Tag Archives: Thabo Sefolosha

Early Training Camp Stories

durant media day thunder

With Monday’s media day out of the way, the Oklahoma City Thunder started their journey into the 2014-15 NBA season. Like every other training camp before this one, there are questions and issues that need to be settled before the season begins. Luckily, the Thunder don’t have to contend with any roster-shattering trades or major injury issues like they have in the last two training camps. The Thunder come into camp basically intact and healthy. Here are some of the issues the Thunder are hoping to settle before October 29th.

1. Reggie Jackson

Probably the biggest question mark heading into the season is the contract situation of Reggie Jackson. The Thunder have until October 31st to work out an extension with Jackson. If no deal is done by then, Jackson will enter restricted free agency next offseason. Thunder GM Sam Presti, in his address to the media, said Jackson was a “core member” of the team and that the team was working hard in trying to secure an extension.

Many people will hark back to how the Thunder handled (or didn’t handle) the James Harden extension. As has been rehashed many times over, Harden and the Thunder couldn’t get an extension worked out and Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets four days before the beginning of the season. But there are two major differences between the two situations. The first difference is that Jackson is not a max player. While NBA teams have been giving out very generous contracts to “upper middle class” type players in the past few offseasons, Jackson unfortunately plays a position of excess in the NBA. Many teams already either have their point guard or aren’t necessarily in the market to pay max money for a “middle class” player. The second major difference is the Thunder’s financial situation. Due to the Harden trade, the Thunder were able to maintain their salary cap flexibility and, even with 3 max or near max deals, are in great financial shape. With the salary cap set to greatly increase in the next 2-3 seasons, the Thunder can offer Jackson a reasonable contract without endangering their ability to extend Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka.

The Thunder have everything in their favor to re-sign Jackson. But like many other situations in life, the events we think will be solved in a straight line, usually become roller coasters before we reach the finish line. The monkey wrench in this situation is Jackson’s adamant desire to be a starter. He planted the seed during exit interviews at the end of last season. And his tone didn’t change throughout the offseason. As Jackson stated during media day, “I can’t remember any great that wasn’t a starter. All the greats have started. I just want to be great. I want a chance to be great. I can’t recall a superstar Sixth Man.” The problem is that Jackson is point guard sized, and the Thunder have an opening at shooting guard, a position usually reserved on the Thunder for a long-winged defender that can (hopefully) make spot-up 3-pointers.

The Thunder got a sneak peak at what a Westbrook/Jackson back court would look like in the last four games of the Western Conference Finals. While the results were positive, the Thunder will probably choose to go the traditional route for the regular season. Whether its a ploy by Jackson to leverage the Thunder into more money or whether Jackson truly wants to be a starter in the league, this monkey wrench is probably a long ways away from getting resolved. Look for Jackson to head into the season without an extension.

2. Starting Shooting Guard

For the first time in five seasons, someone other than Thabo Sefolosha will start at SG for the Thunder on opening night. Sefolosha signed with the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason, thus opening the 2-guard spot. Sefolosha struggled in his final season with the Thunder and was relegated to bench duty at times in two of the Thunder’s three playoff series. The Thunder have a bevy of candidates that could possibly start at shooting guard.

Andre Roberson started 16 games for the Thunder as a rookie when Sefolosha was out with a calf strain in the 2nd half of the season. He has shown flashes of being the prototypical wing defender that the Thunder love to use at the 2-guard position, but is a developing work in progress on the offensive end. In 40 games total last season, Roberson only attempted 13 3-pointers, making only 2 in the process. He knows his limitations offensively and usually defers to his more offensively minded teammates.

Jeremy Lamb was viewed as being the heir-apparent to James Harden after the trade two seasons ago. He could shoot like Harden and was long and rangy enough to be made into an adequate defender. He showed flashes last season, averaging nearly 10 points per game until he hit the “rookie” wall in the second half of the season. Last season was Lamb’s second, but it was his first playing significant minutes. By the end of the season, Lamb’s minutes were going to veterans Caron Butler and Derek Fisher. The Thunder seem to really like what Lamb brings to the team and may look to him to be their version of Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs.

lamb jones thunder

Reggie Jackson is another option. He started the final four games of the Western Conference Finals with Westbrook to positive results. But the Thunder probably view Jackson as their firepower off the bench and one of their closers. While Jackson has been adamant that he would like to start, his best role on this team may be that of his current role as a sixth man.

The dark horse in this competition is Perry Jones. He started six games for the Thunder at SG and did a memorable job defensively on LeBron James in the Thunder’s victory in Miami against the Heat last season. He’s the median between Roberson and Lamb. He can hit the corner 3 pretty consistently and has the tools and ability to be a good defender. The question is whether he has the motor and “want to” to beat out the other candidates?

In the end, I think Lamb comes out of the fray with the starting position. His ability to space the floor will give the Thunder a dimension in their starting line-up they have been severely lacking. The onus will be on Lamb to improve defensively. The Thunder preach defense, and if Lamb is not up to task, there are at least 3 guys in the wings that can replace him.

3. Starting Center

With Kendrick Perkins nursing a quad strain, Steven Adams has an opportunity to supplant the veteran as the team’s starting center. The signs have been pointing towards Adams being the center of the future for this team. But Adams’ play last season may have fast-forwarded that development to this season. Adams started 20 games last season when Perkins was out and developed consistently as the season progressed. In the playoffs, Adams averaged nearly 4 more minutes per game than Perkins after Game 5 of the first round.

Perkins’ contract is up after this season and the team is probably ready to move on from it. While Perkins has been a great locker room presence, his play on the court has not merited his hefty salary. But if the Thunder start Adams, they run into a bit of a conundrum. Perkins’ value is as a starter. He is great defensively against traditional post players, most of whom start. As a bench player though, the little value Perkins does have gets muted. The team could always trade Perkins, as a $9 million dollar expiring contract is a commodity during the trade deadline, but the depth at center suffered a bit when the team traded Hasheem Thabeet. Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Mitch McGary can all play center, but are better suited for power forward.

What I see happening is a repeat of last season’s playoffs. Perkins will get the starts, but Adams will get the lion’s share of minutes.

4. 15th Spot

The Thunder do have a roster spot open, but have always preferred to keep that spot open until the trade deadline in February. An open roster spots becomes more attractive to a team looking to trade more players than they are receiving. Also, after the deadline, expiring veterans on lottery bound teams are usually bought out so they have the ability to latch onto a playoff-bound team for the stretch run. The Thunder have used this roster spot in recent years to sign Derek Fisher and Caron Butler for late season playoff pushes. In conclusion, I see the Thunder going into the season with an open roster spot.

5. The Semaj Christon Situation

Christon, the Thunder’s 2nd round pick from the 2014 NBA Draft, will apparently be getting the Grant Jerrett treatment. Jerrett was the Thunder’s 2nd round pick from last season’s draft. Instead of inviting him to training camp and being forced to offer him a training camp contract, the Thunder, instead, renounced their rights to him and made him the first pick in that year’s D-League draft. He played the entire season with the Tulsa 66ers, and then signed with the Thunder in the final week of the NBA season. The Thunder then included him on their playoff roster. That inclusion allowed Jerrett to get paid the playoff bonus that all the other players received. The Thunder rewarded Jerrett’s loyalty by offering him a multiyear contract this offseason.

semaj christon thunder blue

According to Christon’s agent Doug Neustadt, he will begin his career with the Thunder’s renamed D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. Christon has the physical attributes to be a Thunder-type point guard (long, athletic, able to drive and finish). On the Blue, he’ll probably be tasked with running the team and becoming a better shooter. If the Thunder have an open roster spot near the end of the season, look for them to reward Christon for his loyalty and patience.

6. Hot seat for Scott Brooks?

Is this the season that the coaching seat starts to warm up for Brooks. He has probably his most talented roster yet, and will be measured by whether he wins a championship or not. Injuries have had a big hand in deciding the Thunder’s fate the last two postseasons, but Brooks has also been to blame due to his lack of an offensive system and his stubbornness to make rotational changes whenever necessary. Brooks is a great ego-managing coach. He’s nursed the Thunder’s core players from “all-potential” to “all-production”. That is not an easy thing to do in the NBA. But now, its “put up or shut up” time. The team is primed for a championship run and their core players are just now entering their prime. Will Brooks rise above the fray, or will he, once again, be a game too late in making the right adjustments?

7. Is Russell Westbrook the best point guard in the league?

Yes! He outplayed Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker on head to head match-ups in last year’s playoffs. He was probably the 2nd or 3rd best player in the playoffs. And for a 10 game stretch before he necessitated another surgery on his knee in December, he averaged 21.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game on 46.5% shooting. Is he the best pure point guard in the league? Probably not. That title still belongs to Chris Paul. But pound for pound, bringing everything to the table, I’m taking Westbrook every time.

8. Steven Adams’ mustache

The Lord giveth…..

adams thunder 2

…And the Lord taketh away (just a day later – no ‘stache)

 adams practice

#SadFace

9. Will Serge Ibaka ever learn who Mitch McGary is?

OH, the outrage when it was discovered that Serge Ibaka didn’t know who Mitch McGary. How dare Ibaka not know who one of his teammates are? Until you consider that Ibaka was probably just enjoying his time in Spain representing the host country in the FIBA World Cup. Fans tend to think the players are as passionate about the roster makeup of their team as they are. American-born players are used to waking up watching SportsCenter and knowing the ins and outs of the league. Foreign-born players don’t have the same routines as American-born players, so they probably don’t necessarily keep track with all the happenings around the league. Plus, Serge was extremely busy this summer, so its understandable. And besides, he’ll have plenty of time to get to know McGary this season.

In the end, Ibaka could have just been trolling everyone, though.

10. Was this the longest offseason in Thunder history?

Yes!

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Thunder Offseason: Trade Partners and Draft Night

sam presti thunder

The Oklahoma City hold two first round picks in this year’s draft. Their own (No. 29) and Dallas’ first rounder (No. 21) obtained from Houston in the James Harden trade. In a daft and offseason that will be filled with intrigue heading into July 1st, assets are a powerful thing to be in possession of heading into the draft. The Thunder are on the cusp of becoming a championship team, having been in 3 of the last 4 Western Conference Finals and being on the losing end of the 2012 NBA Finals. With most of the core pieces in place, the Thunder may use these assets to get that final piece or two to finally get over the edge.

Assets

Other than the two first round picks in a pretty loaded draft, the Thunder also have the $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception (TPE) they obtained from the Kevin Martin sign and trade last season. The TPE can be used to trade for a player without having to add any players in order to make the salaries match. For example, Gerald Henderson of the Charlotte Hornets makes $6 million dollars in salary. If the Thunder wanted to trade for him, they could offer the Hornets their TPE for $6.1 million dollars and a draft pick or the draft rights to one of their Euro-stashes.

kevin martin

In addition to the TPE, the Thunder have 2 players in the final year of their contracts. Kendrick Perkins will be making $9.4 million dollars and Nick Collison will be making $2.2 million dollars next season. In addition, if the Thunder pick up Hasheem Thabeet’s final year, he’ll be making $1.25 million. In the NBA, expiring contracts become valuable because the receiving team can trade away a player (or players) of equal cost, but usually with more time left on their contracts. For example, let’s hypothetically say the Spurs were needing to trade Tiago Splitter to make space for Kawhi Leonard’s upcoming extension. Next season Splitter will be making $9.25 million, but has 2 more years left on his contract after that. The Spurs could hypothetically trade Splitter to the Thunder for Perkins and his expiring contract.

Also, the Thunder have a slew of young players all making under $3 million dollars a season (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, and Grant Jerrett) and two valuable Euro-stashes in Tibor Pleiss and Alex Abrines. The inclusion of these players in a deal are usually the things that either make or break a deal.

Targets

With Thabo Sefolosha going into free agency and some of the depth of the team either not coming back (Derek Fisher and Caron Butler) or getting older (Collison), the Thunder will probably be in the market for a starting 2-guard and some veteran depth for the bench. So what are some possible targets for the Thunder?

Mike Dunleavy

With Chicago wanting to try their hand in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the Bulls will have to rid themselves of some salary before even attempting to offer Anthony anything close to a max contract. The Thunder obtained some assets from Miami when they were making their run at LeBron James (and Chris Bosh) in 2010. In that draft, they obtained SG Daequan Cook from Miami and the No. 18 pick for the No. 32 pick. The Bulls will shed some salary by releasing Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause. But the Bulls will probably need a little more salary shed before they can offer Anthony a max (or very near max) deal. While Dunleavy is a weapon as a 3-point specialist, they probably won’t want to get rid of any of their young (cheap) wings such as Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell. In addition, rumors that Bulls’ Eurostash Nikola Mirotic is ready to join the Bulls may necessitate that the dump even more salary.

dunleavy bulls

The Thunder could target Dunleavy with the TPE, and then try to obtain one of the Bulls’ two first round picks (16 and 19) for the Thunder’s 29th pick. That way, the Bulls shed salary, but still have an asset that allows them to obtain a player in the future, in the form of the TPE. Also, the Bulls trade one of their 1st rounders, but stay in the first round with pick No. 29, albeit at a cheaper price.

Iman Shumpert

At the trade deadline this past season, there were rumors that the Knicks and Thunder were discussing a trade centered around Iman Shumpert and the Thunder’s first round pick. At the time, it was not known whether the Thunder would have a 2nd first round pick. With the season over and the Knicks under new management, it could be a good time to revisit those talks. Depending on how Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher view Shumpert could determine whether he is available during the draft.

Arron Afflalo

Probably the most difficult of the trades to do. Difficult, because Afflalo makes $7.6 million, which is too much to fit under the TPE. Unfortunately, the TPE is an all or nothing deal. Either you are able to obtain the player using the TPE or you’re not. TPE’s cannot be used in conjunction with something else in the same transaction. At $7.6 million, the Thunder would have to trade a player or two along with assets such as draft picks or Euro-stashes. So then the question becomes: Do the Thunder view Afflalo as the final piece of the puzzle?

arron afflalo

If you follow the history of the Thunder, you know that they trust in their system and their developmental program. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones will be entering into their 3rd year (or as its called in Thunder lore “The Year”) and Steven Adams will have an another offseason’s worth of training under his belt. So, no, I don’t think they will trade for Afflalo. Players like Shumpert and Dunleavy will take less assets to obtain, so I can definitely see the team going after someone like that.

In an offseason that may feature LeBron, Carmelo, and Bosh as free agents, Kevin Love as a moving target, and a vaunted draft class, you can expect to see plenty of moving parts around the league. With assets in hand, the Thunder may throw their hat into the fray to see what they can come out of it with.

Exit Interviews 2014: Thunder roster and outlooks

Kevin Durant

With the Thunder’s 107-112 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City’s season came to an end. Was this a disappointing ending to the season? Maybe, maybe not. The Thunder fell to a team they had swept in their season series, and whom they had seemingly figured out. But the playoffs are a different season, a different monster, and the Thunder could never consistently muster that playoff intensity they showed in games that featured some sort of external pressure (elimination games, games after a big defeat). Maybe those are just symptoms of a young team having to take its knocks before coming out as a hardened champion.

The elimination meant the end of the line for the 2013-14 Thunder. Whenever a season ends, be it in mid-April at the conclusion of the regular season or mid-June at the conclusion of the NBA Finals, every team holds exit interviews with each player and coach on their team. Exit interviews serve two purposes: either to tell the person what to work on for the next season or to advise the person of their intentions in regards to extensions or standing on the team. While the Thunder have already held their official exit interviews, these are my exit interviews for each player on the team.

Scott Brooks – Head Coach

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Record – 59-23 (.720)

Season Review – As you well know, I have my issues with Scott Brooks. He’s a good coach, but he lacks that extra “it” to become a championship level coach, in my opinion. In all honesty, though, he did a pretty good job this season considering all the obstacles the Thunder faced. For the first time since they arrived in OKC, the Thunder got bit by the injury bug. Yet, Brooks managed to weather all those storms and lead the Thunder to the 2nd best record in the NBA. For that, he has to be commended. It was good to see him make a concerted effort to develop his young players by giving them minutes throughout the season. His between game adjustments in the playoffs helped the Thunder get past the first round, and likely, extended the Western Conference Finals. But his inability to make in-game adjustments on the fly sometimes destroyed the flow within a game and led to runs by the opponent that the Thunder could not come back from.

Salary for 2014-15 – $4,000,000

Future Outlook – The team took it’s first step back in the regular season, but not by much. Injuries and playing inexperienced players had a lot to do with that. The Thunder still came out with the 2nd best record in the league. With that said, the shine on Brooks’ image has been deteriorating for the past 2 seasons. Brooks is starting to get the dreaded “great regular season coach, but questionable playoff coach” tag. The players love him, but they love winning more. If Brooks is not able to get this group over the hump, it may be time to move on to another coach.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – You’ve been good for this team. You’ve guided their growth and are on the precipice of doing something big. You just need to make quicker adjustments in-game, and need to trust more in your role players more.

Steven Adams – Center

adams duncan thunder spurs

Season Averages – 81 games (20 starts) / 14.8 mins / 3.3 pts /4.1 rebs /0.5 asts /0.7 blks /0.5 stls / 11.25 PER

Season Review – One of the biggest rookie surprises of the season in the NBA. Adams was expected to be a project that would be shuttled back and forth between Oklahoma City and Tulsa to further his development this season. Instead, Adams solidified his stake as the team’s back-up big man and even started a quarter of season because of a groin injury to starting center Kendrick Perkins. Adams combined his athleticism and strength to carve out a niche as a defensive specialist off the bench. He provided a source of frustration to opponents who took umbrage to Adams’ physical style of play. That umbrage led to at least 5 ejections throughout the season, the most important being Zach Randolph’s suspension in Game 7 of the first round after he hit Adams in his face with a closed fist in Game 6. His play continued and improved in the playoffs as he cut down on his fouls and became even more of a force on the defensive end. He even showed glimpses of a offensive game throughout the playoffs.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,184,960

Future Outlook – Definitely, one of the staples of the organization. His development is as important as the continued development of the Thunder’s current core (Durant, Westbrook, Jackson, and Ibaka). After missing out on a couple big men in recent drafts (Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens), the Thunder seem to finally have gotten it right with Adams. Not only is he the right combination of strength and athleticism, but he also has the right mindset. He understands what the team is asking of him and doesn’t deviate from that plan. His mentality was veteran-like which serves him well for his style of play.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Great rookie season. Develop your entire offensive repertoire. Develop a go to move (jump hook using both hands). Work on your jumper from 5-15 feet out. Work more on your quickness and not necessarily on your strength this offseason.

Caron Butler – Guard/Forward

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – (w/OKC) 22 games /27.2 mins /9.7 pts /3.2 rebs /1.2 asts /0.3 blks /1.1 stls /12.24 PER

Season Review – Butler started the season with his hometown Milwaukee Bucks. As the season progressed, it became apparent that the Bucks were in the beginnings of a complete rebuild. Butler, in his pursuit of a championship and meaningful playing time, agreed to a buyout in late February. The Thunder signed Butler on February 28th. Instantly, he became one of the first players off the bench for the Thunder, providing outside shooting and veteran leadership. That continued into the playoffs, where Butler even started 2 games for the Thunder in the first round, in place of a struggling Thabo Sefolosha. As the playoffs progressed, though, the well seemed to dry up for Butler as he struggled to provide much for the Thunder. His shot wasn’t falling and his defense was lacking. In the end, he registered a DNP-CD in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown as he is an unrestricted free agent

Future Outlook – Does Butler have a place in the Thunder’s future? Possibly, but not likely. Butler was scheduled to make $8 million dollars in the final year of his contract. It will be interesting to see what he garners in the open market this offseason. He’s no longer an $8 million dollar a year player, but does he think he is a vet minimum type player yet? If Butler is okay making the vet minimum, then the Thunder may try to re-sign him. If he fancies himself more as a $3-5 million dollars a year player, he’ll probably be wearing a different jersey next season. Also, the weirdness surrounding his lack of availability during exit interviews probably just seals his fate as an ex-Thunder player from here on out.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for your time on the team. If things can be worked out financially, we would definitely like to have you back. But if not, good luck in your future endeavors. Oh, and by the way, who were you calling every time you hit a 3?

Nick Collison – Forward/Center

collison splitter thunder spurs

Season Averages – 81 games / 16.7 mins /4.2 pts /3.6 rebs /1.3 asts /0.3 blks /0.4 stls /11.84 PER

Season Review – Collison continues to provide valuable playing time as a back-up big. His minutes per game were the lowest for his career. Father Time is starting to catch up to Collison, but there are still games where Collison is one of the best bigs out there (Game 6 vs. the LA Clippers).  He is the anchor of the reserves and provides a calming effect when he is at the top of his game. Collison even began to incorporate a 3-point shot into his game. He took a beating near the end of the season, and seemed to age throughout the playoffs (other than the aforementioned Game 6 in the 2nd round).

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,242,003

Future Outlook – Collison heads into next season on the final year of his contract. He is the gray beard of the players, having been on the team the longest. His body is starting to show the ill effects of a 10 year career with his playing style. He’s a bit slower laterally and doesn’t have the same strength to handle big men as he used to. His veteran leadership on the team is unparalleled and his educating of Steven Adams may be worth every penny of his salary.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Nick, you’re an important asset for this team as a veteran. Continue to work on your outside shot. Realize that your minutes may continue to decline, but your importance on the team is still top-notch. Rest as much as possible this offseason.

Kevin Durant – Forward

durant

Season Averages – 81 games (81 starts) / 38.5 mins /32.0 pts /7.4 rebs /5.5 asts /0.7 blks /1.3 stls /29.9 PER

Season Review – MVP! MVP! MVP! Durant won his first MVP award this season. He was, without question, the best player during the regular season. He carried the Thunder through all their injuries this season and had a stretch in January (when the sting of life without Westbrook for the second time in the season was still fresh) where he averaged 36 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in 16 games with a PER of 36.6. It was during this time that he started a streak of 12 straight games of 30+ points and a streak of 42 straight games with 25+ points. He had 3 triple doubles and 27 double doubles. Numbers that evoked thoughts of Michael Jordan. Historic numbers for a historic season. But all that heavy lifting may have had an effect on Durant in the playoffs. While he didn’t look as fatigued as he did in the 2013 playoffs, his numbers did tail off in the playoffs. It could have been fatigue, or it could have been the fact that, without an effective offensive system in place, playoff defenses just keyed in on him and tried to make other players, Westbrook included, beat them.

Salary for 2014-15 – $18,995,624

Future Outlook – One of the pillars of the franchise. The team goes as far as he takes them. Durant has out-skilled the entire league to the tune of 4 scoring titles and an MVP. Now, it’s time for him to learn how to out-think the league. Years of falling short will cause you to start thinking about different ways to affect the game, whether directly or indirectly. Jordan went through. LeBron went through. Now, it’s KD’s turn to go through it. Hopefully, next season will be the year Durant puts it all together, as if Durant wasn’t scary enough for the rest of the league.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Congratulations on the MVP. But there is work to be done for next season. Rest up. Get stronger. Don’t touch a basketball for a month. Watch the Finals and let that hurt fester. Your time will come, but it’ll be up to you to set it in motion. When it comes time to touch a basketball, work on your game from 15 feet in.

Derek Fisher – Guard

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – 81 games / 17.6 mins /5.2 pts /1.5 rebs /1.4 asts /0.0 blks /0.9 stls / 10.09 PER

Season Review – Instead of signing for the 2nd half of the season as he had done in the previous 2 seasons, Fisher decided to sign for the full year for his farewell tour. Amazingly, at the age of 39, Fisher was still a valuable reserve for a championship contender. His perimeter shooting and veteran leadership were extremely important to a team that was dealing with injuries and shuffling line-ups. From January through March, Fisher jumped in his Kia and asked Uvo to take him back to 2003. In those three months, Fisher shot 69/159 (.434) from 3-point land. After March, Fisher’s perimeter shooting declined as did his production.

Salary for 2014-15 – Retired ($5,000,000 from the Knicks, though)

Future Outlook – The New York Knicks hired Fisher to be their head coach on June 10th. With the success of Jason Kidd in Brooklyn, recently retired point guards seem to be the fad in the coaching department.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for you time in OKC. The professionalism with which you handled yourself these last three seasons showed a young team how someone can age gracefully in this league. The wisdom you’ve extolled onto the team’s core players will last for years as they become veterans. Good luck in your new job as head coach of the NY Knicks.

Serge Ibaka – Forward

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

Season Averages – 81 games (81 starts) / 32.9 mins /15.1 pts /8.8 rebs /1.0 asts /2.7 blks /0.5 stls /19.66 PER

Season Review – Durant may have been the MVP, but Ibaka was the glue that held the team together. He was one of the most consistent scorers in the league (always scoring between 13-17 points), provided a perimeter release valve when teams doubled Durant and Westbrook, gobbled up offensive rebounds to the tune of nearly three a game, and was one of the best interior defenders in the league. Ibaka became one of the best two way players in the league. His impact was no more evident than the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. Nursing a Grade 2 calf strain that he suffered in Game 6 of the 2nd round, Ibaka missed the first two games of the WCF. In those two games, the Spurs averaged 60 points in the paint. After miraculously returningin Game 3, the Thunder reeled off two straight wins to tie the series. Even though they went on to lose the series, the impact of Ibaka was put on full display for the league to see.

Salary for 2014-15 – $12,350,000

Future Outlook – One of the pillars of the franchise, Ibaka’s improvement was one of the most important developments of 2013-14. Without it, the Thunder would have definitely struggled throughout the season. Moving forward, anything further that Ibaka can give you will be icing on the cake. Ibaka is the perfect compliment to players like Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson. His versatility as a perimeter-oriented big man that can get a couple baskets inside is a change of pace to the dribble drive action of the other three core players. Also, expect a Defensive Player of the Year in his future.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Buen trabajo esta temporada. Tu eres uno de los jugadores mas importante para el futuro de este equipo. Sigue mejorando tu juego (los tiroteos de 3, los tiroteos de 15 pies o mas, y tambien tu juego en el puesto). Usa este tiempo para descansar.

Translation: Great job this season. You are one of the staples of the franchise. Keep improving your game this offseason (3-point shooting, perimeter shooting from 15 feet out, and post play). Take this offseason and rest.

Ibaka’s the only guy on the team that speaks Spanish, so of course, our 1 on 1 sit-down would be in Spanish. Avec Classe!

Reggie Jackson – Guard

jackson duncan adams parker thunder spurs

Season Averages – 80 games (36 starts) /28.5 mins /13.1 pts /3.9 rebs /4.1 asts /0.1 blks /1.1 stls /15.43 PER

Season Review – The importance of Jackson this season was twofold. First, he was the Thunder’s sixth man and their tertiary ball handler in closing line-ups. Secondly, and probably most important, he was the back-up point guard that stepped in when Russell Westbrook had to miss nearly half the season. Much like he did in the postseason last year, Jackson stepped in and guided the team almost effortlessly. He isn’t Westbrook and he never will be. But he’s similar enough that the team doesn’t have to completely change their style of play when Westbrook is off the floor. As the season progressed he improved his 3-point shooting. He started November shooting 20% from the 3-point line. By April, he was shooting 41.4% from long range. In the playoffs, Jackson took over in Game 4 of the Grizzlies series and, more than likely, saved the season for the Thunder. It was a strange occurrence as Durant and Westbrook both handed the reigns over to Jackson in the 4th quarter and in overtime. In the Western Conference Finals, with Thabo Sefolosha struggling in the first two games, coach Brooks inserted Jackson into the starting line-up and it paid immediate dividends.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,204,369

Future Outlook – Much like Harden from two seasons ago, Jackson is at that point where he can be extended by the Thunder this offseason or risk going into restricted free agency next offseason. The Thunder are in a much better position financially to consider resigning Jackson to an extension than they were when Harden was up for one. The salary cap will be bumped up $5 million dollar next season and the Thunder have done a great job staying under the luxury tax line these last 4 seasons. If signed, Jackson’s extension doesn’t kick in until Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison are either off the books or resigned for significantly smaller price. Jackson appears to be one of the main components of the core, but also appears to be its most available for any trade partners.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Continue working on your outside shot this offseason. If that ever becomes a consistent weapon in your arsenal, the sky will be the limit. Watch film on what you need to work on defensively and where you can pick your spots better as a floor general. Other than that, great job this past season.

Grant Jerrett – Forward

jerrett thunder

Season Averages – 0 games played for the Thunder.

Tulsa 66ers – 27 games (25 starts) / 29.2 mins /15.1 pts /6.1 rebs /0.7 asts /0.8 blks /0.6 stls

Season Review – The Thunder bought the draft rights to Jerrett from the Portland Trailblazers who drafted him in the second round. Instead of offering him a training camp deal, the Thunder allowed Jerrett’s right to expire, which allowed him to enter his name into the D-League draft. The Thunder (66ers) maneuvered their way to the top pick in the D-League draft and took Jerrett with the first pick. Why would the Thunder go through all that trouble to basically draft a player twice? Teams with second round picks have one of two options: They can either send the player overseas for development (hence the reason why so many “who is that?” foreign players are drafted in the 2nd round) or they can offer them a training camp contract. If they aren’t signed to the 15 man roster once the season starts, the player essentially becomes a restricted free agent. The Thunder, not wanting to risk losing Jerrett, but also cognizant of the fact that he needed further developing, worked out a deal to have him be a part of the Tulsa 66ers this season, while also being under the watchful guise of the Thunder. When the D-League season ended, the Thunder signed Jerrett for the final week of the season and made him a part of their playoff roster, albeit inactive for all 19 games.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown, but he is believed to be under contract for the Thunder next season.

Future Outlook – Jerrett is stretch 4 in the Channing Frye mold. He shot 36% from 3-point land in the D-League. On a team where offensive spacing is necessary, a cheap 3-point specialist is a nice thing to have.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Continue working on all aspects of your game this offseason. Come into training camp in shape and prepared to work. You have a skill that is very valuable in the NBA, but you can’t settle for being a one trick pony.

Perry Jones – Guard/Forward

jones splitter westbrook thunder spurs

Season Averages – 62 games (7 starts) /12.3 mins /3.5 pts /1.8 rebs /0.4 asts /0.3 blks /0.2 stls /10.14 PER

Season Review – Coming into the season, Jones was one of the mysteries for the Thunder. He barely played in his rookie season and missed out on the 2013 Summer League due to a dental ailment. His physical tools (6’11, long, crazy athleticism) were off the charts, but Jones was more a product of his part, not necessarily a sum of his parts. Jones was given the opportunity to play more this season, and even started 7 games. With apologies to Thabo Sefolosha, Jones was probably the Swiss Army knife of the Thunder this season. He was their situational defender. If they needed a long athletic defender for a series or two, he was their utility defender. If they needed a bigger defender for someone like LeBron James, Jones was that guy. Jones even began to incorporate a 3-point shot into his game and was sometimes used as a floor spacer. Jones’ playing time wavered as the season wore on, but it is very apparent that he has a bright future in the NBA.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,129,200

Future Outlook – Due to his versatility, Jones will be an important piece in the Thunder’s future. His ability to defend multiple positions will be his bread and butter. But its how he develops offensively that will determine whether Jones will be a defensive specialist or an all around player that will be an import part of the rotation.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Of all the players on the Thunder, you intrigue me the most. You have the tools to be a monster on the court. It’s on you whether you want to affect games, or whether you are just happy being in games. You have a good foundation defensively because of your physical tools. But you need to determine what you want to do offensively. Do you want to be a 3&D guy? Or do you want to be an all-around threat? Work on all facets of your game offensively and get a little bit stronger.

Jeremy Lamb – Guard

lamb diaw joseph thunder spurs

Season Averages – 78 games / 19.7 mins /8.5 pts /2.4 rebs /1.5 asts /0.3 blks /0.7 stls /13.44 PER

Season Review – After barely playing his rookie season, Lamb was slated to be one of the top reserves off the bench for the Thunder. And for the first 3 months of the season, Lamb played like he was one of the top bench players on the Thunder. He was averaging double digits, shooting the ball well, and making the right plays. He was even a part of some of the closing line-ups in close games. After the All-Star break, though, his play became inconsistent. Whether it was fatigue or the signing of Caron Butler, Lamb’s play on the court and his playing time both decreased tremendously. After averaging over 20 minutes per game pre-ASB, his minutes dipped to about 13 mpg after the ASB (even registering 4 DNP-CD’s in the final month of the season). In the playoffs, Lamb mostly watched from the bench, but played well in the WCF when called upon.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,202,000

Future Outlook – Lamb showed in the first half of the season that he is an incredibly important asset for the team. His perimeter shooting and play-making make him another weapon to have out there in support of Durant and Westbrook. His psyche may have taken a little bit of a hit when his playing time decreased in the 2nd half of the season, but if he is smart, he’ll see that time for what it was: a learning moment. He has the offensive skillset to be a weapon on the Thunder. Defensively, he is a work in progress, but showed signs of effort when out there. His play in the 3rd round of the playoffs was encouraging for the team moving forward.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – You need to get stronger and work on your conditioning. Your play declined when you hit the “rookie” wall. Even though it was your 2nd year in the league, it was your first year consistently playing. Continue to work on refining your 3-point shot and work on the other aspects of your game, such as finishing through contact. Come prepared to play at least 25 mpg next season.

Kendrick Perkins – Center

perkins duncan thunder spurs

Season Averages – 62 games (62 starts) / 19.5 mins /3.4 pts /4.9 rebs /1.1 asts /0.5 blks /0.4 stls /6.32 PER

Season Review – When it comes to Perkins, most people have one of three feelings towards him: they either love him, hate him, or accept him for what he is. At this point, I’ve come to accept him for what he is: a hard nosed interior defender with little mobility that gives you hardly anything on the offensive end of the floor. For what he is good at, Perkins did extremely well this season. He (and Ibaka) anchored a defense that was consistently near the top of the league in terms of defense in the paint and defensive efficiency. Whatever he gave you offensively was just icing on the cake. Coach Brooks did a good job of masking Perkins’ deficiencies by keeping his playing time down when the match-up dictated it. In the playoffs, Perkins did a better job of getting involved offensively and was one of the best post defenders in the playoffs.

Salary for 2014-15 – $9,404,342

Future Outlook – As Perkins enters the last year of his contract, the team finds itself in a peculiar position. His replacement is already on the team (Adams) and is further along in his development than anyone thought he’d be at this point in his young career. But Perkins sort of had a career renaissance last season. He was still horrid offensively, but was very effective defensively. While Adams has progressed surprisingly fast, another season of tutelage may not be bad for his development. Starting Perkins may not be the popular choice, but it may be the wise choice.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – I will always admire your professionalism. In spite of what people say, you know yourself and you stick to your strengths (most of the time). Your role as “locker room alpha male”, or “silverback” as you like to call it, is great in terms of keeping everyone accountable. Keep answering those text messages from Durant in the evenings and rest up this off-season.

Andre Roberson – Guard/Forward

roberson splitter ibaka spurs thunder

Season Averages – 40 games (16 starts) / 10.0 mins /1.9 pts /2.4 rebs /0.4 asts /0.3 blks /0.5 stls /9.03 PER

Season Review – Roberson had one of the stranger rookie seasons I’ve seen. He looked like he was destined to spend most of the season in Tulsa. But injuries played a role in Roberson playing and starting in several games this season. His offensive game still needs a lot of work, but defensively, he was NBA-ready. His ability to cause havoc on the defensive end made him a favorite of Coach Brooks’ when the team got sluggish and needed a shot of effort. Even when Roberson started, he didn’t play much. But he showed signs of having an NBA-ready skill and could be a solid part of the rotation if the rest of his game comes around.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,160,880

Future Outlook – On defense alone, Roberson has a place in the NBA. His long arms and athleticism make him a nuisance on that side of the ball. But if he ever wants to be a rotational player in the NBA, he’ll need to develop a consistent offensive skill. Be it a corner 3 or a slashing game, Roberson will have to put in work on that side of the ball this offseason.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – All in all, you had a pretty successful rookie campaign. But the thing about being successful in the NBA is that you can’t just concentrate on one side of the court. Even players that are considered to be great defensively but less than stellar offensively, have some sort of offensive skill. Work on your shot this offseason and watch film on where to position yourself on offense to get either easy baskets or slashing opportunities.

Thabo Sefolosha – Guard/Forward

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – 61 games (61 starts) / 26 mins /6.3 pts /3.6 rebs /1.5 asts /0.3 blks /1.3 stls /10.42 PER

Season Review – Sefolosha is the main perimeter defender on the team. Whether it was a point guard or a wing, Sefolosha was usually assigned to the best perimeter player the opponent had. And for a little bit there, he seemed to be developing a consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal. In the two seasons before this one, he shot over 41% from long distance. But this season, maybe feeling the pressure of a contract year, his 3-point shooting regressed to 31.6%. But most surprisingly, his defense seemed to take a step back also. Sefolosha suffered from leg issues the last few seasons (plantar fasciitis, strained calf) and those seemed to be taking its toll on Sefolosha. In the playoffs, it became apparent that his lack of confidence on the offensive end and subpar display on the defensive end had become a deterrent. Sefolosha was benched in the Memphis and San Antonio series, essentially writing the obituary for his Thunder career.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown, as he is an unrestricted free agent.

Future Outlook – Sefolosha’s benching throughout the playoffs and his reminiscing nature during his exit interview pretty much seals his fate with the team. Sefolosha will more than likely be donning a new jersey next season. Here’s what scares me: Sefolosha can still be a disruptive force on the defensive end. It will be interesting to see if a team like Miami or San Antonio will take a chance on Sefolosha, strictly as a defensive stopper for the likes of Durant and Westbrook.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – I don’t know if you will be back next season, but I do want to thank you for your service in your time here. You brought it every night and gave full effort. That’s a great thing for young players to see. Good luck in your future endeavors, wherever that may be.

Hasheem Thabeet – Center

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns

Season Averages – 23 games / 8.3 mins /1.2 pts /1.7 rebs /0.0 asts /0.4 blks /0.2 stls /2.58 PER

Season Review – Thabeet seemed to take a step back this season as far as being a reserve center. He lost his back-up spot to rookie Steven Adams and never was able to find any consistent time in the rotation. He played mainly in blowouts. If anything, he’s a great locker room guy and has one of the most positive human beings you’ll ever meet.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,250,000 (non-guaranteed)

Future Outlook – At this point, Thabeet is what he is. If you aren’t going to play much in the NBA, you might as well be the greatest, tallest cheerleader known to man. His infectious spirit seems to rub off on his teammates and his fashion sense is rivaled only by Russell Westbrook. But if the Thunder finds a cheaper player with more potential for the center position, you have to think they may let Thabeet go.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for being you. You may not play a lot, but your spirit is as important to chemistry as any offensive set Brooks runs. As far as this offseason, start working on your outside shot. It seems like every big man for the Thunder (sans Perkins) is working on his perimeter shooting.

Russell Westbrook – Guard

westbrook diaw thunder spurs

Season Averages – 46 games (46 starts) /30.7 mins /21.8 pts /5.7 rebs /6.9 asts /0.2 blks /1.9 stls /24.74 PER

Season Review – There’s one thing to be said about Russell: He doesn’t change his style of play, regardless of whether he’s coming back from injury or not. Westbrook missed almost half the season, but what the team missed when he was gone had nothing to do with his stats. When Westbrook is in the game, the team is nastier and more dangerous. Does Westbrook still have his “Russell being Russell” moments? Of course. But he’s learned to control those a bit better, and now dictates  the flow of the game more directly. His stats don’t reciprocate him impact on the game. Westbrook was probably the best point guard in league before he had to have a second arthroscopic surgery on December 26th. When he came back after the All-Star Break, he had a per game minutes restriction and didn’t play in one of the games in back to back situations. In the playoffs, the minutes restriction was lifted and it was like the shackles that were holding Westbrook back were broken.  He was, without question, the best point guard in the playoffs, and possibly, the second best player in the playoffs behind LeBron James by the time the Thunder were ousted.

Salary for 2014-15 – $15,719,063

Future Outlook – Much like Durant, Westbrook is one of the pillars of the franchise. The franchise goes as far as he (and Durant) takes them. Westbrook’s game was much more controlled after Game 5 of the Memphis series. If he can continue that type of play for an entire season, an MVP is not out of the question for Westbrook. In fact, Durant’s bid to repeat as MVP may have an extra hurdle to surpass next season: a teammate taking some of his votes.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Great job overcoming adversity this past year. These types of the things will not only make you stronger as a person, but will also make you appreciate the gift that you have. Nothing is a given. Everything has to be earned. Thank you for being the heart and personality of the team. Continue being you. Work on that 3-point shot and rest this off-season. Ice that knee whenever possible. We need a full season Russell next year.

This team is soooo close to putting it all together. The roster next season will be different, but all of the core will be back, and more than likely, will be better. While disappointing that the Thunder could not advance to the Finals, the fact is the San Antonio Spurs were a better team. Not by much, but enough to get past us. This team is currently paying their dues. Advancing to the Finals in 2012 may have been a blessing and a curse. A blessing because, hey, you’re in the Finals. But also a curse because I don’t think the team was mature enough to appreciate the moment. After the loss, most people thought it would be a given that the team would make it multiple Finals. But the team skipped many of the steps that most championship teams have to take to become a hardened championship contender. Well, I think we’ve felt the pain and the hurt that comes from coming up short season after season. From here on out, it’s championship or bust.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game 5 preview

Westbrook thunder

There won’t be a riveting MVP speech or a controversial headline this time around. The Oklahoma City Thunder know what’s at stake. Lose tonight, and you go back to the lion’s den facing elimination. We did it in the last series, but why keep testing the law of averages? When a lower seed has a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 (their court), they win 65% of the time.

For the first 39 minutes of Game 4, the Thunder were on cruise control. They led 32-15 after the first quarter, led by 11 heading into halftime, and increased that lead by 1 heading into the 4th quarter.  Three minutes into the 4th quarter, the Thunder were up by 14 points. Then, the Thunder stopped defending the paint. And when they attempted to defend, they ended up fouling. The Clippers had lay-ups or dunks on 11 of their last 12 made FG. In that same time frame, they made 8-9 FTs. The Thunder couldn’t keep up and ended up getting outscored 33-17 in the final 9 minutes of the quarter.

5 Keys for Game 5

1. In-Game Adjustments – During the Clippers’ run in the fourth quarter, Scott Brooks had his vaunted small-ball lineup in the game. The Ibaka-Durant-Butler-Westbrook-Jackson lineup is great in close games or in making up a deficit (as evidenced by Game 3). But if you are up big and the opposing team starts to make a run, shouldn’t you start to sub in your defensive specialists? Brooks didn’t bring in Thabo Sefolosha until 2:57 was left in the quarter and the Clippers had trimmed the Thunder lead down to one. From there on in, it was a game and the Clippers had all the momentum. Brooks needs to be quicker in making these types of decisions.

2. Get Kevin Durant moving – A lot like how Kendrick Perkins likes to move other centers out of their comfort spots, smaller, stronger defenders like to push Durant away from his comfort zones. If the Thunder and their offense can get Durant on the move (catching passes off a curl, using a pick, moving without the ball), it takes away the advantage smaller defenders have on Durant. But if Durant remains stationary, the defense is able to set itself up to defend him.

chris paul serge ibaka thunder clippers butler

3. Defend the Paint – The staple of the Thunder defense was completely obliterated in the 4th quarter of Game 4. The Thunder pride themselves in defending the paint, even to the extent that they dare you to shoot and make deep perimeter shots. As I mentioned in the 2nd paragraph, the Clippers last 11 of 12 made shots were either lay-ups or dunks. The other made shot was a 3-pointer by Jamal Crawford after the defense collapsed on a penetrating Chris Paul. What worried me in Game 5 is the Thunder focusing a lot of their energy on defending the paint and the Clippers going off from deep like they did in Game 1. There needs to be good defensive balance.

4. The Other Scorers – The Thunder have 3 other players, outside of Durant and Westbrook, that can give you at least 10+ points (Ibaka, Butler, and Jackson) each on any given night. When those three give you at least 30 points combined, the Thunder are 5-1 in the playoffs. In the one postseason victory where those three didn’t give you at least 30 points, Sefolosha and Perkins chipped in for an unexpected 22 points combined. In the 5 losses this postseason, the trio averages 23 points per game combined.

thunder

5. Defend Home Court – Win tonight, and you have a little bit more room for error heading back to LA. The Thunder have been quite vulnerable at home the postseason, posting a 3-3 record.

Five Thoughts from the Memphis Series

durant ibaka westbrook thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 120-109 on Saturday to move onto the 2nd round of the playoffs. But before we move on, here’s 5 thoughts about the series that was.

1. The Overtimes and the plays leading up to them.

Four consecutive overtime games. Let that sink in for a minute. Your adrenaline pumps and heart races for one overtime game. But four…..in a row. The life span of the average Oklahoman (and Memphian, for that matter) probably dropped by about 2.5 years in this series. But the overtimes only tell half of the story in those four games.

The mad dashes that led to the overtimes were even more impressive. Here’s a recap of the major plays that led to the 5th period in those games:

Game 2: Set-up – Thunder down by 5 with 18 seconds to go.

  • Fall away 3-pointer by Durant in the corner while being fouled by Marc Gasol. Free throw good. Thunder down 1.
  • Free throw by Mike Conley. Grizzlies up 2 with 12 second left.
  • Russell Westbrook 3-point miss rebounded by Kendrick Perkins who goes up for a put-back with no time on the clock. Tied game. And on to overtime.

Game 3: Set-up – Thunder down by 17 with 7:30 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Thunder go on a 17-0 run to tie the game at 81 with 57 seconds left.

  • Tony Allen lay-up to put the Grizzlies up by two with 45 seconds.
  • Tony Allen steal and lay-up puts the Grizzlies up by 4 with 33 seconds left.
  • Russell Westbrook 4-point play ties the game at 85 with 26 seconds left.
  • Each team misses their finals shots. And on to overtime.

Game 4: Set-up – Thunder down by 5 with 1:20 left, after starting the quarter with a 12 point lead.

  • Reggie Jackson (the only effective Thunder player the entire night) launches (and makes) a step-back three with 59 seconds left. Thunder down by two.
  • After stealing a pass off of Beno Udrih, Durant passes to Jackson who runs off of a pick and roll and scores on a floater with 30 seconds left to tie the game.
  • After a mad scramble on the defensive end in which the Grizzlies had 2 opportunities to tie the game, Jackson ends up with the ball with 4 seconds left, but inexplicably heaves a 60 footer that bounces inbounds as the clock expires. And on to overtime.

Game 5: Set-up – Thunder down by two after the first of Tony Allen’s two free throws goes down with 30 seconds left. (Of note: The Thunder have no timeouts left)

  • Allen misses the 2nd free throw, but Tayshaun Prince gets the offensive rebound. After almost getting the ball stolen, Memphis calls a time out.
  • After the time out, Mike Conley dribbles at the top of the key. With the shot clock running down, Conley makes a move towards the basket, but Westbrook reaches across Conley’s body, knocks the ball loose, and takes it the other way for a game-tying fast break dunk. And on to overtime.

In all honesty, the overtimes proved to be a bit anti-climatic in comparison to those crazy final minutes in the fourth quarters.

2. Interior Defense

When you play the Grizzlies, the one thing that has to be on point is your interior defense. If you don’t have a set of defensive bigs that can combat what Memphis throws at you, then you might as well pack it up. Last season, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol bore through the Thunder’s interior defense like a hot knife through butter. It was so much of an embarrassment, that Kendrick Perkins felt the need to apology for his play after the series. But this time around, Perkins, Ibaka, and Steven Adams proved up to the task, essentially neutralizing the Grizzlies’ biggest offensive strength.

perkins jackson ibaka gasol thunder grizzlies

In last season’s playoff series, Gasol and Randolph shot 68/146 (47%). In this playoff series, the interior duo for Memphis shot 89-220 (40%). Everybody talks about the struggles that Westbrook and Durant experienced during the series, but equally as damning for their team, was the struggles that Gasol and Randolph had with scoring. And once Durant and Westbrook got going again in Games 6 and 7, it was too difficult for the the Memphis duo to keep up, especially with Randolph being suspended for the final game.

3. The Role Players

Many people wondered why Caron Butler decided to sign with the Thunder, instead of with the two-time champion Miami Heat. If Butler was title chasing, the easiest route would have been to latch on with Miami and probably be a 9th man for them. But Tuff Juice probably saw an opportunity with the Thunder to not only compete for a championship, but also be a regular part of the rotation.

Many people like to label Butler as a champion since he was a member of the Dallas Mavericks team that won the championship in 2011. What many people fail to mention is that Butler had a knee injury mid-season, and didn’t participate in any games for the Mavericks in the playoffs that season. Yes, he got a ring, but I wonder if he feels like that ring hardly holds any weight. Pride can easily turn happiness into a question mark that stays on the mind.

So, when Butler’s number was called on to start in place of an ineffective Thabo Sefolosha for Game 6, he showed that he was ready for this moment. He only scored 7 points in that game, but the effect of Butler as a perimeter threat, opened up the lanes enough for Westbrook and Durant to get back in their groove.

butler westbrook jackson thunder

Reggie Jackson has the hardest job in the world. He has to be the main facilitator and scorer on a bench unit that is about as hot and cold as it gets. Then he has to be the third option on the floor with Durant and Westbrook. If he does something bad during his time on the floor with the superstar duo, then the spot light shines on him. But if he does something good, then it probably had to do with the fact that Durant and Westbrook took so much of the defense’s attention which allowed Jackson to have an open lane or a wide open shot.

Then Game 4 happened. I’ve never seen a situation where two alpha males completely give the reins to the game over to somebody other than themselves. A lot of times, Durant and Westbrook are like the Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett of the NBA: “We ride together, we die together, bad boys for life”. But in this one instance, whether it was their own insecurities in their play or a new confidence in another player not seen since the Harden days, Durant and Westbrook allowed Jackson to take over the game and in the end, win it for them. In reality, Jackson saved the season with his mini-explosion in Game 4.

4. Durant and Westbrook returning to form

Probably the biggest narrative of this series was the slump that both Durant and Westbrook faced in the Games 2-5. Without an unexpected career game from Jackson, the series would have probably been done in 5 games, much like last season. In those 4 games, the duo shot 73-209 from the field. That is a whooping 35% for two All-NBA players. Many media member started playing the Westbrook vs. Durant angle to the point that Westbrook felt the need to address it in an interview after Game 3.

durant westbrook allen conley thunder grizzlies

Then the Oklahoman decided to print one of the dumbest headlines since the Chicago Tribune declared Thomas E. Dewey the winner of the 1948 Presidential election. Mr. Unreliable. A name that describes many people, namely deadbeat dads, parole violators, and teenagers. Not a name that describes Kevin Durant, the basketball player. If anything, he’s been Mr. Reliable his entire career. The attempted explanation and subsequent apology explained what the headline itself was trying to convey, but the damage had already been done to the newspaper.

Durant took it in stride, but you could tell that the headline perplexed him a bit. Great players always play their best when the cards are stacked against them. Down 3-2 with an elimination game in Memphis, Durant and Westbrook slowed their games down a bit, and started playing their brand of basketball. In Games 6 and 7, the pair averaged 60.5 points, 18.5 rebounds, and 12.5 assists per game on 54/53/88 shooting.

5. The Wake-Up Call

The Thunder needed this kick in the rear end. They slept walked through the final month of the season, and probably had this aura about them that they could turn it on or off at any point in the playoffs. But this season’s playoffs were a bit different. The 7th seeded Grizzlies were probably more of a 3 or 4 seed, were it not for injuries and having to play in the tough Western Conference.

But, the name of the game is surviving and advancing, and the Thunder did just that. If the Thunder are fortunate enough to rack up 12 more victories, they should look back on this series and appreciate the fact that Memphis made them work so hard to get to Round 2.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder series preview

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

So it’s set. First up on Oklahoma City’s platter is the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies. It took a bit longer than expected for the playoff seeding to be decided, but in the end, it was almost manifest destiny for these two teams to meet in the playoffs once more. It’s like fate didn’t really like how the series played out last season (you know, no Russell Westbrook and all), so she decided to initiate a do-over.

Fate has a habit of matching the Thunder against opponents they have a history with. Last season it was James Harden-led Houston Rockets in the first round (and the subsequent Patrick Beverly fallout). Two seasons ago, it was the Dallas Mavericks, who had beaten the Thunder the previous season in the Western Conference Finals and the Los Angeles Lakers, in a metaphorical passing of the torch.

Regular season series

Wins in the regular season don’t always paint a clear picture as to how a series will play out. Many variables exist during the season that do not exist during the playoffs. Scheduling, fatigue, and sample size are all factors that come into play during the regular season, but have little to no bearing during the playoffs. But there are always factors within a season series that are highly applicable to the playoff series.

westbrook conley thunder grizzlies

The Thunder won the season series against the Grizzlies 3-1. Injuries played a major role in the outcome of a couple of the games. In the first game, a 116-100 OKC victory, the Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol, who was out with a knee injury. In the second game, a 90-87 Memphis victory, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook, while the Grizzlies had their full complement of players.  In the 3rd game, both team were without their starting point guards, but the Thunder prevailed 86-77. The fourth game, a 113-107 OKC victory, saw both teams basically at full strength (even though Kendrick Perkins was out and Thabo Sefolosha only played 4 minutes) and is probably more indicative as to how the series will go.

Schedule

  • Game 1 – Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Monday, 21 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Thursday, 24 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 4 – Tuesday, 26 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 5 – Tuesday, 29 April 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Thursday, 01 May 2014 TBD (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)*
  • Game 7 – Saturday, 03 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* If necessary

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol
  • Bench depth – Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Beno Udrih

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins
  • Bench depth – Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Series

Post defense – Strength on strength. The Grizzlies’ offensive strong suit is the Thunder’s defensive strong suit. The Thunder have no problem packing the paint and retreating back on shooters. In fact, it’s what they do best (not the retreating back on shooters part, though). The Thunder have 4 players capable of defending Gasol, Randolph, and Kosta Koufos. What will be interesting is who starts off on who. Positionally, it should be Ibaka on Randolph and Perkins on Gasol. But, style-wise, Randolph’s bruising style is more suited for Perkins and Ibaka should be able to stay on Gasol, who likes to operate from 15 feet in.

perkins ibaka randolph gasol thunder grizzlies

Pace – Memphis tries to muddy up the game and keep it in the 90’s. If they are able to run their offense (half court-oriented, using a lot of the clock), and are able to dictate how you run your offense, that keeps them in their comfort zone. But if you force turnovers, score in transition, and don’t allow them to settle in defensively, it becomes very difficult for the Grizzlies to keep up in the scoring department.

Point guards – Probably the biggest factors in the series. Last season, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook for the entire series. This season, the Grizzlies come into the series with a point guard that may have a nagging hamstring injury (Conley) and no back-up, due to Nick Calathes being suspended for 20 games due to a failed drug test. The Grizzlies come into the series with a slightly injured starting point guard and Beno Udrih. The Thunder on the other hand, come into the series with both their point guards in tow.

X-factors

For Memphis – Their X-factor is Mike Miller. The one way to combat a defense that focuses on the paint is to punish it with perimeter shooting. Mike Miller has the ability to punish teams from the outside, and it’s one of the reasons the Thunder pursued so aggressively in the offseason.

miller thabeet thunder grizzlies

For Oklahoma City – Their X-factor is Reggie Jackson. With Calathes being suspended for the series, Jackson should run roughshod when he’s in the game against the bench.

Prediction

Thunder in 5.

Two things: First thing, not only is Russell Westbrook back and healthy for the Thunder, but the point guard depth for the Grizzlies took a hit with Calathes’ suspension. Secondly, Kevin Durant has taken last season’s disappointment and learned from it. He’s more adept at finding the open man and willing to punish teams with the pass, instead of firing up an ill-advised jumper with two or three defenders draped on him.

Detroit Pistons vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 82 of 82)

adams durant westbrook singler thunder pistons

  • When: Wednesday, 16 April 2014 at 7:00 PM EST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder have no one to blame but themselves for being in this position. The Thunder have had 2 opportunities to not only put the Clippers away in their chase of the No. 2 seed in the West, but also of resting their guys, namely Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Instead, the Thunder will have to play a real game on the last game of the season in order to hang onto the 2nd seed.

This will be the 2nd and final (duh!) meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder won the first meeting 119-110. It was a memorable game because Thunder rookie Steven Adams had 17 points and 10 boards in only his 5th game. That would end up being, statistically, his best game of the season.

The Opponent

drummond smith jennings monroe pistons

The Pistons come into the game with a 29-52 record. It is a season that has been mired in disappointment beginning with the firing of head coach Maurice Cheeks and culminating in the resignation of longtime GM and Pistons great Joe Dumars. The additions of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith were supposed to get this team over the edge, but instead, these two players have been a huge part of the problem. Their lack of efficiency from the perimeter has made life that much harder for burgeoning big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. It’s a team that was not put together very well, and the effects are showing on the court.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Detroit Pistons

  • PG – Brandon Jennings
  • SG – Rodney Stuckey
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Greg Monroe
  • C – Andre Drummond

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

Perimeter Defense – Defensively, this game caters to the Thunder’s strength. Both Monroe and Drummond are post players that rarely venture further than 15 feet out. The Thunder post players (Ibaka, Perkins, Adams, and Collison) will be able to remain in their comfort zone in the paint. Where the Pistons could beat the Thunder is on the perimeter. With the inside contained, the Thunder players should stay with the shooters and defend the 3-point line.

adams jackson lamb jennings thunder pistons

 

Mind Games – The Clippers will be resting some of their players (Blake Griffin and JJ Redick), and claim they aren’t actively chasing the 2 seed. But that sounds like a psychological ploy to me. If the Thunder play lackadaisically and lose this game, you can bet the Clippers will deploy all available resources to win their game against the Blazers. Remember, the Clippers’ game starts as the Thunder game is ending. Also of note: The Blazers have nothing to play for (can’t move up/can’t move down) so they will probably be resting their players also.

3. Stay Healthy – We are playing for the second season, not this season. Stay healthy, gentlemen.

Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans preview (Game 81 of 82)

rivers perkins westbrook thunder perkins

  • When: Monday, 14 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

The magic number for the Thunder to clinch the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference is 1. The remaining schedule for the Los Angeles Clippers is a lot more difficult than the remaining schedule for the Thunder. With that said though, it would probably be in the Thunder’s best interest to win tonight and cease any drama relating to the “race for No.2”.

This will be the 4th and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder defeated the Pelicans last Friday, 116-94, for the 10 consecutive time dating back 3 seasons.

The Opponent

holiday anderson pelicans

The Pelicans come into the game having lost their last 8 games. Injuries have completely decimated their season, as their top 6 players are likely to be out for the rest of the season (if Tyreke Evans sits out the rest of the year). Unfortunately, their ineptitude in the wins department probably will not yield them a lottery pick due to a draft day deal from last June that netted them Jrue Holiday from the Philadelphia 76ers. With all those injuries, the best players the Pelicans have left are role players, at best.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG – Austin Rivers
  • SG – Anthony Morrow
  • SF – Darius Miller
  • PF – Jeff Withey
  • C – Greg Stiemsma

Edit: Apparently, Greg Stiemsma was waived today. So, obviously, he will not be starting at the 5. More than likely, Withey will be the 5 and Al-Farouq Aminu or Luke Babbitt will play the 4. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Derek Fisher
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Point Guard – With the Thunder playing yesterday, this is a scheduled rest day for Russell Westbrook. Also in that game, Reggie Jackson suffered an apparent neck/back injury when he got sandwiched in a pick and roll. This may be first time since December 2008 that Westbrook or Jackson doesn’t start a game at point guard for the Thunder. With the importance of having everyone as healthy as possible for the playoffs, look for the Thunder to exercise caution and sit Westbrook and Jackson.

fisher durant sefolosha perkins thunder

2. Bench play – Without an emergency 4th point guard, look for the Thunder to use Jeremy Lamb more as a play-maker. Also, with Nick Collison’s body looking like it was used as a stunt double for Russell Crowe in Gladiator, look for Perry Jones to get some run at one of the forward spots.

3. Get it done – Win tonight, and the next game only matters to the rookies and 2nd year players on the roster. This team is primed for the playoffs and is just frothing at the mouth to get it started.

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 79 of 82)

durant ibaka defense thunder pelicans

  • When: Friday, 11 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The magic number for the San Antonio Spurs to clinch the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs is now 1, after their defeat of the Dallas Mavericks. While it is still mathematically possible for the Thunder to get the No. 1 seed from San Antonio, they would require a ton of help. Namely, for the Spurs to lose the rest of their games and for the Thunder to win the rest of theirs. Not impossible, but not entirely probable, either. Instead, with their position firmly entrenched in the No. 2 spot, look for the Thunder to start resting their players. This will be especially helpful for Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson, and Serge Ibaka, who have had to shoulder the load  all season while Russell Westbrook and others have been out with injuries.

This will be the 2nd of 3 meeting between these two teams. The Thunder have won 9 in a row against the Pelicans, dating all the way back to the 2nd half of the 2010-11 season. You can say that the upsurge of the Thunder has coincided with the downslide of the Hornets/Pelicans since the Chris Paul trade.

The Opponent

evans pelicans

The Pelicans are currently 32-46 and sit in the 12th spot in the West. While they’ve already improved from last season, injuries have derailed what may have been an even greater improvement. Point guard Jrue Holiday, who was obtained in a deal on draft day last June (and will probably cost the Pelicans a lottery pick in the next draft), has only suited up for 34 games. Anthony Davis, the foundation of the franchise, has played in 67 games and will not be available for the rest of the season. Ryan Anderson, the stretch four who was brought in to space the floor, played in only 22 games before a herniated disc killed his season. Injuries are one of those things that can kill a rebuild quick. With the possibility of the team having no first rounder in this next draft, the Pelicans will be dependent on their key players coming into next season healthy. Of the players who are still healthy, only Tyreke Evans averages in double figures (14.0 points per game).

Probable Starting Line-Ups

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG – Brian Roberts
  • SG – Tyreke Evans
  • SF – Darius Miller
  • PF – Al-Farouq Aminu
  • C – Greg Stiemsma

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Reverse Obama – Don’t give them hope. Take it all away. Do it in the first quarter, if possible. I want the starters off the floor by the middle of the third quarter.

2. Continue working on rhythm – IF the regular starting line-up plays, use this game as a pre-season game and continue to work on rhythm and continuity.

ibaka durant westbrook sefolosha

3. Bench – The Bench Mob should get plenty of run in this game. Here’s hoping newly signed rookie Grant Jerrett gets some reps in. He may have a future as a stretch 4 for the Thunder.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 78 of 82)

ibaka griffin durant dudley sefolosha paul clippers thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 09 April 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

For the first time in nearly 2 months, the Oklahoma City Thunder could trot out a completely healthy roster. Now, the words “completely healthy” can be debated as Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins are still working their ways back from injury. But the fact still remains that this will be the first time since February 20th, that the Thunder will have the ability to put out the same starting line-up that we’ve all grown accustomed to in the last 3.5 seasons.

Since February 20th, the Thunder have suffered from bouts of inconsistency and complacency, especially on the defensive end. With their two defensive stalwarts out and Russell Westbrook being held out in one of the two games on back to backs, the Thunder have had a difficulty time carving out any sort of rhythm. But now, hopefully, the Thunder are getting healthy when they need it the most.

This will be the fourth and final meeting of the year between these two teams. The Clippers lead the season series 2-1 and are 1.5 games behind the Thunder for 2nd place in the Western Conference.

The Opponent

griffin jordan crawford paul clippers

The Clippers are currently sit at 55-23. They are an offensive juggernaut, averaging 107.8 points per game, which is No. 1 in the league. Their attack is led by PG Chris Paul, who in his 9th season, leads the league in assists (10.8) and steals (2.5) per game, while also averaging 19 points. Blake Griffin has taken that next step and is now a bonafide MVP candidate. His game has become more diverse (better mid-range shooter, better play-making skills) and his free-throw shooting has improved. When defenses converge on either of these two players, they have a cornucopia of shooters around them to make the defense pay. Jamal Crawford, JJ Redick, Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, Danny Granger, Willie Green, and Jared Dudley are all shooting over 34% from 3-point territory. On the inside, DeAndre Jordan has been a defensive monster, averaging 13.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Los Angeles Clippers

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – JJ Redick
  • SF – Matt Barnes
  • PF – Blake Griffin
  • C – DeAndre Jordan

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

* It’s been a while since I wrote that starting line-up down.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – As mentioned in the “The Opponent” section, the Clippers have 8 players that shoot over 34.1% from the arc. Luckily, Crawford and Granger, appear to be out for the rest of the regular season. In the last game these two teams played, Crawford and Barnes torched the Thunder for 60 points on 11-18 shooting from 3-point land. With a full compliment of players, look for the Thunder to stay more on the shooters and hope that whoever is guarding Paul (be it Westbrook, Sefolosha, or Reggie Jackson) can stay in front of him most of the night.

westbrook paul thunder clippers

2. Attack – Of the top five teams in the league (San Antonio, Miami, LAC, OKC, and Indiana), the Clippers are the worst defensively. They allow 100.7 points per game (14th in the league) and struggle defending the paint when Jordan is not in the game. While head coach Doc Rivers has made the team better defensively, they were still average, at best, to begin with.

3. Playoff Atmosphere – You smell that? It sure does smell like the playoffs. I have a feeling this game will be completely primed. I put the O/U on technicals being called at 5…..and I’m taking the over. This will probably be the last big game of the season for each team. With so much riding on it, I expect nothing less than a playoff atmosphere-type environment. April 19th cannot get here soon enough.