Tag Archives: NBA Draft

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

westbrook tucker durant bledsoe thunder suns

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

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

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

The Opponent

frye dragic morris green suns

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

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

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

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns

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

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

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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.

WHO DOES THIS GUY THINK HE IS?

I am of the opinion that everyone should stick to what they know. Everybody has an expertise in something, not an expertise in everything. There are very few Renaissance men left. So when someone tries to venture into other arenas, this can rub people the wrong way. They will react one of two ways. They will either enjoy when you fail with the backdrop that they already knew you were going to fail. Or they will be completely surprised by the gall of someone trying to succeed at more than one thing……and actually doing it.   

Which, of course, leads us to Kevin Durant. We thought last season was the summer of Durant. He started it by almost leading the upstart Thunder to a 7th game against the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in an extremely competitive 1st round series. Then he became the poster boy for the Anti-Lebron campaign, after quietly signing his extension with no pomp and circumstances other than a heartfelt tweet. He even signed an extension with no strings attached (fully guaranteed with no player options for the entire length of the contract). Then he made guest appearances at the NBA draft and at the Orlando Summer League to represent the Thunder and show how much of a great teammate he is (and, of course, to reiterate that he is the Anti-Lebron). Then, to top it off, he led Team USA to its first World Championship gold in 16 years with the “B-team”. He did so much that you could have had this guy working the drive thru line of his offseason.   

 Lead an overachieving team…

 And then????

 Represent the team at the draft…

 And then????

 Quietly sign a max extension….

 You get the picture.

 Now, most mortals would be satisfied with that type of offseason. But, oh no! Not Durantula. Apparently last offseason was just the appetizer. Something to whet our collective palates. With an offseason with little to no activity because of the lockout, what is an NBA player to do to stay on the conscious of the masses??? You could…

A)    Win your first championship (hello, Dirk).

B)     Lose your second championship in Houdini-like fashion (hello, Lebron)

C)    Make threatening statements that you are taking your talents outside of theUS(hello, ½ of the league).

D)    Become basketball’s version of a gypsy and preach the hoops gospel at every stop.

 Well, @KDTrey5 decided to choose D. After leading the Thunder to the Western Conference finals and starting a fashion revolution (I have my backpack on right now as we speak), No. 35 decided he was going to rest up a little bit and see the world (on Nike’s dime, of course). So he visited China, did a couple basketball camps, saw the Great Wall, took some pictures (1, 2, 3), and gained about 1 billion fans. After that, with no summer league basketball on the horizon, he decided to become a one man streetball show. He literally became an overnight street legend. The street tour he did in NYC (66 in Rucker Park, shutting down a shit-talker the next day with 44 and a game winner, and averaging about 50 ppg for the weekend). Wrecking up the Goodman League in D.C. Then leading the Goodman League past the Drew League in what I’m hoping will be a yearly summer classic.

To add to the streetball legend status, he further solidified his street cred with this picture  

That would usually be a good summer for most, but then he decided to pick up, of all things, cycling. Cycling? Really? Who the hell still rides a bike? When was the last time you rode a bike? You know who rides bikes….middle-aged white men who are ultra-competitive and need to get in 35-40 miles per week. There you go….another market KD has cornered.

 And now I hear that KD is going to star in a movie. A movie? I mean, I know he has an affable personality, but I never once thought he was thespian material. But, guess what else he does if he goes through with the project in OKC? He brings in more economy to OKC. If they film this movie in OKC, they’ll need hotel space for the crew, work permits for the sets, and food for all the employees. In a time where business might dip a little if the lockout cuts into the NBA season, KD could possibly serve as a small economical conduit to bridge the time between lockout and NBA season for some OKC businesses.

 If anyone can pull it off and be successful, I’m betting my money on KD. While some people may ask, “Who does this guy think he is?”, I, in turn, ask of you, “What have you done this summer?” And this is nothing compared to what KD is planning for next offseason. Curing cancer and world hunger in the same week, anyone?