Tag Archives: Sebastian Telfair

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 12 June 2017

This is DTR and here’s your Thunder news for this Monday.

Brett Dawson wrote a great article on the 365-day scouting process that culminates on draft night: “There was no shot at the kid from Indiana. Oklahoma City held the 12th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, and he would be off the board long before that. By the second pick, as it turned out. There was never a chance he’d fall so far. But at the Draft Combine in Chicago that spring, the Thunder met with Victor Oladipo anyway. “Because you never really know what’s going to happen down the line,” said Will Dawkins, OKC’s director of college player personnel.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 12 June 2017

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Thunder release Sebastian Telfair

telfair thunder

In a surprise move (at least, surprising to us), the Oklahoma City Thunder released point guard Sebastian Telfair after their game against the Jazz. Not only is the timing surprising, but also the fact that it was thought that Telfair had a fully guaranteed contract. That may still be the case, but if Telfair was released, and it is likely because he had a guarantee that was date-specific (i.e. the contract becomes fully guaranteed if the player is on the roster after Nov. 30th).

Telfair’s release coincides with the fact that Ish Smith’s 10-day contract was coming up to a close on Thursday. With Russell Westbrook set to return soon (possibly for their next game against the New York Knicks), the team probably decided that they’d rather go into the season with Smith as the 3rd string point guard. Smith is younger, but, more importantly to the Thunder, he’s probably a lot cheaper. Not only is he a lot cheaper in salary, but he’s also easier to get rid of, as he’ll probably just sign another 10-day contract on Thursday. If Westbrook proves to be healthy, then the need for Smith probably goes out the window in 2 weeks. Then, the Thunder could let Smith go, and gain their coveted empty roster spot that they like to go into the season with.

Telfair played well in spots for the Thunder during their tumultuous beginning of the season. He averaged 8.6 points and 2.9 assists on 36.4% shooting from the field. He provided a veteran’s touch when the going got tough for the Thunder. His professionalism and experience helped the team, and hopefully, some of the young guys learned a thing or two about being an NBA player from Telfair.

The Thunder through the first month of the season: 10 Thoughts

ibaka jones jackson thunder

To call this season eventful would be an understatement. The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit at 3-10, a far cry from the record many predicted the Thunder would have at this point before the season started. But those predictions are usually predicated on the belief that injuries won’t be a factor. Well, injuries have been a huge factor for the Thunder. Here are 10 thoughts from the first two weeks of the season.

1. Injuries stink!

It started with a small blurb, “Mitch McGary’s foot will be re-evaluated following the (Denver) game.” This was right after the Thunder’s first preseason game. A game in which McGary looked like the second coming of Bill Laimbeer. The injury occurred late in the game, but McGary stayed in the game until the final buzzer. But alas, McGary ended up with a broken foot and was reported to be out for 6-8 weeks. Then, after the second preseason game, Kevin Durant went to the training staff to complain about foot pain. It was revealed that he had suffered a Jones fracture and would need surgery. His recovery was slated to take 6-8 weeks also. Next up was Anthony Morrow, who was injured in practice two weeks before the start of the season. He recovery period was said to be between 4-6 weeks. Then 2 days before the start of the season, Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back) both got injured in the final home practice of the preseason.

The Thunder started the season with 8 healthy bodies. Then in the second game of the season, Russell Westbrook missed a shot, went up for a rebound, and came down looking at his hand. He accidentally slammed is hand against Kendrick Perkins’ granite elbow and ended up with a broken bone in his hand that required surgery. His recovery period is said to be between 4-6 weeks. Down to 7 healthy bodies. Reggie Jackson came back for the 4th game of the season, but in that game, Andre Roberson went down with a sprained foot. Down to 6 healthy bodies. In the 5th game of the season, the Thunder got Lamb back, but lost Perry Jones due to a knee contusion. One step forward, one step back. Luckily, the Thunder haven’t suffered anymore injuries since then. The cavalry is due to come back in the next few weeks, with the hope being that the patchwork Thunder can stay afloat long enough for the team to dig out of the injury-riddled hole it’s gotten itself into.

To get a full grasp of the current injury situation, Thunder players have already missed 80 games due to injury through 13 games. Thunder players missed 83 games due to injury all of last season.

durant westbrook roberson thunder injuries

I’ve never seen an injury spell like this, but it does kind of remind me of the 2nd season the Hornets were in town. In that season, the Hornets were predicted to be on the verge of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They had a young, up-and-coming duo in Chris Paul and David West, a young defensive big man in Tyson Chandler, and the catch of the offseason in Peja Stojakovic. The season got off to a great start as the Hornets opened up 8-3 out of the gate. But then came the injuries. Top reserve guard Bobby Jackson missed 26 games due to a cracked rib, West got injured in the 8th game of the season with an elbow issue that required surgery and missed 30 games, Stojakovic had back surgery after the 13th game of the season and missed the rest of the year, and Paul severely sprained his ankle in the 27th game of the season and missed the next 17 games. The Hornets still battled throughout the season, but the injuries proved to be too much and they were eliminated from the playoff hunt in the final month of the season. Here’s hoping the Thunder fare a little bit better.

2. The emergence of Reggie Jackson as a featured player

This could simultaneously be the best and worst thing for the Thunder in their future negotiations with Jackson. It’s great because the Thunder have a third player they can lean on if Durant and Westbrook either miss time or are being heavily keyed on by the opposing defense. And with this injury bug, they’ve definitely needed Jackson to step up. But it’s bad because, with every good game Jackson has and with every game he takes over in the 4th quarter, it’s just a little bit more added to his asking price. Through his first 6 games of the season, Jackson is averaging 22.8 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 0.7 steals on 43% shooting from the field. Removing sample size from the equation, those numbers look very  Westbrookian. But like everything else in the NBA, once opposing defenses get at least 5 games worth of film on you, they can start to scheme against your strengths.

In the last 4 games, opposing teams have begun to focus their defensive energy on Jackson. They either blitz him with an additional defender when he’s 23 feet from the basket or they shadow him with a big man as he dribbles on the perimeter. In those 4 games, Jackson is averaging 15.3 points, 8 assists, and 6.3 rebounds per game. Those are still good number, but his shooting percentage in those 4 games has dropped to 34.4% overall and 20% from 3-point territory. Without too many consistent options on the offensive side of the ball, Jackson is getting a glimpse of what life could like on his own team.

The dirty little secret with the Thunder is that with Westbrook and Durant on the floor, their exorbitant usage percentages tend to mask the full talents of their 3rd and 4th best players. James Harden was never given the opportunity to fully show his array of skills throughout his time with the Thunder. Yes, he played well enough to win the 6th Man of the Year award, but it wasn’t until he was fully unleashed while on the Rockets that he proved he was, arguably, the best 2-guard in the game. While Jackson will likely never be in the discussion for best point guard in the game, he definitely has the skill set to be considered in that second to third tier of point guards outside of Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, and Westbrook.

3. The Veteran Presence of Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison

If I’m a young player in the NBA and I know that I’m likely headed down the career path of being a role player/specialist, then I would be attaching myself to the hip pockets of any of these two guys. In the midst of all this chaos, Collison and Perkins have been bastions of stability, with surprising flashes of necessary greatness. Perkins could have come into this season moping and complaining because of his demotion to the bench. Instead, he’s approached this season with an almost youthful zeal, and he’s probably put together the best 9 games of his Thunder career. In the Thunder’s first win of the season against Denver, Perkins (after scoring 17 points, by the way) echoed the sentiments of the coaching staff by saying that the Thunder “were all in this boat, together.” These are the intangibles that can’t be measured by a statistician. For the most part, Perkins’ stat do not merit his $9.4 million dollar salary. But as a locker room leader, its times like this where Perkins earns every penny he receives in that pay period.

perkins collison thunder

Collison’s play for the past season and a half would lead most to believe that he was on the last leg of his career. The nagging injuries were starting to mount and his effectiveness on the court was starting to diminish. But the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” fell on deaf ears when it came to Collison. Over the offseason, Collison worked on refining his outside shot. There were glimpses of it last season, but this year, Collison has taken it to another level. He has made more 3-point FG’s in the first 13 games of the season (11), than he has in the first 10 years of his career (5). While this may be some sort of statistical anomaly, it may also be the renaissance that can extend Collison’s effectiveness a couple more seasons.

4. Serge Ibaka: The Strangest 3 and D guy in the League

In the 7 seasons the Thunder have been in Oklahoma City, they’ve had a number of 3-point specialists on the team. From Daequan Cook to Kevin Martin to Anthony Morrow, the team is always in search of players that will help spread the floor and provide Durant and Westbrook space to operate. The floor spacer the team has been looking for may have been on the team all along. Serge Ibaka had shown signs of being an effective 3-point shooter in the past couple seasons. In the last 2 seasons, Ibaka has shot 43-117 from 3-point territory, good for 36.8%. This season, through the first 13 games, Ibaka is 23-59 (39%) from deep on 4.5 3-point attempts per game. He has already matched his total of made 3-point FG’s from last season. Some of that is out of necessity due to the team needing to find offense in its current situation. But, I also think this may be by design. Can you imagine Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson operating in a small ball line-up where Ibaka takes the center out towards the 3-point line? I would surmise it would be almost unfair.

5. The Development of Perry Jones

More than any other sport, athleticism is of extreme importance to basketball. The fluid nature of the game, the constant movement, the jumping, the slashing, the running. It’s almost like a fast paced ballet. The more athletic the player, the more of a leg up they have in the league. Is every athletic player destined for greatness? Of course not. But athleticism can be a major tool to have in an NBA career. For two years now, we’ve heard from different members of the Thunder organization marveling about Jones’ athletic ability. Heaping the accolades that he is the most athletic player on an extremely athletic team. But on the court, he could never seem to put it all together. You saw the flashes of athletic brilliance, but the motor and the want to be great seemed to be missing. What you got was a player that was seemingly content with being a “utility defender” and a spot-up 3-point shooter.

perry jones thunder

With necessity, though, comes action. When Westbrook went down in the first half of the 2nd game of the season, the Thunder were left without a consistent playmaker. Sebastian Telfair, a player that wasn’t even in the league last season, was tasked with setting up the offense. But who would he pass it to? Enter Perry Jones. With the vacuum created by the absence of Durant, Jackson, and Westbrook, Jones stepped up and averaged 22.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists on 52% shooting from the field in the 3 games in which he played more than 34 minutes. Even though it was only a 3 game spurt, the experience Jones got in learning how to use his tools, may be key to the Thunder’s future success.

6. The Fragility of Jeremy Lamb’s Mental State

The first two games after Lamb came from injury: 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists per game on 46.4% FG shooting and 33.3% from 3-point territory.

The next two games from Lamb: 5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game on 17.4% FG shooting and 0-7 from 3-point territory.

So, what was the difference between these two splits? The easy answer is that the first two games were at home and the next two were on the road. But I think the real cause goes deeper than that. Last season, Lamb’s home/road splits were nearly identical. Consistency, based on venue, was never an issue with Lamb. So, then, what was the major difference between the first two games and the next two games?

My hypothesis is that Lamb performs better when there is no competitive pressure on him from an internal source. In essence, when he is allowed to play carefree without anybody waiting in the wing to take his minutes, he performs wonderfully. But as soon as there is competitive pressure from a teammate for minutes, Lamb starts to press and his performance suffers. In the first two games that Lamb played, Anthony Morrow was out with a knee injury. But as soon as Morrow was activated, Lamb’s numbers suffered. A similar scenario happened last season when the Thunder signed Caron Butler in late February. Lamb’s performance, which had been trending downward in the month of February, completely bottomed out after Butler was signed and he lost his spot in the rotation.

Since his first 4 games of the seasons, it appears that Lamb’s inconsistencies have a lot to do with home/road splits this season. At home, Lamb averages 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field and 40% from 3. On the road, Lamb’s averages drop to 9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game on 25.6% shooting from the first and 27.8% from 3.

7. The Importance of the 15th Man – Lance Thomas 

Every year, the Thunder brings in about 3-4 hopefuls to training camp to fill out their preseason roster. Those players are usually cut by the time the season starts and some even become part of the Thunder’s D-League team. The Thunder like to head into the season with an empty roster spot in case they need to facilitate a trade or if they need to sign someone later in the season. But this season, with all the injuries, the Thunder chose to sign one of their training camp hopefuls. Lance Thomas beat out Talib Zanna, Richard Solomon, and Michael Jenkins to secure the coveted 15th spot on the team.

Thunder v Raptors

A 15th man is usually a player that goes hard in practice, and then cheers from the sidelines in a nicely tailored suit as an inactive player. If the 15th man is getting playing time, then a couple of scenarios are at play: either several players on the roster are injured, a recent trade has trimmed the roster by at least 2 players, or some players are sitting out for rest. To us fans, the last guy off the bench is usually an afterthought. Someone we know is a part of the team, but also, someone whom we don’t necessarily want playing significant minutes.

But to a general manager, the 15th man could be the piece of gum that prevents the dam from breaking. If the 15th man has to play, then he better be someone that can give you something of significance. Well, not only has Lance Thomas had to play, but he’s also started 9 games for the Thunder. He’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and turnovers. There are games where he plays like the 15th man on our roster. But then there are games where his energy and hustle help the team significantly. In a perfect world, I would love for Thomas to remain as our 15th man. In the real world, though, he will probably be the sacrificial lamb sometime this season, for a trade or to make room for a late season veteran signing. Whatever happens, he has shown his mettle and will likely get another chance in this league because of it.

8. Sebastian Telfair – The Stabilizer

When Telfair signed with the team this offseason, the thought was that he would play the veteran third string point guard role that Royal Ivey and Kevin Ollie have filled in the past. A veteran that can still play some, but is more of a team-first guy. Instead, with all the injuries on the team, Telfair has had to fill the Derek Fisher role: point guard gunner off the bench.

Telfair career was thought to be on its last leg after he played in China last season. For the promise that he brought coming into the NBA, he has been a bit of a bust. But he has carved out a respectable 10 year career as a journeyman playing for 8 franchises, including a two time tour of duty in Minnesota. As a third string point guard making the league minimum, Telfair would’ve probably fared great on this team. The scary part would’ve been if he was needed to be pressed into action, and that fear came to fruition as the season started.

Surprisingly, though, Telfair has been a bit of a stabilizer on this team. Does he chuck too much at times? Yes. Does he turn it over more times than a veteran point guard should? Yes. Is he lacking defensively? Yes. But he’s a gamer when he’s in there and gives 100% effort. When Westbrook and Jackson were out for that game and a half in the beginning of the season, Telfair went out there and performed admirably against Chris Paul and Ty Lawson. His veteran presence has helped this team stay even-keeled throughout this arduous process.

9. Scott Brooks – Possible Coach of the Year candidate

The Coach of the Year award usually goes to one of two coaches: either the coach on the team that overachieves and makes the playoffs or the coach on the best team in the league when there isn’t a surprise overachieving team. But let’s say the Thunder navigate through this rough start and actually make it to the playoffs in the Western Conference. Wouldn’t Brooks be as deserving in leading this patchwork MASH unit to the playoffs as any other coach in the league? Brooks has had to adapt to the team he has. He’s muddied up the games in hopes that the Thunder can stick around long enough to make a run at the end of the game. He’s employed 2-3 zone defenses and strange line-ups where every player on the floor was over 6’9″ (Jones, Thomas, Perkins, Ibaka, and Collison). He’s become kind of a subdued mad scientist.

coach brooks thunder

Will voters remember this run when Westbrook and Durant have played 55-60 together at the end of the season? Probably not. But the biggest knock on Brooks has always been is inability to quickly adapt to situations, whether in game or in a small sample size of games. Now that he’s adapting on the fly, I wonder if this will continue when the reinforcements come back, or if Brooks will revert back to his old ways. Either way, if the Thunder are anywhere near the 6th seed in the West when the season closes, I think Brooks should be in consideration for COY.

10. Heart of a Champion!

Regardless of where the Thunder finish this season, the moxie they have exhibited in these first 13 games should be applauded. Have they looked horrible at times? Yes. But, at least they haven’t looked Philadelphia 76ers horrible. They’ve been in most games until the end and have shown no quit. It’s been a learning process and hopefully, the lessons learned early this season will help guide this team in May and June.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 6 of 82)

reggie jackson tony allen thunder grizzlies

  • When: Friday, 07 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder come into Friday night’s match-up against the Memphis Grizzlies at 1-4. A far cry from the number 2 seeded team they were in the playoffs last season. Don’t let the record fool you, though. Yes, injuries have bitten the team hard, but in that stead, a champion’s heart has started to emerge. Even though the team has fluctuated between 7-8 healthy players, the Thunder have been in every game heading into the 4th quarter except one. That is a testament to the players’ wills and to the coaching staff for having the team prepared. With that said, the season stops for no team and continues on.

The Thunder vs. Grizzlies match-up is a rivalry that has been building for the past few seasons. Both teams started their ascension to the top of the Western Conference around the same team, with the Thunder having gone a little bit further in that time span. Last season, the Thunder won the season series 3-1, but nearly got ousted by the Grizzlies in the first round. That playoff match-up was one for the ages with Games 2-5 being decided in overtime. The series featured game-saving 4-point plays, epic 4th quarter comebacks, super-nova’ed bench players, and Perkins hitting a game-tying put back to send one of the games to overtime.

The Opponent

allen randolph gasol conley grizzlies

The Grizzlies come into the game with a 5-0 record, boasting the best defense in the league. They allow a league low 86.2 points per game and are 2nd in Defensive Rating. The offense, while not high scoring, is one of the better half-court offenses in the league. Mike Conley continues to play his part as “most underrated point guard in the league.” With per game averages of 15.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 1.4 steals, Conley continues to be one of the most consistent point guards in the league. Up front, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol make up one of the most formidable front court duos in the league. Their size and skill in the post creates problems for most teams. On the wing, Courtney Lee is currently shooting an unsustainable 70% from 3-point territory and Tony Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league (just ask Kevin Durant). The Grizzlies’ bench is veteran-laden, featuring Vince Carter, Quincy Pondexter, Kosta Koufos, and Beno Udrih.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tony Allen
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Jeremy Lamb
  • SF – Lance Thomas
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pace – The Grizzlies play at one of the slower paces in the league. They take their time, look for efficient shots, and keep turnovers to a minimum. Although the Thunder don’t have the horses to run like they normally would, a quicker pace may be advantageous to them in this game. If the Thunder play at the Grizzlies’ pace, they may play into the opponent’s hands (paws?).

2. Perimeter shooting big men – The Grizzlies love to pack the paint and dare you to shoot jumpers. Their anchor on the interior is Gasol, the 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. But a line-up with any two of Serge Ibaka, Lance Thomas, or Nick Collison, who can do damage from the perimeter, could take Gasol and Randolph out of the comfort zone of the interior and open up driving lanes for Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Sebastian Telfair.

Jeremy Lamb

3. Jeremy Lamb – This will likely be Lamb’s first game of the season. It will be interesting to see how Lamb reacts, not only to being one of the primary offensive options on the team, but also to having no restrictions or pressure on him. Even if he shoots awful, there is no one behind him in the depth chart to take his place.

There are no strings on me: The Thunder and the current normal

ultron

I have a confession: I’m completely geeked out for this new Avengers movie after watching the leaked (and then official) trailer. I’ve never been a big comic book fan. I always have to ask brother in law (an avid comic book fan) or Wikipedia about the back stories and B-level characters. But as the Marvel universe has progressed and expanded, it has slowly engulfed my interests and now I’m hooked.

So, about that trailer. In it, the Avengers reassemble against a new foe, Ultron. Apparently, Ultron is a robotic creation of Tony Starks’ that either develops its own free will or is “infused” with its own free will. Anyways, like many other movies of the “robotic element with artificial intelligence” genre, Ultron decides that humans are inferior and must be eliminated. His opening soliloquy, voiced dead on by an eerie James Spader, ultimately locks into Ultron’s theme in the movie: “You want to protect the world, but you don’t want to change it. You’re all puppets, tangled in strings.” His closing line, cloaked behind an haunting rendition of Pinocchio’s “I’ve got no strings” song, tells the story of Ultron’s existence: “I’m free. I have no strings on me”.

In a lot of ways, the young players on the Thunder have been held back by the strings of the current system they have in place. A system that caters mainly to the skill sets of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and to a lesser extent Reggie Jackson). The system is in place for good reason, though: notably that Durant and Westbrook, regardless of what ESPN’s NBARank thinks, are 2 of the top 5 players in the league. Players like Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, Perry Jones, and Steven Adams all have specific roles to fill in the system. Any deviation from their role can threaten, not only the system, but also the player’s inclusion into the system (a.k.a playing time).

Young players drafted onto championship contenders have the ominous distinction of not only having to develop, but having to develop specifically to a role. If young players are drafted onto bad teams, they are basically given free reign to develop into what they may ultimately become. It’s the tabula rasa concept of letting a blank slate paint itself. Carmelo Anthony’s career would probably be a lot different if he was drafted by the championship contending Detroit Pistons in 2003. In Denver, he was allowed to assume the leadership role of the team early on and develop on his own. In Detroit, he would’ve been stashed behind Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace for at least one season, if not longer. The young players on the Thunder have had to sacrifice their development for the greater good of the team. While they do get to develop in a winning environment, they unfortunately cannot get those 1-3 years of “tabula rasa” development back. The D-League helps, but the competition pales in comparison to the NBA.

perry jones thunder

This season, from the outset, has been one of those “worst possible scenarios” type seasons. A lot of times when NBA writers are typing up their league preview columns, they sometimes give the Best Outcome/Worst Outcome for each team. Well, the beginning of this season has definitely been the “worst outcome” incarnate. It started with rookie Mitch McGary breaking his foot after the first preseason game. Then Durant was found to also have a broken foot that required surgery two days later. All the while, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison were out with various ailments. Then, a week before the season starts, Anthony Morrow goes down with a sprained MCL in pratice. Then two days before the start of the regular season, both Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back) get injured in practice and have to sit out the first two games of the season. And finally, Westbrook breaks his hand in the 2nd game of the season. It’s been a curse-like run of bad luck from the get-go this season.

With struggle, comes change. Coach Scott Brooks, long criticized for his inability to adapt on the fly to in-game situations, has had to almost free-style rap a system that is more suited to the likes of Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones, Sebastian Telfair, and Serge Ibaka. Gone is the system that was catered to two superstars. Now, the the strings of that system have been cut, and players like Jones and Roberson are able to explore and see what they can do in this league without any restraints. The Thunder have gone from championship contender to blank slate developers in the span of a month. With Jones’ career high 32 point explosion on Friday night, it proved , under the guise of necessity and when given a chance, these young players can achieve great things in this league. At least for the next month, the young players on the Thunder will be a lot like Ultron: free and without any strings.

There will be frustrating moments during these next 4-6 weeks. It will be like watching one’s own kids going through their awkward teenage phase. But there will also be moments where the growth of these players will be on full display. And that can be nothing but beneficial for the Thunder. Remember, the silver lining in all of this is that all the significant injuries are only of the 4-6 week variety. If the team can win a couple games they are supposed to and steal a couple games they aren’t, they may be in position to make a big push as the calendar year turns. By January, everybody should be back healthy and ready to make their playoff push. The experience gained by the young players from now to then will be a valuable tool as the team heads towards the playoffs. And in case any one was wondering, they will make the playoffs. Mark it down.

Summertime Blues: What’s Left To Do?

sam presti

This is always the most boring part of the year for me. Summer league is over with, most of the free agents have signed, the FIBA World Cup is still a month away, and football training camps just started. I like baseball, but not enough to pay attention to it day in and day out. In addition, the stability of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise makes time seem to drag even more. Don’t get me wrong, though. I enjoy the stability of the team. Our superstars and role players are all signed and the roster, for the most part, is already set.

But the work of an NBA GM is never done. It is during these quiet times that GM’s get most of their leg work done for future moves. Thunder GM Sam Presti has done a great job of creating a stable environment, but there is still work to be done before the season starts. Here are 3 issues the team still wants to take of before the season starts.

1. What to do with Semaj Christon?

Much like Grant Jerrett from last season, the Thunder see a lot of potential in their 2nd round pick-up from this draft. Christon is the prototypical Thunder point guard: long, athletic, and able to get into the lane. What he lacks is consistent perimeter shooting and experience as a floor general. The Thunder saw a little of what Christon is able to produce during Summer League. He averaged 11.3 points, 2.3 rebouds, and 2.8 assists on 48.5% shooting from the field. He played in 4 games and averaged 26.3 minutes per game. He showed a penchant for being a good on the ball defender and averaged 1.3 steals per game. This is a prime example of what the Thunder look for in a point guard.

semaj christon thunder summer league

With Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, and Sebastian Telfair already on the roster, the point guard quota for the Thunder is filled for this season. The question is how do the Thunder hold on to Christon without having a roster spot to offer him? Barring a late offseason trade, the Thunder already have the 15 players they will be going into the season with.

Will they maneuver another Jerrett-like move to hold onto Christon’s draft rights through their D-League affiliate? One thing that may be in the Thunder’s favor is the loyalty they showed to Jerrett last season. Jerrett went along with the move the Thunder made to rescind his rights before training camp, but draft him in the D-League draft. At the end of the D-League season, the Thunder brought Jerrett in for the last week of the season and for the remainder of the playoffs. Christon may see this and give the Thunder a chance to develop him in the D-League with the thought that he might be brought in at the end of this season or next season. The Thunder have been including Christon in a lot of their community related activities this offseason, so it’s obvious they see him as a part of their future.

2. The Hasheem Thabeet / Tibor Pleiss Conundrum

Since 2010, one of the questions asked every offseason for the Thunder is whether Tibor Pleiss would finally come over. The Thunder drafted the German big man with the 31st pick in the 2010 NBA draft and expected him to stay in Europe for a couple seasons to further his development. But with Pleiss turning 25 this year, it’s getting to the point where the Thunder either bring him over and see what type of player they have, or they move on and Pleiss becomes one of those names that gets included in a trade as filler. With the calendar nearing August, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Pleiss would stay in Europe this season.

tibor pleiss

The Thunder, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily in need of a big man. They already have Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams in tow, and have a team option for Hasheem Thabeet. Next offseason is a different story. Perkins will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, as will Thabeet if the Thunder pick up his option. The Thunder have until September 1st to make a decision on Thabeet. If they don’t waive him before that date, his salary becomes fully guaranteed.

Everything was expected to go as planned. The Thunder would head into this season with their three centers, and Pleiss would stay in Europe for at least one more year of seasoning. Then, on July 27th, international sports website Sportando quoted German national coach Emir Mutapcic as saying, “His agent told us that Pleiss is close to signing in the NBA.” It seems like every offseason there are conflicting reports whether Pleiss would come over or not, but this one felt different. Maybe it’s the fact that Pleiss hasn’t officially signed with a Euroleague team or the fact that no one in the Thunder organization has flat out said, “No, Pleiss is not coming over this season.”

It would make sense for the Thunder to bring Pleiss over this season in order to get him acclimated to playing in the NBA. If he’s going to be the primary back-up next season, he’ll need the experience. Plus, the Thunder have to see what they actually have in Pleiss. The only drawback will be the departure of Thabeet, whom the team loves as a locker room/chemistry guy. From a basketball perspective, though, it would be the best move to bring Pleiss over.

Reggie Jackson’s extension

Other than signing a 3-point shooter, no other move would complete this offseason like signing Reggie Jackson to an extension. Jackson just completed his third season in the league, which makes him eligible for an extension with his current team. If the Thunder fail to sign Jackson to an extension this offseason, then they risk him going into restricted free agency next offseason. This is a scary thought because if a team with cap space offers Jackson a lucrative contract, then the Thunder may have to turn it down and allow Jackson to walk away with nothing to show for it.

The question becomes, “What is Jackson worth?” He’s a 6th Man of the Year candidate with the skills (and chops) to be a starter in the league. In the past year, Jackson has filled in admirably in Westbrook’s absence due to injury, and has been part of the Thunder’s finishing line-up when Westbrook has been healthy. The Thunder, and Jackson, for that matter, are probably paying close attention to what happens in the Eric Bledsoe/Phoenix Suns contract negotiations. Jackson’s situation is very similar to Bledsoe’s, who was a 6th Man of the Year candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers, playing behind Chris Paul, before getting traded to the Suns where he became a full time starter. The Suns recently offered Bledsoe a 4 year/$48 million dollar contract, which Bledsoe rejected.

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

To the Thunder, Jackson is not worth $12 million a year. With max level contracts for Durant and Westbrook already in the books, and Ibaka receiving $12.3 million per season, the Thunder can’t really give out another max or near-max level contract. With Perkins and his $9.4 million dollar contract coming off the books after this season, the Thunder could hypothetically offer Jackson a 4 year, $30 million dollar contract. Anything more than that, and the Thunder are compromising their ability to sign Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka to future extensions.

Besides the money, another sticking point may be Jackson’s desire to be a full-time starter in the league. In his exit interview, Jackson made that desire known to the public. The Thunder like to start a traditionally sized, defensive minded shooting guard in the Thabo Sefolosha mold and probably would not commit to starting a duel combo guard starting line-up. In Jackson’s mind, if he’s able to get the money and the starting job, he may be willing to wait out this year and go to restricted free agency next season. If that’s the case, the Thunder may just have themselves another James Harden situation.

Ten Reasons why the Thunder are Winning this Offseason

durant ibaka jackson westbrook thunder

I have to hand it to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not only were they blessed with the Number 1 pick in a loaded draft, but they were also lucky enough to land the Number 1 player in the NBA during free agency. Getting Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James in the same offseason is enough to give Cleveland the offseason championship, outright.

Despite what many Thunder fans may lead you to believe, the Thunder are having themselves a great summer. Many fans will focus on the fact the Thunder missed out on Pau Gasol, let a $6.6 million dollar traded player exception expire, and used a first round pick on someone named Josh Huestis. But, quietly, the Thunder are putting together a quality championship contender that may be more dangerous than last season’s team. Here are 10 reasons why the Thunder are winning this offseason.

10. The acquisition of Sebastian Telfair

There are a couple characteristics a team wants from a veteran 3rd string point guard. First of all, a team would like them to be cheap. Like, vet minimum cheap. Secondly, a team wants them to come in knowing that they are not competing for a starting job. The job application says “3rd string point guard” for a reason. And thirdly, a journeyman with a story would be a great addition for the youngsters on the roster.

Telfair: Check, Check, Check

After spending a season in the Chinese Basketball Association, Telfair turned down a far more lucrative extension to get back into the NBA. The deal is for the vet minimum and is currently non-guaranteed. That means it is basically a near risk free transaction for the Thunder. With that said, Telfair is still a serviceable player. He never quite reached the potential that was bestowed upon him for being a NY point guard legend out of high school and for being Stephon Marbury’s younger cousin, but he has put together a quality decade long NBA career.

Third string point guards usually only play in blowouts and in cases of injury. But with Reggie Jackson possibly starting, Telfair is still young enough (29) and skilled enough to be used as the primary back up point guard also. For that reason alone, Telfair is probably the perfect choice for 3rd string point guard.

9. Jeremy Lamb seemed more willing to absorb contact

Many people will focus on Lamb’s 3-point shooting (or lack thereof) during Summer League. He shot 4-23 (17.4%) from downtown. Not necessarily a number you want to see from someone you consider to be one of the few perimeter threats on the team. Take away the 3-point shot attempts, and Lamb shot a more respectable 12-27 (44.4%) from the field.

lamb thunder summer league

But the number I want to focus on is 20. That is the number of free throw attempts Lamb shot in the 3 games he played, good for a 6.7 per game average. One of the knocks on Lamb last season was the he shied away from contact too much and settled for too many jumpers. He only averaged 0.8 free throw attempts per game last season. Increase that to 3 FTAs per game, and his points per game average should increase also.

For comparison, let’s look at James Harden’s 2010 summer league stats: He shot a dismal 1-14 from 3-point territory, but averaged 12 free throw attempts per game for the 4 games that he played. When it comes to summer league, we never know what the organization says to the player going into summer league play. Maybe the coaches told Lamb to assert himself offensively, but also to work on driving into the lane and drawing contact. More than anything, we may be seeing the maturation of Lamb’s game.

8. Andre Roberson looked more comfortable offensively

Roberson was already working on his resume as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league last season. Anytime he was in the game, he caused havoc with his athleticism and length. But his offense (or lack thereof) was a liability and prevented him from staying in games for long stretches of time.

The Thunder envision Roberson as a Thabo Sefolosha replacement and even tried him out for 16 starts when Sefolosha injured his calf after the All Star break. The dream scenario would be for Roberson to develop a consistent 3-point shot, especially from the corners, while also providing All-NBA-type defense from the perimeter.

Roberson did shoot 33.3% from 3-point territory in Summer League, but only on 6 attempts. He did average 9.5 points per game in 4 SL games on a variety of drives and put-backs. The most important thing was that he seemed confident with the ball in his hands. He’ll probably never be a play maker, but if he’s able to confidently drive to the basket, that can provide some semblance of an offense until he gets his shot figured out.

The only negative was his inconsistent free throw shooting. The good news is that he attempted 25 free throws in 4 games (6.3 a game). The bad news is that he only made 8 of those free throw attempts. That is a putrid 32% from the free throw line. For someone who shot 70% from the line in the regular season, here’s hoping that was just an anomaly.

7. Perry Jones was aggressive and attacking

The biggest knock on Jones coming into the 2012 NBA draft was his motor. His athletic tools made him better than most of his counterparts in high school and college, but he also had a tendency to disappear in games and not necessarily push the issue on offense. That, and a medical report on his knees (we’ll get to that later), scared teams from picking him in the first round until the Thunder took him at 28.

Jones hasn’t really done much in his 2 year career to alleviate those fears from draft day. He’s an athletic specimen, but seems content with just being there. Instead of attacking, he chooses to float around the perimeter and occasionally puts up shots. Last season, he showed the makings of a consistent 3-point shot and also showed the makings of a good defensive player. The job he did on LeBron James in January showed the type of potential Jones had.

In Summer League, Jones finally showed what he could do when he was aggressive and looking for his shot. He drove to the basket and shot the 3-point shot well (9-19). He kept on attacking even after missing a couple of shots. If he can translate into the regular season, the Thunder may have found themselves another dynamic weapon on the team.

Unfortunately, Jones had to have arthroscopic knee surgery after Summer League. He should be fine for training camp, but it is a bummer that he couldn’t continue to work on his game and improve upon his confidence in this offseason.

6. Steven Adams was a man among boys

Steven Adams was strong and played physical. Plus, he busted out a little jump hook. Nothing really different than what we saw in the regular season. Good enough for me.

5. Mitch McGary was a revelation

I know you are supposed to take Summer League performances with a grain of salt. But, oh man, was that grain tasty. I had no idea what to expect of McGary coming into Summer League. He was coming off back surgery and hadn’t played in an organized setting in over half a year. Hell, I didn’t even know whether he was going to suit up or not.

mcgary summer league thunder

But, play he did. And very well, at that. When names like Kevin Love and Bill Laimbeer are thrown around as comparisons, no matter how hyperbolic they may be, you know you have yourself a pretty good player. A more fitting comparison would be a more offensively apt Nick Collison. McGary averaged 14.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 4 games. He shot 50% from the field and showed range out to 15-17 feet, even attempting (and missing) two 3-point attempts.

His greatest quality might be his hustle. It appears that we’ve once again gotten a player that isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, much like we got from Steven Adams last season. He shows great role player potential and appears to be ready to contribute this season.

4. The signing of Anthony Morrow

The goal all along was to sign a shooter. That much was certain when the Thunder drafted another big man and another perimeter oriented defender. Yes, when presented with the opportunity, the Thunder flirted (actually, lusted) with the idea of signing Pau Gasol. But that would’ve been a luxurious want. A shooter was always the necessary need.

The Thunder, a team predicated on the greatness of two perimeter oriented, dribble drive players, had no one on the team that shot over 40% from 3-point territory. Without a floor spacer, teams packed the paint and dared the team to beat them from the perimeter. Durant and Westbrook still registered great regular seasons, but their stats, especially Durant’s, suffered a bit during the playoffs.

Anthony Morrow

Once the flirtation of Gasol ended with him signing with Chicago, their attention was immediately turned to finding a shooter. The only available options for the Thunder were Mike Miller and Anthony Morrow. Once James signed with Cleveland, Miller going to the Cavs became an inevitability. The Thunder immediately set their sights on Morrow and signed him to a 3 year deal worth $10 million dollars. Not only is Morrow is a top 4 three point shooter in the league, but he was also signed for below market value for a top 10 shooter. The top 10 3-point shooters from last season will make an average of $4.77 million dollars next season.

3. The Thunder still have money under the tax line

Even with 16 contracts on file, the Thunder are still around $500K under the luxury tax line. Hasheem Thabeet, Sebastian Telfair, and Grant Jerrett all have non-guaranteed contracts. With one of those three likely on the chopping block, the Thunder are actually around $1.5 million under the tax line. Where this will help the Thunder is at the trade deadline. With two expiring contracts in Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, the Thunder will be able to be a player at the deadline with the ability to absorb an extra $1.5 million in salary.

2. Most contending teams got worse.

Most of the teams that contended last season have gotten worse, some significantly.

  • Miami Heat – Lost LeBron James. ‘Nuff said.
  • Houston Rockets – Lost Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik. Signed Trevor Ariza, but lost a ton of depth. Plus, there are some rumblings that the two superstars on the team aren’t very well liked in the locker room.
  • San Antonio Spurs – Basically have the same squad, but they are a year older and recovering from surgery-necessitating injuries (Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili)
  • Brooklyn Nets – Lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston and still feature the oft-injured Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez.
  • Golden State Warriors – May have improved a bit with the Livingston signing, but may be embroiled for much of the season in the Kevin Love sweepstakes.

1. The Thunder still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson)

With the Miami Heat losing LeBron James, it’s always good to remember the Thunder still have a young, and still improving quartet that features the current MVP, possibly the top point guard in the league, the best two way PF in the league, and a dynamic 6th man/combo guard.

 

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.