Tag Archives: Serge Ibaka

2016 Oklahoma City Thunder Trade Prospectus

dj augustin thunder

With a couple days left before the trading deadline, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit with the third best record in the NBA, and are 1 of 3 teams with at least 40 wins at the All-Star break. That would usually be great for most years. But this season, the two teams with better records than the Thunder are 1) in the same conference and 2) on historic win paces. Any move the Thunder make during the trade deadline will be with these two teams in mind.

As currently constructed, the Thunder are better equipped to deal with the San Antonio Spurs than the Golden State Warriors. They match up well position for position, and have the athleticism to give the Spurs problems. The Warriors on the other hand, present a different set of problems for the Thunder. Their penchant for scoring from the outside has baffled every team in the league. The Thunder have a habit of letting teams beat them from the outside, but for some reason, they have defended the Warriors reasonably well over the past two seasons.

When it comes to trades, its always about what a team needs and what a team is willing to offer. The Thunder were extremely busy before and during the trade deadline last season, acquiring Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, Steve Novak, DJ Augustin, and Kyle Singler. All five players are still on the roster this season, with Kanter and Singler signing multiyear extensions in the offseason. In addition to the players the Thunder gave up to acquire that quintet, they also gave up two first round picks in the process. Those first rounders are lottery protected and likely will be honored within the next three years if the Thunder can keep their core together. With all that said, here’s a look at a couple of the assets the Thunder have in tow.

Assets

1. Serge Ibaka

Trading Ibaka this season is highly unlikely. He’s the third cog in the Thunder’s Big 3 and has been there from the beginning of the run. But while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook  have expanded their games to become two of the best players in the league, Ibaka, for all his tools, has never been able to consistently put it all together. Be it the low basketball IQ or the fact that Ibaka may not be as young as his counterparts, the time for Ibaka on the Thunder may be numbered. While he hasn’t necessarily been injury-prone throughout his career, he does appear to be slowing down. His rebound and block numbers are the lowest they’ve been since his rookie season. His overall FG% is under 50% for the 2nd straight season, after starting off his first 5 seasons above the median line.

In addition, three factors are working against Ibaka remaining in the current position he is in after this season. First, the style of play in the current NBA has negated the need for a shot blocker. Remember when the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, and Spurs were the class of the NBA in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s? It was all because of the big man position. Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan were all extremely influential in their teams’ runs to the Finals during that period in time. The Thunder, trying to get to that position of power, decided to trade Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins. Not only did the trade give the Thunder a defensive post player, but it also opened the door for Ibaka to become the premier shot-blocker in the league. Well, those days are gone. The pace and space NBA has basically eliminated the need for a premier post defender. Elite wing defenders are where the money is now.

Secondly, in keeping with the fact that the NBA is changing, so too have positions changed. The traditional view of power forwards and centers no longer works in this new NBA. In its stead, successful teams are now starting to trot out bigger small forwards to play the power forward position. What a team may lose on the block, it may gain on the offensive end with more 3’s and transition buckets. Kevin Durant began his career as an oversized two guard, but eventually settled into his more natural position of small forward when Scott Brooks became the Thunder’s head coach. Through the years, the natural progression of an athlete’s body has allowed Durant to get a little bit thicker as he has aged. That increase in weight has allowed Durant to not only play in the post more as an offensive player, but also to better defend post players on the other end of the floor. Shifting Durant to PF permanently wouldn’t be that big of a jump for the Thunder. He’s already leading the team in rebounding and is second on the team in blocks per game at 1.2.

Thirdly, Steven Adams has become the prototypical post player for this new NBA. Someone who is athletic enough to patrol the entire paint, but also strong enough to play the enforcer role. He’s younger and more mobile than Ibaka, and he comes at a much cheaper price, for now. That’s where the decision will come into play after this season. Adams still has one more year left on his rookie deal after this season, but the Thunder have first dibs on an extension after this season. Adams will likely command a salary upwards of $12 million. Ibaka comes up for free agency the same year Westbrook does. If the Thunder are able to keep both Durant and Westbrook, they’ll be no way they can also keep Ibaka and Adams.

Again, I’m not saying it’ll happen this season. But Ibaka’s $12.25 million dollar salary may be useful if a jackpot deal pops up. And if that deals becomes availalbe, the team may think long and hard about trading Air Congo.

2. Expiring Contracts (DJ Augustin and Steve Novak)

The Thunder have a couple expiring contracts that may come into play during the trade deadline. DJ Augustin and Steve Novak are both on the final year of their deals, while Dion Waiters is on the final guaranteed year of his rookie contract. If Waiters is traded, the team he is traded to will have the right to match any offer Waiters is given in the offseason. But Waiters plays a big role on the Thunder as a multifaceted guard and will likely remain in that role throughout the season.

The Thunder are in a bit of a precarious situation with Augustin. His $3 million dollar salary may be useful in a trade, but the Thunder have to make sure they get a veteran point guard either via trade or as a buy-out signee. If the Thunder trade Augustin without getting another another veteran point guard, they risk heading into the postseason with rookie Cameron Payne as their only other option behind Russell Westbrook. While Payne has been good, the Warriors’ game showed that the postseason lights could a little too bright at this moment for the first year player out of little Murray State. The Thunder may just keep Augustin around as the veteran third string point guard.

Novak, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to be moved by the deadline. His $3.75 million dollar contract is big enough to fetch a player of value for the Thunder. But also, the Thunder may just trade him to a team that needs salary in order to have an empty roster spot for a buy-out candidate, such as Joe Johnson or Kevin Martin.

3. Mitch McGary

The second year big man showed a lot of promise in the offseason and preseason. But a concussion in the preseason kept him out of the final week of practice heading into the season opener, and he has yet to find his footing in the rotation this season. McGary may be the Thunder’s most attractive asset as a young big on a cheap rookie scale contract. But that may also be the reason the Thunder keep him.

4. Multiple 2nd rounders and trade exceptions

This year, the Thunder have their own 2nd rounder and, likely, Charlotte’s 2nd rounder, which is protected for picks 56-60. In addition, the Thunder still have their 2nd round pick for 2017 and Memphis’ 2nd rounder for that year also (protected 31-35, unprotected in 2018). Second round picks are good filler for trades involving players that bring little to nothing to the table. For example, if the Thunder trade Steve Novak to the Trailblazers as a salary dump, then attaching a 2nd round pick will probably make it worth the Blazer’s while to take on Novak’s salary for the last 2 months of the season.

In addition to the 2nd round picks, the Thunder also have two trade exceptions. The Jeremy Lamb trade exception is worth $2.13 million and the Luke Ridnour trade exception is worth $2.85 million. While those amounts are relatively small, if a team is looking to unload one of their younger players without taking on salary, a trade exception may be the way to go.

5.  Alex Abrines

The Thunder own the rights to the 22 year old Spanish guard who is currently averaging 8 points per game on 41% shooting from 3-point territory for one of the premier teams in Europe, FC Barcelona. He is signed through 2019, but has a buyout clause. He lacks the athleticism to be a regular rotation player in the NBA, but would be a good addition as a 3-point specialist (a la Anthony Morrow) for a team that may need perimeter scoring in the future.

For as good as the Thunder have been this season, they still have holes that can be filled to further contend with the top teams in the league. Here’s a look at some of the areas of the need the Thunder could possibly fill.

Targets

1. 3 and D player

In this new NBA, the premier role player is that of a 3 and D wing. The Thunder have about 4 players in their rotation that masquerade as 3-and-D wings. The only problem is that those that are good at 3-point shooting (Anthony Morrow) struggle on defense, and those that excel at defense (Andre Roberson and Kyle Singler) struggle at consistently hitting their perimeter shots. The only player on the roster that qualifies as a viable 3-and-D wing is Dion Waiters, and he is great at neither.

Keeping up with the Warriors and Spurs of the league necessitates a team to have players that can be effective on both ends of the floor. The two players most commonly associated with the Thunder for this position are PJ Tucker of the Phoenix Suns and Courtney Lee of the Memphis Grizzlies. Both players are in the $5.5 million dollar range and could be had for an expiring and either McGary or Josh Huestis.

Some other surprising candidates may be Mirza Teletovic of the Phoenix Suns ($5.5 million) and Ben McLemore ($3.16 million) of the Sacramento Kings. Thunder GM Sam Presti has a habit of running misdirection plays where everyone in the media thinks he’s going one way, but he ends up going an entirely different direction (think last year with the Brook Lopez/Enes Kanter trade deadline happenings). While Teletovic is a bit too big to be a wing, he does bring the “3” part of the equation with him. He would allow the Thunder to stay big, while going small (Teletovic at 3, KD at 4, and Serge/Adams/Kanter at 5). McLemore would fall in line as a Presti reclamation project. The third year guard has never lived up to his No. 7 draft selection and has seemingly fallen out of favor in Sacramento. He came into the league as a player that could possibly be a good 3-and-D wing. Unfortunately, he has been inconsistent on both ends of the floor. McLemore could be a good replacement for Waiters if he bolts for greener pastures in the offseason.

Another name to watch out for is Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic. This one would probably require Serge Ibaka to move the needle enough for Orlando to make that trade. This one is likely not to occur this season.

2. Veteran Back-up Point Guard

If the Thunder plan to use DJ Augustin’s expiring contract in any of their trades, they would also need to obtain a veteran back-up point guard to buffer any of the inexperience Cam Payne would bring to the playoffs. A couple options are Michael Carter-Williams of the Milwaukee Bucks and Darren Collison of the Sacramento Kings. Carter-Williams is a big point guard that is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor. But his inconsistent jumper and being turnover prone continue to affect his play on the court. In addition, there are rumors that MCW isn’t really the easiest guy to get along with in the locker room. These are probably all reasons why the former Rookie of the Year could possibly end up on his third team in three years.

Darren Collison has been one of the best back-up point guards in the league. If Sacramento is indeed having a fire sale and looking to build for next season, then Collison may be one of the players that could be had from them. Unfortunately for the Thunder, he has another year left on his contract after this one. The Thunder really like Payne and getting Collison could stunt his development into next season.

3. Empty Roster Spot/Lower Tax Bill

The Thunder may eschew taking on another player in favor of just trading one or both of their expiring contracts in a salary dump to open up roster spots. Empty roster spots can be very valuable during this time of year. The buy-out market begins once the trading deadline has passed. Players like Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin, and Andrea Bargnani are a few of the names mentioned that will likely be bought out after the trade deadline. While none of those players would likely be a regular rotation player for the Thunder, they could be great in a specialist role off the bench. In addition, the Thunder have a couple players on their D-League team that could have some value to the Thunder. JP Tokoto has been good as a wing for the Blue, averaging 12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. Tomislav Zubcic, who was a late addition to the Blue roster from his native Croatia, has been averaging 8 points on 42.6% shooting from deep this season.

In addition, the Thunder currently sit about $12.4 million dollars over the luxury tax line. It’s a given they will pay the tax for a second straight season. But being that much over would mean the Thunder would have to pay out about $22 million. If they can lower their bill, it would be that much less the Thunder  has to pay out to the rest of the teams that aren’t over the luxury tax.

While the Thunder don’t seem to have the assets to do something big, if they feel this is the right time to pull the trigger on something, they may do it. Durant’s upcoming free agency and the fact that the Thunder are in the thick of things as far as contention goes, may sway them to do something outside the ordinary. As is the case usually with the trade deadline, all everyone is waiting for is for the first domino to fall.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder debut their new orange alternates

westbrook collison durant ibaka orange alternates

For years, Oklahoma City Thunder fans have been clamoring for an alternate uniform that featured more than a blue palette. Maybe something with a bright color to it, or an artistic rendition to the Thunder shield, or a play on the Oklahoma City moniker (OKC). Instead, they have been treated to alternates that have been bland and a bit too safe. The purpose of an alternate jersey is to feature something that is different than the original.

The Thunder’s home uniforms have always been there best. The classic blue lettering with the orange trim lends itself very nicely to most color schemes (jeans, khakis, etc) and looks very good on HD TV screens. The away blue jersey have a classic coloring to them, but the 12 white letters on the front of the jersey (OKLAHOMA CITY) are a bit much in terms of style.

Three years ago the Thunder debuted their first alternate jersey. The navy blue jersey looked retro in nature with the team name written down right side. The jersey had mixed reactions, with many liking the simplicity of the jersey, while also criticizing that simplicity for being too safe for the franchise’s first alternate jersey.

Last season, the Thunder introduced their shirt-jersey (“shirsey”). Used exclusively at home, the shirt-jersey finally made use of the OKC moniker, placing it in front of the Thunder shield. The shirt-jersey borrows from the classic-ness of the home whites, but suffers from the fact that it’s a shirt-jersey.

cameron payne thunder

Throughout the summer, there have been rumors of an orange alternate in the brewing for the Thunder. Uniform hawks began doing their sleuthing and discovered possible rendering of the orange alternates. Finally, three days before training camp began for the Thunder, the team and players started dropping clues through social media. Kyle Singler shared a photo through his Instagram account in Friday morning showing a piece of orange jersey fabric. The Thunder shared an Instagram photo showing an orange jersey with the number 0 on it. Finally, the team shared a photo through all of their medias showing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison sporting the new orange alternates.

Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of Sales and Marketing, stated, “This new uniform not only features another of our primary team colors, it also reinforces the strong connection our team has to our hometown and home state.” The jersey, given the nickname “Sunset”, will have the OKC moniker written on the front in navy blue. The Thunder will debut the jersey at home on November 1ST against the Denver Nuggets, and will wear them 17 more times this upcoming season. They’ll be worn 10 times at home and 8 times on the road.

The Three That Will Never Be: The Legacies of Scott Brooks, Kendrick Perkins, and Derek Fisher

ibaka perkins durant fisher thunder

As the Oklahoma City Thunder embark on a new season, some of the same things from the past still remains. First off, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook should all be back and healthy. Secondly, the expectations of winning a championship will also be there. But for some reason this season feels different. Not a bad different, just a “lack of familiarity” type different. Something was missing, and that something was three component that had been a part of the Thunder for all or parts for their 7 seasons in Oklahoma City. Those three components were Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins, and Scott Brooks.

For 7 seasons prior, one or more of those pieces were always there to provide an anchor of calmness even in the most choppiest of seas. For the first time since the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City, neither of those three will be a part of the Thunder organization. From the time Scott Brooks took over for PJ Carlesimo on November 22, 2008, the organization has relied on his calming demeanor and almost fatherly-like approach to the development of the stars of the team. That approach to coaching is one of the reasons Brooks will be highly sought after once he decides to return to coaching. Teams are always in one of three phases in their developments: rebuilding, learning how to win consistently, and contending for a championship. Brooks mastered the first two phases of that process with relative ease, taking the Thunder from one of the worst teams in the league to championship contending in a four year span. That type of ascension is almost unheard of without the help of a superstar free agent being signed by the team.

What Brooks lacked in coaching acumen, he made up for with his interpersonal relationships with his players. Say what you want about his late-game play calling, but the players on the team would run through a wall for Brooks. Many in the media heap praise upon Phil Jackson for his career, but Jackson was never known as a great X’s and O’s coach. He had great assistants (Tex Winters, Jim Cleamons), and more importantly, great players. But he was also one of the best at managing superstar egos, which falls under the realm of interpersonal relationships. Brooks could have had a Jackson-like career, but lacked great assistants, and his great players were just coming into their prime during his tenure. Instead, Brooks will likely have a Doug Collins-like career as a coach that could have been one of the greats, but just happened to be the coach at the wrong time.

When the Thunder were starting their ascension, most of the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference had All-Star or near All-Star level centers and power forwards. The Los Angeles Lakers had Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. San Antonio had Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Memphis had Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Dallas had Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brendan Haywood. Utah had Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. To contend in the Western Conference at that time, a team needed a big body in the middle that could defend and rebound. In their early run, the Thunder had a front line of Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, and an “even skinnier than he is now” Kevin Durant. They had Serge Ibaka on the bench, but he was still pretty raw during that time and had trouble keeping his fouls under control. It wasn’t until the Thunder met the Lakers in the inaugural playoff run in 2010 that they realized what they needed to continue the upward trend of the team’s development.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 09: Head coach Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder talks with Russell Westbrook #0 and Kevin Durant #35 against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The Thunder won 118-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

At the trade deadline the next season, the Thunder traded Green and Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Even though Perkins was coming off a serious knee injury he suffered in the previous season’s Finals, he was the defensive anchor the team so badly needed. A couple weeks after arriving in Oklahoma City, the Thunder extended Perkins for four more seasons. Perkins immediately became the veteran presence the Thunder’s young players needed. He graciously helped in the development of Ibaka, taking his own experience from when Kevin Garnett took him under his wing in Boston and applying that to Ibaka. He gave the team a mean streak they didn’t have before his arrival. He quickly became the locker room buffering agent between all the Thunder’s young players as they learned how to succeed in the NBA individually and as a team (a major downfall of many young, up and coming teams in the past).

He was a great locker room presence. And if he was getting paid $5 million or less, that would have been fine. But in actuality, he was one of the highest paid players on the team and his performance on the court, especially on the offensive end, was often one of the most polarizing themes in sports. The knee injury he suffered while with the Celtics in the Finals the year before sapped the little bit of athleticism Perkins had going for him. While he was one of the best post defenders in the league, he was often a net negative on offense. As the NBA’s moved towards smaller, more skilled line-ups that could space the floor, the effectiveness of Perkins on the floor became more and more muted with each passing season.  When athletic power forwards started masquerading as centers, the need for a hulking presence down low became almost non-existant.

Compounding the polarization of Perkins was the trade of James Harden to Houston. Many thought the reason the Thunder traded Harden was purely financial, as they couldn’t afford to have 4 players on max or near max salaries (Harden, Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka), along with Perkins’ $9 million annual salary. In addition to the trade itself, the fact the Thunder had the opportunity to waive Perkins under the amnesty provision, provided the framework for the “Thunder choosing Perkins over Harden” frame of thought that many in the media portrayed. In reality, the Harden trade had little to nothing to do with Perkins. Harden wanted to have his cake and eat it too, wanting max money and the opportunity to run his own team.

In the end, Perkins was relegated to being a back-up big in his final season with the Thunder before being traded to Utah for Enes Kanter. His tenure with the Thunder will forever be remembered for his defensive chops, menacing scowl, and “Shaq-tin a fool” moments. But his presence on the team forever shaped the maturation of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka. He helped navigate them through their first few seasons of success and kept them even-keeled.

The signing of a veteran is a rite of passage for a team that is moving into championship contending status. A veteran that has been where the players on the team want to be and has played a big part in previous championship games. That veteran for the Thunder was Derek Fisher. At the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Thunder lost back-up point guard Eric Maynor to a torn ACL. The only other point guard on the roster, besides Westbrook, was rookie Reggie Jackson. The Thunder managed for half a season with the rookie taking on back-up point guard duties, but when the opportunity arose to sign a waived Fisher, they pounced on the opportunity. Fisher paid almost immediate dividends as a calming, veteran presence and as a floor spacer.

Fisher went on to be part of the Thunder for the next two seasons after that one. He basically played the same role in each of the seasons as he attempted to capture that elusive 6th championship ring. Fisher never got that ring, but became, a lot like Perkins, a revered and respected figure in the locker room. A championship point guard his entire career, Fisher went on to retire and immediately became the head coach of the New York Knicks who were being run by Fisher’s former coach, Phil Jackson.

There’s a point in every player’s maturation where they eventually become the veteran. They become the guy that “has been there before” or “has seen it all before”. The Thunder brass probably felt like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka were ready to take the next leg of their journey on their own. They had grown under the watchful guise of Brooks, under the sturdy hand of Perkins, and under the guiding presence of Fisher to become what they are today. Sure they’ve faced some injury difficulties along the way, but those also have a way of toughening up a players’ resolve.

As fans, we always cheer for the superstars. But true fans cheer for the guys who make it despite their obvious flaws. The guys who are the bedrock over which championship sod is laid upon. There’s a sense of commonality between those players and someone who works a 9-5 and goes home everyday to a family and a mortgage. There’s a very real possibility the Thunder win a championship without any of those three guys within the organization. If that does occur, three of those championship rings better be sealed in a box and delivered to New York, NY (Fisher), Beaumont, TX (Perkins), and northern California (Brooks), because the DNA of any Thunder championship will definitely have the imprint of those three on it.

Ten Prospects for the Thunder in the 2015 NBA Draft

ibaka durant westbrook thunder

After a disappointing 2014-15 season that was riddled with injuries, the Oklahoma City Thunder enter the 2015 NBA Draft with a sense of optimism. If Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka can remain relatively healthy next season, then this team is still a championship contender. With that said, the Thunder are basically playing with house money when it comes to this draft. Will they be drafting an integral piece to the present championship puzzle? Maybe. Or maybe they’ll be drafting a piece that won’t pay dividends for another year or two. Or maybe they won’t be drafting anyone at all. There are a ton of options at the Thunder’s disposal and this draft is shaping up to be one of the most active for the team. Here’s a look at 10 prospects the Thunder may draft at different stages in the draft.

The Trade-Up Prospects

There have already been rumors that the Thunder are looking to trade Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and Steve Novak ahead of the draft. While this group of players isn’t necessarily attractive to most teams, to a team needing perimeter shooting, this haul may be a steal. There are two teams in the draft that are desperate for shooting and have already made moves this offseason to shore up that need. Detroit, under the direction of Stan Van Gundy, is looking to surround Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond with perimeter shooters, a la Dwight Howard in his Magic days. While Detroit already obtained Ersan Ilyasova from Milwaukee, they may want some more shooting at a cheap price. A likely deal would be Lamb, Jones, and No. 14 & 48 for Anthony Tolliver (who has a partially guaranteed contract) and No. 8. Detroit could use a wing defender and may be able to find one at 14.

Conversely, Charlotte is another team in serious need of perimeter shooting. The Hornets finished with the worst 3-point shooting percentage in the league. Earlier in the offseason, they traded Lance Stephenson for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. But if they can get more perimeter shooting, it may completely transform the dynamic of their team. A likely deal would be Lamb, Jones, Novak, and No. 14 for Gerald Henderson (1 year at $6 million) and No. 9.

Edit: The Hornets traded Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh to the Portland Trailblazers for Nic Batum. And, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the Thunder traded Jeremy Lamb to the Hornets for Matt Barnes. So there goes that theory!

So if the Thunder move, who do they take?

1. Stanley Johnson – Arizona/Freshman/6’7″ (6’11” wingspan)/240 lbs

One of the best two-way wings in the draft. Compares favorably to Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls. Great size for a wing, and has shown the ability to score in a variety of ways (transition, 3-point shooting, shooting out of the pick and roll). Needs some seasoning. Struggles with finishing at the rim. Likely won’t contribute too much in rookie season.

stanley johnson arizona

2. Devin Booker – Kentucky/Freshman/6’6″ (6’8″ wingspan)/210 lbs

One of the best, if not the best, shooter in the draft. Shot over 40% from 3-point land on 3.7 attempts per game. Great from deep and from mid-range. Compares favorably to Eric Gordon of the New Orleans Pelicans. Good size for  a wing. Youngest player in the draft. Not a high flyer or overly athletic. Extremely low steal rate. Likely won’t contribute too much in rookie season.

3. Mario Hezonja – International/FC Barcelona/6’8″ /210 lbs

Doubtful Super Mario falls to the No. 8 or 9 spot. But if he’s there and the Thunder have traded up, they may seriously consider drafting Hezonja. Gifted with a great jump shot, athleticism, and unabashed confidence, Hezonja plays a lot like the Thunder’s own Russell Westbrook. He has great size for a wing and has the potential to be good on the defensive end. Consistency is the biggest issue with Hezonja. He’s had games where he looks like the best player on the floor, and then he has games where he disappears for long stretches.

Prospects at 14

There could be a possibility that the Thunder like a player they can draft at the 14th spot. The draft has a weird way of shaking out sometimes, and players that you thought wouldn’t be available at your spot, suddenly become available. Here are the prospects the Thunder could pick at their spot.

1. Kelly Oubre Jr. – Kansas/Freshman/6’7″ (7’2″wingspan)/205 lbs

GREAT size for a wing. Can likely develop into a good defensive player based on his physical attributes alone. Compares favorably to James Posey or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Shot the ball well from 3-point territory in his freshman year (36% on 2.6 attempts per game). Good mid-range game. Solid defensive rebounder from the wing, with an ability to keep balls alive on the offensive end. Strong, wiry frame that can easily add 10-15 lbs of muscle. Struggles with creating offensive (only 0.8 assists per game) and consistency. Likely won’t contribute immediately, and may benefit from some time in the D-League.

kelly oubre kansas

2. Cameron Payne – Murray State/Sophomore/6’2″ (6’7″ wingspan)/185 lbs

Playmaking point guard that can score in a variety of ways. Compares favorably to Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks. Has good size for a point guard with a wingspan that will help him immensely on the defensive end (nearly 2 steals per game in college). Does a great job of changing speeds to keep defenses off balance. Did a great job of balancing his playmaking and scoring, dishing out 6 assists per game, while scoring 20 points. Has a good, but not great shot. Needs to put on more weight. Struggles finishing at the rim, instead choosing to shoot floaters (nearly 3 per game,which led all college players). Small school competition stigma.

3. Bobby Portis – Arkansas/Sophomore/6’10.5″ (7’2″ wingspan)/245 lbs

A high energy player with a relentless motor, Portis reminds me of Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. The SEC Player of the Year led the Razorbacks in points (17.5) and rebounds (8.9) per game. He gets most of his points off his energy in transition and put backs. But he is a very skilled all-around player, shooting 53.6% from the field overall and 46.7% from 3-point territory on nearly one attempt per game. His major downfall is that he isn’t overly athletic. His game stays closer to the ground than most NBA scouts would like. He is actually my darkhorse for this pick.

4. Sam Dekker – Wisconsin/Junior/6’9″ (6’11.5″ wingspan)/220 lbs

Dekker is an all-around talent that is good at most things, but not necessarily great at any specific skill. He has great role player potential and can play multiple position (naturally a 3, but can likely play small-ball 4 also). Defensively, Dekker can guard multiple positions. His size and strength allow him to guard bigger players, and his lateral quickness allows him to keep up with wings. He will likely be able to compete immediately on the pro level. He’ll need to hit his 3’s more consistently at the next level to be an elite contributor. May be a bit redundant for the Thunder if they re-sign Kyle Singler.

Trade Down Prospects

Another possibility for the Thunder is to trade down later into the first round, while possibly picking up another asset. If the Thunder have a player in mind that they can possibly be taken lower than 14, they’ll likely look to move down. Remember, as you get deeper into the first round, the cost of the player goes down. And with the Thunder likely to be in the luxury tax, anything that can bring the price tag of the tax bill down will be a relief.

1. RJ Hunter – Georgia State/Junior/6’6″ (6’10.5″ wingspan)/185 lbs

Three-point specialist that shot only 30% from deep this past season, as defenses keyed in on him as the focal point of their attention. Compares favorably to Jeremy Lamb. He also averaged 3.5 assists which highlighted his playmaking ability. Good mid-range shooter. Can be a bit streaky as we saw in the Georgia State’s first game in the NCAA tournament against Baylor. His length allows him to be a menace on the defensive end, as he averaged 2.1 steals and 1 block per game. Body frame doesn’t seem like it can pack on too much more weight. Small school competition stigma.

rj hunter georgia state

2. Jerian Grant – Notre Dame/Senior/6’4″ (6’7.5″ wingspan)/200 lbs

Combo playmaking guard that led Notre Dame in points (16.5) and assists (6.6). Compares favorably to former Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. Does a real good job of changing speeds and has a quick first step. Good upper body strength that allows him to get to the rim and score through contact. Good, not great, shooter. Solid defensively. Strength allows him to not be too affected by screens and his lateral quickness allows him to keep up with guards. Can take bad shots early in the shot clock. Can be a bit inconsistent at times. Will be 23 years of age at the beginning of the season. Likely ready to contribute right now, but does not have a ton of upside.

3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Arizona/Sophomore/6’7″ (7’2″ wingspan)/210 lbs

One of the better wing defenders in the draft. Compares favorably to Tony Allen and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Length, strength, and athleticism give him the potential to be a top-flight perimeter defender in the league. Scores most of his points in transition and straight line drives to the basket. Rebounds well for his position, especially on the offensive end (2 offensive rebounds per game). Hollis-Jefferson’s biggest weakness is his jump-shot. He just under 21% from 3-point territory. With the Thunder already having an elite defender that struggles with his jumper (Andre Roberson), it may be a bit redundant to draft a similar player that will be a net negative on the offensive end.

The Thunder have a ton of options in this draft. They could take one of these 10 players, or they could surprise everyone and draft a complete unknown (hello, Josh Huestis). Thunder GM has plenty of cards up his sleeves, and will pull the one he feels will make the Thunder a better team for next season and for seasons after that.

Oklahoma City Thunder 2015 Draft Preview

durant westbrook mcgary thunder

In life, well laid plans seldom come to fruition as easily as we’d like them to. After four straight season of near perfect health, which culminated in an NBA Finals appearance in 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder have seen three straight seasons cut short by ill-timed injuries. In 2013, Houston Rockets’ point guard Patrick Beverly launched himself into Russell Westbrook’s right knee in the first game of the playoffs, causing Westbrook’s meniscus to tear. In 2014, Serge Ibaka’s calf injury caused the Thunder to fall behind 2 games to nothing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. A hole too insurmountable to climb even when Ibaka returned for Game 3 of that series. And then the nightmare that was last season, as the Thunder bench looked more like a triage unit at times with all the leg casts, hand casts, and men in suits.

With all the injuries though, the Thunder were still in the playoff race til the end of the last day of the regular season, as they finished with the same record as the New Orleans Pelicans, but lost out on a playoff spot because of a tie breaker. The Pelicans won the season series 3-1, with the final game of the series being decided on a near halfcourt double clutch 3-pointer by Anthony Davis to win the game as time expired. That shot was a microcosm of the Thunder’s entire season: so close, yet so far away.

With the playoffs out of the picture, the Thunder found themselves in an unfamiliar positon: picking in the lottery. They likely did not envision themselves picking in the top 14 for the foreseeable future. Being the team with the best record to not make the playoffs, the Thunder fell into the 14th spot in the lottery. They also have their 2nd round pick, No. 48.

The first question that needs to be asked is, “What is available in this draft that the Thunder needs?” When completely healthy, the Thunder are as good as any team in the league. They have a scoring machine in Kevin Durant, a beast of a point guard in Russell Westbrook, a 3 and D power forward in Serge Ibaka that has led the league in blocks 3 of the last 4 seasons, and two young centers that are still developing in Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. What is missing out of that group is a consistent two guard.

roberson thunder

To the Thunder, a consistent 2-way shooting guard is about as rare as an albino unicorn that spits fire. The Thunder used a sort of platoon system when it came to their 2-guard position last season. The de-facto starter was Andre Roberson, whose is one of the better wing defenders in the league, but is a liability on offense due to his unreliable shooting. The other 2-guards on the roster also had their flaws. Dion Waiters is likely a better overall player than Roberson, but has a tendancy to not be very efficient on the offensive end. Waiters’ role on this team is likely better served as a 6th man. Anthony Morrow is one of the best 3-point marksmen in the league, but struggles on the defensive end. And Jeremy Lamb is the enigma wrapped up in the question mark at the end of the bench.

With all those 2-guards on the roster, the next question likely becomes, “Why would the Thunder draft another 2-guard?” Therein lies the dilemma with this team. It is loaded! They have 2 point gaurds, 6 wings, and 5 post players (assuming they match any offer for Kanter) all under contract for next season. The thing is all 13 of those players can play. That number doesn’t take into account Kyle Singler, who is a restricted free agent and Steve Novak, who will likely get traded to shed salary. In addition, the Thunder also have Josh Huestis, their first round pick from last season, who delayed signing his rookie contract in order to get more experience with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the Blue. There’s a possibility that Huestis may delay signing his rookie contract for a second season if the Thunder doesn’t feel he is ready to play in the league.

“Could the Thunder trade the pick?” is a valid question. Not many teams are in a position to not need a lottery pick while picking in the lottery. But the Thunder could realistically be in that position. Thunder GM Sam Presti is all about parlaying assets into something more valuable in the future. While the Thunder’s high-valued assets are likely untouchable (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Kanter, Adams), this lottery pick could likely be had for the right price.

booker dekker

But then the question becomes, “Would the Thunder forego the opportunity to get another young piece that will be on a rookie contract for the next four seasons?” If the right player is available, I think the Thunder stay the course. But who is that right player? If you look at the players the Thunder have brought in for workouts, you’ll see a pattern developing. Names like RJ Hunter, Jerian Grant, Devin Booker, Sam Dekker are not only players that will likely be there at 14, but also similar in skillset. The outlier may be someone like Bobby Portis, who has worked out for many of the teams in that 10-18 range, and has been rumored to have received a promise from several of those teams. I don’t buy into the Cameron Payne hype because the Thunder already have two point guards on the roster, and have a third one that they love in the D-League (Semaj Christon).

The most likely scenario for the Thunder is to trade out of the lottery but stay in that 18-24 range. Doing that, the Thunder can still draft a player they like and snatch another asset in the process (likely a future 2nd round pick). It wouldn’t surprise if the Thunder drafts Portis, Grant, or Hunter in that position.

As for the 2nd round, look for the Thunder to select a draft and stash player. The Thunder brought in Nikola Radicevic, a 6’5″ Serbian point guard, for a workout about a week ago. Radicevic likely has ties to Thunder assistant coach Darko Rajakovic.

When it comes to the Thunder and this draft, nothing would surprise me. They hold all the cards. They need nothing, but could use a little bit of everything. Thursday night will likely be a busy night for the Thunder.

Oklahoma City Thunder part ways with head coach Scott Brooks

scott brooks durant thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder have parted ways with head coach Scott Brooks after an injury riddled 45-37 season that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time in the last five seasons. It was nearly a week ago, during exit interviews, that the organization advised they would evaluate the head coaching position as they headed into the offseason. To that, Scott Brooks remarked, “I expect to be the coach next season,” when asked about it during his exit interview.

Scott Brooks took over as head coach for the Thunder one month into their inaugural season in Oklahoma City. At that point, the Thunder were 1-12 and looking like a team that may threaten the Philadelphia 76ers mark for futility in a season. With Brooks at the helm, the Thunder rebounded enough to salvage a 23-win season. The year after that, the upstart Thunder won 50 games and made the playoffs as an 8th seed and took the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers to 6 games. Brooks was awarded the NBA Coach of the Year after that season. The next season, he took the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to eventual champions, the Dallas Mavericks. The next season, Brooks led the Thunder to the NBA Finals, where they lost in 5 games to the Miami Heat. The next years ended in disappointment as key players were lost to injury in the playoffs (Russell  Westbrook in 2013 and Serge Ibaka in 2014). This season, which started with championship aspirations, soon devolved into a struggle as the Thunder suffered injury after injury to key players, which saw Westbrook miss the first month with a broken hand, reigning MVP Kevin Durant play in only 27 games due to a broken foot, and Ibaka miss the last month of the season after knee surgery. The Thunder never gained any traction during the season, and eventually missed out on the playoffs to the New Orleans Pelicans in the final day of the season. Brooks finishes his tenure in Oklahoma City with a 338-207 (.620) record.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Thunder GM Sam Presti’s decision wasn’t a reflection of the job Brooks did this season, but more a long-term view for the franchise. While this may go down as a firing, a couple other teams have hinted at their interest for Brooks. The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets are both rebuilding teams that are looking for a coach that has already been through and succeeded in that process.

The question now becomes, who’s the next Thunder head coach. Rumors are abound that University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan and UCONN head coach Kevin Ollie may be candidates for the opening. Both coaches have history with the Thunder. Two former Donovan assistants have been hired by the Thunder in the past few seasons, one of which is their current D-League coach, Mark Daigneault. Ollie, on the other hand, played for the Thunder in the 2009-10 season, and is credited by Durant, as being the person that established the current culture in Oklahoma City. Both have a championship pedigree, as Donovan has won 2 NCAA championships and Ollie has won one. Another candidate may be Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg, who has been successful in college, but also has front office experience with the Timberwolves in the past. Other candidates may be embattled Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau or Golden State Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry.

This next season may be a make or break season for the Thunder, as Durant approaches unrestricted free agency in 2016. Hire the wrong guy, and the organization can seal the deal on Durant not coming back. While Brooks may have had his faults, he always had the support of his superstars, and NBA, that carries a lot of weight.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns preview (Game 58 of 82)

bledsoe suns westbrook thunder

  • When: Thursday, 26 February 2015 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

When you are in the hunt for a playoff spot, you always look in two direction: the teams ahead of you in the standings and the teams you are warding off. Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff race, the most important task is staying ahead of New Orleans and Phoenix. Catching up to San Antonio and the Clippers would be nice, but with the main objective already met (getting to the 8th seed), it’s all about maintaining their current positioning from here on out.

This is the third meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder have won the previous two games. The first game was a blowout with Oklahoma City winning 112-88. The second game had a playoff feel to it and even had some extracurricular theatrics that ended with Russell Westbrook being ejected from the game right before halftime. Kevin Durant carried the team in the 2nd half and they eventually outlasted the Suns in overtime, 137-134.

The Opponent

Phoenix Suns v Philadelphia 76ers

The Phoenix Suns come into this game with a 30-28 record, good for 10th in the conference (2.5 games back of the Thunder). The trade deadline completely changed the look of the team, with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Miles Plumlee being shipped out in separate deals that basically netted the Suns Brandon Knight and trade fodder. It should come as no surprise that the Suns have struggled, losing 8 of their last 10 games. While still a high scoring outfit (106.1 points per game – 3rd in NBA), they allow the 3rd most points per game (105 points per game) and are 18th in the league in rebounding. With the departure of Dragic, Bledsoe becomes the undisputed leader of the team. Joining Bledsoe in the backcourt is the aforementioned Knight. PJ Tucker takes on the position of 3 and D wing, and is one of the more underrated ones in the league. Up front, Markieff Morris and Alex Len give opponents a contrasting front court, with Morris being more perimeter oriented, and Len being more post-oriented. Off the bench, Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, and Brandan Wright give the Suns an explosive reserve unit that can be a problem if they get hot.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SG – Brandon Knight
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Alex Len

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Enes Kanter

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – Outside of Alex Len and Brandan Wright, everyone else on the Suns is perimeter-oriented. Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe do a good job of serving as facilitators, while everybody else waits on the perimeter for an open shot. It starts with keeping the two guards in front of the defense. If Westbrook, Roberson, DJ Augustin, and Dion Waiters are up to task, this should mute the effectiveness of the Suns’ attack.

morris suns ibaka thunder

2. Rebounding – Being such a perimeter-oriented team keeps a lot of the Suns players outside the paint. Hence their No. 18 ranking in rebounds per game. The Thunder on the other hand, usually have at least 3-4 players crashing the boards on the defensive end, while the Thunder bigs are known for crashing the offensive glass. Keeping the Suns to one and done on the defensive end of the court, while grabbing a couple offensive boards on the other end of the floor will go a long to securing the victory in this game.

3. Russell Westbrook – He’s reaching the point where Durant was last season when he was bestowed the name Slim Reaper. The point where it is must see TV to see what crazy stat-line Westbrook will put up. Everyone keeps saying his play of late is not sustainable, but he’s not doing anything different than he’s done throughout his career.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Depending on Puppies

waiters thunder bench

Roger: Look, Anita! Puppies everywhere!

Anita: There must be a hundred of them!

Nanny: One, two, three and four. Seven, eight, nine.

Roger: Two more. Nine plus two is eleven.

Nanny: Thirty Six over here!

Roger: Thirty Six and eleven? That’s forty seven.

Anita: Fourteen. Eighteen, Rog.

Roger: Uh, eh sixty five!

Nanny: Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen!

Anita: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Six more.

Roger: Well, let’s see, now. That’s eighty four and fifteen plus two. A hundred and one!

Anita: A hundred and one? My, where did they all come from?

Roger: Oh ho, Pongo, you old rascal!

This is a quote directly from the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians. But it could also serve as a microcosm of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s depth chart. A glance at the Thunder’s roster reveals one rookie (Mitch McGary), one “red-shirt freshman” (Grant Jerrett – 2nd year in the system, but technically a rookie with the Thunder), two second year players (Steven Adams and Andre Roberson), both of whom are starters, and three third year players (Dion Waiters, Jeremy Lamb, and Perry Jones). That’s nearly half the team with less than 3 full seasons of NBA experience under their belts. In addition, they have a fourth year player (Reggie Jackson) that is in the “late teen/early adult” stage of his NBA career, and is ready to leave the nest for what he portends to be greener pastures. And, the Thunder’s big free agent get (Anthony Morrow) is in his 7th season and has yet to sniff the playoffs. If this was the roster of a team the resided in Philadelphia or Minnesota, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But this is the Thunder, a team that envisions itself as a championship contender.

Even with all the issues the Thunder have suffered through in the first half of the season, the general consensus is that the Thunder have enough time to turn it around, get into the playoffs, and be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason. While injuries have played a huge role in the Thunder’s early season struggles, inexperience within the roster may be another factor aiding in the Thunder’s struggles.

fisher butler durant jackson thunder

Last season, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, and Thabo Sefolosha played huge roles in getting the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals. That’s three playoff-tested, grizzled veterans that knew their roles, played to their strengths, and avoided their weaknesses whenever possible. Between them, those three players brought 41 seasons worth of experience to the table. In addition, Kendrick Perkins (along with Sefolosha) was the defensive anchor of the starting line-up. While each of those players had their warts and flaws, their “years of service” allowed them to either be useful in most situations or not make critical mistakes in other situations.

With the departure of those aforementioned three players and the demotion of Perkins to the bench, an experience vacuum developed in the offseason. There were times in the past two seasons where the rallying cry for Thunder fans was more playing time for the young players. But now that that time has arrived, it’s easy to miss the days of having veterans with defined roles who didn’t crack under pressure. What I see out there on the floor now, is a team that is dependent on young players to fill in the spaces around Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. While it may work some nights, most nights will include developmental lapses and common “lack of experience”-type mistakes.

When you factor in the injuries and the hole the Thunder dug themselves early in the season, you get a picture as to why the Thunder are struggling to build any type of momentum. The Thunder are trotting out players that have never had to deal with this kind of pressure. Think about how Durant and Westbrook must feel when the game is on the line. When they look around, they see inexperienced players who have never had to fight for a playoff spot and have never had to win games in the playoffs. They see Waiters, who toiled two and a half seasons on the post-LeBron Cavs, and is a volume shooter on the perimeter. They see Morrow, who is more experienced, but has already played on 6 teams in his 7 seasons in the league, with the average win total for those teams being 31. They see Roberson, who is already an adept perimeter defender, but also an extremely raw offensive player (and that’s putting it nicely). They see Jones or Lamb, who have the talent to be consistent scorers in the league, but lack the mental fortitude to put it all together. They see Jackson who has been wildly inconsistent this season as he deals with his future and his contract situation. Is it any wonder why the Thunder’s crunch-time offense devolves into Durant and Westbrook isos? The only people they trust is themselves.

westbrook durant thunder

While the coach and the players are easy targets to fault, the lion’s share of the blame needs to go on general manager Sam Presti and how he has constructed this team. The architect of the Thunder has built a top heavy organization that is largely dependent on a few players, while filling in the gaps with cheap young talent in hopes that the young talent will develop in a 2-3 year time span. It’s a great idea in principle, but a risky idea in practice. Come up empty on a couple draft picks, and the team is left scrambling looking for other options that may be more expensive and detrimental in the long run. If you look at the elite teams around the league, the Thunder and the Warriors are the only ones constructed in this manner. Most other elite teams have a rotation that is full of veterans.

And all signs point to the Thunder continuing this manner of operation when it comes to roster building. In addition to their 15-man roster, the Thunder are also keeping close tabs on about 5 players who are all within the scope of their organization. Josh Huestis, the first round pick from the last draft whom the Thunder convinced to delay the signing of his contract in order to further his development with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, will likely join the team next season. Huestis’ Blue teammates Semaj Christon and Talib Zanna are also candidates to join the team next season or be late season call-ups this year, depending on how the team looks after the trade deadline. Over in Europe, the Thunder have been keeping close tabs on their Eurostashes, Tibor Pleiss (who will likely join the team next season) and Alex Abrines (who is likely a season or two away, but is one of the top 3-point shooters in his league).

The hope is that the experience gained over this past season will begin to bear fruit later on in the year for these young players. If this was any other normal season (you know, no injuries or contract disputes), then experience likely doesn’t become a factor until the playoffs. But this season, with the injuries and the hole the Thunder dug for themselves, the lack of experience on this team is definitely rearing it’s ugly head. The Thunder have PhD dreams, but have elementary aged children doing some of the heavy lifting. That is usually not a recipe for success.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat preview (Game 41 of 82)

durant wade thunder heat

  • When: Tuesday, 20 January 2015 at 6:30 PM CST
  • Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL

There was a time when this match-up was THE MATCH-UP. There was a point in time where this game would’ve gotten TNT Thursday night love or first available Sunday after football on ABC billing. Such is the power of LeBron James. With James taking his talents to Northeast Ohio, this game has been mitigated to NBATV exclusivity on the same day the President will be giving his State of the Union address. In other words, don’t expect a 4.9 viewership rating for this game.

The Thunder finally have a bit of a rhythm going to their game. They’ve won 2 of 3 since their five day break and have scored 127 points (non-overtime) in consecutive games. They beat the best team in the league and then molly-whooped a lottery team on their own floor. Though the sample size is small, the team seems to found a comfort zone with Dion Waiters that is paying instant dividends. The Waiters-Reggie Jackson combo is keeping the pressure on teams, even when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are off the floor. Another plus during the Thunder’s recent play has been Serge Ibaka’s play. He’s doing a much better job of mixing his inside and outside presence whenever the team needs it. In the Warriors game, Ibaka shredded Golden State in the 4th quarter, scoring 10 consecutive points on 4 shots (2 lay-ups, 1 dunk, and a 3-pointer), which were all assisted by Westbrook. Then, against Orlando, with the lane opening up like the Red Sea for the Thunder’s playmakers, Ibaka stepped to the outside and thrashed the Magic with four 3-pointers.

This is the first of 2 meetings this season between these two teams. These teams split their meetings last season, with each team winning on the other’s home floor.

The Opponent

MIAMI HEAT V ATLANTA HAWKS

The Miami Heat currently stand at 18-22, good for 7th in the Eastern Conference. They are bottom third in most statistical categories. They are the slowest team in the league (30th in pace), which helps their scoring defense out, allowing only 97.2 points per game. Unfortunately, they only score about 93.5 points per game. The departure of LeBron James has changed the way Miami plays, and they are still adjusting to life without him. Mario Chalmers still leads the current Miami attack, but is likely not getting yelled at as much. Dwayne Wade is leading the team in scoring, at 22.1 points per game, and in assists, at 5.6 per game. When Wade has been out, rookie Shabazz Napier has stepped in. Luol Deng is still one of the premier 3 and D guys in the NBA and has been a good fit for the Heat. Up front, Chris Bosh is still one of the better inside/outside big men in the league, averaging 21.6 points on 40.5% shooting from 3-point territory. Up front, Most Improved Player candidate Hassan Whiteside has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NBA. Whiteside’s journey has seen him go from Sacramento to Lebanon to China to the D-League, and then to Miami where he seems to have finally gotten his professional footing. Off the bench, Miami has a couple veteran players (Udonis Haslem, Danny Granger, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole), but lacks a consistent scorer.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Miami Heat

  • PG – Mario Chalmers
  • SG – Dwayne Wade*
  • SF – Luol Deng*
  • PF – Chris Bosh
  • C – Hassan Whiteside

* – Dwayne Wade is questionable due to a hamstring issue and Luol Deng is questionable due to illness.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pace – The Heat play at the slowest pace in the league. The Thunder, when healthy, like to move the ball up the court as quickly as possible. It would behoove the Thunder to play their brand of basketball.

westbrook chalmers thunder heat

2. Bench – The Heat have one of the weaker benches in the league. With Wade and Deng a possibility to miss the game due to various ailments, the Thunder reserves can be the key to an easy Thunder victory.

3. Half-way Point – This is the 41st game of the season a.k.a the half-way point. It will be up to the Thunder to see if they finally end up above .500 for the first time this season, or if they, once again, dip a game under .500.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Orlando Magic preview (Game 40 of 82)

durant thunder harris magic

  • When: Sunday, 18 January 2015 at 5:00 PM CST
  • Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL

Finally! I’m pretty sure that was every Thunder fans’ reaction after defeating the Golden State Warriors on Friday night. It wasn’t just that the Thunder got a win against one of the current elite in the NBA. It was how they did it. Their way. It was waves and waves of scoring brought on by Kevin Durant’s greatness and Russell Westbrook’s chaos. It was Serge Ibaka coming in and being the third best player on the team. It was Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, and Reggie Jackson putting the pressure on the Warriors when the dynamic duo were on the bench. It was ball pressure causing turnovers. It was defense quickly turning into offense. It was beautiful. It was Thunder basketball.

This is the first of two meetings between these two teams this season. Even though these two teams are on opposite ends of the team spectrum (one is still rebuilding, while the other is (supposedly) a title contender), their games last season were surprisingly close as the teams split the season series.

The Opponent

NBA: Houston Rockets at Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic come into the game with a 15-28 record. Their season has been a series of “one step forward, and three steps back.” They’ll win one or two in a row, and then lost 3 or 4 in a row. Its the tale of a young team just now learning how to win. They are a scrappy bunch, but rank in the bottom third of nearly every statistical category, scoring only 94.9 points per game, while giving up 100.1. Leading the charge is the young backcourt duo of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo. After missing the start of the season with knee and facial injuries, Oladipo has started to come on as of late, averaging 23.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in the last 5 games. On the other wing, Tobias Harris brings a multifaceted game to the table as an outside/inside players. Unfortunately, Harris has missed the last 4 games with a sprained ankle, and is listed as day to day for this game. Channing Frye, the prized free agent signing for the Magic, has struggled this season, averaging only 7.9 points per game on 39.5% shooting from 3-point territory. Up front, Nikola Vucevic is a double/double waiting to happen and one of the better young big men in the league. Off the bench, the Magic have a veteran playmaker in Luke Ridnour, a veteran shooter in Ben Gordon, and a trio of young players (Evan Fournier, Kyle O’Quinn, and Maurice Harkless) who can be inconsistent at times.

Probable Starting Line-up

Orlando Magic

  • PG – Elfrid Payton
  • SG – Victor Oladipo
  • SF – Devyn Marble
  • PF – Channing Frye
  • C – Nikola Vucevic

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – One way for a young team to stay in games against elite competition is by winning the battle of the boards. The more opportunities young teams have to score, the more confident they get. The Magic are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA (28th in the league), but have a center that has amassed rebounding totals of 16, 17 (twice), and 23 in games this season. Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins will need to use their strength to push Vucevic out of position.

Orlando Magic v Chicago Bulls

2. Perimeter defense – Its not a secret that Serge Ibaka struggles defensively against stretch 4’s. Even though Channing Frye is struggling this season, he still is one of the better stretch 4’s in the league when he is on. This just feels like one of those games where Frye could go off on the perimeter against the Thunder.

3. Consistency vs. inconsistency – The Thunder had a great game on Friday, but have failed to build off of any momentum in the past few weeks. With a 5-game road trip coming up, the Thunder need to build off of their performance on Friday and carry that with them on the road.