Tag Archives: Jamal Crawford

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 2 of 82)

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  • When: Thursday, 30 October 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

The Oklahoma City Thunder played great for the first 40 minutes of the night against Portland. Russell Westbrook was going all SuperNova on the Trailblazers, Lance Thomas (LANCE THOMAS!) was doing his best Kenneth Faried impression, and the defense was clamping down on the Portland shooters. Then the 4th quarter started. The defense lost its discipline, the role players started playing like role players, and Russell Westbrook, who was on the bench to begin the quarter, couldn’t bring the Thunder back with the Portland defense keying in on him. With all the odds that were stacked against the Thunder, this did feel like a bit of a moral victory. A loss was expected, but to have a 2 point lead heading into the 4th quarter, and then completely fall apart, was a bit disappointing. But as the venerable Swizz Beatz would say, “On to the next one.”

The Los Angeles Clippers open up their season in the same place and against the same team where it ended last season. The Thunder defeated the Clippers in 6 games in the 2nd round of last season’s playoffs. In what is quickly becoming a budding rivalry in the league, the Clippers are trying to get to where the Thunder have been. The teams split their regular season meetings last year, with each team winning one game on the other’s court.

The Opponent

griffin barnes jordan paul redick clippers

The Clippers finished last season 57-25, good for 3rd in the Western Conference. They defeated the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs as the series went the distance. They then lost to the Thunder in 6 games in the second round. The Clippers had the highest offensive rating in the league last season (112.1), and bring back most of the core from the previous year. Leading the charge is one of the best players in the league, Chris Paul. He led the league in assists per game (10.7) and steals per game (2.5). Joining Paul in the backcourt is sharp shooter JJ Redick who shot nearly 40% from 3-point territory last season. Up front, MVP candidate Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan continue to cause havoc with their athleticism and size. The Clippers sport one of the better benches in the league, which features 2-time 6th Man of the Year award winner Jamal Crawford, Jordan Farmar, and stretch center Spencer Hawes.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Los Angeles Clippers

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – JJ Redick
  • SF – Matt Barnes
  • PF – Blake Griffin
  • C – DeAndre Jordan

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – Much like the Portland game, one of the keys to holding a high scoring offense in check is guarding the 3-point line. The Thunder did a good job of that for 3 quarters, but got undisciplined in the 4th quarter and paid a costly price. The Clippers have 6 players who shot at least 34% from deep last season. The perimeter defenders (especially Andre Roberson and Perry Jones) need to do a better job of staying with the shooters and not following the ball so much.

2. A little help – I don’t know if he is out of shape, hurt, or trying to do too much, but Ibaka did not look like himself last night. He was pump-faking and trying to create, which led to his team high 5 turnovers. He was hesitating on his outside shot, which is unlike him, and shot only 4/11. He may just be out of sync due to missing most of training camp. Hopefully, its something he can work through and correct as soon as possible. Perry Jones, after two great preseason games, looked very lost out there in the starting line-up. He shot 1-9 from the field and was spun around a couple times on the defensive end. Roberson was okay, but the Thunder may still need more from him, even if its as a slasher. You know the team is struggling a bit when Lance Thomas is the 2nd leading scorer on the team with 14 points. Westbrook will need more help this game. Speaking of Westbrook…

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers

3. Paul vs. Westbrook – Are there any more contenders for best point guard in the game? Maybe a healthy Derrick Rose, but for the most part, I think not. Last season’s dual was won by Westbrook in dominating fashion. Round 2 will likely be as entertaining.

Five Thoughts from the Clippers Series

durant griffin thunder clippers

With a 104-98 win in Game 6 of their 2nd round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the 3rd time in four years. Before we look ahead to the San Antonio Spurs, here are 5 thoughts from the electrifying series that was.

1. Point Guard Supremacy

If there was a match-up that was going to determine how this series would play out, it was definitely this one. Chris Paul is widely considered to be the best point guard in the league, while Russell Westbrook is its most polarizing. One is a maestro, leading a meticulous concerto of dunks, alley-oops, and 3-point shots, while the other is the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil incarnate. The match-up basically came down to this: Would Paul be able to control Westbrook’s game. Defending Chris Paul means defending everyone on the floor. Yes, you have to stay in front of him. But it’s when the opponent strays away from one of the other players on the Clippers that Paul does his most damage.

westbrook paul thunder clippers

On the flip side, defending Westbrook is a completely different story. Due to the chaos he causes, a defender never knows how they are going to defend him. The best approach is to lay off of him, but even that has proven to be difficult as Westbrook will look for any opportunity to run in transition and is usually the quickest man on the floor. Add to that the fact that he’s had a couple games of double digit assists while scoring at least 20 points in the playoffs, and you are looking at a monster.

The numbers in the series basically cancel each other out:

  • Westbrook – 27.8 points / 6.0 rebounds / 8.8 assists / 1.8 steals on 49/35/88 shooting splits
  • Paul – 22.5 points / 3.7 rebounds / 12.0 assists / 2.5 steals on 51/46/75 shooting splits

While Paul assisted more and scored more efficiently, Westbrook scored more and grabbed more boards (over 2 offensive boards per game). The difference between the two floor general lied in the chaos they caused. More, specifically, in the free throw attempted. While Paul mainly settled for jump shots, Westbrook consistently challenged the defense by getting into the paint and looking for his own shot. Some may say that’s the staple of a scoring wing, not a prime time point guard. But with the way the rules favor dribble penetration, it may be time to stop looking at point guards as just facilitator and more as attackers. While I think Paul is still the best pure point guard in the game, Westbrook did a lot in this series in changing the way people think of the point guard position.

2. The Emergence of Steven Adams

When the Thunder made Adams the 12th pick in last season’s draft, many people envisioned a season of trips on I-44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Adams was expected to be a project that would not pay dividends until, at the earliest, next season. But, as they say, that is why they play the game. Adams started the season as the Thunder’s back-up center and never wavered. He even started 20 games when Kendrick Perkins went out with a groin injury in the 2nd half of the season.

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, in his infinite quest for veteran intangibles, barely played Adams in the first 5 games of the postseason. After averaging 14.8 minutes per game in the regular season, Adams was only notching 4 minutes a night (and 1 DNP-CD) against, of all teams, the Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol-led Memphis Grizzlies, in those first 5 games. With their backs against the wall and trailing 3-2 in their first round series, Brooks relented against his default settings, and played the rookie significant minutes (22.5/game) in the next two games (both wins).

A look at Adams’ numbers don’t explain his impact. Since Game 5 of the first round, Adams has averaged 21.8 minutes, 5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. But it’s his combination of physicality and athleticism that has the most effect on the game. Usually, teams can do a lot of their damage in the paint when the starting big men are on the bench. In fact, James Harden made a living off of this when he played for the Thunder. Harden would come into the game and immediately begin attacking the other team’s back-up big. With Adams in the game, though, the other team has difficulty in scoring inside.

In the Clippers series, Adams was tasked with guarding all of the LA’s big men (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Glen Davis). Surprisingly, Adams probably struggled the most with Davis. Griffin wanted no part of backing down Adams in the post and settled for mid-range jumpers. And Jordan struggles with anything not resembling a lob pass. It’s almost as if Adams is a combination of Serge Ibaka and Perkins. Someone with the athleticism of Ibaka, but with the brute strength of Perkins. The only thing missing is the experience, which Adams is gathering in heaps this postseason.

3. Resiliency

durant westbrook jackson thunder

They say great teams win the close games. But, damn, does every game have to be an ESPN Instant Classic? After the “cardiology office visit inducing” series that was the Memphis series, my health didn’t need this series, especially games 4-6. But, that the Thunder made it to the Western Conference Finals speaks to the resiliency of this team.

There’s a comfort level that’s achieved when the core of a team has been together for a number of seasons. That’s what you see with the Thunder in late game situations. Everybody knows their roles and plays them to a T. Now, why they can’t do that in the first 45 minutes of a game? I have no idea. Being that they are still a young team, they probably play the game in a fashion similar to the thought process high school/college students have towards homework. When a student is given an assignment with a due date two weeks from then, 75% of those students will wait until the night before to start working on their assignment. That’s the Thunder in a nut shell right there.

4. Defense definitely wins playoff series (and championships too)

During the regular season, the Clippers averaged a league high 107.9 points per game. They upped the ante during the Golden State series, increasing their average by 3 points to 110.9 points per game. For the Thunder series, the Clippers averaged a paltry 106.3 points per game. Seriously though, that 1.5 point drop (and 4.6 point drop from the Warriors series) may have been the difference between the Thunder winning Games 5 and 6.

The Thunder did a great job defending Griffin and Jordan on the inside in the series. After posting up 12.1 points and 15.1 rebounds per game in the Warriors series, the Thunder limited Jordan to 6.7 points and 9.5 rebounds. Griffin’s points and rebounds went up slightly in the Thunder series, but his efficiency went down.

ibaka adams griffin thunder clippers

With the inside locked down, the only other options for the Clippers were Paul’s penetrations and their plethora of 3-point shooters. The Thunder did a great job of going under the screens and negating the driving lanes for Paul. With Paul not getting into the lane as much, the perimeter defenders were able to stay on the shooters for an extra bit longer. The trio of Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, and JJ Redick averaged 0.6 less 3-point FGs made in the Thunder series, and Crawford saw his 3-point percentage drop 8.4 percentage points from the Warriors series. All these factors combined made it difficult for the Clippers to do what they did best; which was to score at will.
5. Coming through in the clutch

Many people will look at this postseason run and wonder whether Westbrook had a better postseason than Durant. The numbers suggest this is a very distinct possibility. All things being equal in the Memphis series (when Durant played bad, so did Westbrook, and visa versa), Westbrook has surprisingly been more efficient in the Clippers’ series. But in terms of making the necessary MVP-like plays in the final 3 minutes of games, Durant is still the man. In Games 4-6, in the final 3 minutes of play, Durant scored 16 points on 4-7 shooting (1-1 from long range), 7-8 FT, and only had 1 turnover. Conversly, Westbrook scored 11 points on 2-7 shooting and 7-7 from the line.

The mark of an MVP is not necessarily their stats throughout the game, but how they pull through in the clutch. Durant has proven time and time again that no matter how the first 40 minutes of the game play out, he’s usually there in the final few minutes when the team needs him the most.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game 5 preview

Westbrook thunder

There won’t be a riveting MVP speech or a controversial headline this time around. The Oklahoma City Thunder know what’s at stake. Lose tonight, and you go back to the lion’s den facing elimination. We did it in the last series, but why keep testing the law of averages? When a lower seed has a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 (their court), they win 65% of the time.

For the first 39 minutes of Game 4, the Thunder were on cruise control. They led 32-15 after the first quarter, led by 11 heading into halftime, and increased that lead by 1 heading into the 4th quarter.  Three minutes into the 4th quarter, the Thunder were up by 14 points. Then, the Thunder stopped defending the paint. And when they attempted to defend, they ended up fouling. The Clippers had lay-ups or dunks on 11 of their last 12 made FG. In that same time frame, they made 8-9 FTs. The Thunder couldn’t keep up and ended up getting outscored 33-17 in the final 9 minutes of the quarter.

5 Keys for Game 5

1. In-Game Adjustments – During the Clippers’ run in the fourth quarter, Scott Brooks had his vaunted small-ball lineup in the game. The Ibaka-Durant-Butler-Westbrook-Jackson lineup is great in close games or in making up a deficit (as evidenced by Game 3). But if you are up big and the opposing team starts to make a run, shouldn’t you start to sub in your defensive specialists? Brooks didn’t bring in Thabo Sefolosha until 2:57 was left in the quarter and the Clippers had trimmed the Thunder lead down to one. From there on in, it was a game and the Clippers had all the momentum. Brooks needs to be quicker in making these types of decisions.

2. Get Kevin Durant moving – A lot like how Kendrick Perkins likes to move other centers out of their comfort spots, smaller, stronger defenders like to push Durant away from his comfort zones. If the Thunder and their offense can get Durant on the move (catching passes off a curl, using a pick, moving without the ball), it takes away the advantage smaller defenders have on Durant. But if Durant remains stationary, the defense is able to set itself up to defend him.

chris paul serge ibaka thunder clippers butler

3. Defend the Paint – The staple of the Thunder defense was completely obliterated in the 4th quarter of Game 4. The Thunder pride themselves in defending the paint, even to the extent that they dare you to shoot and make deep perimeter shots. As I mentioned in the 2nd paragraph, the Clippers last 11 of 12 made shots were either lay-ups or dunks. The other made shot was a 3-pointer by Jamal Crawford after the defense collapsed on a penetrating Chris Paul. What worried me in Game 5 is the Thunder focusing a lot of their energy on defending the paint and the Clippers going off from deep like they did in Game 1. There needs to be good defensive balance.

4. The Other Scorers – The Thunder have 3 other players, outside of Durant and Westbrook, that can give you at least 10+ points (Ibaka, Butler, and Jackson) each on any given night. When those three give you at least 30 points combined, the Thunder are 5-1 in the playoffs. In the one postseason victory where those three didn’t give you at least 30 points, Sefolosha and Perkins chipped in for an unexpected 22 points combined. In the 5 losses this postseason, the trio averages 23 points per game combined.

thunder

5. Defend Home Court – Win tonight, and you have a little bit more room for error heading back to LA. The Thunder have been quite vulnerable at home the postseason, posting a 3-3 record.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers Round 2 series preview

ibaka griffin thunder clippers

Whew! That was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. The Memphis Grizzlies had the Oklahoma City Thunder on the brink of elimination with a 3-2 series lead and heading back to Memphis. Fortunately, the “Lost” ad for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s shooting stroke worked and they found their offense in time to put together two great games and advance to the 2nd round.

Just like in the first round, the finger prints of fate, are strewn all over this series.  Even though we’ve never faced the Clippers in the playoffs, the inevitability of this series happening has been building for the past 2-3 seasons now. Not only have the Clippers entered into the conversation as one of the contenders in the Western Conference, but their main players have an interwoven history with Oklahoma City that does not involve the Thunder. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are about the closest thing to basketball Prodigal Sons that Oklahoma City has. Now, those two players are in the way of the Thunder advancing to the Western Conference Finals.

Regular Season Series

westbrook paul thunder clippers

The Thunder and Clippers split their season series 2-2, with each team winning one on their respective home courts and losing one on their respective home courts. In the first meeting, the Thunder were cruising in the 2nd quarter, before a scuffle in the 2nd quarter between Serge Ibaka and Matt Barnes led to the ejection of both players. With Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins (who was out due to the death of his grandfather) out of the game, the Thunder’s 9-point halftime lead eventually evaporated in the 3rd quarter under a rain of shots in the paint from the Clippers. The Thunder went on to lose that game 103-111. The second meeting was one of those games where the Thunder came out hot and never relented, winning 105-91, going away. The third game occurred when the Thunder were in their transition period of working Russell Westbrook back into the line-up after the All-Star break. They ended up losing that one 117-125. In the final meeting of the season, the Clippers were without 6th Man of the Year Jamal Crawford and lost 107-101.

Series Schedule

  • Game 1 – Monday, 05 May 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Wednesday, 07 May 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Friday, 09 May 2014 at 9:30 PM CST (Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA)
  • Game 4 – Sunday, 11 May 2014 at 2:30 PM CST (Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA)
  • Game 5 – Tuesday, 13 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Thursday, 15 May 2014 TBD (Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA)*
  • Game 7 – Sunday, 18 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* If necessary

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Los Angeles Clippers

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – JJ Redick
  • SF – Matt Barnes
  • PF – Blake Griffin
  • C – DeAndre Jordan

 

  • Bench Depth – Jamal Crawford, Glen Davis, Darren Collison, Danny Granger

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

 

  • Bench Depth – Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Series

1. Perimeter Defense – The Memphis series and this series could not be anymore different. While the Grizzlies were all about pounding the ball inside, the Clippers are more about getting dribble penetration to suck in the defense and then finding open shooters on the outside. With Chris Paul attacking the basket, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Matt Barnes will all be camped out on the 3-point line ready to shoot. This is where Thabo Sefolosha may be key in this series. While he may not start, he could provide valuable defense on either Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford in spots.

durant crawford thunder clippers

2. Rebounding – DeAndre Jordan has turned into a rebounding fool in these playoffs, averaging 15.1 boards per game in the Golden State series. With Blake Griffin contributing 6.3 rebounds of his own in that series, the front line for the Clippers did not let many missed shots get by them. Also of note, though, is that Golden State played the series with a front line consisting of David Lee, Draymond Green, and a hobbled Jermaine O’Neal. If the Thunder can control the boards, that should aid them in getting their transition game going.

3. Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson – With Chris Paul a bit hobbled, I see no wing defender on the Clippers that can stop either of the Thunder trio. Crawford and Reddick aren’t known for their defense, Collison is too small, and, if they dust off Jared Dudley, he’s too slow. The Clippers only real line of defense is Jordan, and that only occurs once the players has beat all the other lines of defense.

X-factors

For Los Angeles – Chris Paul’s health. If Paul is as hobbled as he seems, this may be an extremely difficult series for him. Russell Westbrook is a completely different animal than Steph Curry. While Curry is more perimeter-oriented, Westbrook is all out attack. And, unfortunately for the Clippers, they have no one else defensively that can stay with Westbrook and give Paul a reprieve on that side of the ball.

perkins griffin thunder clippers

For Oklahoma City – Foul Trouble. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul’s mastery of theatrics (aka flopping) can quickly put the Clippers in the bonus and also get key players out of the game because of foul trouble. It’ll be very important for the Thunder stay disciplined, not only defensively, but also emotionally.

Prediction

Thunder in 6.

The Thunder got their wake up call in Round 1. They know they nearly blew their opportunity to contend for this season. I don’t see them reverting back to the Thunder we saw in Games 2-5 of the first round. They know, offensively, they can probably get what ever they want. And defensively, they know what they have to do to beat the Clippers.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 78 of 82)

ibaka griffin durant dudley sefolosha paul clippers thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 09 April 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

For the first time in nearly 2 months, the Oklahoma City Thunder could trot out a completely healthy roster. Now, the words “completely healthy” can be debated as Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins are still working their ways back from injury. But the fact still remains that this will be the first time since February 20th, that the Thunder will have the ability to put out the same starting line-up that we’ve all grown accustomed to in the last 3.5 seasons.

Since February 20th, the Thunder have suffered from bouts of inconsistency and complacency, especially on the defensive end. With their two defensive stalwarts out and Russell Westbrook being held out in one of the two games on back to backs, the Thunder have had a difficulty time carving out any sort of rhythm. But now, hopefully, the Thunder are getting healthy when they need it the most.

This will be the fourth and final meeting of the year between these two teams. The Clippers lead the season series 2-1 and are 1.5 games behind the Thunder for 2nd place in the Western Conference.

The Opponent

griffin jordan crawford paul clippers

The Clippers are currently sit at 55-23. They are an offensive juggernaut, averaging 107.8 points per game, which is No. 1 in the league. Their attack is led by PG Chris Paul, who in his 9th season, leads the league in assists (10.8) and steals (2.5) per game, while also averaging 19 points. Blake Griffin has taken that next step and is now a bonafide MVP candidate. His game has become more diverse (better mid-range shooter, better play-making skills) and his free-throw shooting has improved. When defenses converge on either of these two players, they have a cornucopia of shooters around them to make the defense pay. Jamal Crawford, JJ Redick, Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, Danny Granger, Willie Green, and Jared Dudley are all shooting over 34% from 3-point territory. On the inside, DeAndre Jordan has been a defensive monster, averaging 13.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Los Angeles Clippers

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – JJ Redick
  • SF – Matt Barnes
  • PF – Blake Griffin
  • C – DeAndre Jordan

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

* It’s been a while since I wrote that starting line-up down.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – As mentioned in the “The Opponent” section, the Clippers have 8 players that shoot over 34.1% from the arc. Luckily, Crawford and Granger, appear to be out for the rest of the regular season. In the last game these two teams played, Crawford and Barnes torched the Thunder for 60 points on 11-18 shooting from 3-point land. With a full compliment of players, look for the Thunder to stay more on the shooters and hope that whoever is guarding Paul (be it Westbrook, Sefolosha, or Reggie Jackson) can stay in front of him most of the night.

westbrook paul thunder clippers

2. Attack – Of the top five teams in the league (San Antonio, Miami, LAC, OKC, and Indiana), the Clippers are the worst defensively. They allow 100.7 points per game (14th in the league) and struggle defending the paint when Jordan is not in the game. While head coach Doc Rivers has made the team better defensively, they were still average, at best, to begin with.

3. Playoff Atmosphere – You smell that? It sure does smell like the playoffs. I have a feeling this game will be completely primed. I put the O/U on technicals being called at 5…..and I’m taking the over. This will probably be the last big game of the season for each team. With so much riding on it, I expect nothing less than a playoff atmosphere-type environment. April 19th cannot get here soon enough.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 7 of 82)

paul griffin jackson collison clippers thunder

  • When – Wednesday, 13 November 2013 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where – Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Finally! The first prime-time match-up of the year for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sure, they’ve faced the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves, but this is the type of game that the national media salivates for. A game in November that, in actuality, has little to no meaning, but who’s hype rivals that of a match-up in May. Two teams many media pundits have picked as possibly coming out of the loaded Western Conference.

The Thunder come into the game having won 4 in a row after starting the season 1-1. They are starting to fall in line offensively, with Russell Westbrook working his way back into game shape and Kevin Durant leading the league in scoring (30.2 ppg). The bench, one of the many question marks coming into the season, appears to be one of the strengths of the team. But, 3-point shooting is still a huge concern for the team, as they are only shooting 27% from deep, good for 28th in the league.

This is the first of four meetings between the Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder swept the season series last season, with one game going into overtime and the Thunder winning another one by 4 points. Stylistically, these teams are very transition oriented, which usually leads to high scoring affairs.

The Opponent

paul crawford jordan griffin clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers come into tonight’s game with a 5-3 record. After losing to their Staples Center brethren on opening night, the Clippers have won 5 of 7, with their two losses coming on a road trip through Florida (Miami and Orlando). The Clippers’ offense is the best in the league, in terms of points scored per game, at 109.9. But that figured is negated by the fact that they allowed the 28th most points in the league at 106.4 points per game. That offense is orchestrated by, arguably, the best pure point guard in the league in Chris Paul, who is averaging a league best 12.4 assists per game, while also notching 21.3 points. The starting lineup is a hyper active mix of athletic big men (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan), a scoring wing (JJ Redick), and a 3 and D wing (Jared Dudley). The Clippers also boast one of the stronger benches in the league led by Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and Darren Collison, but lack any big man depth. Continue reading Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 7 of 82)

Kevin Martin’s Future with the Thunder

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One of the biggest decisions facing the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason is whether or not to keep Kevin Martin past this season. Martin was the other big name in the blockbuster deal that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets a couple days before the 2012-13 season began. Martin was brought in to maintain the scoring provided by Harden off the bench and has nearly matched Harden’s bench output from last season when Harden was the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year. Though he has struggled at times this season in his new role, especially in home/road splits, Martin has performed well enough to be an integral part of the Thunder, who are once again, championship contenders.

People tend to think of contract negotiations, exclusively, as an offseason event. But the chess pieces that are the “Kevin Martin negotiations” have been shuffling around the chess board all season long. There are always two sides to any negotiation, but there are so many variables that influence the final decision. Those variables are the chess pieces the Thunder and Martin have been playing around with for the entire season. In this article, I’ll look at some of those variables and see how they will influence the upcoming negotiations between these two parties.

Kevin Martin’s chess pieces

Background – Martin comes from Zanesville, OH, which has a population of about 25,000 people. He has maintained very close ties to that community and is constantly involved in community events (basketball camps, 3-on-3 tournaments, etc.) during the offseason. With that said, it doesn’t seem that big city lights have the same effect on Martin as it does with many other players in the NBA. He started his career in one of the smaller markets in the NBA (Sacramento), and then played in one of the bigger markets in Houston. A community like Oklahoma City probably reminds Martin a lot more of Zanesville than a city like Houston would.

zaneville

Personality – If Russell Westbrook’s personality can be described as hyperactive and intense, then Martin’s can be described as cool, calm, and collective. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player who touches the ball so much, have so little emotion. It’s not hard to imagine Martin committing a turnover and reacting by saying, “Darn,” in little more than a whisper while jogging to the other end of the floor. And I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing either. On a team full of emotionally charged players (Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka), it’s good to have players on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum to balance things out.

Also, Martin’s personality traits are more conducive to accepting a bench role, instead of wanting to be the man. Martin tried that for 9 seasons in Sacramento and Houston with mixed results. He had good stats (21.5 ppg from 2006-2012), but his teams were never good enough to make the playoffs. In an interview with Hoopsworld in late December, Martin stated, “…I’m so happy right now and being with these guys has given me an extra pep in my step. It’s just fun being here. It’s a great organization and great guys. I’m happy right now.” The burden of carrying a team can be pretty daunting, and statements like this lends to me think that Martin is happier being a contributing player on a successful team, than being the man on a mediocre team.

Community-oriented – Martin is known as one of the most affable and approachable players in the league. He is heavily involved in the community in his hometown and even won the 2008 Oscar Robertson Triple Double Award, which is a community involvement award given out annually by the Sacramento Kings. If there’s one thing the Thunder organization places utmost importance on, it’s community involvement. Most players do community activities because the League relegates that they have to. But, Martin is one of those players that truly enjoys being involved in the community.

martin community

On record – When Oklahoma City first got a team, one of the things that detractors hung their hats on was that players weren’t going to want to play or stay in OKC. That the players would skip town at the first opportunity, or never even consider OKC in free agency. In an interview with Marc Stein of Yahoo! Sports in late January, Martin put it on record, saying, “This summer, hopefully everything works out here. I haven’t said that too often. But I will put it out there; hopefully I have found a home in the NBA. I love playing with this group of guys. The organization is great to me. The community has been great to me. It’s the happiest I have been during my NBA career.” While many Thunder fans may take that statement with a grain of salt, after James Harden basically said the same thing in the offseason, there’s an air of wisdom and experience in Martin’s statement that makes it sound more believable.

Production – The trade in late October sent one of the best bench units in the league into complete disarray. Gone from the team were Harden, who was the reigning 6th Man of the Year, Cole Aldrich, who was thought to be the team’s back-up center, and Daequan Cook, who was their situational 3-point shooter/floor spacer. In addition to that, the back-up point guard position was shaky at best, with Eric Maynor coming off of an ACL injury and Reggie Jackson still learning how to play point guard in the NBA. In essence, the Thunder got rid of 4 bench players for one bench player (Martin) and one project player (Jeremy Lamb).

kevin-martin-thunder

It’s taken a little bit more than half of the season, but the bench seems to have solidified itself into a stable outfit. Martin is one of the league leaders in bench scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game. He’s assumed the role of 3-point specialist (43%) and floor spacer when he’s on the floor with Durant and Westbrook, especially late in games. And he’s begun to develop a chemistry with Nick Collison that is akin to the chemistry Collison and Harden had together.

Thunder’s chess pieces

Leverage – The player Martin was shipped with to Oklahoma City in the James Harden deal may ultimately be the reason Martin becomes expendable. Since the moment he donned a Tulsa 66ers jersey, rookie Jeremy Lamb has been lighting up the D-League to the tune of 21.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game in 16 games. While success in the D-League doesn’t always equate to success in the NBA, Lamb has flashed the tools to be a consistent scorer/shooter at the NBA level.

Jeremy Lamb, DeSagana Diop

Comparable players – These are four players (and their salaries) that are comparable to the role that Martin plays on the Thunder.

  • Jamal Crawford – Los Angeles Clippers (4 years / $21.35 miillion)
  • JJ Redick – Milwaukee Bucks (1 year / $6 million)
  • Jason Terry – Boston Celtics (3 years / $15.675 million)
  • Ray Allen – Miami Heat (2 years / $6.32 million)

All of these players are perimeter oriented bench scorers who are average to below average defenders playing for playoff teams.

Home vs. road splits – It’s no secret that players usually play better at home than on the road. There’s the familiarity factor of the arena, the fact that you get to sleep in your own bed, and the boost from the home crowd. As a bench player, Martin is needed to supplement the offense when the starters (namely, Durant and Westbrook) are out of the game. This is very important on the road, especially in the playoffs. Here’s a look at Martin’s home/road splits through the first 61 games of the season:

  • Home – 16.1 ppg on 47.9% FG, 50% 3ptFG, and 92.2% FT
  • Road – 12.7 ppg on 41.3% FG, 35.6% 3ptFG, and 86.7%FT

That’s a 21% drop off in scoring (and noticeable drops in every shooting percentage) outside of the friendly confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena. This may become a factor in the playoffs as the Thunder move forward.

CBA and luxury tax – This may be the biggest hindrance in keeping the Thunder from resigning Martin. Starting next season, the Thunder will have $54.19 million allocated to 4 players (Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins). That leaves about $16 million in pre-luxury tax cap space for 11 roster spots. While the Thunder may have to eventually get into the luxury tax to stay competitive, they will try to stave it off for as long as possible.

Prediction

A lot still remains to be seen concerning Martin and the Thunder. While Martin has performed well in the regular season for his career, he’s never been overtly tested in the playoffs. The last time Martin was on a team that made the playoffs, his teammates included Ron Artest, Bonzi Wells, Shareef Abdul Rahim, Mike Bibby, and Corliss Williamson. While he performed well in that one playoff series, it still remains to be seen how Martin will perform as the team advances in the playoffs.

artest martin

Martin seems to be getting more acclimated with his role off the bench. He’s developed a 2-man game with Nick Collison that defenses have to respect. And his ability to space the floor has opened up driving lanes for back-up pg Reggie Jackson. Martin also seems to be getting more used to his role as a shooter/floor spacer late in games with Durant and Westbrook on the floor.

When the Thunder acquired Martin before the season, I think they had every intention on keeping him and seeing how things played out throughout the season. Even though his $12.5 million expiring contract may have been a valuable commodity at the trading deadline, Martin’s name was never mentioned in any trade rumors leading up to the deadline. One of the reasons why the transition from Harden to Martin has been mostly seamless is because Martin provides a lot of the same production that Harden did. He’s an efficient shooter and a good scorer, who’s always looking to attack the defense. That’s a rare commodity to have when a team can rest its starters and still keep the defense on their heels with its second unit. While the trade brought big changes to the roster, the Thunder never had to change any of their game planning because of the similarities in the styles of play of Harden and Martin.

team

Martin, for his part, seems to be genuinely happy in Oklahoma City. I think there are several reasons for his happiness that may work in the Thunder’s favor in resigning Martin. First off, the pressure of being “the man” on the team is no longer on Martin. While Martin is a good scorer, I don’t think he ever embraced being the No.1 guy on a team. Some players are meant to be alpha males, while others are meant to be great role players. Martin seems to fall in the second category. Secondly, he’s playing on a championship contending team. I don’t know how Martin feels about his legacy, but playing for championships tends to enhance your legacy as a player. Thirdly, Martin may actually increase his longevity in the role that he is currently playing. Martin has always been known to be injury prone, playing in over 60 games only 5 times in his 10 year career (to include this season). Coming off the bench on a championship contender, Martin is playing the least amount of minutes since his 2nd season. And he’s going to the FT line a lot less, meaning that he is not driving or putting his body in harm’s way.

The most important factor in all of this is money. How much is Martin willing to sacrifice, and how much are the Thunder willing to offer? Every championship team has an elite bench scorer or a combination of capable bench scorers. I’m sure that even Martin knows he’s not worth the $12.5 million he’s currently getting paid. If the Thunder offer Martin anything comparable to what Jamal Crawford or Jason Terry are making, will he take that offer? Or will he jump at an offer from another team desperate for a shooting guard (Utah, Minnesota, Dallas) that will likely be substantially more than what the Thunder can offer? Another option for the Thunder is Jeremy Lamb. Is Oklahoma City willing to go into next season with Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson as the main components of their bench unit?

fingerroll martin

I think the Thunder see Martin as their firepower off the bench for the next few seasons. If they were willing to go into the luxury tax for Harden, you can be sure that they’ll keep Martin at a much lower price. My prediction is that Martin will sign a contract comparable to what Jason Terry got (possibly 3 years/ $16.5 million) in the offseason. Martin seems like a mature person that realistically knows his strengths and his weaknesses. He knows that this as a great opportunity to play on a team, and in situations, that matter. In the end, I think he’ll choose legacy and longevity over money.

Be Careful What You Wish For…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In late February of last season, when the Oklahoma City Thunder first acquired Kendrick Perkins, one of the biggest changes occurred on the offensive end of the floor. The lanes that were once open with the spacing provided by the perimeter games of Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green were no longer there. In its place, those lanes were replaced by “box and 1” defenses with defenders hedging off of Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha. 

Mainly used for his defense, Sefolosha’s inability to consistently hit jumpers limited the first team’s offensive production. The opposing shooting guard, usually one of the better ball hawks on the floor, was able to play off of Sefolosha and help defend throughout the floor, whether it was doubling down on Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, or plugging up an open lane in the interior. In addition, the team replaced one of the better shooting centers in the league with one of the more offensively-challenged centers in the league. Perkins does all of his work in the interior. While he may step out and try a 15 footer from time to time, his best play is no more than 5 feet from the basket. Krstic’s biggest offensive impact wasn’t necessarily his shooting; instead, it was in keeping the opposing center away from the basket. Also, Serge Ibaka’s midrange game had yet to develop any type of consistency. In essence, the team seemed like it was playing 2 on 5 on the offensive end with this line-up most of the time. 

This had the biggest effect on the play of point guard Russell Westbrook, whose game is predicated on using those lanes to drive to the basket. Westbrook’s stat line for the regular season remained consistent at 22 ppg on 44% FG shooting to along with 8.2 assists. But when the game slowed down as it usually does in the playoffs, his scoring increased to 23.8 ppg, but it was on 39% FG shooting to go along with 6.2 assists and 4.6 turnovers per game. Westbrook became less efficient in the playoffs and the offense, as a whole, became less efficient because of this. It was during these playoffs that the glaring need for a spacer became very evident. 

Once the season ended, the consensus was that the next step in the evolution of this team was to replace Sefolosha with 6th man James Harden in the starting 5. Harden was a much better shooter and creator than Sefolosha, which would’ve added another dimension to the starting 5. No longer would the wing defender be able to help by hedging off of Sefolosha, as Harden’s ability to consistently hit 3’s would negate this. This would’ve opened at least one extra lane for Durant and Westbrook to drive through. Add this to Ibaka’s improving midrange game, and this should have brought the offense back to where it was pre-trade, with good spacing and perimeter options. Seemed simple enough.

 But the devil’s advocate to this move has always been to ask where the bench scoring was going to come from once Harden was lifted off the bench. Every great team has at least one player from the bench that is able to take over when the bench unit is in there. The Mavs had Jason Terry and JJ Barea. The Lakers had Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. The Spurs had Manu Ginobili. The Bulls had BJ Armstrong (first 3-peat) and Toni Kukoc (second 3-peat). And who could forget the Bad Boy Pistons and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. Due to the Thunder’s great durability and good luck, we’ve never had to see what the second unit would look like without James Harden for an extended period of time. 

The Thunder’s bench unit has been a well-oiled machine for the past 2 seasons. With point guard Eric Maynor running the show, Harden doing the scoring, Daequan Cook providing spacing, and forward Nick Collison providing the muscle, the Thunder bench has been one of the most efficient in the league during that time. This season, the bench averaged 39 points per game in the first 5 games, with Harden doing the most damage at 16 ppg. Where the starting line-up falters, the bench usually picks up. 

Then the last two games happened. With Sefolosha dealing with a sore foot and flu-like symptoms and Cook also dealing with flu-like symptoms, the Thunder’s usual 10 man rotation was shortened to 8, with rookie Reggie Jackson and second year player Lazar Hayward filling in the missing pieces. With Harden in the starting line-up for the second half of the Dallas Mavericks game and starting outright in the Portland Trailblazers game, Thunder fans got a glimpse of what life would be like with Harden in the starting lineup. 

In the second half of the Mavericks game, the trio of Durant, Harden, and Westbrook scored a combined 31 points with 3 assists while trying to come back from a second half deficit. The rest of the team scored 9 points in the second half with only 5 coming from one bench player (Maynor). In thePortlandgame, the trio combined for 64 points and 16 assists, but struggled from the field, shooting only 40% from the floor combined. The bench, on the hand, had only 14 points on 6/17 shooting. 

While the trio figure themselves out, the bench is left to fend for itself without a valid scorer on tap. This is where an acquisition like Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter, or Tracy McGrady could’ve come in handy. While I like what I see from the future starting line-up, I also think the team is incomplete without a scorer off the bench. Which leads me to the weirdest thing I’ve said this young year: Damn, I miss Thabo Sefolosha.