Tag Archives: Samuel Dalembert

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks preview (Game 71 of 82)

durant nowitzki thunder mavs

  • When: Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX

There’s a couple different ways to look at this game:

1. The Thunder will be out for revenge. In their previous meeting, the Mavericks humbled the Thunder, in Oklahoma City, to the tune of a 23 point drubbing, 109-86. That was the beginning of the Russell Westbrook Rest Experiment (RWRE). The Thunder came out a little flat and never recovered from a bad start. The Thunder were down three starters and the 3’s kept falling for the Mavericks (13-24 3pt FG, 54.2%). Needless to say, it was one of the worst losses at home since the team became a playoff contender 4 seasons ago. This time around, though, they have Russell Westbrook in tow and a little momentum gained from a 4 game winning streak.

2. The Mavericks are fighting for their playoff lives. The Mavs were given one of the greatest gifts afforded to a team looking to secure one of the final spots in the playoffs: an 8-game home stand. They are 2-2 through the first 4 games and have slipped down to the 9th spot by virtue of a tie-breaker with Phoenix. If the Thunder come out flat-flooted, they may just run into a desperate animal needing to win as many games as possible to secure a playoff seed.

3. The Thunder are fighting for their own playoff seeding. A lot like last season the Thunder find themselves behind the Spurs with about 12 games to play. They have one more meeting with the Spurs in early April at home. If the Thunder could position themselves to be a game behind the Spurs when the meet on April 3rd, then they could take over first place, not only in the Western Conference, but also for the entire playoff run if they make it to the Finals. OKC already owns the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the first 2 games against the Spurs this season and San Antonio has a tendency to rest its players the final month of the season.

The Opponent

calderon marion nowitzki ellis mavericks

The Mavericks currently find themselves outside of the playoff race in the Western Conference with the same record as the 8th seeded Phoenix Suns, at 42-29. Phoenix owns the tie-breaker by virtue of having the better conference record. The Mavs are a good offensive team, scoring 104.6 points a game, but rank near the bottom third of the league in terms of opponent’s points per game, allowing 102.3. In their current home stand, the Mavs are 2-2, with defense being the main culprit. In the 2 wins, they only allow 97.5 points per game, while in the 2 losses, they’ve allowed 115 points per game. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis do the heavy lifting on the offense, but Jose Calderon is the one who sets it in motion. Calderon, who took a hit to the face that limited him to one minute in their last game, will play in this game. The Mavs boast a veteran-laden bench that can give teams fits with players like Devin Harris, Vince Carter, and Brandan Wright.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Dallas Mavericks

  • PG – Jose Calderon
  • SG – Monta Ellis
  • SF – Shawn Marion
  • PF – Dirk Nowitzki
  • C – Samuel Dalembert

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – Anytime the Thunder made a push in the last game, the Mavs usually answered with a 3-pointer to keep the Thunder at bay. The Thunder allowed the Mavs to shoot over 50% from 3-point territory in the last game, which would make it difficult for any team to win.

2. Bench help – While the Thunder bench was a bit muted in the last game by injuries, there should be no reason why the Mavs’ bench outscored the Thunder bench by 16 (38-22). The Thunder will face more of the same tonight, with Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins still out. Having Reggie Jackson back in his familiar 6th man role should help the bench unit out.

lamb jackson lillard thunder trailblazers

3. Russ’ knee – The MRI performed on Saturday revealed no further damage to Westbrook’s right knee. That’s the good news. But we are kind heading into unchartered territory as a fan base where we grimace every time Russell takes a tumble or grimaces in pain. Here’s to hoping he suffers no further scares the rest of the season (regular and post).

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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.

A Bird in the Hand…

Let me preface this by saying that I love what Kendrick Perkins brought to the team last year. The toughness, leadership, and in your face accountability are things that young teams need from a veteran to reach that next level. It is my belief (and that of many others) that the Thunder don’t get to the Western Conference Finals if Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic are still in the starting lineup. The acquisition of Perkins allowed Ibaka to get off the bench and become a power forward’s version of a free safety, attacking anything that came near the basketball. Plus, signing him to an extension that pays him an average of $8.2 million/season for the next 4 years may prove to be a bargain. Quality starting centers usually aren’t obtained for anything south of $10 million. 

With that said, one has to wonder whether waiting would have allowed the Thunder to obtain someone more “well-rounded” in the post. While Perkins is definitely good defensively and sets great picks, he leaves a lot to be desired offensively. Though, some of his struggles last season may have been attributed to recovering from knee surgery, its not like he was ever Hakeem Olajuwon in the past. With one of the better big man free agent classes to be seen, quite possibly, ever, there has to be some trepidation whether the Thunder reacted too quickly in trying to obtain (and hold on to) a big man. 

Here are 5 candidates that the Thunder could have targeted in this year’s big man free agent class: 

5. Samuel Dalembert

 When the Thunder first acquired Kendrick Perkins, he was recovering from a strain in his non-surgically repaired knee. In the meantime, they played a handful of games with Nazr Mohammed as their starting center. In Perk’s absence, Mohammed performed admirably averaging 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in a 7 game span.

 The reason I mention Mohammed is because Dalembert’s game reminds me a lot of Mohammed’s. With the Kings last season, Dalembert averaged a respectable 8 points, 8 boards, and 1.5 blocks per game. He came on strong at the end of the season, and showed he still had some springs in his legs. It always worries you any time someone performs well in the 2nd half of their contract year. In the first 3 months of the season, Dalembert averaged 5.3 points and 5.9 boards. In the final 3 months of the season, he averaged 11.1 points and 10.8 boards. Probably not someone Presti would have targeted or signed.

 Chances of the Thunder targeting Dalembert – 10%

 4. Tyson Chandler

 The Thunder’s first great center. We had him for a couple hours and life was just a little better when he became a member of the Thunder. But, alas, all good things come to an end, and that one came to an end abruptly and quickly. The botched trade aside, this was the one guy I thought could push the Thunder over the edge. Like Perkins, his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired, but this human pogo stick is a menace on the defensive end. Being one of the cogs on a championship team probably has pushed his price tag up by a couple million dollars. With past injury concerns (see: botched OKC trade), increasing mileage on the odometer, and a probable hefty price tag, the possibility of signingChandlerwould have probably been low.

 Chances of the Thunder targetingChandler– 35%

 3. DeAndre Jordon

 Only 23 years old, but already one of the better defensive centers in the league,Jordanproves a great compliment to Blake Griffin. Together they form, possibly, the most athletically gifted front court in the league.Jordanwould have been a great fit to our core. He’s young, big, and he has improved each of his 3 seasons in the league. With the Clippers soon facing the same issues as the Thunder with young great players coming up on contract extensions, now would have probably been a good time to snag Jordan up by offering him a front loaded contract extension that would have really forced Donald Sterling’s hand. If available, I thinkJordanwould’ve been one of the center that Presti would’ve actively pursued.  

 Chances of the Thunder targetingJordan– 45%

 2. Nene

 While the previous 3 centers on this list are primarily defensive centers, these next two centers are good at both sides of the floor. Nene seems to be over the injury-filled beginning of his career which included a torn ACL and a battle with testicular cancer. He has averaged 78 games per season in the past 3 seasons, while averaging 14.3 points, 7.7 boards, and 1.1 blocks per game in that same time span. His quick feet and offensive repertoire make him a big commodity to have late in games. With an asking price somewhere north of $12 million per season, I think Presti would’ve seriously had to take a look at Nene for what he could provide the Thunder on the offensive end, especially in late game situations. 

 Chances of the Thunder targeting Nene – 55%

 1. Marc Gasol

 I would have never imagined that Pau Gasol’s little brother would’ve ever made a name for himself in the NBA. I thought he was just going to be a throw-in in the deal involving his brother being traded to the Lakers. Someone who had the Euro big man skills, but whose girth probably would’ve been a detriment in the league. But something happened between the 2008 Olympics and the 2009-2010 season. Gasol lost a lot of that girth and those skills started to translate very well in the NBA. He is now one of the top 4 two-way centers in the league (the other three being Nene, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut) averaging 12.4 points, 7.8 boards, and 1.4 blocks per game in his first 3 season. His combination of youth, mid-range jumper, and inside presence would have been the perfect pick up for Presti and the Thunder. With that said, this is whom I think Presti would’ve seriously pursued if the opportunity had presented itself.

 Chances of the Thunder targeting Gasol – 70%

 In sports, the most commonly used phrase when it comes to front office decision-making is always, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Do I think the acquisition and subsequent signing of Perkins was the right thing to do? At this point, I do think it was. It allowed the young Thunder the opportunity to experience a deep playoff run. That experience will prove to be invaluable in the long run. Perkins is a Presti-type player and his addition didn’t do anything to distract from the core values of the Thunder. Instead, it enchanced the core values of the Thunder and built a stronger foundation of leadership and accountability. In addition, if the rumors are true about Dwight Howard wanting to be a Laker, then we already have our D. Howard stopper when we meet the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.