Tag Archives: Slim Reaper

The Thunder and their Recent Struggles

westbrook thunder

Everybody take a deep breath. Count to 10. Back up off the ledge, and calm down. 

Good. Now let’s begin.

Heading into the All-Star break, the Oklahoma City Thunder were probably the hottest team in the league. They had won 15 of their previous 17 games, and had the look of being the best team in the league. Kevin Durant was Reaping, Serge Ibaka was becoming the best roller in the pick and roll NBA, Derek Fisher was hitting every game-changing 3 that he shot, and everybody else was handling their roles to a T.  The weren’t just surviving while awaiting the return of Russell Westbrook; they were thriving.

Sometimes, though, the worst thing for a team on a roll is a break. It happens all the time when teams head into halftime. Earlier this season, the Houston Rockets scored 73 on the Thunder in the first half of a game, but could only muster 19 total points after halftime. It happens in the playoffs, where a team may have a break of 4 or more days due to dispatching their opponent in quick fashion, and having to wait for their opponent to finish their series. And it may happen during the All-Star break, as it did with the Thunder, where a team goes in hot, but comes out of the break a little out of sync.

Here are a couple other factors that may explain the Thunder’s slow start to the unofficial second half of the season.

Period of Adjustment

In my experience working with the military, I’ve seen many cases where one spouse deploys while the other spouse stays at home to care for the house and the kids. During this period, the spouse that stays at home usually tightens the ship and sticks to a strict routine. This routine helps maintain order during a chaotic time (deployments). Eventually, the deployed service member comes home and all is great with the world, right? Wrong. There’s usually a period of adjustment where the deployed spouse has to get used to the routine the home-bound spouse has established, and the home-bound spouse has to get used to having another variable in her established routine. Talk to anyone who has gone through, and they’ll more than likely tell you that it was not an easy transition.

In the Thunder’s past 71 games (to include last season’s playoffs and this season’s preseason), Westbrook has only been in the lineup for 26 of those games. Despite early struggles, the Thunder have learned how to play without Westbrook. Since the game after the Christmas, the Thunder have posted a .750 winning percentage, all without Westbrook. To think that there would not be an adjustment period would have been short sighted.

kevin durant thunder

The Thunder have to be more careful with Westbrook this time around. The last time Westbrook came back, he was full tilt from the get go. That may or may not have contributed to the setback that necessitated a third surgery on Westbrook’s knee. At the same time, Westbrook has to adjust to playing in shorter spurts. Westbrook is the type of player that continuously grinds until he wears the opposing team out. That takes time. Without that time on the floor, Westbrook’s effect is muted a bit.

Fatigue

The starters and veteran bench players are playing nearly the same amount of minutes they usually play. In fact, Durant is actually playing the least amount of minutes per game since the team arrived in Oklahoma City. The fatigue issue  is more geared towards the younger players in the rotation, namely Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb.

Minutes played

Player Season Regular Season D-League Postseason Total
Reggie Jackson 2012-13 991 114 368 1473
2013-14 1634  0  N/A  1634
Jeremy Lamb 2012-13 147 691 0 838
2013-14 1259  0  N/A  1259

Those are significant jumps in minutes per game. Lamb and Jackson may not yet be used to the grind that is an 82 game season, and the Thunder may be seeing the effects fatigue has on their play.

Rhythm

As mentioned before, the worst thing for a team on a roll is a break. From the Christmas game to the All-Star break, the Thunder played either every other day or back to back. They only had one 2-day break in that time frame. While that leads to fatigue, it also leads to a rhythm. When you play nearly everyday, you tend to become much more in sync with your teammates. That “in sync-ness” then turns into chemistry. And if you have a talented roster, that chemistry can start to produce wins in bunches.

sefolosha ibaka jackson thunder

That’s what the Thunder had in January and early February. Durant was Reaping, Ibaka was the mid-range king, and all the role players were performing their roles. Then came the week long All-Star break. While that week long break may have rested a nagging injury here or there, the rhythm and chemistry that was gained before the break was at risk to be lost. Add to that Westbrook returning from injury and several more 2 day breaks in between games, and you get what you see now: a team in a bit of a funk.

National TV likes to see great teams matched up against great teams.

New Flash! The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are pretty good team. It’s not like the Thunder were playing the Sisters of the Poor the first two games back from the All-Star break. These are 2 of the best teams in the league and we caught them when we were in a bit of a transition phase. I’m not usually one for excuses, but these are the realities of the current situation.

The Thunder will make it out of this funk. But the season doesn’t stop. On the first game back from the break, with Westbrook finally back from injury, the Thunder lost center Kendrick Perkins for up to 6 weeks due to a strained groin that had to be surgically repaired. He should be back by the start of the playoffs. But the season marches on. In the grand scheme of things, these last two games were just 2 of 82. Look for the Thunder to readjust and get better in time for the playoffs.

Kevin Durant and the evolution of his Alter-Egos

slim reaper kd

If you know me, you know that I used to be a huge fan the East Coast hip-hop scene in the 90’s to early 00’s. In fact, my favorite hip-hop group of all time is the Wu-Tang Clan. Two seasons ago, I wrote an article comparing the members of the Wu to the 9-man rotation the Thunder were using at the time. One of the things that I loved about the Wu was how they used all their aliases. For example, Rza, the musical genius and de facto leader of the group, went by a couple of aliases that related to his mood. If he felt like a partying B-boy, his alias was Bobby Digital. If he wanted to incite deep thought through his lyrics, he was known as the Rzarector through his side group, the Gravediggaz. And if he wanted to hit you with some street-inspired raps, he was known as Bobby Steels. It’s a trend that many rappers used. Eminem was probably the best known artist to use this technique. Eminem has three alter egos: Eminem (the rapper), Marshall Mathers (the tragic, real life figure from where the pain comes from), and Slim Shady (the YOLO, don’t give a (word) psycho that offends anyone and everyone while waving two middle fingers in the air).

In essence, though, we all have differing alter egos. No matter how much you try to deny it, you act differently when you are around different people. The “hanging out with friends” you is different than the “having dinner with the parents” you. The “going to church” you is different than the “just had a few drinks and now I’m loose” you. Alter egos are just ways to adjust to different situation. Artists have taken that concept and turned it into an art form. And, of course, as the saying goes, “musicians want to be athletes and athletes want to be musicians”. So, it was only natural, that athletes would start to participate in this act.

Rockets v Lakers

You could say that Daryl Dawkins started this trend when he decided to name his dunks. But the trend reached its zenith when Shaquille O’Neal decided to name himself every possible nickname available to man. The alias could be regional (The Big Shaqtus for when he played for Phoenix), heroic (Superman), or philosophical (The Big Aristotle). No matter how corny the names were, they worked for the big jovial lug. It became the norm to give yourself a nickname. Kobe Bryant, probably tired of being called just Kobe, and needing a marketing ploy, decided to coin himself Black Mamba. And though it felt forced, it actually became second nature to refer to Kobe as the Black Mamba.

I miss the days when nicknames were, not only original, but earned from outsiders. Gone are the times when a guy could come into the league with the moniker “Magic”, and become a magician on the court. Or when a guy was bestowed the name Air because of his ability to seemingly transcend gravity. It got to the point where originality was lost and most nicknames became shortened versions of the player’s name (VC, TMac, AI, DWade, etc).

But then, in comes this man. A man whose physical attributes warrant a nickname, but whose game warrants another nickname. A man whose style of play warrants even another nickname. Kevin Wayne Durant came into the league in 2007, and since then, people have been looking for that one name that sticks. But really, every nickname that been bestowed on Durant makes the man.

Durantula

The name given to Durant since the beginning of his career because of his physical attributes. A 6’11” frame (don’t give me that 6’9″ poppycock) with a 7’4″ wingspan. Tall, lean, and rangy, but also with the fluidity to move around like a guard. When those arms go out and frame gets down into a defensive crouch, that’s over 7300 cubic inches of real estate to get around, taking into account 83 inches for height and 88 inches for length. It can almost seem like Durant has got 8 arms with as much ground and air space that he can take up.

But that name never really took off. I mean, it was used on shirts and print, and was semi-popular, but Durant never really endorsed it. And then some guitarist with an inferiority complex named Mark Durante decided to sue Durant, claiming that he used the nickname Durantula first. So, that basically spelled the end of it for that nickname.

Velvet Hoop

A Nike ad campaign for House of Hoops in 2009 gave Durant the nickname Velvet Hoop. Nothing ever really came out of it, but I have always loved that moniker. It personifies Durant’s game so well. Smooth like velvet. But unfortunately, it also makes for a stupid nickname. Too long and an inability to become personified. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue. “At forward, 6’9″, from Texas, KEVIN ‘VELVET HOOP’ DURANT!!!” Yeah, on to the next one.

KD

kd nike

The brand. While originality lacks when it comes to this nickname, it still works great. It’s short and rolls off the tongue. It’s not shrouded in any emotional or negative imagery. It’s just two letters. A “K” and a “D”. It works well with adult and children alike. Durant is able to put his full support behind it without any fear of litigation. They are his initials and there are no copyright infringement laws when it comes to a person’s initials. This is the empire that Durant (and Nike) will continue to build off of.

The Junkyard Dog

Think of a junkyard dog. What descriptive images come to mind? Something that is snarling and over-salivating. Something that elicits fear. Something big and strong. When Durant starts to take charge of a game, he is all these descriptors wrapped in one. It is during these runs that he tries his hardest humiliate and emasculate the opponent. The Junkyard Dog doesn’t come out very often, but when he does, opponent are usually left trembling in fear in his wake.

The Slim Reaper

The Slim Reaper comes out very seldom. Always in the 4th quarter and always when the Thunder are down. But when he does show up, his antics are spoken of near and far. It usually starts when something gets Durant angry. The trigger could be as slight as a missed call, a harassing player, a technical foul, or just plain annoyance. But when the fuse is lit, the ride is just beginning. We’ve seen glimpses of the Reaper. Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets in the 2011 NBA playoffs. The Thunder found themselves down by 9 with four minutes left in the 4th quarter. Lose the game and you risk having a Game 6 in Denver. Then the Reaper showed up and outscored the Nuggets 14-6 in the final four minutes to win the game and clinch the Thunder’s first playoff series. Then the Reaper went dormant. He would show up occasionally, but it was sometimes difficult to discern between The Junkyard Dog and the Slim Reaper. 

durant thunder slim reaper

It’s usually something in a game that brings the Reaper out. But this time, I think it was a game itself that turned Durant into the Reaper. When the Thunder faced the Memphis Grizzlies on January 14th, the team reverted back to it’s playoff mode of depending on Durant to do everything. The team fell behind in the third quarter, and could never make up that deficit. But something happened in Durant that night. Maybe he looked at the schedule and saw that 4 of the team’s next 5 opponent were against the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Maybe he finally realized how to play in the absence of Russell Westbrook. Maybe he embraced that fact that, for this team to win, he would need to shoulder the load offensively and be more aggressive. Maybe he realized that the best option on the floor 90% of the time is the guy whose jersey number is 35. Or maybe he just got hot at the right time and realized the no one, no team, and no scheme in the NBA, can guard him.

The results have been terrifying for the league. Eleven straight games of 30 points or more. A triple double mixed in there. Averages of 38.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in the last two weeks. In addition, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson have greatly benefited from the added attention Durant has been receiving. The Reaper is a man on a mission. Durant said before last season’s playoffs started that he was tired of finishing second. Well, the Reaper is the devilish conscious that continuously reminds Durant that he has finished 2nd his entire career. And, to the chagrin of the NBA, I believe the Reaper is here to stay.