Tag Archives: Toronto Raptors

Thunder @ Raptors preview (Game 72 of 82)

okc logo atraptors

  • When: Sunday, 18 March 2018 at 12:00 pm CST
  • Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario (Canada)
  • TV: FSOK
  • Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
  • Line: Tor -6.0 | O/U – 217

Here we go. That stretch run we all pointed to after the All-Star break. Eleven of the final 12 games against opponents that are currently above .500. The Oklahoma City Thunder took care of business on Friday evening against the Los Angeles Clippers to begin that tough stretch. Now they start the real test.  Continue reading Thunder @ Raptors preview (Game 72 of 82)

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NTTB Podcast (Episode 22) – Refs, We Have A Problem

IMG_4109On Episode 22 of the NTTB podcast,we discuss the following topics:

  • Weekly Recap – Games vs. Houston, Toronto, and Milwaukee
  • Referee issues throughout the league
  • Return of MVP Russ
  • Sacrificial Melo
  • What’s going on with Alex Abrines?
  • NBA News
  • City Jerseys

Intro/Outro music provided by OSC Productions

Thank you for listening. We will be doing a podcast once a week. If you have any Thunder or NBA related questions, make sure you hit us up on Twitter (@alexroig_NTTB or @Montero_A13).

We are on ITunes under the NTTB Podcast. Make sure you leave us a 5-star review if you can. As always, Thunder Up!

Oklahoma City Thunder at Toronto Raptors preview (Game 5 of 82)

adams valanciunas thunder raptors

  • When: Tuesday, 04 November 2014 at 6:30 PM CST
  • Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Four games in and the Oklahoma City Thunder sit at a record they haven’t seen since their inaugural season in 2008. That much was to be expected with the rash of injuries the team has faced. What wasn’t expected was the effort with which the team has exhibited. In the first two games of the season, against top flight teams in the Western Conference, the Thunder were in the game well into the 4th quarter. On Saturday, against a Denver Nuggets team that was looking to rebound from a disappointing, injury-plagued season last year, the Thunder executed almost perfectly throughout the game to get their first victory of the season. The return of Reggie Jackson from an ankle injury was supposed to provide the team with the playmaker they had been missing since Russell Westbrook went out early in the 2nd game of the season. Instead, Jackson’s return brought the team back to its iso-ball ways and they were blown out by the Brooklyn Nets.

It’ll be interesting to see how Scott Brooks adjusts to this. On the one hand, you now have a ball-handler that can threaten a defense (Jackson). But on the other hand, your best bet to win with this lineup is to completely muddy up the game by slowing it down and hope that it becomes a defensive battle.

The Thunder and the Toronto Raptors split their two meetings from last season, each winning on the other’s home court. Each game went down to the 4th quarter, with the average margin of victory being 3.5 points.

The Opponent

lowry ross derozan johnson valanciunas raptors

The Raptors come into the game with a 2-1 record. Last  year, they won the Atlantic Divison, and made their first trip to the postseason since the 2007-08 season. They battled their division rival, the Brooklyn Nets, and lost in 7 games. But the spark had been lit and the fan resurgence in Toronto was reminiscent of the Vince Carter days. The team is led by one of the better backcourts in the league, with PG Kyle Lowry and SG DeMar DeRozan. The duo is averaging nearly 42 points and 5 steals a game. The other wing, Terrence Ross, is averaging almost 10 points a game, but has the ability to go off for big numbers, as evidenced by his 51 point explosion last season against the Clippers. Up front, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas make up one of the more athletic and versatile front courts in the league. Off the bench, the Raptors are a mix of young veterans like Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Lou Williams, and James Johnson.

Probable Starting Line-up

Toronto Raptors

  • PG – Kyle Lowry
  • SG – Terrence Ross
  • SF – DeMar DeRozan
  • PF – Amir Johnson (Game-time decision due to ankle)
  • C – Jonas Valanciunas

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Sebastian Telfair
  • SG – Reggie Jackson
  • SF – Perry Jones
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Depth and Fouls – Lowry and DeRozan are personal foul magnets. You look at them and you might get called for a foul. Between the both of them, they are averaging 21 free attempts per game. That’s on some Durant/Westbrook levels right there. With only 2 guards on the entire roster (Andre Roberson is out with a sprained foot) look for the Raptors’ wings to attack Jackson and Telfair.

2. Shut Down the Lane – The Thunder have been employing an effective zone lately. If there was ever a team to trot that out on, it would be the Raptors. Collectively, they only shoot 42.5% from the field and 25.4% from deep.

DeMar DeRozan, Kendrick Perkins

3. Ugly it Up – The biggest mistake that can be taken from the Nets’ game was trying to keep up with them. The reason the Thunder’s first 3 games were close was because we slowed the game down and slogged it out. With Jackson back in the fold, we relaxed defensively and tried to run offensively, which back-fired on us.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Atlantic Division Preview

1. Toronto Raptors 

raptors ross valanciunas lowry derozan

Last season: 48-34 (1st in the Atlantic Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 7, 1st round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets

Key additions:

  • Bruno Caboclo – Draft (No. 20 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jordan Hamilton – Free agent signing
  • James Johnson – Free agent signing
  • Lucas Nogueira – Obtained in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Lou Williams –  Obtained in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks

Key departures:

  • John Salmons – Traded to the Atlanta Hawks
  • Steve Novak – Traded to the Utah Jazz

Season Preview – The Toronto Raptors are in prime position to build off the most successful season in franchise history. The young nucleus of Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, and Terrence Ross is intact and a year older, with Derozan and Valanciunas having just participated in the FIBA World Cup. The Raptors acquired Lou Williams from the Hawks to serve as their offensive firepower off the bench. And they are also developing two Brazilian big men (Caboclo and Nogueria) who may pay dividends in 2015-16.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Raptors make it to the 2nd round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and have at least 2 All-Stars.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

2. New York Knicks

knicks shumpert anthony bargnani hardaway

Last season: 37-45 (3rd in the Atlantic Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key additions:

  • Quincy Acy – Obtained in a trade with the Sacramento Kings
  • Jose Calderon – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Samuel Dalembert – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Cleanthony Early – Draft (No. 34 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Shane Larkin – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Jason Smith – Free agent signing

Key departures:

  • Tyson Chandler – Traded to the Dallas Mavericks
  • Raymond Felton – Traded to the Dallas Mavericks

Season Preview – Two of the biggest additions for the team have been Phil Jackson (president of basketball operations) and Derek Fisher (head coach). With Carmelo Anthony in the fold for the next 4 seasons guaranteed and plenty of cap space coming up in 2015-16, the Knicks are starting to look like they have a plan. Fisher will likely implement the triangle offense, which will play off the scoring abilities of Anthony and JR Smith to maximize the effect of role players like Calderon, Amare Stoudemire, and Tim Hardaway Jr. It will be a bit of a transition year, but in the weak Eastern Conference, the Knicks will have the ability to make the playoffs.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Knicks make the playoffs.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 43-39

3. Brooklyn Nets

nets williams lopez

Last season: 44-38 (2nd in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • Bojan Bogdanovic – Signed Eurostash
  • Markel Brown – Draft (No. 44 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jarrett Jack – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Sergey Karasev – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Key departures:

  • Paul Pierce – Signed with the Washington Wizards
  • Andray Blatche – Unsigned
  • Shaun Livingston – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Marcus Thornton –  Traded to the Boston Celtics

Season Preview – The Brooklyn Nets seem to be on the cusp of a rebuild (reload?). Their “all in” move from last offseason (acquiring Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry from the Celtics) did not pan out and the Nets now find themselves with only one of the those 3 still on the roster. Brook Lopez (foot) and Deron Williams (both ankles) are once again coming into the season recovering from surgeries, and Garnett seems to know the end of his career is near. The Nets have some good young role players in Mason Plumlee, Bogdanovic, Karasev, and Teague, but their star players are either at the end of their run or are injury-prone.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nets make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Boston Celtics

celtics smart young

Last season: 25-57 (4th in the Atlantic Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Marcus Smart – Draft (No. 6 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Marcus Thornton – Obtained in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets
  • Evan Turner – Free agent signing
  • James Young – Draft (No. 17 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Tyler Zeller – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Departures:

  • Kris Humphries – Signed with the Washington Wizards
  • Jerryd Bayless – Signed with the Milwaukee Bucks

Season Preview – The Celtics are in the beginnings of a rebuild and would like nothing more than to use this season to get their young core (Smart, Young, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and Avery Bradley) plenty of development and playing time together. Along with that, the team has two valuable expiring contracts in Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass to help out in their rebuilding process.

2014-15 will be successful if: The young players show progression and the Celtics end up with a Top 7 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 23-59

5. Philadelphia 76ers

76ers carter williams noel

Last season: 19-63 (5th in the Atlantic Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Joel Embiid – Draft (No. 3 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Dario Saric – Draft (No. 12 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jerami Grant – Draft (No. 39 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • KJ McDaniels – Draft (No. 32 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Alexy Shved – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Departures:

  • Thaddeus Young – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves

Season Preview – I’ve never seen a more obvious tank job in my life. The entire being of the 76ers at this point is to collect draft picks and young players at whatever cost. That’s not necessarily a bad plan, but everyone else who has done has at least attempted to look like they were trying. They drafted 2 players in the first round in the last draft that likely will not play for the organization this season (Embiid and Saric). This will be Nerlens Noel’s rookie season and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, is coming off off-season shoulder surgery. The team traded its best veteran in Thad Young and heads into the season as one of the youngest teams in the league.

2014-15 will be successful if: The 76ers end up with a Top 3 pick and their young players continue to develop.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 12-70

Scoreboard Watching (2014 edition)

durant westbrook thunder

If you are a fan of a team, you’re always aware of your team’s games. But, sometimes, if you are wholly invested in one team, you tend to miss what out on what is going on around the rest of the league. Last season, I wrote a similar article concerning the other teams Thunder fans should be looking out for as that season closed (namely the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors). In a vacuum, a fan should only be worried about their team. But, in reality, with playoff positioning and/or draft positioning at stake, watching how other teams perform at the end of the season can add some drama to a point in the season where drama is sometimes lacking. This season, there are 5 teams Thunder fans needs to be paying attention to than can affect their near future.

1. San Antonio Spurs

  • Why it matters: The No. 1 seed in the Western Conference (and in the league) is at stake.
  • Team’s outlook: Currently 59-16 (1st in West), with 4 road games and 3 home games remaining.

Serge Ibaka

This is very reminiscent to what happened last season. This time though, it seems like the Spurs are far enough ahead to not have to worry about the Thunder chasing down the No. 1 seed from behind. The Spurs are currently on a roll, coming into the Thunder game having won 19 in a row, and hold a 4 game lead over the Thunder. With their penchant to rest starters late in the season, the Thunder still have a slight chance to catch the Spurs. But it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Spurs will head into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the West. One thing to remember is that if San Antonio does stumble, the Thunder own the tie-breaker over them.

2. Dallas Mavericks

  • Why it matters: The Thunder own the Mavericks’ first round pick if it is outside the Top 20.
  • Team’s outlook: Currently 44-31, (7th in the West) with 5 road games and 2 home games remaining

The Thunder got this draft pick in the Harden deal from Houston. There are two factions when it comes to this pick. Those that want the pick this season (slotted to be in the 21-23 range) and those that want the pick to go all the way until 2018, when it becomes unprotected. It will all depend on if Dallas make the playoffs or not. If they make the playoffs, they’ll be one of the top 10 teams in the league, thus garnering a pick in the 21-30 range, which transfers over to the Thunder. If they don’t make the playoffs, the Mavericks will pick in the lottery and will keep the pick.

The Mavericks are battling with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns for the last two seeds in the Western Conference playoff race. Of the remaining games between the 3 teams, the Mavericks face the harder road with their opponents having a .525 winning percentage combined. But the road will not be easy for either one of the 3 teams because, NEWSFLASH!, they all play in the Western Conference. That being said, the Mavericks had their opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the other two teams, but flubbed an 8 game home stand to the tune of going 4-4. Luckily, all three teams play each other in the final week of the season.

I’m torn as to what I want to do with this pick. Part of me thinks that Thunder GM Sam Presti, with two draft picks late in the first round, could package those to move up a couple slots and get a shooter like Nik Stauskas of Michigan. But part of me also wants to see what happens if this pick actually reaches 2018 unprotected. Unless Dirk Nowitzki goes on Tim Duncan’s offseason training program, I see his effectiveness, and that of the Mavs, steadily going down in these next couple of seasons. And hopefully, they completely bottom out in the 2017-18 season.

3 and 4. Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat

  • Why it matters: The only teams that matter in the Eastern Conference
  • Teams’ Outlooks – With a virtual tie for the Eastern Conference top spot, these two teams meet one last time on April 11th. Indiana currently leads the season series 2-1.

heat pacers

With a 2.5 game lead over these two teams in the league standings, the Thunder are in control to maintain home court advantage against any of the East’s top teams if they meet in the NBA Finals. The major issue here is whether the Pacers will give Miami a run for their money and make the Eastern Conference Finals somewhat competitive. While Miami has been surging in the last 10 games, going 7-3, the Pacers have been doing the exact opposite, going 7-10 in their last 17 games.

The jump from being a good team to becoming an elite team is the hardest jump to make in the NBA. Not only do you have to start positioning your role players correctly, but your star players have to start taking that next step. For Indiana, a combination of questionable in-season moves and lack of player progression has slightly slowed that progression from good team to elite team. The mid-season trade that sent Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen has yet to bear fruit. And the mid-season signing of Andrew Bynum can probably be deemed a failure due to a reoccurrence of knee issues for the center. In addition, Paul George and Roy Hibbert have failed to significantly improve from where they were in the beginning of the season. With this recent slide, rumors of infighting and selfishness have begun to sneak into the vernacular that describes the Pacers. The mental aspect of making the jump from a good team to an elite team is the hardest thing for a young team to grasp, and its currently showing with these Pacers.

The reason this matters to the Thunder is because the Western Conference playoffs are going to be a gauntlet. The first round match-ups will be formidable and the series will only get tougher from there. If Miami is able to skip through the East playoffs easily, and get some rest in the process, that could spell trouble for the team that comes out of the West, regardless of who it is.

5. New York Knicks

  • Why it matters: The Denver Nuggets own the Knicks’ pick for this draft
  • Team’s Outlook – Currently 33-43 (8th in the East), with 3 road and 3 home games remaining.

Looking towards the future at division rivals, the team that has the best chance of getting better quickly is the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets suffered a myriad of injuries this season that prevented them from ever making a run at the playoffs. But with many of those players coming back next season and a potential lottery pick, the Nuggets are in position to get back to their winning ways. If the Knicks make the playoffs, their pick moves down to the No. 15 slot. But if the Knicks miss the playoffs, Denver will be slotted to pick in the 7-9 range, while also having the potential of getting a top 3 pick.

Seeding doesn’t seem to affect the Thunder that much. They know they can beat the Spurs in San Antonio, if necessary. Their main goals to finish this season are to stay ahead of the LA Clippers, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers, and to get/remain healthy. As the season rolls to a close, it’ll be interesting to keep a vested interest in these 5 teams, as their outcomes all have the potential of affecting the Thunder in the near future.

Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 70 of 82)

  • When: Monday, 24 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s a good thing that the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans have had at least a day to decompress from what was a crazy game on Friday and the subsequent “awaiting the MRI results on Russell’s knee” on Saturday. Thankfully, the Thunder won the game in double overtime against the Raptors and Westbrook’s knee sprain showed no further damage to the knee. Even better, Durant’s performance in that game (51 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, GW 3-pt) pretty much sowed up the MVP award for him.

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series against their division rivals 2-1. Games between these two teams usually come down to the 4th quarter with the point guards taking over the show.

The Opponent

faried lawson nuggets

Although ACL only has three letters in it, it might as well be a 4-letter word in Denver. With Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, and now, J.J. Hickson out with ACL injuries, the Denver team is a shell of what it was expected to be in the beginning of the season. The Nuggets, currently at 32-38, are out of the playoff hunt for the first time in the last 11 seasons. The team does a good job of scoring points (103.9 per game, 9th in the league), but allows too many defensively (105.8 ppg, 28th in the league). The offense is spear-headed by point guard Ty Lawson, whose break-neck style leads to many points in the paint and many open looks on the perimeter for shooters. On the wings, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Evan Fournier, and Darrell Arthur are usually the beneficiaries of Lawson’s ability to get into the paint. In the post, Kenneth Faried is one of the more active rebounders in the league while Timofey Mozgov is a big mobile body that can carve out space and score if given the opportunity. Due to injuries, the bench for Denver is a bit muted, but Denver was one of the deeper teams to begin with and still has a decent bench that features Aaron Brooks, Fournier, and Arthur.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Anthony Randolph
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – Timofey Mozgov

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – Denver’s rebounding took a hit with the loss of J.J. Hickson. But, Faried and Mozgov are still 2 of the more better rebounding bigs in the league. Faried has 9 games of 13 or more rebounds and Mozgov has 8 games of double figure rebounding. If the Thunder are disciplined in boxing these two out, they can hurt the Thunder with offensive boards in the same way that Hickson would have.

2. Dribble Penetration – Ty Lawson causes the havoc that ignites Denver’s offense by getting into the lane. I would start Roberson on Lawson and put Reggie Jackson on Randy Foye. Jackson has trouble staying in front of quick guards, but does a pretty good job of recovering on shooters, due to his wing span.

3. Durant – Against a defense that gives up the 3rd most points in the league, what show can Durant put on against the Nuggets?

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Toronto Raptors preview (Game 69 of 82)

durant valanciunas sefolosha westbrook raptors thunder

  • When: Friday, 21 March 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario

Rewind back to this point last season when we were not only keeping track of the Thunder’s record, but also keeping track of the Raptor’s record. Because of the James Harden trade at the beginning of last season, the Thunder held the Raptors first round pick, which was Top 3 and 15-30 protected. At this point last season, it was known that the Raptors weren’t making the playoffs. The only question was where the Raptors would be picking in the 2013 NBA Draft. Well, the Thunder ended up with the 12th pick and they selected Steven Adams with that pick. Fast forward to this season, and the Raptors are the No. 3 seed in the East. If that pick would have somehow been moved to this season, the Thunder would have had to wait another season for a possible lottery pick. Thank goodness Rudy Gay happened to the Raptors last season.

This will be the 2nd and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Raptors beat the Thunder on Dec. 22nd, 104-98. In that game, the Raptors used a 15 point advantage in the 4th quarter to turn a 9-point deficit into a 6-point victory. The Raptors had 5 players that scored at least 13 points, while, for the Thunder, only Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored in double figures.

The Opponent

toronto raptors

The Raptors’ season could be broken down into two phases: With Rudy Gay and Post Rudy Gay. In the first 19 games of the season, the Raptors were 7-12 and looking like a lottery bound team. Then they traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings. Since then, they are 31-17 and one of the top defensive teams in the league. They allow only 97.5 points per game, good for 5th in the league. They are led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Lowry has become one of the better offensive point guards in the league and DeRozan has become a much better scorer in Gay’s absence. Terrence Ross is hot and cold, but if he gets hot, he has the ability to score many points in a short time. Up front, Amir Johnson is a double double waiting to happen, and Jonas Valanciunas is just now tapping into his potential. The Rudy Gay trade provided the team with much of their fire power off the bench and leads to a much balanced team.

Probable Starting Line-Up

Toronto Raptors

  • PG – Kyle Lowry
  • SG – Terrence Ross
  • SF – DeMar DeRozan
  • PF – Amir Johnson
  • C – Jonas Valanciunas

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pick and Roll Defense – Kyle Lowry does a great job of penetrating in the lane and using his strength to score in the paint or rack up fouls on the opposing team. His PnR with Amir Johnson is one of the better ones in the league. And if the defense collapses, Terrance Ross (who shoots over 40% from 3-point territory) and DeMar DeRozan are waiting on the wing. A lot like the Lakers game, this may be a game where Roberson’s perimeter defense helps the Thunder out.

Kyle Lowry

2. Rebounding – The Raptors aren’t necessarily a great rebounding team, but their big wings and active interior players can get their hands on a lot of loose balls.

3. Last Team Standing – The Raptors are the only team the Thunder have not beat this season. True, they only play them twice due to the Raptors being an Eastern Conference team. But, beating every team in the league at least once is a feather in the cap in my books.

Growing Pains: The Thunder’s young bench

jeremy lamb reggie jackson thunder

Injuries are an inevitability in sports. When you have bodies constantly in motion, there are going to come times when those bodies either collide or move in ways that cause injury. It’s the reason team sports have reserve players. In the wake of injuries, a team should have a healthy balance of veteran players and young, developing players. It’s the line that allows teams to sustain success while also building for the future. Have too much of either on the bench, and a team risks cutting into their current success or into their future success.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have always had a decent balance of veterans and young players on the bench. But with the James Harden trade, they decided to rely on youth instead of looking for veteran help in free agency. At the time of that trade, they received rookie SG Jeremy Lamb, a lottery pick from the Toronto Raptors (that eventually turned into Steven Adams), and an early 2nd rounder from the Charlotte Bobcats (that eventually turned into Spanish guard Alex Abrines, a Euro-stash). Along with that, the Thunder already had 2nd year guard Reggie Jackson and rookie Perry Jones III in tow. In essence, the Thunder have been grooming this new bench mob for the past season and a half.

kevin martin hasheem thabeet eric maynor thunder

Another addition to the Harden trade was veteran guard Kevin Martin, who slid into the 6th man role that Harden occupied. Last season’s bench was veteran-laden with Martin, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, and Hasheem Thabeet getting the lion’s share of the reserve minutes. About a third into the season, Maynor was replaced by Jackson and Derek Fisher joined the team after the All-Star break. The problem with our veteran bench last season was two-fold: there wasn’t any offensive versatility to it and it was inconsistent defensively. The scoring was either coming from Martin or it wasn’t coming at all. As his efficiency declined in the second half of the season, so did the bench’s offensive effectiveness. It got to the point where either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook had to be on the floor with the bench unit for it to be effective. Defensively, the bench struggled to match the athleticism of other younger benches.

On paper, the bench last season was a good mix of veterans and young players. But most of the young players spent their time in Tulsa and never got to test their mettle against NBA competition. Last season, Lamb spent 801 minutes (regular season and postseason combined) in the D-League and only 147 regular season minutes with the Thunder. Perry Jones spent 588 total minutes in the D-League and only 280 regular season minutes (plus 5 playoff minutes) with the Thunder.

perry jones thunder

 

Now, those two players, along with Jackson and Adams, are being asked to carry the second unit for a title contender. Veterans Derek Fisher and Nick Collison still play a prominent role off the bench, but the team is dependent on the young players to provide the team what the bench couldn’t provide last season, which was offensive versatility and defensive consistency. For the most part, the bench was starting to become one of the top benches in the league, before the Westbrook injury. After, though, it has been more inconsistent. And therein lies the problem with depending on such a young bench.

When the San Antonio Spurs suffer injuries to their starters, they can depend on veterans Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, and Patty Mills to come in and step up until those injured players get back. The same goes for the Miami Heat. When their line-up needs to be shuffled, they know they can fall back on the likes of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Rashard Lewis. Veterans that not only know their roles, but also have championship experience to boot. These players know how to work through slumps and how to affect games in ways other than scoring. These young Thunder players are just now learning how to do these things.

steven adams griffin thunder clippers

There are positive signs though. The last time the Thunder played the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder were down for most of the game and Lamb was having a miserable game, shooting 2-7 FG with 2 turnovers. But he found ways to affect the game via his rebounding and defense, and made the plays necessary in the 4th quarter to help the Thunder win the game. Perry Jones has affected numerous games with his defense and ability to hit 3-point shots. And Jackson is showing signs of being a good combo guard, similar to Eric Bledsoe.

Reggie Jackson got his baptism by fire in the playoffs last season after Westbrook went down with his knee injury. But other than him, and 5 minutes of Perry Jones in Game 1 of the Houston series, none of the young bench players have any playoff experience. Could that come back to bite the Thunder in the rear during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals? It could, but nothing teaches quite like experience. Here’s hoping that the growing pains of the regular season turn into the epiphanies of the post season.

Toronto Raptors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 27 of 82)

adams draft thunder

  • When: Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

There was once a time when Oklahoma City Thunder fans really cared about the Toronto Raptors’ record. Not only would we scour the box scores for our games, but we’d also look at the Raptors’ games. Reason being, of course, because we owned the Raptors’ pick in the 2013 draft as part of the James Harden trade. The restriction was that the pick had to be between selections 4-14. Luckily the Raptors missed the playoffs and with that pick, the Thunder selected Steven Adams. Fast forward to this season, and we could really care less about Toronto’s record. The Thunder have beat the Raptors 3 straight times spanning the last two seasons.

The Opponent

valanciunas derozan raptors

The Raptors are team that you could term, “in flux”. The hired Masai Ujiri as general manager to take this middle of the road franchise, blow it up, and quickly rebuild it, like he did with the Denver Nuggets. His latest big move was to trade Rudy Gay and his $17.9 million dollar price tag (and possibly $19.3 million dollar next season if he opts in) to the Sacramento Kings for bit parts, most of whom are expiring after this season. That clearing of cap space will come in handy next season and beyond. But in the now, the Raptors are a bad team. Their back court is led by PG Kyle Lowry and wings Terrence Ross and Demar Derozan. All three players are talented, but are inefficient and need a high volume of shots to get to their averages. The front court is one of more promising ones this side of Detroit in the Eastern Conference. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are threats for a double double every time they step on the court. The bench play is a lot like the team itself, which is to say, not very good.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Toronto Raptors

  • PG – Kyle Lowry
  • SG – Terrence Ross
  • SF – DeMar DeRozan
  • PF – Amir Johnson
  • C – Jonas Valanciunas

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – Toronto is a terribly inefficient team from the perimeter. Their wing players who average at least 10 minutes per game combine to shoot 39.9% from the field. Lots of misses means lots of rebounds. Valanciunas and Johnson are adept at grabbing rebounds, especially offensive rebounds (grabbing 5.3 offensive rebounds per game between them).

westbrook perkins derozan johnson raptors thunder

2. Bench play – Toronto’s bench is veteran laden, but really lacking when it comes to anything offensive. This may be a time to take over the game as the Thunder’s bench has been humming lately.

3. Complacency/Trap Game – This game has all the makings of a trap game. Playing at home, against an inferior opponent, having just played the rival Spurs, and not playing again until the prime time tilt against the Knicks on Christmas. All a bad team needs is hope. It’s Christmas season, but let’s not be in a giving mood tonight.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Fenerbahce Ulker Preview

durant reggie jackson thunder

  • When: Saturday, 05 October 2013 at 8:00 AM CST
  • Where: Fenerbahce Ulker Sport Arena, Istanbul, Turkey

The time has finally arrived. After getting spoiled with 2 trips to the Western Conference Finals and 1 trip to the NBA Finals, last season’s second round exit made the offseason seems exponentially longer. But thankfully, the basketball gods listened to one of our prayers and gave us the first preseason game of the season (at 8:00 am CST, to boot).

The Oklahoma City Thunder will be playing Fenerbahce Ulker, one of the premier teams in Turkey. Its kind of cool when you think that Oklahoma City didn’t have a team 6 years ago and now, they are opening up the league’s preseason schedule in Turkey as one of their premier teams. The Thunder have a lot of work to do with Russell Westbrook being out for at least the first month of the season. They have to incorporate a couple new players and have to implement a couple young players into the rotation. Work aside though, I hope they take this experience (on the road, together) and build a ton of chemistry that will last them throughout the season.

bo ulker

Regarding FB Ulker, there’s nothing much I can tell you about the team. Their point guard, Bo McCalebb (pictured above) is not Turkish. He’s from New Orleans. Their starting small forward is Linas Kleiza, who was a pretty good player when he was in the league with the Denver Nuggets and the Toronto Raptors. He was usually used as a spark off the bench and could quickly catch fire from the outside. Ulker has a couple players that have been drafted by NBA teams, but they have yet to play a game in the league. Izzet Turkyilmaz was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft and Bojan Bogdanovic was drafted by the Miami Heat in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. Continue reading Oklahoma City Thunder at Fenerbahce Ulker Preview