Tag Archives: Grant Jerrett

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New York Knicks preview (Game 17 of 82)

westbrook stoudemire thunder knicks

  • When: Friday, 28 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

When the season first started, and it was known that the Thunder would start it without Kevin Durant and Mitch McGary, I tabbed the Thunder with a 7-10 record through November. Of course, other injuries occurred and kind of derailed that prediction. But in life, you are doing one of three things: either entering into a storm, going through a storm, or exiting out of a storm. The Thunder seem to be exiting out of their current storm. Tonight, they get back a player that has been severely missed in this early season swoon. When Grant Jerrett finally checks into the game, the will be a raucous celebration in the Chesapeake Arena.

Hold on….it’s not Jerrett. Oh, he’s coming back also. But, Russell. Really?

Apparently, the cheering will be for none other than Russell Westbrook. Slowly, but surely, the pieces are starting to come back for the Thunder. This game is Westbrook and Jerrett. Next week, it could be Durant and McGary. Eventually, Lance Thomas will take his rightful place on the bench, cheering on his brethren in a nice tailored suit.

This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams, with identical 4-12 records. The Thunder beat the Knicks last season in both meetings by an average of 20.5 points. In what was tabbed in the beginning of the season as a match-up between great scorers, has now devolved into a match-up of teams trying to claw their ways back into their conference’s respective playoff races.

The Opponent

jr smith amare stoudemire knicks

The Knicks come into the game with a 4-12 record in what has been a disappointing start to the Derek Fisher/Phil Jackson regime in New York. The implementation of the Triangle offense has flummoxed the players on the team, as they have struggled offensively out of the gate. The team, which features Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith, is scoring only 95.3 points per game, good for 25th in the league. The departure of Tyson Chandler also has the Knicks struggling on the boards, as they are only grabbing 39.3 rebounds per game, good for 26th in the league. The Knicks’ attack is led by Jose Calderon, who just recently came back from an ankle injury. On the wings, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are as streaky as they come from the perimeter. Carmelo Anthony, who would normally start at the forward position, is out due to back spasms. Up front, Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy are veterans, but provide little else. Off the bench, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tim Hardaway Jr., Pablo Prigioni, and Shane Larkin are a mixture that is just as perplexing as the starting line-up.

Probable Starting Line-ups

New York Knicks

  • PG – Jose Calderon
  • SG – JR Smith
  • SF – Iman Shumpert
  • PF – Quincy Acy
  • C – Samuel Dalembert

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Lance Thomas
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – The Knicks lead the league in 3-point FG percentage. The don’t attempt that many 3’s, but they make enough to be the only team in the league with a 3-point shooting percentage above 40% (40.5% to be exact). The Knicks have little else in their arsenal but the 3-point shot. If it’s falling, the Knicks can hang with anyone. The key is to defend that 3-point line and make the Knicks beat you from inside and from mid-range.

2. Bench play – With Reggie Jackson returning to the bench, the Thunder’s bench get a huge boost. The Knicks bench is a mixture of Stoudemire and young wing players such as Hardaway Jr and Larkin. The Thunder, with Jackson, Morrow, and Lamb should be able to take advantage of this.

jackson thunder smith stoudemire knicks

3. Russell Westbrook – Welcome back. Now let’s napalm the league, sir.

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The Thunder through the first month of the season: 10 Thoughts

ibaka jones jackson thunder

To call this season eventful would be an understatement. The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit at 3-10, a far cry from the record many predicted the Thunder would have at this point before the season started. But those predictions are usually predicated on the belief that injuries won’t be a factor. Well, injuries have been a huge factor for the Thunder. Here are 10 thoughts from the first two weeks of the season.

1. Injuries stink!

It started with a small blurb, “Mitch McGary’s foot will be re-evaluated following the (Denver) game.” This was right after the Thunder’s first preseason game. A game in which McGary looked like the second coming of Bill Laimbeer. The injury occurred late in the game, but McGary stayed in the game until the final buzzer. But alas, McGary ended up with a broken foot and was reported to be out for 6-8 weeks. Then, after the second preseason game, Kevin Durant went to the training staff to complain about foot pain. It was revealed that he had suffered a Jones fracture and would need surgery. His recovery was slated to take 6-8 weeks also. Next up was Anthony Morrow, who was injured in practice two weeks before the start of the season. He recovery period was said to be between 4-6 weeks. Then 2 days before the start of the season, Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back) both got injured in the final home practice of the preseason.

The Thunder started the season with 8 healthy bodies. Then in the second game of the season, Russell Westbrook missed a shot, went up for a rebound, and came down looking at his hand. He accidentally slammed is hand against Kendrick Perkins’ granite elbow and ended up with a broken bone in his hand that required surgery. His recovery period is said to be between 4-6 weeks. Down to 7 healthy bodies. Reggie Jackson came back for the 4th game of the season, but in that game, Andre Roberson went down with a sprained foot. Down to 6 healthy bodies. In the 5th game of the season, the Thunder got Lamb back, but lost Perry Jones due to a knee contusion. One step forward, one step back. Luckily, the Thunder haven’t suffered anymore injuries since then. The cavalry is due to come back in the next few weeks, with the hope being that the patchwork Thunder can stay afloat long enough for the team to dig out of the injury-riddled hole it’s gotten itself into.

To get a full grasp of the current injury situation, Thunder players have already missed 80 games due to injury through 13 games. Thunder players missed 83 games due to injury all of last season.

durant westbrook roberson thunder injuries

I’ve never seen an injury spell like this, but it does kind of remind me of the 2nd season the Hornets were in town. In that season, the Hornets were predicted to be on the verge of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They had a young, up-and-coming duo in Chris Paul and David West, a young defensive big man in Tyson Chandler, and the catch of the offseason in Peja Stojakovic. The season got off to a great start as the Hornets opened up 8-3 out of the gate. But then came the injuries. Top reserve guard Bobby Jackson missed 26 games due to a cracked rib, West got injured in the 8th game of the season with an elbow issue that required surgery and missed 30 games, Stojakovic had back surgery after the 13th game of the season and missed the rest of the year, and Paul severely sprained his ankle in the 27th game of the season and missed the next 17 games. The Hornets still battled throughout the season, but the injuries proved to be too much and they were eliminated from the playoff hunt in the final month of the season. Here’s hoping the Thunder fare a little bit better.

2. The emergence of Reggie Jackson as a featured player

This could simultaneously be the best and worst thing for the Thunder in their future negotiations with Jackson. It’s great because the Thunder have a third player they can lean on if Durant and Westbrook either miss time or are being heavily keyed on by the opposing defense. And with this injury bug, they’ve definitely needed Jackson to step up. But it’s bad because, with every good game Jackson has and with every game he takes over in the 4th quarter, it’s just a little bit more added to his asking price. Through his first 6 games of the season, Jackson is averaging 22.8 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 0.7 steals on 43% shooting from the field. Removing sample size from the equation, those numbers look very  Westbrookian. But like everything else in the NBA, once opposing defenses get at least 5 games worth of film on you, they can start to scheme against your strengths.

In the last 4 games, opposing teams have begun to focus their defensive energy on Jackson. They either blitz him with an additional defender when he’s 23 feet from the basket or they shadow him with a big man as he dribbles on the perimeter. In those 4 games, Jackson is averaging 15.3 points, 8 assists, and 6.3 rebounds per game. Those are still good number, but his shooting percentage in those 4 games has dropped to 34.4% overall and 20% from 3-point territory. Without too many consistent options on the offensive side of the ball, Jackson is getting a glimpse of what life could like on his own team.

The dirty little secret with the Thunder is that with Westbrook and Durant on the floor, their exorbitant usage percentages tend to mask the full talents of their 3rd and 4th best players. James Harden was never given the opportunity to fully show his array of skills throughout his time with the Thunder. Yes, he played well enough to win the 6th Man of the Year award, but it wasn’t until he was fully unleashed while on the Rockets that he proved he was, arguably, the best 2-guard in the game. While Jackson will likely never be in the discussion for best point guard in the game, he definitely has the skill set to be considered in that second to third tier of point guards outside of Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, and Westbrook.

3. The Veteran Presence of Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison

If I’m a young player in the NBA and I know that I’m likely headed down the career path of being a role player/specialist, then I would be attaching myself to the hip pockets of any of these two guys. In the midst of all this chaos, Collison and Perkins have been bastions of stability, with surprising flashes of necessary greatness. Perkins could have come into this season moping and complaining because of his demotion to the bench. Instead, he’s approached this season with an almost youthful zeal, and he’s probably put together the best 9 games of his Thunder career. In the Thunder’s first win of the season against Denver, Perkins (after scoring 17 points, by the way) echoed the sentiments of the coaching staff by saying that the Thunder “were all in this boat, together.” These are the intangibles that can’t be measured by a statistician. For the most part, Perkins’ stat do not merit his $9.4 million dollar salary. But as a locker room leader, its times like this where Perkins earns every penny he receives in that pay period.

perkins collison thunder

Collison’s play for the past season and a half would lead most to believe that he was on the last leg of his career. The nagging injuries were starting to mount and his effectiveness on the court was starting to diminish. But the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” fell on deaf ears when it came to Collison. Over the offseason, Collison worked on refining his outside shot. There were glimpses of it last season, but this year, Collison has taken it to another level. He has made more 3-point FG’s in the first 13 games of the season (11), than he has in the first 10 years of his career (5). While this may be some sort of statistical anomaly, it may also be the renaissance that can extend Collison’s effectiveness a couple more seasons.

4. Serge Ibaka: The Strangest 3 and D guy in the League

In the 7 seasons the Thunder have been in Oklahoma City, they’ve had a number of 3-point specialists on the team. From Daequan Cook to Kevin Martin to Anthony Morrow, the team is always in search of players that will help spread the floor and provide Durant and Westbrook space to operate. The floor spacer the team has been looking for may have been on the team all along. Serge Ibaka had shown signs of being an effective 3-point shooter in the past couple seasons. In the last 2 seasons, Ibaka has shot 43-117 from 3-point territory, good for 36.8%. This season, through the first 13 games, Ibaka is 23-59 (39%) from deep on 4.5 3-point attempts per game. He has already matched his total of made 3-point FG’s from last season. Some of that is out of necessity due to the team needing to find offense in its current situation. But, I also think this may be by design. Can you imagine Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson operating in a small ball line-up where Ibaka takes the center out towards the 3-point line? I would surmise it would be almost unfair.

5. The Development of Perry Jones

More than any other sport, athleticism is of extreme importance to basketball. The fluid nature of the game, the constant movement, the jumping, the slashing, the running. It’s almost like a fast paced ballet. The more athletic the player, the more of a leg up they have in the league. Is every athletic player destined for greatness? Of course not. But athleticism can be a major tool to have in an NBA career. For two years now, we’ve heard from different members of the Thunder organization marveling about Jones’ athletic ability. Heaping the accolades that he is the most athletic player on an extremely athletic team. But on the court, he could never seem to put it all together. You saw the flashes of athletic brilliance, but the motor and the want to be great seemed to be missing. What you got was a player that was seemingly content with being a “utility defender” and a spot-up 3-point shooter.

perry jones thunder

With necessity, though, comes action. When Westbrook went down in the first half of the 2nd game of the season, the Thunder were left without a consistent playmaker. Sebastian Telfair, a player that wasn’t even in the league last season, was tasked with setting up the offense. But who would he pass it to? Enter Perry Jones. With the vacuum created by the absence of Durant, Jackson, and Westbrook, Jones stepped up and averaged 22.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists on 52% shooting from the field in the 3 games in which he played more than 34 minutes. Even though it was only a 3 game spurt, the experience Jones got in learning how to use his tools, may be key to the Thunder’s future success.

6. The Fragility of Jeremy Lamb’s Mental State

The first two games after Lamb came from injury: 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists per game on 46.4% FG shooting and 33.3% from 3-point territory.

The next two games from Lamb: 5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game on 17.4% FG shooting and 0-7 from 3-point territory.

So, what was the difference between these two splits? The easy answer is that the first two games were at home and the next two were on the road. But I think the real cause goes deeper than that. Last season, Lamb’s home/road splits were nearly identical. Consistency, based on venue, was never an issue with Lamb. So, then, what was the major difference between the first two games and the next two games?

My hypothesis is that Lamb performs better when there is no competitive pressure on him from an internal source. In essence, when he is allowed to play carefree without anybody waiting in the wing to take his minutes, he performs wonderfully. But as soon as there is competitive pressure from a teammate for minutes, Lamb starts to press and his performance suffers. In the first two games that Lamb played, Anthony Morrow was out with a knee injury. But as soon as Morrow was activated, Lamb’s numbers suffered. A similar scenario happened last season when the Thunder signed Caron Butler in late February. Lamb’s performance, which had been trending downward in the month of February, completely bottomed out after Butler was signed and he lost his spot in the rotation.

Since his first 4 games of the seasons, it appears that Lamb’s inconsistencies have a lot to do with home/road splits this season. At home, Lamb averages 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field and 40% from 3. On the road, Lamb’s averages drop to 9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game on 25.6% shooting from the first and 27.8% from 3.

7. The Importance of the 15th Man – Lance Thomas 

Every year, the Thunder brings in about 3-4 hopefuls to training camp to fill out their preseason roster. Those players are usually cut by the time the season starts and some even become part of the Thunder’s D-League team. The Thunder like to head into the season with an empty roster spot in case they need to facilitate a trade or if they need to sign someone later in the season. But this season, with all the injuries, the Thunder chose to sign one of their training camp hopefuls. Lance Thomas beat out Talib Zanna, Richard Solomon, and Michael Jenkins to secure the coveted 15th spot on the team.

Thunder v Raptors

A 15th man is usually a player that goes hard in practice, and then cheers from the sidelines in a nicely tailored suit as an inactive player. If the 15th man is getting playing time, then a couple of scenarios are at play: either several players on the roster are injured, a recent trade has trimmed the roster by at least 2 players, or some players are sitting out for rest. To us fans, the last guy off the bench is usually an afterthought. Someone we know is a part of the team, but also, someone whom we don’t necessarily want playing significant minutes.

But to a general manager, the 15th man could be the piece of gum that prevents the dam from breaking. If the 15th man has to play, then he better be someone that can give you something of significance. Well, not only has Lance Thomas had to play, but he’s also started 9 games for the Thunder. He’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and turnovers. There are games where he plays like the 15th man on our roster. But then there are games where his energy and hustle help the team significantly. In a perfect world, I would love for Thomas to remain as our 15th man. In the real world, though, he will probably be the sacrificial lamb sometime this season, for a trade or to make room for a late season veteran signing. Whatever happens, he has shown his mettle and will likely get another chance in this league because of it.

8. Sebastian Telfair – The Stabilizer

When Telfair signed with the team this offseason, the thought was that he would play the veteran third string point guard role that Royal Ivey and Kevin Ollie have filled in the past. A veteran that can still play some, but is more of a team-first guy. Instead, with all the injuries on the team, Telfair has had to fill the Derek Fisher role: point guard gunner off the bench.

Telfair career was thought to be on its last leg after he played in China last season. For the promise that he brought coming into the NBA, he has been a bit of a bust. But he has carved out a respectable 10 year career as a journeyman playing for 8 franchises, including a two time tour of duty in Minnesota. As a third string point guard making the league minimum, Telfair would’ve probably fared great on this team. The scary part would’ve been if he was needed to be pressed into action, and that fear came to fruition as the season started.

Surprisingly, though, Telfair has been a bit of a stabilizer on this team. Does he chuck too much at times? Yes. Does he turn it over more times than a veteran point guard should? Yes. Is he lacking defensively? Yes. But he’s a gamer when he’s in there and gives 100% effort. When Westbrook and Jackson were out for that game and a half in the beginning of the season, Telfair went out there and performed admirably against Chris Paul and Ty Lawson. His veteran presence has helped this team stay even-keeled throughout this arduous process.

9. Scott Brooks – Possible Coach of the Year candidate

The Coach of the Year award usually goes to one of two coaches: either the coach on the team that overachieves and makes the playoffs or the coach on the best team in the league when there isn’t a surprise overachieving team. But let’s say the Thunder navigate through this rough start and actually make it to the playoffs in the Western Conference. Wouldn’t Brooks be as deserving in leading this patchwork MASH unit to the playoffs as any other coach in the league? Brooks has had to adapt to the team he has. He’s muddied up the games in hopes that the Thunder can stick around long enough to make a run at the end of the game. He’s employed 2-3 zone defenses and strange line-ups where every player on the floor was over 6’9″ (Jones, Thomas, Perkins, Ibaka, and Collison). He’s become kind of a subdued mad scientist.

coach brooks thunder

Will voters remember this run when Westbrook and Durant have played 55-60 together at the end of the season? Probably not. But the biggest knock on Brooks has always been is inability to quickly adapt to situations, whether in game or in a small sample size of games. Now that he’s adapting on the fly, I wonder if this will continue when the reinforcements come back, or if Brooks will revert back to his old ways. Either way, if the Thunder are anywhere near the 6th seed in the West when the season closes, I think Brooks should be in consideration for COY.

10. Heart of a Champion!

Regardless of where the Thunder finish this season, the moxie they have exhibited in these first 13 games should be applauded. Have they looked horrible at times? Yes. But, at least they haven’t looked Philadelphia 76ers horrible. They’ve been in most games until the end and have shown no quit. It’s been a learning process and hopefully, the lessons learned early this season will help guide this team in May and June.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trailblazers preview (Game 1 of 82)

westbrook lillard thunder trailblazers

  • When: Wednesday, 29 October 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR

If there was ever a time for the entire world to go into hibernation for, ohh, I don’t know, maybe 6 weeks, this would be the time. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be strolling into Portland on Wednesday to open the season with 9 healthy players. The Thunder usually have a 10-player rotation in the regular season. They have 9 capable bodies, currently. The injury bug has hit the Thunder hard this preseason with Kevin Durant and Mitch McGary each suffering a broken foot, Anthony Morrow suffering a sprained MCL, Grant Jerrett still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, and Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back) each suffering injuries in the practice before the road trip. The only saving grace is that none of the injuries appear to be too serious.

The Thunder and Portland Trailblazers split the season series last year 2-2. The Northwest division rivals played four close games, with all of them being decided in the fourth quarter and by single digits. The average margin of victory in each of the contests was 5.5 points.

The Opponent

trailblazers lopez matthews lillard aldridge

The Trailblazer start  their season at home with visions of improving upon the season they had last year. Portland finished 54-28, good for 5th in their West. They defeated the Houston Rockets in 6 games in the first round and lost to the eventual champs in the second round in 5 games. Their entire core is back, and they picked up some veteran free agents for the bench. The only player missing who logged significant minutes last season is Mo Williams, who signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason. With such comfort and continuity, look for Portland to once again be one of the top offenses in the league. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews are one of the top two-way backcourts in the league. Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge are quickly becoming one of the best duos in the league. On the perimeter, small forward Nic Batum is their best defender and someone capable of knocking down open jumpers. In the middle, Robin Lopez does a great job of keeping possessions alive with his energy. The bench, which was a weakness last season, has been shored up by veteran free agents Steve Blake and Chris Kaman. CJ McCollum and Thomas Robinson will also play a big role off the bench.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Portland Trailblazers

  • PG – Damian Lillard
  • SG – Wesley Matthews
  • SF – Nic Batum
  • PF – LaMarcus Aldridge
  • C – Robin Lopez

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Perry Jones
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Foul Trouble – With only four warm bodies to come off the bench, the Thunder need to be very wary of their fouls. Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins both have a propensity for picking up quick fouls, and that would be disastrous against a team with skilled bigs like Portland. On the perimeter, the depth is even worse. Sebastian Telfair is the only guard available for the Thunder off the bench.

collison adams aldridge trailblazers thunder

2. Outside shooting – Oklahoma City’s top 3 perimeter shooters (Durant, Morrow, and Jackson) are out. The Trailblazers will be packing the paint, so making outside shots consistently will be necessary to win the game. All eyes will be on Russell Westbrook, which will leave Roberson, Jones, and Ibaka open from the perimeter. They have to knock down shots for the Thunder to even be in contention to win this game.

3. Westbrook – The great unknown. The fun unknown. We’ve always wondered what a team that solely featured Russell Westbrook would look like. Well, the Westbrook experience is taking off and we bought the Fast Pass. Let’s go!

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets preview (Preseason Game 1 of 7)

faried ibaka thunder nuggets

  • When: Wednesday, 08 October 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

Finally. After eons of waiting, the time has arrived. Well, not really the real time. That would be reserved for 20 days from today. But real enough to follow a GameCast of the game on ESPN. Real enough to catch highlights on NBATV. And real enough to begin complaining about Scott Brooks and his lack of offensive imagination. The rest of the season for the Thunder begins today.

The Denver Nuggets come into the game having already played one preseason game. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 98-95 in Kobe Bryant’s first game in action since an injury riddled 203-14 campaign. The Thunder are set to face their Northwest Division rivals four times this season.

The Opponent

nuggets training camp

The Nuggets are looking to build off a season that saw four rotational players miss significant portions of the season due to significant knee injuries (Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, JJ Hickson, and JaVale McGee). The Nuggets are two years removed from being the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs. That team featured a lot of the same players that are still on the roster. The offense is spearheaded by Ty Lawson. The prodigal son, Arron Afflalo, returns after getting traded back to the Nuggets in the offseason to bring them defensive stability on the perimeter. Up front, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov form an energetic duo that gets most of their points off rebounds and garbage baskets. Off the bench, the Nuggets will probably try to play their rookies Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic to get them some in-game experience.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Arron Afflalo
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – Timofey Mozgov

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. SG battle – This preseason will be about deciding who will start at SG for the Thunder. Roberson seems to have the edge on Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson, though. He started 16 games for the Thunder last season and outplayed Lamb in the Blue and White scrimmage.

roberson thunder

2. Young guys – Mitch McGary, Grant Jerrett, and Perry Jones should see some action this preseason.

3. Ball-movement – The talk about the offense coming into every season is always about the increase in ball-movement. Yet, anytime the going gets tough or when the game is on the line, the offense always reverts back to iso-ball.

BONUS – 4. Don’t get hurt – It’s the preseason. We are playing for June.

Early Training Camp Stories

durant media day thunder

With Monday’s media day out of the way, the Oklahoma City Thunder started their journey into the 2014-15 NBA season. Like every other training camp before this one, there are questions and issues that need to be settled before the season begins. Luckily, the Thunder don’t have to contend with any roster-shattering trades or major injury issues like they have in the last two training camps. The Thunder come into camp basically intact and healthy. Here are some of the issues the Thunder are hoping to settle before October 29th.

1. Reggie Jackson

Probably the biggest question mark heading into the season is the contract situation of Reggie Jackson. The Thunder have until October 31st to work out an extension with Jackson. If no deal is done by then, Jackson will enter restricted free agency next offseason. Thunder GM Sam Presti, in his address to the media, said Jackson was a “core member” of the team and that the team was working hard in trying to secure an extension.

Many people will hark back to how the Thunder handled (or didn’t handle) the James Harden extension. As has been rehashed many times over, Harden and the Thunder couldn’t get an extension worked out and Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets four days before the beginning of the season. But there are two major differences between the two situations. The first difference is that Jackson is not a max player. While NBA teams have been giving out very generous contracts to “upper middle class” type players in the past few offseasons, Jackson unfortunately plays a position of excess in the NBA. Many teams already either have their point guard or aren’t necessarily in the market to pay max money for a “middle class” player. The second major difference is the Thunder’s financial situation. Due to the Harden trade, the Thunder were able to maintain their salary cap flexibility and, even with 3 max or near max deals, are in great financial shape. With the salary cap set to greatly increase in the next 2-3 seasons, the Thunder can offer Jackson a reasonable contract without endangering their ability to extend Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka.

The Thunder have everything in their favor to re-sign Jackson. But like many other situations in life, the events we think will be solved in a straight line, usually become roller coasters before we reach the finish line. The monkey wrench in this situation is Jackson’s adamant desire to be a starter. He planted the seed during exit interviews at the end of last season. And his tone didn’t change throughout the offseason. As Jackson stated during media day, “I can’t remember any great that wasn’t a starter. All the greats have started. I just want to be great. I want a chance to be great. I can’t recall a superstar Sixth Man.” The problem is that Jackson is point guard sized, and the Thunder have an opening at shooting guard, a position usually reserved on the Thunder for a long-winged defender that can (hopefully) make spot-up 3-pointers.

The Thunder got a sneak peak at what a Westbrook/Jackson back court would look like in the last four games of the Western Conference Finals. While the results were positive, the Thunder will probably choose to go the traditional route for the regular season. Whether its a ploy by Jackson to leverage the Thunder into more money or whether Jackson truly wants to be a starter in the league, this monkey wrench is probably a long ways away from getting resolved. Look for Jackson to head into the season without an extension.

2. Starting Shooting Guard

For the first time in five seasons, someone other than Thabo Sefolosha will start at SG for the Thunder on opening night. Sefolosha signed with the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason, thus opening the 2-guard spot. Sefolosha struggled in his final season with the Thunder and was relegated to bench duty at times in two of the Thunder’s three playoff series. The Thunder have a bevy of candidates that could possibly start at shooting guard.

Andre Roberson started 16 games for the Thunder as a rookie when Sefolosha was out with a calf strain in the 2nd half of the season. He has shown flashes of being the prototypical wing defender that the Thunder love to use at the 2-guard position, but is a developing work in progress on the offensive end. In 40 games total last season, Roberson only attempted 13 3-pointers, making only 2 in the process. He knows his limitations offensively and usually defers to his more offensively minded teammates.

Jeremy Lamb was viewed as being the heir-apparent to James Harden after the trade two seasons ago. He could shoot like Harden and was long and rangy enough to be made into an adequate defender. He showed flashes last season, averaging nearly 10 points per game until he hit the “rookie” wall in the second half of the season. Last season was Lamb’s second, but it was his first playing significant minutes. By the end of the season, Lamb’s minutes were going to veterans Caron Butler and Derek Fisher. The Thunder seem to really like what Lamb brings to the team and may look to him to be their version of Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs.

lamb jones thunder

Reggie Jackson is another option. He started the final four games of the Western Conference Finals with Westbrook to positive results. But the Thunder probably view Jackson as their firepower off the bench and one of their closers. While Jackson has been adamant that he would like to start, his best role on this team may be that of his current role as a sixth man.

The dark horse in this competition is Perry Jones. He started six games for the Thunder at SG and did a memorable job defensively on LeBron James in the Thunder’s victory in Miami against the Heat last season. He’s the median between Roberson and Lamb. He can hit the corner 3 pretty consistently and has the tools and ability to be a good defender. The question is whether he has the motor and “want to” to beat out the other candidates?

In the end, I think Lamb comes out of the fray with the starting position. His ability to space the floor will give the Thunder a dimension in their starting line-up they have been severely lacking. The onus will be on Lamb to improve defensively. The Thunder preach defense, and if Lamb is not up to task, there are at least 3 guys in the wings that can replace him.

3. Starting Center

With Kendrick Perkins nursing a quad strain, Steven Adams has an opportunity to supplant the veteran as the team’s starting center. The signs have been pointing towards Adams being the center of the future for this team. But Adams’ play last season may have fast-forwarded that development to this season. Adams started 20 games last season when Perkins was out and developed consistently as the season progressed. In the playoffs, Adams averaged nearly 4 more minutes per game than Perkins after Game 5 of the first round.

Perkins’ contract is up after this season and the team is probably ready to move on from it. While Perkins has been a great locker room presence, his play on the court has not merited his hefty salary. But if the Thunder start Adams, they run into a bit of a conundrum. Perkins’ value is as a starter. He is great defensively against traditional post players, most of whom start. As a bench player though, the little value Perkins does have gets muted. The team could always trade Perkins, as a $9 million dollar expiring contract is a commodity during the trade deadline, but the depth at center suffered a bit when the team traded Hasheem Thabeet. Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Mitch McGary can all play center, but are better suited for power forward.

What I see happening is a repeat of last season’s playoffs. Perkins will get the starts, but Adams will get the lion’s share of minutes.

4. 15th Spot

The Thunder do have a roster spot open, but have always preferred to keep that spot open until the trade deadline in February. An open roster spots becomes more attractive to a team looking to trade more players than they are receiving. Also, after the deadline, expiring veterans on lottery bound teams are usually bought out so they have the ability to latch onto a playoff-bound team for the stretch run. The Thunder have used this roster spot in recent years to sign Derek Fisher and Caron Butler for late season playoff pushes. In conclusion, I see the Thunder going into the season with an open roster spot.

5. The Semaj Christon Situation

Christon, the Thunder’s 2nd round pick from the 2014 NBA Draft, will apparently be getting the Grant Jerrett treatment. Jerrett was the Thunder’s 2nd round pick from last season’s draft. Instead of inviting him to training camp and being forced to offer him a training camp contract, the Thunder, instead, renounced their rights to him and made him the first pick in that year’s D-League draft. He played the entire season with the Tulsa 66ers, and then signed with the Thunder in the final week of the NBA season. The Thunder then included him on their playoff roster. That inclusion allowed Jerrett to get paid the playoff bonus that all the other players received. The Thunder rewarded Jerrett’s loyalty by offering him a multiyear contract this offseason.

semaj christon thunder blue

According to Christon’s agent Doug Neustadt, he will begin his career with the Thunder’s renamed D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. Christon has the physical attributes to be a Thunder-type point guard (long, athletic, able to drive and finish). On the Blue, he’ll probably be tasked with running the team and becoming a better shooter. If the Thunder have an open roster spot near the end of the season, look for them to reward Christon for his loyalty and patience.

6. Hot seat for Scott Brooks?

Is this the season that the coaching seat starts to warm up for Brooks. He has probably his most talented roster yet, and will be measured by whether he wins a championship or not. Injuries have had a big hand in deciding the Thunder’s fate the last two postseasons, but Brooks has also been to blame due to his lack of an offensive system and his stubbornness to make rotational changes whenever necessary. Brooks is a great ego-managing coach. He’s nursed the Thunder’s core players from “all-potential” to “all-production”. That is not an easy thing to do in the NBA. But now, its “put up or shut up” time. The team is primed for a championship run and their core players are just now entering their prime. Will Brooks rise above the fray, or will he, once again, be a game too late in making the right adjustments?

7. Is Russell Westbrook the best point guard in the league?

Yes! He outplayed Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker on head to head match-ups in last year’s playoffs. He was probably the 2nd or 3rd best player in the playoffs. And for a 10 game stretch before he necessitated another surgery on his knee in December, he averaged 21.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game on 46.5% shooting. Is he the best pure point guard in the league? Probably not. That title still belongs to Chris Paul. But pound for pound, bringing everything to the table, I’m taking Westbrook every time.

8. Steven Adams’ mustache

The Lord giveth…..

adams thunder 2

…And the Lord taketh away (just a day later – no ‘stache)

 adams practice

#SadFace

9. Will Serge Ibaka ever learn who Mitch McGary is?

OH, the outrage when it was discovered that Serge Ibaka didn’t know who Mitch McGary. How dare Ibaka not know who one of his teammates are? Until you consider that Ibaka was probably just enjoying his time in Spain representing the host country in the FIBA World Cup. Fans tend to think the players are as passionate about the roster makeup of their team as they are. American-born players are used to waking up watching SportsCenter and knowing the ins and outs of the league. Foreign-born players don’t have the same routines as American-born players, so they probably don’t necessarily keep track with all the happenings around the league. Plus, Serge was extremely busy this summer, so its understandable. And besides, he’ll have plenty of time to get to know McGary this season.

In the end, Ibaka could have just been trolling everyone, though.

10. Was this the longest offseason in Thunder history?

Yes!

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.

OKC Thunder: 5 Things to watch for in Summer League

reggie jackson summer league thunder

Summer League is one of my favorite parts of the NBA year. It’s a fan’s first chance to see what the rookies can do with some of the their more veteran, but still young future teammates. It’s a chance to see how those 2nd and 3rd year players have improved over the offseason. And it’s a chance to see some relative unknowns scrap and fight for the chance to make it onto a training camp roster.

Here are 5 things I’ll be for in this Summer League:

1. The “Veterans”

Four of the players on the Summer League roster have NBA experience, with 3 of them having started games for the Thunder last season. If Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Jackson are what make the Thunder great, then Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, Perry Jones, and Steven Adams are what makes them contenders. Superstars are superstars, but they still need help. And that’s where these four players come into play. Their continued development is tantamount to the success of the team.

From Perry Jones, I would like to see some offensive aggressiveness. When Jones was on the floor last season, he seemed content with taking what the defense gave him. But his physical tools are made for an offensive attacker. Length, agility, and other-worldly athleticism would make him a nightmare for a defense. Add to that the fact that he showed the ability to knock down an open 3-pointer, and you have all the makings of someone that can score consistently in the league….if he wants to.

From Jeremy Lamb, I would like to see him attack the basket and draw contact. Lamb showed the ability to make shots from the perimeter, but settled too many times for jumpers or floaters in order to avoid contact. If Lamb were more inclined to absorb contact, he may see his scoring average jump from the increase in free throw attempts. Also, I’d like to see Lamb improve on his one on one defense.

adams jones roberson thunder

From Andre Roberson, I’d like to see him hit a corner three consistently. But more importantly, I’d like to see him diversify his offensive game. If the shot isn’t falling, work on getting to the basket. I truly see a Tony Allen dimension to Roberson’s game, and that’s not a bad thing.

One of the reasons why people laud Steven Adams when comparing him to Kendrick Perkins is because Adams has the tools to develop an offensive repertoire. I would like to see how Adams has worked on his offensive game in the post. Is he developing a go to shot (i.e. jump hook) or a consistent jumper from 5-15 feet out? Also, I’d like to see him defend without fouling as much.

2. The Rookies

Summer league was made to showcase young players, especially the rookies. The Thunder, for the 2nd year in a row, bring three drafted rookies into Orlando. Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis, and Semaj Christon will all get a chance to showcase their skills surrounded by players that will be on the roster with them. This becomes the great unknown of the summer league equation. You get a sense of what these rookies play like, but when the collegiate shackles come off, it can be an entirely different story.

mitch mcgary michigan thunder

I’m interested to see how McGary plays coming off the back injury. Will he be limited or rusty? I remember what he did in the NCAA Tournament two years ago, but didn’t see much of him last season. As far as Huestis goes, I still can’t find a decent scouting video (shame on your DraftExpress). I have no idea what to expect from him.

But I’m most interested in Semaj Christon. Not necessarily because of him, but more because I know the other two rookies are on guaranteed contracts. I see a lot of the same physical attributes in Christon as I see in Jackson and Westbrook. Maybe not the brute explosiveness, but definitely the length and athleticism. If Christon can somehow impress, will the Thunder take a similar approach with him as they did with Grant Jerrett last season? Stashing him in Tulsa will allow the Thunder to develop him, without taking up a roster spot.

3. Grant Jerrett

Speaking of Grant Jerrett, he’ll also be on the team. The team decided not to opt into his team option for next season, but, apparently, that was just so they can give him a guaranteed raise. The team probably won’t do that until they figure out who they are signing in free agency (Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, Anthony Morrow, etc). Also, the team may be wanting to see how Jerrett has improved over this past season. A great showing by him may make the need for a 3-point shooter a moot point.

4. Defend the championship

summer league thunder champions

In case you don’t remember, the Thunder won the Orlando Summer League last season. They went a perfect 5-0 and got to take a picture with cool hats when it was all said and done. The good thing about it was that none of the games were complete blow-outs. The Thunder won their games by an average of 6.6 points. In my opinion, other than individual player development, the most important thing about summer league is placing the players in tight game situations, and seeing how they react to that pressure.

5. Other players

I’m a fan of the Thunder, but I’m also a fan of the league. Summer league allows me to see young players on other teams. It allows me to scout the other teams’ rookies and young players. Here’s a list of players from other teams that I will be interested to see:

  • Boston Celtics – Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, and James Young
  • Brooklyn Nets – Mason Plumlee
  • Detroit Pistons – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell, and ex-Thunder DeAndre Liggins
  • Houston Rockets – Isaiah Canaan
  • Indiana Pacers – Roger Mason Jr. (Why is this veteran playing in summer league?)
  • Miami Heat – Shabazz Napier
  • Orlando Magic – Aaron Gordon, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton
  • Philadelphia 76ers – Nerlens Noel and Pierre Jackson

OKC Thunder: Orlando Summer League Roster and Schedule Released

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s roster and schedule were released via NBA.com.

The roster will contain all of the Thunder players that are currently on rookie contracts, sans Reggie Jackson, and some unsigned free agents.

Roster

Number Name Position Height Weight College
12 Steven Adams* C 7’0 255 Pittsburgh / New Zealand
22 Semaj Christon G 6’3 190 Xavier
30 Fuquan Edwin G/F 6’6 215 Seton Hall
14 Josh Huestis* F 6’7 230 Stanford
7 Grant Jerrett F 6’10 232 Arizona
3 Perry Jones* F 6’11 235 Baylor
11 Jeremy Lamb* G 6’5 180 UConn
31 Marcus Lewis F 6’8 245 Oral Roberts
23 Mario Little G 6’6 218 Kansas
33 Mitch McGary* F 6’10 255 Michigan
21 Andre Roberson* F 6’7 210 Colorado
2 Nolan Smith G 6’2 190 Duke
6 Michael Stockton G 6’1 178 Westminster
44 Maurice Sutton C 6’11 220 Villanova

* – currently on the Thunder’s active roster

A couple things about the roster:

  • Michael Stockton is the son of NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton.
  • No Tibor Pleiss or Alex Abrines (the Thunder’s Euro-stashes).

Schedule

Day Date Time (CST) Opponent
Saturday July 5th, 2014 4:00 PM Memphis Grizzlies
Sunday July 6th, 2014 4:00 PM Philadelphia 76ers
Monday July 7th, 2014 6:00 PM Brooklyn Nets
Wednesday July 9th, 2014 2:00 PM Indiana Pacers
Friday* July 11th, 2014 TBD TBD

* – The last game is championship day, and teams will be matched up on how they did in their first 4 games.

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.