Tag Archives: Rudy Gay

The Thunder and their tradeable assets

After the pomp and circumstances that was the NBA All-Star Weekend, it is now time to get to the meat of the NBA season. But before we even reach that point, there’s a little something called the trade deadline that can change the fates of aspiring championship teams. For the next 4 days, you will hear every sort of rumor, from the asinine to the very believable. And that is what makes this time of year one of my favorites.

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In the last two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have made some sort of move at the trade deadline. In Feb. 2010, they traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Last season, they eschewed a trade, instead choosing to sign veteran guard Derek Fisher for their playoff run that went all the way to the Finals. This season, the Thunder made their big splash before the season started, trading reigning 6th man of the year James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. The Thunder went from a team with hardly any assets to one brimming with them. Any one of those assets or combinations of assets could be used to make a bigger move to help the Thunder either in the short term or in the long term.

Here are the top 5 tradable assets for the Thunder in terms of their desirability from other teams.

5. Eric Maynor

Two seasons ago, when the Thunder made a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, Maynor was viewed as one of the top back-up point guards in the league. The fervor that is currently surrounding Los Angeles Clipper’s back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe was akin to what was being said about Maynor two seasons ago. A young floor general that was good enough to start for many other teams, and maybe even good enough to start ahead of Russell Westbrook. 

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The Thunder, sensing that Maynor’s rising stock may make him difficult to keep, drafted guard Reggie Jackson in the 2011 NBA draft. At the beginning of last season, it became increasingly evident that Maynor’s game had stagnated and hadn’t really improved that much during the offseason. Then, before the season was even 10 games old, Maynor tore his ACL and was lost for the season. While Maynor was rehabbing, Jackson was receiving his baptism by fire and earning precious playing time on a championship contending team. When this season started, Maynor was given the opportunity to earn his spot back as back-up point guard. He played as the primary back-up point guard for the first 23 games of the season. What became evident was that the injury had sapped Maynor of what little athleticism he had, and the Harden trade had robbed Maynor of his greatest asset off the bench. Thunder coach Scott Brooks chose to go with the more athletic Reggie Jackson off the bench to anchor the 2nd team from there on out.

reggie jax

Maynor is in the final year of his rookie contract that owes him $2.34 million. He has value as a cheap rental for a team looking to scout point guards for next season. Maynor has recently shed his bulky knee brace and is moving around a lot better than he did at the beginning of the season. He is just 14 months removed from major knee surgery and may be getting back to being healthy again.

Percentage the Thunder move Maynor: 65% (The Thunder aren’t going to move Maynor just to move him. If they are able to acquire any value, such as a high 2nd rounder or a young player, they’ll make the move. If not, they’ll roll with Maynor for the rest of the season as the insurance point guard.)

4. Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick

Second round picks are usually tossed back and forth between teams in almost comedic fashion. Most players selected in the 2nd round usually never make it onto an NBA roster, instead spending most of their careers in the D-League or overseas. The beauty of 2nd round picks, though, is that their contracts aren’t guaranteed and don’t fall into the pay scale system of the 1st round picks.

The valuable 2nd round picks are those that fall in the 31-35 range. In those picks, you can get a good player that has slipped into the 2nd round for a variety of reasons. A good example would be Dejuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs, who slipped into the 2nd round because of injury concerns with his knees. Being that this pick belongs to Charlotte, who currently owns the worst record in the league, it could be a good asset as the first pick of the 2nd round.

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Percentage the Thunder moves this pick: 0.000001% (The Thunder fought long and hard to get this pick back. They initially obtained this pick in the trade that sent Byron Mullens to the Bobcats. The pick was later given to the Boston Celtics by the NBA as punishment for the deal involving Jeff Green, who had a heart condition that the Thunder may or may not have known about. Boston then sent the pick to the Houston Rockets in an off-season deal that sent Courtney Lee to the Celtics. And then the Thunder re-obtained the pick in the James Harden deal. I honestly think Thunder GM Sam Presti would have dealt Kevin Durant to get this pick back.)

3. Kevin Martin

This was the player the Thunder got back in the James Harden trade that could be labeled as “of equal or comparable value”. Martin is one of those fringe All-Star players that can average 20 points per game in the NBA, but bring little else to the table. Martin has done a good job this season of reproducing the offensive production that Harden gave the Thunder last season. Martin’s trade value, though, comes in the fact that he has a $12 million expiring contract.

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Martin is still a really good player that could still average 20 points per game if he were on a bad team. He’s one of the top players in free throw percentage and 3-point FG percentage and averages 15 points per game off the bench. He had done a good job of assimilating himself to his role on the Thunder and assimilating himself to the culture of the city. He has made it known that he would like to stay in Oklahoma City and sounds like he would be willing to take a pay cut to stay. (Annnd, cue Thunder fans saying “We’ve heard that before”).  

Percentage the Thunder move Martin: 12.5% (Having already made a major trade to start the season, I doubt the Thunder make another major trade in the middle of the season. They have the 2nd best record in the league and Martin has been a willing participant in his bench role. Unless the Thunder are able to acquire 2 players for the price of one, I think the Thunder head into the playoffs with Martin as their 6th man.

2. Jeremy Lamb/Perry Jones III

When you are a rookie on a championship contending team, playing time can be at a premium. This is where the Thunder and their rookies currently find themselves. Besides end of blowout situations, Lamb and Jones III have gotten most of their playing time with the Thunder’s D-League affiliates, the Tulsa 66ers. Their lack of playing time is not indicative of their potential, though. On a bad to mediocre team, these two would be logging major minutes. But on this team, their major function this season is in developing their game.  

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The league still views them as rookies dripping with potential. And that is where their value lies. I’m pretty sure many trade proposals have started with Eric Maynor and ended with one or both of these rookies. Young players on rookie deals are like gold in the NBA, and the Thunder have 2 bars in their safe.

Percentage the Thunder move either of these players: 10% (With their future salary cap situation (2 max players in Westbrook and Durant, Ibaka’s upcoming extension, Perkins’ contract, and Martin possibly resigning), the Thunder place optimum value on young players on rookie scale contracts. Both of these players emulate the Thunder model (athletic, long, and able to play multiple positions) and have performed well in their time in Tulsa.  

1. Toronto’s protected 1st round pick (2013 – Top 3 and 15-30 protected, 2014,2015 – Top 2 and 15-30 protected, 2016,2017 – Top 1 and 15-30 protected, 2018 – unprotected)

Before Toronto acquired Rudy Gay, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 6-8 range. Since the Gay trade, Toronto seems to be a much tougher out for opponents and reeled off 4 straight wins before the All-Star break. The Raptors currently sit 6 games out of the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference, so while it is not an impossibility for them to make a run at the playoffs, the hole they dug themselves before the trade may be too much to overcome this season.

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For a team looking to rebuild, a pick in the lottery is a steal. Any draft pick is a gamble, but those in the lottery have a higher percentage of panning out than those outside of the lottery. The Raptors picks is now looking to be in the 10-14 range.

Percentage the Thunder deal this pick: 10% (The same logic that applies to the Thunder and why they probably won’t deal Lamb or Jones III, applies to this draft pick. Earlier this season, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 4-6 range. But even where it stands today, this pick probably has more value for the Thunder than for another rebuilding team, especially in a draft that is perceived to be weak.).

One thing to look out for is the empty roster spot the Thunder have. If they don’t fill this spot with someone in a trade, look for the Thunder to sign veteran forward Rasual Butler. Oklahoma City fans may remember Butler from his days with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. He is currently playing for the Tulsa 66ers and may be what the Thunder need in a 3-point shooter and perimeter defender.

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The fact is that the Thunder have the 2nd best record in the league and are coming off of a Finals appearance. Sam Presti is not known to deal in haste or for a quick fix. He believes in sustainability and cap-flexibility, so any deal will have to work for the Thunder’s present and for their future. Needless to say, I don’t really see the Thunder making a move this trading deadline….but I’ll be watching.

 

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 46 of 82)

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  • When: Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Welcome to the season opener for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Hold on, what? It’s not the season opener? It’s the 46th game of the season? Wow! With the amount of time we’ve been off (4 whole days) and the amount of time since the last home game (over two weeks), you can see how it feels like an entire off-season since we’ve last seen the team live. Also, this is the longest we’ve had to marinate after a loss since Game 5 of last season’s Finals. Needless to say, Oklahoma City is chomping at the bit to play a game at home.

Their opponent for their return back home is the new look Memphis Grizzlies, although Memphis may be a bit short handed tonight. Yesterday, the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi to the Toronto Raptors for Ed Davis and Jose Calderon. The Grizzlies then turned around and traded Calderon to the Detroit Pistons for Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. Unfortunately (or luckily for the Thunder), those players will not be available for the Grizzlies tonight.

But it’s not like this will be an easy game. This is basically the same team that took the Thunder to 7 games two postseasons ago in the Western Conference Semis. That team was also without Rudy Gay, who was out following in-season shoulder surgery. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in their first meeting this season, 107-97, in Oklahoma City. In that game, Rudy Gay hit every big shot in the 2nd half to keep the Thunder at bay. Much like what the Thunder were facing in their 3rd game of the season, the Grizzlies will be getting acclimated to life without a key component of their team.

The Opponent

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The Grizzlies come into the game with a 29-15 record, good for 4th in the Western Conference. Though they struggle to score points (93.4, 27th in the league), they more than make up for it with the best defense in the league, in terms of opponents’ ppg (89.5, 1st in the league). Offensively, they are highly dependent on post play and taking care of the ball. On defense, they use their physicality and brute strength to gobble up boards and get opponents out of position on offense. The offense is led by the big boys inside, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Though not a very athletic duo, their high basketball IQ more than makes up for their athletic shortcomings. Randolph, who was selected as a reserve to the All-Star game, averages 15.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Gasol, who has been struggling a bit this season, averages 13.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The offense is directed by Mike Conley, who is one of the better floor generals in the league. SG Tony Allen is one of the best defensive wings in the league. The bench is one of the more consistent ones in the league, with 6 players each averaging more than 14.5 minutes and scoring more than 5.5 ppg.

Probable Starters

Memphis Grizzlies

PG – Mike Conley

SG – Wayne Ellington

SF – Tony Allen

PF – Zach Randolph

C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG – Russell Westbrook

SG – Thabo Sefolosha

SF – Kevin Durant

PF – Serge Ibaka

C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

  1. Don’t give this team a chance – Yes, they just lost their best scorer. Yes, they will be shorthanded. But, don’t give this team a chance or they will steal this game. Memphis is a veteran bunch that has won without Rudy Gay before. Take advantage of their lack of depth and play transition basketball and try to draw fouls.  
  2. Control the boards – While Memphis may not score much, their bigs do get a lot of rebounds. This leads to extra opportunities offensively, which is big for a team that is short handed. If necessary, Kevin Durant may need to hedge over to the post to help out on the boards.ibaka randolph
  3. Play Randolph smartly – Serge Ibaka always seems to have trouble against crafty, non-athletic PFs (Randolph, Nowitzki, etc.). Don’t bite on the pump fakes and keep your hands straight up in the air. It seems like when the Thunder play the Grizzlies, Collison always ends up in the game for an extended period of time due to Ibaka’s foul trouble.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 2012-13 Midseason Review

This was supposed to be the year where the Oklahoma City Thunder’s young quartet of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden was supposed to put it all together and finally reach the mountain top. These four young men who had just competed (and medaled) in the Olympics were supposed to pick up where they had left off and continue on their improvement track. From 1st round losers to Western Conference Finals losers to NBA Finals losers, the eventual next step would have been NBA Finals winners. Everyone went into training camp with that mind set.

Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant

And then, 5 days before the season started, in the middle of a stirring football game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, came the shocking news that one of the quartet had been traded. James Harden, whose contract extension talks had stalled with the team, was traded, along with Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward, to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. It took several days before the jaws of Oklahomans throughout the state were picked up off the ground.

Once the shock wore off, and the trade was analyzed, it was one of those instances where it was a good trade for both teams. The Thunder got a comparable player in Martin, a good young guard in Lamb, assets in the form of draft picks, and salary cap flexibility. Championship contending teams usually never have assets and salary cap flexibility, but this trade gave that back to the Thunder before they had an opportunity to lose it. Houston, in return, got a franchise player in Harden. After clearing cap space and failing to land Dwight Howard in the offseason, the Rockets were chomping at the bit for a franchise-type guy. So far, it’s been a win-win for both teams.

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Whether we were ready for the season or not, it still had to be played. The schedule doesn’t care whether the Thunder made a big roster move five days before the start of the season. The schedule doesn’t care that the Thunder never got the opportunity to play any pre-season games with any of its new players. All the schedule decrees is that said team be at the location of the game with at least 8 dressed players. So with that, the Thunder embarked on the first half of the season.

November 1st, 2012 – November 4th, 2012 : The sky is falling!!!! Grab the women and children, and head to higher ground!!!!! (1-2)

After the core rattling trade five days prior, the Thunder had to open their season on the road against their Western Conference Finals opponent, the San Antonio Spurs. The game was back and forth most of the night with neither team controlling the game. In the final minute with the Spurs down by three, Tony Parker hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to tie the game. On the Thunder’s next possession, with the opportunity to take the lead, Russell Westbrook turned the ball over to give the Spurs one final shot. Tony Parker calmly sank a 21-footer at the buzzer to give the Spurs the victory.

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Of course, panic set in after that. Would the Thunder ever win another game again? Is this the beginning of the Curse of the Beard? Would we have won that game had James Harden not been traded? The second game was against the Portland Trailblazers in Oklahoma City. The Thunder easily dispatched of the Trailblazers in expected fashion. But that did little to quell the panic of the fan base, especially when Harden was in Houston averaging 35.3 points per game after the first three games of the season.

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The Thunder entered the third game of the season with high hopes. But after 21 turnovers and an inability to make shots in the second half, the Thunder lost to the Atlanta Hawks to bring their record to 1-2. Needless to say, some in the fan base were ready to jump off of the Devon Energy Tower.

Novemeber 6th, 2012 – November 23rd, 2012: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. (8-2)

This home heavy stretch against lesser opponents is just what the doctor ordered, not only for the team, but also for the fan base. After the Atlanta loss, the Thunder reeled off five straight win against 3 likely lottery teams (Cleveland, Detroit (x2), and Toronto), and one injury ravaged team (Chicago). It’s almost like the team had a mini training camp with these 5 games serving as preseason games. The players got a sense of what their roles were, and the coaching staff got a sense of how the rotation would work.

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Then we played the Memphis Grizzlies, and got man-handled. The big boys (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) did work inside and Rudy Gay went all KD on the Thunder, hitting seemingly every big shot in the 4th quarter. The fear that engulfed the fan base at the beginning of the season changed from, “When will we win a game?” to “Will we be able to hang with the top teams in the West?”

Those fears were eased a little when the Thunder won their next 3 games, the final two being against Western Conference playoff hopefuls Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors. Against the Warriors, Kevin Durant notched his first career triple double with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. The Thunder went on the road and lost against the Boston Celtics after that in a close game. Overall, the feeling at this point in the season is that the Thunder were starting to get it together, but still had some kinks to work out.

November 24th, 2012 – December 19th, 2012: We’re going streaking!!!!! (12-0)

This is where the team seemed to put it all together. During this stretch of games, the Thunder beat their opponents by an average of 13.8 points per game. The team averaged 108.6 points per game. That is an astonishing run. The winning percentage of the teams that the Thunder beat during this streak was .477, not necessarily power house numbers, but not necessarily the Sisters of the Poor, either.

There were some very important things that happened during the streak:

1)      We completely emasculated a team. In the second game of the streak, the Thunder beat the Charlotte Bobcats 114-69. The Bobcats were riding high coming into the game at 7-5, the same amount of victories as the previous season. The young Bobcats were looking to show what they could do against one of the big boys in the league. And the Thunder just beat them with their own stick. To a team that was still feeling itself out, this victory is just what they needed to prove to themselves that they could still run somebody out of the gym if necessary. The beating was so bad for the Bobcats that they did not win another game for the next month (17 games total after that).

2)      In the next game, the Thunder exorcised any demons from the trade and beat James Harden and the Houston Rockets handily, 120-98. While the game started off as a walk down memory lane, it quickly turned into an “us versus them” mentality when Harden had a spat that momentarily had Hasheem Thabeet ejected from the game. After that, Harden became another opponent that received boos. And the cherry on the top was that Harden completely struggled against the Thunder shooting 3-16 for 17 points, well below his average.

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3)      We dominated the Los Angeles Lakers at home 114-108. I know these aren’t the Lakers from a couple years ago. But this was the superteam that was constructed in the offseason to battle the Thunder for Western Conference supremacy. When Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were added to the core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, it sent shockwaves through the league that this would be the new team to beat. Though chemistry issues have kept the Lakers from achieving this, it was still good to beat them and let them know that we still run the West.

4)      We beat the Spurs handily at home 107-93. With the Lakers struggling, this team is probably our biggest rival. With the Western Conference Finals last season, and the close game the Spurs won to start the season, this was a pivotal matchup for the Thunder, not only record-wise, but mentally also.

December 20th, 2012 – January 7th, 2013 – Holiday sputter (5-4)

It’s a funny thing about perspective. If I were to tell you that we’ve won 17 of our last 21 games, you’d probably think that’s a pretty good run. But, if I told you that we’ve lost 4 of our last 9 games, you’d probably think that we are struggling a bit. This is where the Thunder found themselves at this point in the season. After winning 12 in a row, they lost on the road to an upstart Minnesota team that was just beginning to put it all together, before injuries once again derailed their season. Then, the Thunder lost on Christmas day to the Miami Heat. The one monkey that still hangs on the team’s back is the ability to consistently beat Miami.

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After the Miami loss, the Thunder went on to win 5 of their next 7. One of the losses was against the Davids of the NBA, or as I like to call them, the Washington Wizards. This Wizards team, with the worst record in the NBA, always seems to play its best against the Goliath’s of the league. They’ve already beaten the Heat once this season, and they beat the Thunder last season also. It’s just something about that slingshot.

January 9th, 2013 – January 20th, 2013 – Wonder Twins activate! (6-1)

This is what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have done in the past 7 games:

  • KD – 35.9 points / 6.1 rebounds / 4.1 assists /1.7 steals / 1.3 blocks per game
  • RW – 29.0 points /6.7 rebounds /7.1 assists /1.0 steal per game

What these two guys have been doing the past two weeks has been nothing short of dominant. Durant had a career high 52 points in a win over the Dallas Mavericks during this stretch. And Westbrook has notched 4 straight games of 30 points or more. It’s become a tradition that when the Thunder trade away a major player, someone steps up in his place. When Jeff Green was traded two seasons ago, Serge Ibaka and James Harden stepped up their games and the Thunder continued improving. This time around, when Harden was traded, Ibaka has elevated his game to another level, and the two superstars have gotten even better.

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The Thunder ended the first half of the season with a 32-9 record, good for best in the league. They are the last team with single digit losses and have the best scoring differential in the league, at +9.0. Looking forward, the second half of the season will be a little bit tougher, though. The Thunder will have 3 more road games and the teams they’ll be facing have a combined .511 winning percentage. In the end, I see the Thunder ending up with the number 1 seed, not only in the Western Conference, but in the entire NBA with a 63-19 record.

Top NBA Teams and Senior-itis

Ahh, yes. April. That time of year where the memories of Spring Break start to fade, and the doldrums of the final quarter of school starts to set in. This is when high school seniors start to really feel the effects of senior-itis. It’s this same disease that is beginning to affect some of the better teams in the NBA. For those teams that have already sewn up spots to the NBA’s Big Dance, this affliction is making them act like 8 years olds on a road trip. “Are we there yet?”

When it comes to this time of years, teams are in one of 4 modes. They are either completely out of the playoff hunt, fighting (realistically) for a playoff spot, fighting to move up in the playoff standings, or fighting off boredom from having clinched a playoff spot so early in the 2nd half of the season.  Of the 30 teams in the NBA:

  • 11 are completely out of the playoffs: Charlotte, Washington, New Orleans, TTFKATSK (the team formerly known as the Sacramento  Kings), Cleveland, Toronto, Golden State, New Jersey, Detroit, Minnesota, and Portland.
  • 7 are realistically fighting for playoff spots: Utah, Phoenix, Milwaukee(all currently out), Philadelphia, New York, Denver,  and Houston (all currently in).
  • 8 are securely in the playoffs and jockeying for positioning: Dallas, Memphis, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Orlando, Atlanta, Boston, and Indiana.
  • 4 teams are entrenched in the playoffs and fighting for the top two spots in their respective conferences: Chicago and Miami (East) and Oklahoma City and San Antonio (West).

Of the 4 teams at the top,Chicago is trying to battle through injuries and maintain the best record in the league.San Antonio is blitzing anyone in their way and trying to take the top spot in the West. And apparently, OKC and Miami (to the enjoyment of all the fans not in Chicago or San Antonio) are ready to meet in the Finals, and are acting like it’s a forgone conclusion. But, honestly, for these four teams, is there anything to worry about besides injuries at this point in the season?

These four teams are treading water at this point in the season. Chicago is 4-3 since April started. Miami and OKC are both 5-4. And San Antonio, riding the hot hand, is 6-2. Are these records indicative of any shortcomings that decided to pop up in the final month of the season?

In Chicago’s losses this month, it is quite apparent that they need Derrick Rose to be completely healthy for their playoff run. But, perhaps, more importantly, the health of Rip Hamilton is of great importance to the offense. While Rose is the end all, be all of the offense, Hamilton provides a great release valve if the defense collapses too much on Rose. Getting those two healthy at this point of the season is the best thing that could have happened to the team. It’s almost like they got a trade deadline acquisition in Hamilton, who is just now starting to pay dividends on the team. The greatest positive to come out of the injury plagued seasons of Rose and Hamilton, is that the bench players have had to contribute and have done so in above average fashion.

In Miami’s losses this month, a lot of the problems that surfaced last season are starting to resurface this season. It’s the Big 3 and no one else on that team. The Big 3 moniker has taken a bit of a hit this season with injuries to Dwayne Wade, but the production from the role players that was so evident in the beginning of the season, has begun to decline to the detriment of the team. The size issue that was a problem last season is still a problem for the Heat. They got Ronny Turiaf after the trading deadline, and while it is a slight improvement over Joel Anthony, the move didn’t really register too much on the Richter scale. The big man rotation of Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Anthony, and Turiaf does give the Heat a bit more flexibility as compared to the big man rotation last season (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Bosh, Anthony, and an injury-recovering Haslem). The point guard position has been slumping for the last month and a half. Mario Chalmers has only been shooting 30% from 3-point territory since March 1st, after shooting about 48% from there in the first 2 1/2 months of the season. Norris Cole has hit the rookie wall and is not producing like he was in the beginning of the season, even being relegated to the bench in favor of James Jones, who is just now starting to find his shooting stroke. But, in the end, this team still has Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, and when those two are clicking, this team is still very difficult to defeat.

The Spurs have begun to streak after finally getting all their pieces back from injury. Its no coincidence that their 11 game win streak coincided with Manu Ginobili finally getting his rhythm back after being in and out of the lineup with a myriad of injuries for most of the season. The young players (Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Danny Green, and James Anderson) all know their roles and play them to a tee. This team is a well-oiled machine that is just now starting to hit its stride. The team still relies heavily on its trio of veterans, but Coach Popovich has made sure to limit their minutes in the regular season. The addition of veterans Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw will help during their post-season run. This, in my opinion, is probably the most dangerous team heading in the playoffs.

The Thunder’s last 10 games have exhibited the same errors that have been plaguing them the entire season. They are 6-4 in those games, but those errors become very evident in the losses. Stagnant offense always hinders this team in the beginning of games. The team even has a punt play to start nearly every game: giving the ball to Kendrick Perkins in the low post. It very rarely ends in points for the Thunder. In their 4 losses in this 10 game run, the Thunder score an average of 22.3 points in the first quarter. In the 6 wins, that number jumps up to 27. That’s nearly a 5 point difference, which, in an NBA quarter, is a huge difference. Another stat that hinders the team in their losses is the number of turnovers. In that same 10 game span, they are averaging 16.5 turnovers per game in their losses, and 14 per game in their wins. That difference of 2.5 turnovers can, hypothetically, be equated to an extra 7 points for the other team. Which, again, in the NBA, is a game-changing amount.  Defensively, the team still has trouble with the pick and roll and guard penetration.

The good news for all these teams is that there is nothing new that can be labeled a negative. The deficiencies and errors that they have been exhibiting all season, are the same things that are afflicting them now. Even with all these issues, these teams are still the top 4 teams in the league and the leading contenders to win the championship. Are there darkhorses on the fringes that could slip in? Of course. The Los Angeles Lakers are starting to show some diversity in their offense with Andrew Bynum finally taking charge in the absence of Kobe Bryant. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the deepest teams in the league, with 2 All-star caliber post players (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) and an All-star caliber wing (Rudy Gay). And the Boston Celtics will give it all they got for what appears to be their swan song together.

The thing about senior-itis is that, eventually, everyone graduates and moves on to the next level. In that next level is where your skills and abilities come out in full force. Some end up in college, some in a job, and some at home on the couch. In this crazy season, anything can happen. But if the playoffs play out anything like the regular season, then these 4 teams should be the cream that rises to the top.