Tag Archives: Jason Terry

Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 72 of 82)

westbrook perkins sefolosha cousins kings thunder

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

It’s games like these next two that make people complain about the length of the NBA schedule. A team that has already clinched a playoff spot versus two teams that are already playing for next season. Don’t get me wrong, though. This has nothing to do with the effort of the players. They are still giving their all (or giving enough to fake it). These types of games don’t offer much in the emotional investment department, unless you take into account caring about playoff seeding.

This is the third meeting of the year between the Thunder and the Sacramento Kings. The Thunder lead the season series 2-0. The first game was a back and forth affair that the Thunder won 97-95 in Sacramento. In the 2nd meeting, the Thunder took control of the game in the middle two quarters and cruised to a 108-93 victory.

The Opponent

Orlando Magic v Sacramento Kings

The Kings currently sit at 25-46. They are in the middle of a weird rebuild. They have some pieces to build off of (DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore), but most everyone else on the team is in flux. To combat the youth of some of the key players on the team, the front office made some moves to obtain some veteran presence in Rudy Gay, Jason Terry, and Reggie Evans. The Kings are middle of the pack offensively (101.3 ppg, 13th in the NBA), but terrible defensively (103.6 ppg, 26th in the NBA). The team is a collective of isolation players as evidenced by their team assist totals (19 per game, last in the NBA). Isaiah Thomas does a good job as an attacking point guard, but acts more like an extremely undersized shooting guard at times. DeMarcus Cousins is finally starting to show some of the potential that tantalized many teams when he came out of Kentucky 4 seasons ago. He has transformed himself into a 20/10 guy. Rudy Gay is Rudy Gay: inefficient volume scorer who offers little else. The bench is a lot like the team itself: a weird mix of veterans and young players that doesn’t quite fit.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Sacramento Kings

  • PG – Isaiah Thomas
  • SG – Ben McLemore
  • SF – Rudy Gay
  • PF – Reggie Evans
  • C – DeMarcus Cousins

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Tempering the Hot Hand – While its true that the Kings are inconsistent, their scorers are streaky and can heat up pretty quickly. Rudy Gay, Isaiah Thomas, and DeMarcus Cousins all have the ability to light a defense up for 20 or more points. And we all know the Thunder are the team to play if you want to score a new career high.

2. Rebounding – With Reggie Evans and DeMarcus Cousins up front, one of the things this team does well is rebound. Giving a bad team more opportunities to score is never a recipe for success. Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison have to make it a point to box out and keep the Kings off the glass.

westbrook thomas kings thunder

3. Russ post-ups – Whether its Thomas or Ray McCallum, this should be a game where the Russell Westbrook post-up comes into play. Westbrook is too tall (Thomas) and/or too strong (McCallum) for either of these players to handle.

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Brooklyn Nets preview (Game 48 of 82)

Brooklyn Nets vs Oklahoma City Thunder

  • When: Friday, 31 January 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY

After finally beating the Miami Heat for the first time in 7 games (to include the playoffs), the Oklahoma City Thunder are on the 2nd leg of their 3-city revenge tour. Okay, it isn’t that serious, but it sure makes the 3 game road trip sound even awesomer. What is completely awesome, though, is the play of one, Kevin Wayne Durant. Twelve straight games of 30 points or more, which is the third longest streak in the last 30 years. I have a feeling that OKC fans will begin to hate Brooklyn after this season. With all the talk about them targeting Durant (like 28 other teams won’t try either), the countdown has already started for Durant’s “Decision”.

This is the 2nd meeting of the year between these two teams. The Nets won the first game on a Joe Johnson jumper at the buzzer to cap a furious comeback. The Thunder led by 11 after three quarters, but let the veteran Nets hang around long enough to get off one last shot. In that game, Durant led the Thunder with (ONLY!) 24 points, while Deron Williams and Paul Pierce combined for 47 points for the Nets.

The Opponent

Alan Anderson, Deron Williams, Reggie Evans

The Thunder game seemed to galvanize the Nets’ season. They have gone 9-2 since that game, after starting the season 10-21. At risk of being labeled one of the biggest busts in sports history due to their high pay-roll and star player acquisitions, the Nets have seemingly saved their season and find themselves in position to make the playoffs in the East (which honestly, isn’t saying much). In their defense, the Nets have suffered some injuries; most notably, the season ending broken foot to Brook Lopez and the lingering ankle issues affecting Deron Williams. In the absence of Williams, the Nets have been helped by the transplanted Celtics trio of Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry. While at times it seems like the trio has aged 5 years in one offseason, there are also times where their greatness shows. The resurgence of Shaun Livingston has also helped to ease the absence of Williams. The bench is veteran laden with dependable role players like Terry, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, and Andrei Kirilenko. Also of note, Williams will be coming off the bench in this game.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Brooklyn Nets

  • PG – Shaun Livingston
  • SG – Joe Johnson
  • SF – Alan Anderson
  • PF – Paul Pierce
  • C – Kevin Garnett

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Match-Up Problems – With Pierce being the de-facto power forward, how does that affect how the Thunder defends the starting line-up for the Nets. Ibaka would be better served to guard someone like Evans or Blatche, but those guys are coming off the bench. It’ll be interesting to see how Ibaka defends Pierce.

2. Transition – Other than Mason Plumlee, nothing about the Nets screams young. They are an older veteran bunch. If the Thunder are able to force turnovers or long misses, they should be able to jump start a lot of their offense via transition.

durant thunder dunk

3. The Streak – It has officially become “a thing”. From here on out, every team will try to stop Durant’s scoring streak. Luckily, Durant is not the type of player to focus solely on the streak. He’ll make the right basketball play (which is usually him scoring) and won’t go all lone wolf on the team. 

Kevin Martin’s Future with the Thunder

martin_thunder

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.

Raising Russell Westbrook

I’ve never been the parent of a maturing teenager. My oldest is less than 10 years of age, so I have a few more years before I have to deal with hormones and rebellion. But as a newcomer to the 30 year old club, I still feel like I’m young enough to remember my teenage years, and remember the triumphs and pitfalls that my parents felt as I was coming up. I would figure that as a parent of a burgeoning adult, you would learn to take the good with the bad, and you would hope that for every bad decision, there would be a solution and a lesson learned. At the end of the journey, the ultimate goal would be to see a mature adult that is able to handle real life situations and is able to enjoy life to the fullest.

While extremely different, parenthood and fandom can also be very similar. Its takes time, money, and patience for the nourishment and development of both children and sports teams. While children usually mature in a linear chronological order, sports teams are constantly shifted and changed in an attempt to continually improve. Where the childhood of a kid may take between 18-21 years, the life of the core of a team usually never lasts more than 5 seasons. Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, whose core has been together for a decade plus, is the exception, not the rule.

Being a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the things that have required the most patience has been the development of Russell Westbrook.  Westbrook is the rare case of a player that came into the league initially with no expectations, blossomed into a bonified superstar with high expectations, and has taken the brunt of criticism because he has fallen just shy of those high expectations.

Westbrook’s skill set has never been a problem. If anything, his development over the last four seasons has taken most of the league by surprise. When he came out of UCLA, he was viewed as a defensive specialist, probably comparable to fellow UCLA alum Arron Afflalo. His ceiling was definitely nowhere close to being a top 5 scorer in the league. But a lot like Michael Jordan in 1984, when the shackles of the college game were taken off, the other-worldly athleticism took over. And in the right system, those gifts manifested themselves into what you see in Westbrook today.

But just like the trials and tribulations a parent faces when they are raising a teenager, Russell Westbrook’s ascension into a Top 10 player has not been without pitfalls. The path to get to where Westbrook is today has made a bit more difficult by the fact that he plays one of the most important and difficult positions in the game: point guard. As the team’s main distributor, any weakness on the offensive end is immensely exposed because of the position’s high usage rate. Throughout his career, Westbrook’s propensity for turnovers has always been a crux to an otherwise spectacular arsenal. It’s usually what supporters and detractors, alike, point to when looking for flaws in Westbrook’s game.

As the team’s main distributor, a point guard’s main purpose is to manage the game and direct the team’s offense. The thinking is that this is made a lot easier if there are plenty of weapons out there on the floor. But what happens if you have the No. 1 offensive weapon in the game on the floor with you? Most point guards would relish that and pad their stats. As great a player as Magic Johnson was, he was made even better by playing with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Michael Cooper, James Worthy, and Byron Scott. Same applies to John Stockton and Karl Malone. But what if you, yourself, are a Top 5 offensive weapon in the game also? The art of knowing when to pass and when to score is something that most point guards don’t have to think about. Westbrook had to learn the trickiest part of the trade, while learning how to play the position.

The thing that makes raising teenagers most difficult isn’t the mistakes or the bad decisions. Those are expected. You don’t learn to drive without hitting a couple curbs. It’s the rebellion and attitude associated with the mistakes. The, “I can do this by myself, leave me the hell alone” attitude. It’s a right of passage that most people go through; their need to experience life on their own, rules be damned. But when your attitude is on display for millions to see and for thousands to tweet about, it can make the progress of your development that much more difficult. When the national media senses any angle to make a story, they flock to it like sharks to blood.  

And that’s what happened in last season’s playoffs. You had the league’s leading scorer who is by all accounts, a media/NBA darling, and the non-conformist point guard who could care less about the media, on the same team. Success breeds attention, good and bad. Instead of focusing on one of the youngest teams in the league being in the conference finals, the media decided to focus on the fact that the point guard was taking shots late in close games, instead of passing it to the best scorer in the league. The players involved didn’t care. The coaches involved didn’t care. But the media ate it up and perception became most people’s reality.

One of the triumphs of parenting is watching that child grow up to become a fully functional, independent adult. One of the triumphs of being a fan, is watching that young player finally take those steps to become that great veteran that teams need to win championships. Someone that, when the road gets tough, they create diamonds instead of wilting under the pressure. During the 4-game sweep of the Dallas Mavericks in the 2012 playoffs, Russell Westbrook finally became what we, as fans, were waiting for. He scored when he needed to (which was a lot in the first 2 games), managed the game, and protected the ball. He played lock down defense on Jason Terry and was a ball hawking free safety when ever it was needed.

But the biggest sign of his maturity (and that of the team, for that matter) was what happened in game 4 of the series. With the Thunder down by 13 entering the 4th quarter, the Thunder needed a spark on both ends of the floor. What had been a shooting clinic by the Mavericks guards in the 3rd quarter (5-7 FG overall (4-5 3ptFG)), turned into a dry well in the 4th quarter when Westbrook took his turn locking down the perimeter. Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Delonte West combined to go 1-6 FG in the 4th quarter. Also, Coach Scott Brooks, with the confidence that this would not affect Westbrook at all, decided to stick with the hot hand, and let James Harden run the point with Westbrook playing off the ball. What resulted was Harden getting 15 points and 3 assists in the 4th quarter, and propelling the Thunder to the victory.  

Sometimes, the most difficult kids to raise are the non-conformist. The ones that don’t allow peer pressure to dictate their paths in life. The ones that march to their own drum. The ones that stay introverted. It’s difficult to know what someone thinks or what makes them tick, if they never let it be known. That’s Russell. The media is still baffled by this guy and that makes them uncomfortable. But, what we are seeing on the court is a sight to behold. We are seeing the non-conformist point guard turning into the best point guard in the game, right before our eyes. And that, as a fan and supporter of the Thunder, makes me extremely proud.