eventually turned into Steven Adams), and an early 2nd rounder from the Charlotte Bobcats (that eventually turned into Spanish guard Alex Abrines, a Euro-stash). Along with that, the Thunder already had 2nd year guard Reggie Jackson and rookie Perry Jones III in tow. In essence, the Thunder have been grooming this new bench mob for the past season and a half.

kevin martin hasheem thabeet eric maynor thunder

Another addition to the Harden trade was veteran guard Kevin Martin, who slid into the 6th man role that Harden occupied. Last season’s bench was veteran-laden with Martin, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, and Hasheem Thabeet getting the lion’s share of the reserve minutes. About a third into the season, Maynor was replaced by Jackson and Derek Fisher joined the team after the All-Star break. The problem with our veteran bench last season was two-fold: there wasn’t any offensive versatility to it and it was inconsistent defensively. The scoring was either coming from Martin or it wasn’t coming at all. As his efficiency declined in the second half of the season, so did the bench’s offensive effectiveness. It got to the point where either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook had to be on the floor with the bench unit for it to be effective. Defensively, the bench struggled to match the athleticism of other younger benches.

On paper, the bench last season was a good mix of veterans and young players. But most of the young players spent their time in Tulsa and never got to test their mettle against NBA competition. Last season, Lamb spent 801 minutes (regular season and postseason combined) in the D-League and only 147 regular season minutes with the Thunder. Perry Jones spent 588 total minutes in the D-League and only 280 regular season minutes (plus 5 playoff minutes) with the Thunder.

perry jones thunder

 

Now, those two players, along with Jackson and Adams, are being asked to carry the second unit for a title contender. Veterans Derek Fisher and Nick Collison still play a prominent role off the bench, but the team is dependent on the young players to provide the team what the bench couldn’t provide last season, which was offensive versatility and defensive consistency. For the most part, the bench was starting to become one of the top benches in the league, before the Westbrook injury. After, though, it has been more inconsistent. And therein lies the problem with depending on such a young bench.

When the San Antonio Spurs suffer injuries to their starters, they can depend on veterans Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, and Patty Mills to come in and step up until those injured players get back. The same goes for the Miami Heat. When their line-up needs to be shuffled, they know they can fall back on the likes of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Rashard Lewis. Veterans that not only know their roles, but also have championship experience to boot. These players know how to work through slumps and how to affect games in ways other than scoring. These young Thunder players are just now learning how to do these things.

steven adams griffin thunder clippers

There are positive signs though. The last time the Thunder played the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder were down for most of the game and Lamb was having a miserable game, shooting 2-7 FG with 2 turnovers. But he found ways to affect the game via his rebounding and defense, and made the plays necessary in the 4th quarter to help the Thunder win the game. Perry Jones has affected numerous games with his defense and ability to hit 3-point shots. And Jackson is showing signs of being a good combo guard, similar to Eric Bledsoe.

Reggie Jackson got his baptism by fire in the playoffs last season after Westbrook went down with his knee injury. But other than him, and 5 minutes of Perry Jones in Game 1 of the Houston series, none of the young bench players have any playoff experience. Could that come back to bite the Thunder in the rear during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals? It could, but nothing teaches quite like experience. Here’s hoping that the growing pains of the regular season turn into the epiphanies of the post season.