Tag Archives: Hakeem Olajuwon

Hasheem Thabeet:ReHashing a Journey

How exactly do you measure a man’s worth? Is it by his successes? If so, everyone looks great when they are succeeding. But, it’s what happens whenever a person has tasted success, fails, and then gets back up that shows the true character of that man. Some people aren’t able to come back once they have failed. Allen Iverson could have been a great redemption story. Here was a man who had tasted nothing but success since coming into the league. A man whose Frank Sinatra-like demeanor (“I did it my way”) garnered him many fans and many enemies, many of whom were in the league’s front office. A man whose ego eventually surpassed his usefulness to the point that NBA teams basically shut him out of the league. His is an example of a person who could not adapt to the slightest bit of failure.

One of the worst things in sports is to be labeled a bust. It is the apex of failure. There are two ways to be labeled a bust: either you were a high draft pick that didn’t live up to your expected potential or you were signed to a big contract that you could never live up to. Once given this label, it’s very difficult for a player to shake it off. Regardless of whether the player is injured or not, fan forgiveness is not usually a word related to the bust label. Just ask Greg Oden. Sometimes, though, a player is either too oblivious or too hard-headed to care about the bust label and continues to truck on.

Hasheem Thabeet is one of those players. A player, who by all accounts and purposes, should have just said, “Forget this (alternate words, of course)”, and taken his millions and retired on an island. With all the criticism and embarrassment that was heaped onto him in his first 3 seasons in the league, it would have been easy to walk away with whatever money he had in hand and move on to the next phase of his life. But that just isn’t Thabeet’s style. Here’s a man who, at the age of 14, lost his father to diabetes and decided at that point that he had to become the man of the house. To assert himself into manhood, Thabeet decided to drop his father’s last name of Manka, and instead use his middle name as his last name. Mind you, this was not a move to forget his father or his past. Instead, it was a symbolic gesture towards a new start. One that Thabeet could have never imagined would turn out the way it has.

One of Thabeet’s first decisions as the man of the house was to quit school and get a job. For about a year, Thabeet worked odd jobs as a model and as a bouncer at a club. With his imposing height, he could definitely look the part of a mean bouncer, but Thabeet never took part in the fights. He was too afraid to. His mother eventually convinced him to go back to school to continue his education. It was in this second go-around in school that a coach coaxed him into playing basketball. It was only a matter of time before Thabeet’s tall frame and go-go gadget arms were introduced to the game where those attributes are strengths. At first hesitant, he eventually adapted to the game and began to flourish.

The road to the NBA is not always a linear path. When you think of basketball hotbeds in Africa, you think of countries like Angola, Zaire, and Congo. You definitely don’t think of a country like Tanzania where soccer reigns supreme. Thabeet took the proactive approach and began filling out applications for every university he could find via Google. Eventually, his talents took him to a prep school in Nairobi, Kenya, where French businessman Oliver Noah took notice of Thabeet and asked to send the kid to the US for further prepping. Thabeet’s mother obliged and he was on his way to the USA to attend high school. Of course, not everything went as planned, as it is sometimes difficult to compare African school standards to American school standards. Transcript issues arose, and what should have been one stop in Los Angeles, turned into stops in Picayune, Mississippi and Houston, Texas.

After graduating from Cypress Christian School in Houston, Thabeet made his way to Storrs to attend the University of Connecticut. For the first time in five years, Thabeet finally had some semblance of stability. He could finally be what he really was: a 19 year old freshman. He flourished under Jim Calhoun’s tutelage, becoming a dominant force on the defensive end, while holding his own on the offensive end. Thabeet went on to win 2 consecutive Big East Defensive Player of the Year awards, and shared the Big East Player of the Year award in his junior season with Pittsburgh’s Dejuan Blair.

Needless to say, expectations were definitely high when Thabeet declared for the 2009 NBA Draft. Names like Dikembe Mutombo and Samuel Dalembert were being tossed around as comparisons. The consensus was that Thabeet would be great defensively, but would need time to develop offensively. As is the standard with most big men, Thabeet was considered to be a high risk, high reward project that would need a lot of development.

The funny thing about expectations is that it’s a two way street. On one hand you have the player, of whom the results are expected from. On the other hand, you have the basketball mind (usually a front office personnel or scout) that acknowledges that the skills seen in the lower level of basketball will translate to the highest level of basketball. In this case, it was former Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace who selected the center with the No.2 pick in the draft. Usually, when a team drafts that high, they are looking for an impact player at a position of need. But the Grizzlies already had two young centers that they were developing in Marc Gasol and Hamed Haddadi. The leash was short in Memphis and when Thabeet struggled to adjust to the speed of the game, he was sent to the D-League, earning the dubious record of being the highest draft pick ever sent down.

The next season, Thabeet battled with Haddadi for back up minutes throughout the season. At the trading deadline, Thabeet was traded to Houston Rockets for Shane Battier. In Houston, Thabeet only appeared in 2 games for the Rockets, spending most of the rest of the season in the D-League. In the next season, Hasheem was once again dealt at the trading deadline, this time to the Portland Trailblazers. At the end of the season, the Blazers chose not to pick up Thabeet’s 4th year rookie option, and the center became an unrestricted free agent.

There had been rumors that Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti was very intrigued with the possibility of drafting Thabeet with the No.3 pick in the 2009 draft. As we know, that opportunity never materialized and the Thunder selected James Harden, instead. There were also rumors that Presti had tried to pull off a couple trading deadline deals to obtain Thabeet, but those, again, never materialized. So when Thabeet became an unrestricted free agent this past offseason, Presti pounced on the opportunity to sign the center for the league minimum.

Brimming with a confidence not seen since his UConn days, Thabeet is flourishing in his role as the Thunder’s back-up center. No longer burdened by his draft position, Thabeet is going out there and playing the role that he has earned. Though his numbers aren’t that gaudy through 8 games, you can tell Hasheem has learned a lot about the game in these last 3 seasons and is only now starting to put it all together. He is no longer needed to save a franchise. Instead, he can be part of a team and contribute

Not unlike a young quarterback who has struggled through numerous coaching and system changes, Thabeet was never allowed to develop in one system for any amount of time. Instead, he has been shuffled from one team to another in his first 3 seasons and never was able to develop his game or his confidence. His move to OKC probably feels like his move to Storrs, Connecticut seven years ago. A sense of stability is coming and Thabeet is just now scratching the surface of his potential. On this team, he doesn’t need to be Dikembe Mutombo or Hakeem Olajuwon. He just needs to be Hasheem.

Top Five Point Guards in Oklahoma City History

So, I was perusing through the internets and came across this article from Yahoo!Sports, http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=ycn-10388361 . In the article, written by William Menna, it talks about the top 5 point guards in Oklahoma City Thunder history. Before even reading the article, I thought to myselft, “Wow, 3 years in, and we already have a Top 5 point guards in franchise history article. Let me see, Westbrook, Maynor, Watson, Ivey, and Ollie.” Kind of scraping the bottom of the barrell at the end of that list. But then I started reading the article and starting seeing names like Gary Payton, Lenny Wilkens, Gus Johnson, etc. It is then that I realized, “Crap, they are including the Seattle Sonics’s stats also.”

I’m one of those people that has a problem with the combining of Sonics and Thunder history. Its like going through an acrimonious divorce and having your new wife constantly bring up things about your old wife. You just don’t want to listen to it. Let it be known, though, that I have no problem with the emotions being felt by true Sonics fans. Those guys were left without a team and that part of the equation, in my opinion, is just wrong. Especially when its the little guys (a.k.a the fans) that suffer the most. In the 5 years that this team has been on OKC’s radar, I’ve felt every range of emotion towards Seattle and its fans. But, if this lockout has taught me anything, its that, in the grand scheme of things, we’re quite inconsequential. The other thing that it has made me realize is that missing basketball games sucks ass.

In reading this article, I realized the list of OKC Thunder point guards may be quite small, but the list of combined OKC Hornets and Thunder point guards can be enough to make a respectable Top 5 list. Yeah, you remember those OKC Hornets teams, right? The ones that played a combined 71 of 82 home games in the state of Oklahoma in 2 seasons spanning from November 2005 to April 2007. Here’s some pictures to remind you:

Using these 5 seasons of Oklahoma City basketball, here’s the list of the Top 5 point guards in OKC basketball history.

Disclaimer: Combo guards will also be included as point guards. They are just point guards that primarily score, anyways.

5. Speedy Claxton (OKC Hornets ’05-’06):

In his one season in Oklahoma City, Claxton provided good veteran leadership off the bench while mentoring the rookie Chris Paul. He averaged 12.3 points, 4.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Though about 4 inches shorter than Chris Paul, he was sometimes inserted in the lineup as the shooting guard in small ball situations.

4. Eric Maynor (OKC Thunder ’09-’10 – present):

Maynor has been the guiding touch for the second unit off the bench in each of his seasons with the Thunder.  He is the antithesis to Russell Westbrook and provides a nice semblance of change when in the game. He has averaged 4.5 points and 3.1 assists in his 2 seasons with the Thunder and continues to improve and build upon his national acclaim as best back-up point guard in the game.

3. Bobby Jackson (OKC Hornets ’06-’07):

Brought in to replace Speedy Claxton, Bobby Jackson brought an instant spark off the bench as one of the premier combo guards in the league. Used primarily as a point guard, Jackson’s quickness helped the Hornets whether the storm of losing their best 3 players for the 1st quarter of the season to stay afloat for enough time to contend for a playoff spot until the final week of the season. His averages of 10.6 points and 2.5 assists don’t measure how valuable Jackson was for that team that season.

2. Russell Westbrook (OKC Thunder ’08-’09 – present):

One of the most dynamic players in the league, Westbrook (along with Derrick Rose and John Wall) is redefining what a point guard is in the league. This is what the game envisioned when it inserted the Hand Check rule before the ’04-’05 season. Someone that constantly puts pressure on the defense, while working his way into the lane. While still a work in progress, Westbrook has averaged 17.8 points, 7.1 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game in his career, increasing his points, assists, and steals averages every season.  In his young career, he has already made an All Star game, been named to 2nd team All-NBA, won a World Championship gold medal, and led a team to the Western Conference finals. Although he is still learning the nuances of the position, there is no doubt that if his career trajectory continues in a similar fashion, he may undoubtly wrestle the No. 1 spot from this guy…

1. Chris Paul (OKC Hornets ’05-’06 – ’06-’07)

The current gold standard for NBA point guards, Chris Paul started off his career as a member of Your Hometown Hornets, becoming Oklahoma City’s only Rookie of the Year recipient. While still in the traditional point guard mold, Chris Paul was the beginning in a breed of point guards that do most of their damage driving to the hole and breaking the defense down while in the paint. Owning, probably, the best court vision in the league, Paul has led the league in assists twice and averaged close to double figures for his career. In it, he has averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists, 4.6 boards, and 2.4 steals in 6 seasons. He is the only player in league history to lead the league in assists and steals in the same season for 2 consecutive seasons. That’s John Stockton territory right there. He’s been named to 4 All Star games, 1 All-NBA team, 1 All-Defensive First team, has won 1 Olympic gold medal, and has been to 1 Western Conference Championship. Although injuries derailed Paul the last few seasons, he seems to be getting over that and getting back to his elite form.

The only negative part to most “Top 5 Whatevers Within the same Franchise” is that you’ll probaby never see any of the players on the list play against each other. You’ll never get to see Rajon Rondo vs. Bob Cousy. Or Yao Ming vs. Hakeem Olajuwon. But the great thing about this list is that you will hopefully see Westbrook and Paul duke it out for the better part of their primes for the next decade. And the only reason they’ll be duking it out, is for OKC point guard supremacy, right?