Tag Archives: Royal Ivey

Thunder sign Sebastian Telfair

sebastian telfair thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder signed PG Sebastian Telfair to a non-guaranteed veteran minimum contract. Telfair played last season for the Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he averaged 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.0 steals on 36.9% shooting from 3-point range in 35 games. Prior to that, Telfair played for seven teams in nine seasons in the NBA, averaging 7.4 points and 3.5 assists.

Telfair will earn $1.3 million if he stays on the roster the entire season, but will count only $915,000 towards the cap. Telfair will slide into the veteran, 3rd point guard role previously held by Kevin Ollie and Royal Ivey.

While not as sexy a name as Pau Gasol or Mike Miller, this is a good team-building move. Telfair is a veteran that has seen the ups and downs the NBA has to offer and will, hopefully, be a good locker room presence. He’s a good creator and floor general and will be a great asset to have on the bench.

The Thunder and the Trading Deadline (2014 Edition)

thabo sefolosha thunder

Heading into the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder were in the unfamiliar position of being a title contender, while also having a war chest worth of assets that would make any team in rebuild mode jealous. Most championship contending teams have an experienced core that was obtained by trading away assets. But the James Harden trade from the beginning of last season gave the Thunder some cap flexibility and assets to play with heading into this season. They have a veteran on an extremely cap friendly expiring contract (Thabo Sefolosha), young players with potential on rookie scale contracts (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Perry Jones), an extra draft pick (Dallas’ protected 1st rounder), and two sizable Traded Player Exceptions.

They have everything necessary to make a monster trade. But two important questions come to mind when a team nears the trade deadline. The first question is “What does the team need?”. Every team has weaknesses that can be addressed via a trade. The important thing when it comes to addressing weaknesses is what does the team have to offer and what is the team willing to give up. Those two things may seem to be the same, but are entirely different. For example, the Heat can address any of their weaknesses by trading Chris Bosh. But in reality, the Heat will, instead, choose to make a smaller deal or stand pat.  Which leads to the second question, “Does the team need to make a trade?”.

When a team has the best record heading into the All Star break, while also missing their 2nd best player for much of the first half of the season, the above question becomes a valid one. Much of the Thunder’s success can be attributed to the chemistry the team has cultivated over the years. Making a trade now, especially one where a rotational player is traded, could have it’s consequences.

Two things have to be weighed when contemplating a trade: how the trade affects you currently and how the trade can affect you in the future. The reality with the Thunder is that they will be toeing the tax line for the foreseeable future. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka on max (or near max) deals, finding bargains will be the rule of the land. Anything that includes extra salary and extra years will probably be nixed.

durant ibaka westbrook thunder

Another thing to factor is the fact that the Thunder have assets that are not currently on the roster, but could come into play as early as next season. Tibor Pleiss, the Thunder’s 2nd round Eurostash from 2010, could possibly join the team next season. Another possible roster spot could go to Grant Jerrett next season. The stretch 4 out of Arizona was acquired by the Thunder in the 2nd round of last year’s draft. His rights are still owned by the Thunder as he develops in Tulsa under the guise of the Thunder D-League team.

Also, the team will have to decide if obtaining a player will have any impact on future roster moves, such as extending Jackson and/or Sefolosha. Only the front office knows what they plan to do with those two players, but their futures will probably have a bearing on what the Thunder do this season at the trade deadline.

In the end, the first question asked comes into play. What, exactly, do the Thunder need? They head into the All-Star break with the best record in the league. They are top 5 in offense (ppg), offensive rating, defensive rating, and rebounds. They are top 10 in points allowed and 2nd in margin of victory. And they have done this with their All-Star point guard  missing more games than he’s played. So, what exactly, does this team need? It’s like asking the guy who has everything what he wants for Christmas.

jones jackson lamb ibaka durant westbrook thunder

I can only see two areas of need for this team: 3-point shooting and point guard depth. If there is a player that could supply both while not minding being the 11th or 12th man on this team, then I’m all for it. Only problem is there aren’t many players like that. Point guards with the ability to shoot usually find their ways into line-ups.

So where does that leave us? I think the Thunder will stand pat as far as their current roster is concerned. Realistically, their most available assets are two empty roster spots, a $2.3 million trade exception, Hasheem Thabeet ($1.2 million this season), two future 2nd rounders from the Ryan Gomes trade, and possibly their own first rounder for this upcoming draft (slotted to be in the 28-30 range). I think the Thunder will attempt to get a shooter with their trade exception, possibly CJ Miles of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Anthony Morrow of the New Orleans Pelicans. Then I think they’ll sign Royal Ivey for the rest of the season once his season is done in China.

sam presti thunder

The Thunder don’t have to do much tinkering. Their biggest acquisition may be the return of Russell Westbrook from injury. They have enough roster flexibility to adapt to any style thrown at them. And they have enough experience to get through any rough patch. As long as health does not become a factor, they should finish the regular season out in the same fashion they went into the All Star break. But somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind, I imagine Sam Presti reading this article, letting out a diabolical laugh, and calling up Adam Silver to put his stamp of approval on a 12 team, 38 player trade involving 25 draft picks, 13 Euro-stashes, and $21 million dollars worth of cash considerations right at the trade deadline.

Thunder sign Royal Ivey to a 10-day contract

durant ivey thunder

Royal Ivey signed a 10-day contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder to bolster their point guard depth following the loss of Russell Westbrook to arthroscopic knee surgery. This is Ivey’s second stint with the team. He played with the Thunder for 2 seasons (2010-2012), appearing in 59 games and averaging 1.9 points in 8.3 minutes per game. The 10 year vet has not played this season, after being waived by the Atlanta Hawks on October 25, 2013.

Ivey should be a great addition to the locker room and will provide added depth to the bench. He will be active for tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets.

Welcome back Cheez.

Kobe Bryant’s Impact on the Thunder

kobe durant

There’s something to be said about big brothers. I never had one growing up, and, honestly, most of the people I associated with while growing up were the oldest children in their families. But in the examples that I did see while growing up, big brothers can help shape and mold younger brothers into something better than what they themselves are. As we’ve seen with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, big brothers don’t even have to be related to their younger brethren to have an impact.

Big brothers serve two purposes in life: to frustrate and to motivate. The frustration part comes from the big brother’s ability to dominate over the little brother due to being older, bigger, and wiser. The motivation part comes from the little brother wanting to be better than the big brother. The thing about this big brother/little brother dynamic is that the little brother is able to take notes on how to best his big brother, while the big brother just has to wing being a big brother.

bryant perk

In a lot of ways, with all due respect to Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Royal Ivey, Kevin Ollie, and Desmond Mason, the best example of a big brother to the Oklahoma City Thunder has been Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. With his recent season-ending (and hopefully, not career ending) Achilles tendon tear, I was forced to evaluate Bryant’s legacy when it comes to the Thunder.

If there is one word to describe my feelings towards Bryant’s basketball ability, it’s respect. Off the court, though, Bryant is one of those people that I would try to avoid like the plague. His arrogance and A-type personality, combined with a penchant to place blame on others when things don’t go his way, would be a package that I would completely avoid, if possible, in real life. But on the court, those personality traits, and the fact that he plays for the most polarizing franchise in NBA history, make for must see TV. Bryant is a five tool player that has a lethal 6th tool: the overwhelming need to completely decimate his opponent night in and night out, year after year. Michael Jordan had this 6th tool. Larry Bird had this 6th tool. Bill Russell had this 6th tool. Russell Westbrook HAS this 6th tool.

To view Bryant as an opponent is to respect someone out of fear. Fear for what he could do against your team. Fear that he’ll conjure up some bulletin board material for his mental bulletin board, and go off on your team for no particular reason. Fear that he could miss 10 shots in a row, but the 11th shot, with the game on the line, will go in without hesitation. That’s the kind of respect that Kobe Bryant garners. And yet, it’s a fear that keeps you staring in awe. He’s the type of player that fans say, “I hate what he does to my team, but I love to watch him play.”

kobe-bryant-lakers

Every successful up and coming team has that one hurdle they set their sights on. If you’re a team that is coming out of the dredges of the draft lottery, you mark successes in increments. First step is to be competitive on a nightly basis. Then the next step is to get into the playoffs. Then the next step is to be successful in the playoffs. You keep going until, hopefully, eventually, you win a championship. But along the way, especially in the early stages of the success journey, you always target that one team that’s been there and done that. For the Chicago Bulls in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was the Detroit Pistons. For the Orlando Magic in the mid 90’s, it was the New York Knicks. And for the Thunder, it was the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

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As fate would have it, that 2010 playoff series that pitted the No. 1 seeded Lakers vs. the No. 8 seeded Thunder was probably the best thing for the development of the Thunder. The fact that they were able to give the eventual champion Lakers a fight in the first round did wonders for the confidence of the young Thunder. But if you broke it down to its simplest form, the Thunder didn’t give the Lakers a test. They gave Kobe a test. They planted the seed in Kobe’s head that we would be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. When the crowd would chant, “Beat LA”, they were actually chanting “Beat Kobe”. Nobody feared Pau Gasol. Or Andrew Bynum. Or Derek Fisher (hehe!). We knew that Kobe had received the message. And that was both awesome and fearful (respectful) at the same time.

As the Thunder’s two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, progressed in the NBA world, they would eventually come in contact more often with Kobe Bryant. On Western Conference All-Star teams and, most importantly, the Olympics, Thunder fans can only hope that our superstars soaked up any of the psychological warfare that Bryant uses on a daily bases. Those blurbs that you hear from media members about Bryant talking trash to Durant, Westbrook, and at the time, James Harden during the Olympics, when they heard that the Lakers had acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, is just classic mental warfare from Bryant. It’s the equivalent of how the military drops leaflets into countries they are warring with stating how their government is endangering them, the common citizen.

Kobe+Bryant

So with that, I say, thank you to Kobe Bean Bryant. He has as much a stake in the Thunder’s ascension and success as does any of the veterans that played for the team. He was the target that we went after when we wanted to be successful. Much like an older brother, he frustrated us. But he also motivated us. And we learned much from facing him and defeating him. Here’s hoping that Bryant does come back, while, realistically realizing, that the Bryant we knew, may have gone down in a heap in the Staples Center on Friday night. Whatever the future holds for Kobe, just realize that the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder was shaped, in part, by the man in the Lakers uniform that we feared and respected the most.

What offseason? Basketball Never Stops!

As a fan of the game, I’ll watch any basketball game you have on the television, especially playoff games. But there’s a slight disconnect when your team is not involved. It’s not as emotionally taxing. With that said, I’ve never enjoyed basketball as a connected fan all the way into mid-June. Though I’m disappointed that we lost in the Finals, its fun to look at the calendar and know that in 3 months, training camps should begin to open up. I’ve forgotten what it feels like for the season to be over in mid-April. But this all leads us to the offseason. Time to rest and recover from the grind of the season. Oh, I forgot we have the draft coming up. And then we have Summer League. And all the offseason moves and transactions. All the while, we have the national team gearing up to defend its gold medal in this summer’s Olympics. What the hell does the off in offseason mean?

There’s a saying that the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. The things that happen after the All Star break, such as trades and the signing of recently released players, can have a big impact on the rest of the season and the postseason. The Thunder have been the beneficiary of both of these player transaction moves in the past two season. Two seasons ago, at the trading deadline, the Thunder traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for starting center Kendrick Perkins and ultimate cheerleader Nate Robinson. Then, last season, they signed point guard Derek Fisher off waivers after he was released from the Houston Rockets. Due to the team’s stability, the Thunder usually remain pretty quiet during the offseason, though.

2012 NBA Draft

This offseason, though, the moves have been quiet, but plentiful. Heading into the draft, the Thunder’s only draft pick was the 28th pick in the first round. When you are picking this late in the draft, this usually means your team already has the necessary players to succeed. For a team as set as the Thunder, there wasn’t an immediate need that any player chosen this late was going to provide. One of the biggest needs the Thunder had was a big that was agile enough to defend other athletic bigs while being able to score from the outside and inside. Players with this skill set don’t usually last this long in the draft. The thinking was that the team would draft either an athletic wing or an overseas player that would be stashed in Europe for a couple of seasons.

Sometimes, though, the stars and planets align, and a player you were needing all along falls into your lap. There was always concern about Perry Jones III’s work ethic. The word ‘motor’ usually came up when his draft status was discussed. But, no one could deny the potential he had. The description of a 6’11” athletic forward that could score from outside and inside is the type of player that usually has teams salivating for his services. But a day before the draft, they were reports that many teams were concerned with the condition of his knees. After the recent knee concerns of Greg Oden and Blake Griffin proved to be true, not many teams were willing to spend a lottery pick on a player whose work ethic AND knees were called into question. Surprisingly though, 11 other teams outside of the lottery chose to pass on Jones III also. So when the Thunder’s name came up, Thunder general manager Sam Presti never hesitated, and went with the best player available, which coincidentally also filled a need. The best thing about it, though, is that it comes at an extremely cheap price.

Orlando Summer League

After the draft, the focus turned to the Orlando Summer League, where the Thunder were participating with 7 other NBA teams. As I wrote previously, the Summer League is full of good young players, Fringers, and Dreamers. Some of the players are already guaranteed a spot on an NBA roster and just want to mix in some team-oriented scrimmages and practices during the offseason. Most of the players though, are clawing and scratching for an opportunity to get onto an NBA roster. The Thunder’s roster consisted of 4 guys that, barring a trade, will be on the Thunder’s opening day roster (Perry Jones III, Reggie Jackson, Lazar Hayward, and Cole Aldrich). The rest of the players were probably not going to make it onto the Thunder’s roster, but could make an impression on another team depending on how they played.

The Thunder finished the Orlando Summer League 3-2. Reggie Jackson played like the most seasoned guy on the team controlling the tempo of the offense and attacking the basket at will. He even gave 2012 NBA Dunk champ Jeremy Evans a taste of his own medicine. Lazar Hayward showed why he’ll be at the end of an NBA bench for the next couple of years. He does a lot of things good, but nothing great. Cole Aldrich’s play was mediocre, at best. For a player that is looking to step up and be the back up center, his lack of improvement was a bit alarming. But, I would ask people to please step off the ledge when it comes to Aldrich’s development. Summer league games are made for wing players. They are glorified street games with refs and NBA assistant coaches on the sidelines. Aldrich will be asked to defend the paint, set picks, and put up a couple hook shots in the regular season. He will be fine. Perry Jones III suffered a sprained ankle in the 2nd half of the 2nd game, but not before impressing with his array of inside/outside skills. He will be in the Thunder’s regular rotation, if not in the 2nd half of this season, then definitely in the 2013-14 season. Other notables were forward Latavious Williams, who needs to be on an NBA roster somewhere, and Garrett Temple, whose play was almost veteran-like.

Off-season Moves

The Thunder has never been a big player in free-agency in their time in Oklahoma City. But in reality, they’ve never had to be a big player. Their main focus has always been on player development. When you have players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka, that’s what you put most of your focus on. That came to fruition in the last two seasons with consecutive trips to the Western Conference Finals and a trip to the NBA Finals this past season. The Thunder had 3 players that were coming up on free agency and all of them were veterans. Nazr Mohammed, Derek Fisher, and Royal Ivey could have all been signed to cheap veteran deals. But due to their years of employment in the league, even their minimum salaries would have been upwards of $1.5 million. The Thunder chose instead to let those vets walk, and focus on cheaper, younger alternatives. With Perry Jones III signing his rookie contract, that left 2 more spots on the roster.

The Thunder signed much maligned center Hasheem Thabeet to a 2-year veteran minimum contract. Now the difference between Thabeet’s veteran minimum deal and any of the other 3 Thunder players that were up for an extension, is that Thabeet has only been in the league for 3 seasons. For the final roster spot, the Thunder signed undrafted free agent Hollis Thompson from Georgetown to a 3 year contract. Thompson is a sharp-shooter in the Thunder mold (tall and long) that could be a cheap replacement for Daequan Cook in upcoming seasons.

The two signings sent Thunder nation into a tizzy, and not for good reasons. Most were questioning the “lackluster” moves by the team, while the team that beat us in the Finals picked up former All-Stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and one of our biggest threats in the West, the Lakers, picked up a former 2-time MVP (Steve Nash) in their biggest position of weakness (point guard) without giving up a single player. The thinking was that the curse of the small market team was starting to take hold of the Thunder. That the ideology that small market teams can’t attract free agents and can’t spend money like the big boys was starting to rear its ugly head.

I, for one, completely disagree with that thinking. While it would be nice to sign former All-Stars ad-nauseam every offseason, the reality is that that would be bad business in this new NBA. The goal is to try and keep cost down while maintaining a competitive team. If your team does spend into the luxury tax territory, it better be winning. The Thunder have the right components in place to continue winning. The moves they made this offseason were made to keep those components in place. When you start talking about the luxury tax, every dollar counts. And if the Thunder are truly looking to keep both James Harden and Serge Ibaka on the same team as Durant and Westbrook, they are going to have to continue making these cost effective moves. Both Harden and Ibaka will demand deals that get them at least $10+ million per season. And, rightfully so. We’ll be in the luxury tax no matter what, if we keep these 4 players. The payments get more feasible, though, if you are competing for and winning championships.

Another thing that these signings do is maintain the flexibility that Presti loves. These signings not only have low cost-high reward potential, but they are also short term deals. That way, the team isn’t saddled with long-term contracts if the player, in question, either gets injured or doesn’t produce. Also, if someone better comes along, you could cut your losses with the player and attempt to obtain the better option. Cap flexibility is a commodity in the NBA, and Presti is one of the best at maintaining it.

Team USA

As if this offseason hasn’t been crazy enough, you have Team USA preparing for the Olympics in London. Not only that, but the Thunder has 4 representatives in the Olympics (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden for Team USA, and Serge Ibaka for Spain). Durant and Westbrook were near locks to make the team, but Harden was actually a surprise addition after players like Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose bowed out because of injury. The team torched the Dominican Republic and eeked out a victory against a tough Brazil squad in the US leg of pre-tournament games. After this, it’s across the pond for a couple friendlies and then the real thing. Durant has a possibility of leading the team in scoring, while Westbrook will be the defensive pitbull/offensive sparkplug off the bench. Harden will probably play a role similar to what he does with the Thunder, but to a smaller degree.

As a fan of the game, I love this. Before NBA-TV, the offseason was usually a time to hear about a trade or two, and wait for football season to start. So, even though, this has been a whirlwind offseason, I still appreciate it. When this offseason gets too crazy, I always hark back to the 2011 offseason. Oh, you don’t remember the 2011 offseason? Oh, thats right, because there wasn’t an offseason that year.

Oklahoma City Thunder – Halftime Report

Any time I hear the word halftime, this is the first thing I think about.

We’ve reached the half-way point in this strike-shortened season. Half time, baby! Everyone to the locker room, or as it’s called in the NBA, All-Star Weekend. Coming into the season, I didn’t know what to expect. We were bringing back our entire 10 man rotation, plus a couple young guys that had potential. But with a very short training camp, no summer league, and only 2 preseason games against the same team, it was a little difficult to gauge how the team would come out the gates. Conventional wisdom would say that in a shortened season, a team that experienced hardly any change would benefit the most early in the season.

That thought has not proven to be incorrect when it comes to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are currently tied for the best record in the league at 25 – 7 and have a 2 game lead in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. If natural progression is the law of the land, then the Thunder are right where they are supposed to be. After finishing 4th in the conference last season and making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder are poised to take the next step in their natural progression.

Individual Grades (alphabetical order): I take into account what was expected of the player before the season started and how that player has fared in this first half of the season.

 Cole Aldrich (Stat line: 12 GP, 7.6 mpg, 1.8 rpg, 0.6 blks, 0.4 stls, 2.6 ppg)

After spending last season shuffling between the Thunder and the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League, Aldrich was expected to continue developing into a rotational big man. When Nazr Mohammed was re-signed before the beginning of the lockout, it was an indication that the organization wanted Cole to continue to develop. In the 12 games that he has gotten in, Cole has shown a knack for causing havoc on the defensive end with his long wingspan and penchant for blocking or altering shots. On the offensive end, he has shown flashes of a nice post-up game (hooks, drop step, put back dunks), but has yet to fully assert himself and ask for the ball on the block consistently. He tends to be a bit over zealous on the defensive end and is prone to picking up fouls pretty quickly, especially on pump fakes. Aldrich shows great heart on the floor, though, constantly diving for loose balls. #FreeCole!

Expected Grade – C              Mid-Term Grade – C+

 

Nick Collison (Stat line: 31 GP, 20.5 mpg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.3 blks, 0.5 stls, 4.5 ppg)

The No-Stats MVP. The ultimate glue guy. Collison was expected to continue being the first big man off the bench. A key cog that can be plugged in seamlessly if foul trouble or defensive lapses rear their ugly heads. Collison has not disappointed in his role. He is basically the same guy from last season with more of a willingness to unleash the soul crushing 12-15 foot jumper. A charge magnet, the 2nd unit gets their defensive identity from Collison. One of the smartest players in the league that is usually in the right place, at the right time (and not by coincidence). Future coach potential.

Expected Grade – B+               Mid-Term Grade – A-

 

Daequan Cook  (Stat line: 31 GP (12 GS), 19.7 mpg, 2.6 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.3 blks, 0.5 stls, 5.6 ppg, 34% 3pt FG)

One of the wild cards coming into the season, Cook started last season in a rut that eventually led to him getting over 30 DNP-CD’s in the first half of the season. When finally given an opportunity to play, Cook became the deep threat that the Thunder had hoped for when they traded for him on draft night in 2010. Cook has continued to provide the deep threat for the Thunder this season and has also become a more integral part of the rotation, even starting 12 games in place of injured SG Thabo Sefolosha. He has improved his man on man defense and has involved himself more on the boards.

Expected Grade – C+              Mid-Term Grade – B-

 

Kevin Durant (Stat line: 32 GP (32 GS), 37.8 mpg, 8.2 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 blks, 1.3 stls, 27.7 ppg)

A candidate for MVP coming into the season, Durant has not disappointed. While his scoring may have gone down just a tad bit, his rebounding, assists, and blocks are at career high levels. He is scoring at the most efficient rate in his career and he is starting to be relevant defensively, especially on the boards. He is learning how to get the ball in better spots and how to position himself to get better shots in crunch time. The only negative I can see in his game is the turnovers.  The athletic part of Durant is starting to mesh with the cerebral part. And that is a scary reality for the rest of the league. 

Expected Grade – A                 Mid-Term Grade – A

 

James Harden (Stat line: 31 GP (2 GS), 31.6 mpg, 4.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 0.2 blks, 0.9 stls, 16.8 ppg, 37% 3pt FG)

The glue that holds the “feuding” yin and yang that is Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook together. We all know that the “feuding” part of that statement has proven to be false as this season has progressed. What started as an improvement over the 2nd half of the season last year morphed into calls for Harden to be the starting 2-guard as the new season began. Coach Scott Brooks kept Harden on the bench and he has turned into arguably the best 6th man in the league, providing instant offense off the bench, ala Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford. Along with being the unquestioned leader of the bench unit, he’s also in the game with the starters to close it out in most games. His playmaking ability and penchant for getting foul calls make Harden an offensive weapon to be marveled. While steadily improving defensively, he can still be had by good 2-guards, especially if quickness is a factor. Also, the home/road splits were an issue in the beginning of the season, but have normalized since then. Hopefully that doesn’t come up in the playoffs.

Expected Grade – B+               Mid-Term Grade – B+

 

James Harden’s Beard (Stat line: No stats can measure the greatness)

Seriously, this needed its own section. We’ve seen this thing grow from when Harden first joined the Thunder in June 2009. It started off so small and has blossomed into something so much greater. Olympic gods now bow in the presence of the Beard.

Expected Grade – A+              Mid-Term Grade – Infinity on a 4 point scale

 

Lazar Hayward (Stat line: 12 GP, 5.9 mpg, 0.9 rpg, 0.2 apg, 1.5 ppg)

Haywardwas obtained in a deal with the Timberwolves before the season. Hayward’s presence on the team is more as a practice player than as a regular rotation player. I believe, the bigger bodied Hayward has allowed Durant to simulate what its like to go against a stronger defender and to see what works against these types of defenders and what doesn’t. In his time on the floor,Hayward has shown to be a good transition player. He needs to be more consistent with his shot, especially from the 3-point line. Defensively, Hayward is an average defender.

Expected Grade – C                 Mid-Term Grade – C-

 

Serge Ibaka (Stat line: 32 GP (32 GS), 7.7 rpg, 0.5 apg, 3.3 blks, 0.5 stls, 8.3 ppg)

Just like James Harden (and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook before them), Ibaka was expected to make the big 3rd year leap that we’ve seen from developing Thunder players. At the beginning of the season though, Ibaka seemed a bit out of sync. He wasn’t as aggressive and was settling for jumpers, instead of trying to do his damage from the inside. But over the last month, we’ve seen the Ibaka that we love and that opposing teams hate. In the last 3 weeks, we’ve seen 3 double digit block games, a man’s triple double (points, boards, blocks), and a disruptive defensive force not seen since the heydays of Ben Wallace. He still leaves a lot to be desired on the offensive end of the court as an inside presence. Though he sometimes leave us salivating with Olajuwon like post moves, he still prefers the 15 footer, which he is starting to hit with more consistency lately. His penchant for going for blocks usually leaves a gaping hole in the middle for offensive rebounders.

Expected Grade – B                 Mid-Term Grade – B+

 

Royal Ivey (Stat line: 9 GP, 9.7 mpg, 0.7 rpg, 0.2 apg, 2.1 ppg)

Ivey’s role on the team is that of veteran point guard. He’s a defensive minded player that probably pushes Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor in practice. When he has received playing time, Ivey has made a couple 3 pointers and played good defense. He has recently been called to duty a lot earlier in games because of some injuries to players. His defense keeps him in games, but his lack of a true identity (not really a point guard, but not very consistent with his jumper) can be a detriment if the team starts to struggle offensively.

Expected Grade – C                 Mid-Term Grade – C

 

Reggie Jackson (Stat line: 26 GP, 12.2 mpg, 1.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 stls, 3.7 ppg)

My expectation for the rookie was that he would split time between the Thunder and the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League, gaining valuable experience against lesser competition in preparation to possibly be a regular rotation player next season. But with the injury to Maynor, Jackson was thrust into the rotation as the primary back up point guard. The results have been par for the course for a late first round rookie point guard. Some flashes of decent play sandwiched between lessons from the school of hard knocks. They say that experience is the best teacher, so hopefully this is a blessing in disguise for the future. But in the present, Reggie has shown that he has the athletic ability to play in this league, but is still trying to figure out the nuances of the point guard position. If he is on the floor with one of the three main ball handlers (Westbrook, Durant, or Harden), he immediately defers to them to run the offense. Also, defenses have learned to pressure the rookie into making bad decisions. With all that said, though, I like what I see in Jackson and believe this experience will help him immensely in the future.

Expected Grade – C                 Mid-Term Grade – C

 

Eric Maynor (Stat line: 9 GP, 15.2 mpg, 1.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.6 stls, 4.2 ppg)

As a third year player, I fully expected Maynor to make that leap from okay player to good player. Already labeled by some to be the best back-up point guard in the league, Maynor’s steady hand at point made him the quarterback of one of the best bench units in the league. Like many players in this condensed season, Maynor’s play at the beginning was a bit careless, as he was averaging less assists and more turnovers. Nine games into the season though, Maynor suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season. For all intents and purposes, Maynor’s recovery seems to be going ahead of schedule and he will be ready for training camp next season.

Expected Grade – B                 Mid-Term Grade – Inc.

 

Nazr Mohammed (Stat line: 31 GP (1 GS), 12.4 mpg, 3.0 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.6 blks, 3.1 ppg)

The old man of the crew. In a room full of 20-somethings, Mohammed is the revered veteran. Mohammed’s role is that of back up center. Last season, he was invaluable as a stop gap until Kendrick Perkins came back from injury and as Perkins’s backup. There have been times this season where Mohammed has looked as spry as a spring chicken. And then there’s been blocks of game where Mohammed has literally looked like he has cement shoes on. That’s what you get with a 14 year vet. You take the good with the bad.

Expected Grade – B                 Mid-Term Grade – B-

 

Kendrick Perkins (Stat line: 31 GP (31 GS), 26.5 mpg, 5.9 rpg, 0.9 apg, 1.2 blks, 0.3 stls, 4.4 ppg, 10 technicals)

One of the most polarizing players on the team. Last year, Perkins was coming off major knee surgery and was slowed by bulky knee braces and the weight he put on while recovering. Vowing to come into camp more in shape, Kendrick came in 30-40 pounds lighter and shed the knee braces. But it’s been the same ol’ Perkins; a good post defender who does well against traditional centers, but gets lost if a team has an athletic and/or undersized center. Offensively, Perkins is a turnover waiting to happen. I don’t know if he lost some coordination during his recovery from surgery, but when he puts the ball on the floor, he usually loses it. When he attempts a shot, it’s usually a flat jump hook that is easily rejected. I don’t like to blast on Perkins since the Thunder’s record is so good with him in the lineup, but his biggest asset to the team is that he frees up Ibaka on the defensive end to be the NBA’s version of a roaming free safety. Another negative is the boneheaded technicals that Perkins picks up. He putting himself in a position to get suspended and miss time because of his hard-headedness.

Expected Grade – B                 Mid-Term Grade – C

 

Ryan Reid (Stat line: 2 GP, 5.0 mpg, 0.5 rpg, 4.0 ppg)

Every year there’s that one guy that you, as a fan, attach your heart strings to. The underdog. The runt of the litter. Ever since the Thunder drafted Reid in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, I’ve followed his career in the D-League. I was pleasantly surprised when the Thunder offered Reid the final roster spot for this season. This organization rewards “those” types of players that work hard to pursue their dream, even if everyone else has told them they have no chance. Last season it was Robert Vaden. Next season it may be Latavious Williams or Tibor Pleiss. When Reid finally got some run on the Valentine’s Day game, I was texting my brother in law in all caps. Literally, this was my text, “RYAN REID SCORED!!!!!!!!!” Honestly, in his limited game time, he has shown a good mid-range jumper and has shown the potential to be a future glue guy.

Expected Grade – D                 Mid-Term Grade – C+

 

Thabo Sefolosha (Stat line: 18 GP (18 GS), 20.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 blks, 0.9 stls, 5.2 ppg, 48% 3-pt FG)

Another polarizing player on the team. While he is one of the best wing defenders in the league, his offensive inefficiencies can sometimes lead to the Thunder playing “a man down” on the offensive side of the court. The clamoring for a change in the starting line-up only got louder as last season’s playoffs pushed forward, and teams began corralling Durant and Westbrook. The thinking was that Harden, as a floor spreader, would allow Durant and Westbrook more room to operate on the offensive end. Hypothetically, this would seem like the correct way to go. But, as this season has shown, the value of a great wing defender should never be lost in the search for more efficient offense. The game is played on both ends of the court.  As an added bonus, Sefolosha had shown signs of being more offensively efficient this season. He had begun to drive the ball more to the basket and was shooting the 3-pointer at a 48% clip. Not that he shot that many, but of the few that he did shoot, he was making almost half of them. I still cringe when I see him lead a fast-break, though. Unfortunately though, Sefolosha has been battling foot issues and has been limited this season and is expected to miss one more month.

Expected Grade – B-               Mid-Term Grade – B+

 

Russell Westbrook (Stat line: 32 GP (32 GS), 4.8 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.9 stls, 23.4 ppg)

Probably the most polarizing player on the Thunder. Last season, ironically, Westbrook’s 3rd, he went from good player to superstar. He, along with Derrick Rose, became the new standard for point guards: hybrids that could score 25 ppg and dish out 8 assists per game, while constantly breaking down a defense and doing their damage from the paint. You knew that Durant could score and that all he needed to do was refine the finer points of his game (rebounding, playmaking, etc). But you didn’t know where the learning curve would take you with Westbrook. Because of the criticism that Westbrook was receiving in last season’s playoffs and in the off-season, and the upcoming contract extension, I didn’t know what to expect from Westbrook. In the first 2 weeks of the season, it seemed like Westbrook was in the funk of all funks. His shot wasn’t falling, his assists were down, and there were rumblings of a true feud between he and Durant. Thankfully, things seemed to turn around in the middle of January (coincidentally once Russell signed his new contract) and Russell has been playing great ever since, garnering a couple Western Conference Player of the Week awards along the way. With Derrick Rose’s injury woes this season, Russell Westbrook has taken the role of premier point guard with his driving ability and consistent mid-range jumper. He still turns the ball over way too much and doesn’t always work to involve his teammates, but what I’m seeing from Russell this season is surprising because he’s still improving at a tremendous clip.

Expected Grade – A-               Mid-Term Grade – A

 

Surprises:

  • It’s amazing how important a real training camp and 4+ preseason games are to players in their preparation for a season. I noticed that in many of the Thunder players’ performances. They didn’t really take off until after the 2nd week of the season, which in actuality, would be the same amount of time as training camp and preseason games in a normal regular season.

 

  • I kept hearing about how injuries would shape this season because of the condensed schedule. But I had no idea it would be this bad. The Thunder have never experienced many injuries in their 4 season in Oklahoma City. An ankle sprain here. A pulled hamstring there. But this season, we’ve seen Maynor go out with a torn ACL, Sefolosha miss significant time with foot issues, and other players miss 1-2 games with general soreness.

 

Looking ahead:

  • The schedule gets tougher from here on out. We play the Lakers 3 more times, Miami and the Clippers twice, Chicago, Philly, Dallas, and San Antonio once each, and 6 more games against division rivals. We have a 3 game East coast trip after the All-Star break and a 5 game West Coast trip close to the end of the season. Needless to say, if we stay at the top the Western Conference, we would have definitely earned it.

 

  • Possible trade targets – Since the trading deadline is on March 15, I looked a possible trade targets for the Thunder and their struggles on the bench:
    1. James Anderson (Spurs)
    2. Tracy McGrady (Hawks)
    3. Stephen Jackson (Bucks)

Thunder UP!!!!!!

 

Top Five Point Guards in Oklahoma City History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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