Tag Archives: Tulsa

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 04 Oct 2017

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Danny Chau (The Ringer) looks at the Thunder’s best and worst-case scenarios in his preview: “What apprehension exists in Melo’s fit doesn’t exist for George, who has exhibited all of those qualities and abilities in his time with Indiana—he can create his own shot, spot-up, position himself off the ball, and defend just about every position. He is not only the perfect running mate for Westbrook—he’s just about the perfect running mate for any franchise player. The Thunder will go as far as their new Big Three takes them, and their talent alone suggests they could go deep.”

Tony Heim (Thunderous Intentions) with five take-aways from last night’s game: “Throw away the score when you break down this game. While Mike D’Antoni was focused on working Chris Paul with his main playing partners, Billy Donovan used the time to get Oklahoma City’s young prospects valuable playing time. Terrance Ferguson, Daniel Hamilton and Josh Huestis all got at least 14 minutes; they all looked pretty good too. More importantly, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George looked comfortable in Billy Donovan’s offense. There were obviously moments where players were late to screens and misreading teammates, but overall the ball movement on offense is already better.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 04 Oct 2017

5-on-5: Analyzing the Thunder’s first 10 games

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have had a whirlwind first ten games of the season, but still find themselves with a record of 7-3. A collection of Thunder bloggers and podcasters have stopped by to discuss the beginning of the season for the Thunder.

1. What has been the biggest surprise of the season for the Thunder?

Alex Roig, Now That’s Thunder Basketball: The biggest surprise of the season for me was the quick return of Russell Westbrook. After the news broke that he had the arthroscopic procedure and would be out for the first 4 to 6 weeks of the season, I mentally prepared myself for a month of low scoring, frustratingly inefficient games. And this was before the Minnesota game. But alas, Westbrook returned in the 3rd game like a knight coming back from a victorious battle, and all was normalized in the land of the Thunder.

Royce Young, Daily ThunderGotta be Russell Westbrook’s return, right? Coming back a solid four weeks earlier than expected and completely changing the perception and feeling around this Thunder season.

Eli J. Friedman, Thunderous Intentions: The play of Serge Ibaka. When the Thunder lost Kevin Martin, people started to question how Oklahoma City would replace him with a third-option scorer. Many eyes looked to Jeremy Lamb or Reggie Jackson. So far, Ibaka has been that third option. He is averaging a double-double with 14.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks a game. Those are all-star type numbers right there. I didn’t see this type of play coming from Ibaka.

Zebulun Benbrook, Welcome To Loud City: The Thunder’s late-game resilience. They’ve had four games so far (Phoenix, Washington, Golden State, and Denver) where they’ve successfully re-gained the lead after trailing for the majority of the fourth quarter and much of the game. You might say that this is the bench unit’s fault, but I prefer to think on the positive side. Scott Brooks’ new flexibility regarding late-game rotations has paid huge dividends. Basically, he lets the starters and bench get equal time as complete units in the first 38-40 minutes of the game. Then when the game hangs in the balance, he throws in the Big 3 of Ibaka, Durant, and Westbrook along with the two other highest performing players, whomever they might be. This allows the team to have the optimal lineup at exactly the right time, and makes for some really exciting finishes.

Jay Smith and Andrew Schlecht, Down To Dunk Podcast: Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the season was the quickness in which Russ returned to the Thunder. After two lackluster games, Russ returned 3-6 weeks ahead of schedule and immediately changed the team.

2. What has been the biggest disappointment so far for the Thunder?

Roig: The biggest disappointment has been the play of Thabo Sefolosha. Honestly, you could flip flop between Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but Perkins’ play (or lack thereof) isn’t anything new. We’ve witnessed the gradual decline in Perk’s game, and almost come to expect it. But, Sefolosha’s bread and butter has always been perimeter defense, and, to the eye, he seems to be getting torched a lot more in this small sample of games than he did in years past. To compound that, his offense has been virtually non-existent this season. And by offense, of course, I mean 3-point shooting. In the Thunder’s offense, they need Thabo to act as a perimeter decoy/floor spacer when he doesn’t have the ball, and to knock down threes when he does receive the ball. He didn’t do that in the first 7 games of the season, shooting 3-21 (14%) from 3-point land, which has led to the early season struggles of the starting 5 on offense. He’s gone 4-6 from 3-point land in the last 2 games he’s played, so hopefully he has turned the corner. Continue reading 5-on-5: Analyzing the Thunder’s first 10 games

Spinning the Westbrook Setback

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Everything was a go. There may have been a missed game here or there to begin the season, but everything was set for Russell Westbrook to return from his torn meniscus. According to anyone from the Thunder organization who dared to speak, Westbrook was on schedule with his rehab and was starting to mix in some practice time with the team.

But then the news dropped on October 1st, that Westbrook would be needing arthroscopic knee surgery and would be out another 8-10 weeks (a.k.a. the first 4-6 weeks of the season). He had recently been suffering swelling in the knee and the team decided to find the source of the inflammation. It turns out that the meniscus had healed properly, but one of the stitches that was holding the meniscus in place had gotten loose and was bothering the joint to the point of inflammation. If that is truly the case, then that is a bit of good news shrouded in the midst of bad news.

As the saying goes, “when life gives you lemons, attack Patrick Beverly.” What? That’s NOT how the saying goes? Oh, okay. Oh, yeah, I remember now. When life gives you lemons, make some lemonade. Would you rather have Westbrook in uniform or on the bench in street clothes? Of course you’d want him on the floor. But considering the circumstances, this may be a blessing in disguise. Here are a few ways, as hard as it may be to imagine them now, that this latest setback could be beneficial for the Thunder come playoff time.

1. It’s October, not April.

From all accounts, Westbrook’s meniscus healed properly and he was on schedule to return before the inflammation occurred. But, there was still the possibility that he would miss some time in the beginning of the season. It’s better that this occurred now, and not in the middle of the season. I would rather the team treat the first half of the season as an extended training camp (assimilating Russell, acclimating the rookies and the young guys, and setting up a consistent rotation) than to have a hiccup happen in February that completely throws the chemistry of the team off heading into the playoffs.

2. More starting and crunch-time experience for Reggie Jackson.

Jackson showed last season what he is capable of. When Westbrook went out with his initial injury in the playoffs, Jackson plugged into the starting lineup almost seamlessly. If he was learning on the fly, he was, indeed, an apt student. In the 9 games that he started in the playoffs, Jackson posted per game averages of 15.3 points, 3.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and only 2 turnovers on 47.2% FG shooting and 89.7% FT shooting. And most of it was done against the Memphis Grizzlies, the best defensive team in the league.

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Another component that became apparent was that Jackson was not scared of the moment. On several occasions he had to either ice a game or aid in a comeback from the free throw line. He was nearly perfect from the line in those situations. The stat line Jackson put up is very comparable to the stats Westbrook put up in his first 2 seasons. Jackson’s assists should increase with more familiarity and his shot selection should get better. Continue reading Spinning the Westbrook Setback

The Thunder and their D-League usage

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The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement brought changes to how teams could use their D-League affiliates. As NBADL president Dan Reed said, “The new CBA will deepen the level of integration between NBA D-League and NBA teams, and marks the next stage of our league’s evolution as the official minor league for the NBA. By encouraging more robust use of our league to accelerate the development of NBA players and prospects, over time we believe this agreement will lead to more NBA teams operating their own NBA D-League affiliate, an increased number of NBA players that develop in our league, and an even better in-arena experience for our fans.” In other words, the NBA felt the restrictions placed on player movement from the D-League to the NBA were hindering the D-League’s ability to reach its full potential as a true developmental/minor league for the NBA. 

In the previous CBA, a team could only assign a player to the D-League up to three times per season. This lack of flexibility made it difficult for teams to assign players because the assigned player still counted on their 15 man roster. Normally, a team would assign a player to the D-League and leave them there for a three to five game stints, if not longer. While this allowed for some consistency with the player, it became an issue for the team if they had to recall said player due to injuries on the NBA roster. It didn’t matter whether it was a 1 game stint or a 10 game stint, it still counted as a D-League assignment. In the new CBA, a team has no limit as to how many times it can assign a player with 3 years or less experience in the league.

 This new rule becomes very advantageous to teams that have their own D-League affiliate. Currently, there are 11 teams in the league that have their own D-League team. The rest of the 19 teams have to divide their assigned players amongst the remaining 5 D-League teams. The teams that have their own D-League affiliates are able to run the same system throughout their NBA and minor league teams. This leads to a level of consistency in all facets of the organization. Even though the players may not be the same on either level, the defensive and offensive systems can be consistent throughout. On these 11 teams, players that are shuffled back and forth between the “farm” team and the NBA team don’t have to learn new terminology or new schematics between the different teams. The schema remains the same and the confidence that usually accompanies consistency starts to show through.

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 This has been very evident with the Thunder’s young players. Oklahoma City is in strange position of being a contending team with young players to develop. Most contending teams have veteran-laden rosters and don’t have the time to develop young talent. Though the Thunder’s roster is young throughout, the main core is veteran enough, having gone through 3 successive playoff runs that culminated with a loss in the Finals last season. With great players comes the cost of paying these superstar players. The Thunder currently have $54.2 million allotted to its top 5 players (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kevin Martin, and Kendrick Perkins). That number jumps up to $54.3 million with Ibaka’s extension kicking in, but that is without Martin, as he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. Assuming that the Thunder re-sign Martin, the Thunder are looking at $60+ million in salary for 5 players next season. The need for cheap labor (rookies and young players) becomes very necessary as a team tries to balance being a contender with balancing the proverbial NBA checkbook.

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 When you are battling for playoff positioning throughout the season, there aren’t many opportunities to develop young talent. Every game counts when a team is looking to secure home court advantage. A slip up here or there can be the difference between a team playing a deciding game at home or on the road. Non-playoff teams have all the time and patience in the world to develop young talent at an NBA level. The Thunder experienced a little bit of this last season when they were forced to play then rookie guard Reggie Jackson heavy minutes as the back-up point guard after Eric Maynor went down 9 games into the season with a torn ACL. Jackson struggled throughout the season in this role and was relegated to the end of the bench by the end of February after the Thunder signed Derek Fisher. With Maynor back this season, the Thunder have been able to send Jackson back and forth between the D-League and the Thunder.

 One of the advantages of this system is that it allows young players to build their muscle memory and confidence. Athletes, especially basketball players, live off of muscle memory. Muscle memory is defined as a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. An example of muscle memory would be typing. Once you learn where the letters are on the keyboard, you can begin typing at your heart’s content without looking at the keyboard. Basketball involves a lot of fast-twitch muscularity due to the read and react nature of the sport. You see a defender leaning in one direction and you react by driving in the opposite direction in a split second. This type of muscle memory can only be duplicated in in-game settings. During the season, teams cannot scrimmage during every practice to replicate in-game situations. The only way to develop this type of muscle memory is to actually play in the games. If a team is not willing to let its young players develop on the NBA floor, the next best option is in the D-League.

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 That muscle memory is extremely important when a player a called upon to give you 5-6 good minutes in a game. When Jeremy Lamb was put into a game against the Detroit Pistons at the beginning of the season, he played 3 minutes, committed 1 turnover and 2 fouls. He played and looked like every bit of the rookie that he was. But after a couple of games in the D-League in which he averaged 23 ppg, 4.9 rpg, and 3.3 apg, Lamb’s number was called again against the Atlanta Hawks. This time, he performed beautifully in his 5 minutes, scoring 5 points, grabbing 1 rebound, and getting 1 steal, all while effectively guarding Josh Smith, who had 5 inches and 40 pounds on him. I can’t definitively state that there is a direct correlation between Lamb’s time in the D-League and his performance in that one game, but the confidence he played with definitely had something do with his time in Tulsa.

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 Reggie Jackson is another one of those players that has benefitted from his time in Tulsa. After providing a spark off the bench in a game versus the New Orleans Hornets as an energy player, Jackson was sent to the D-League for a 2 game stint in which he averaged 32 ppg, 8 rpg, and 7 apg. Jackson logged significant minutes in the game prior to his 2 game stint and then logged 13 minutes in the prime time game against the Miami Heat on Christmas day. While he didn’t come anywhere close to averaging the number he put up in Tulsa in those two games, the confidence he played with shows a maturation to his game. Even more significant in the Miami game is that he played the back-up point guard role, while Maynor received a DNP-CD.

 The Thunder have also been sending rookie Perry Jones III to the D-League, along with 2nd year wingman DeAndre Liggins and 3rd year center Daniel Orton. While these players have yet to have a breakout moment in the NBA this season, the ability to play in the D-League and then practice with the NBA team will only improve the skill-set and their confidence. Jones III’s development is of utmost importance to the Thunder, as his skill set as a tweener forward will give the Thunder a serious weapon in the front court as they move forward. 

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 Confidence and playing time are two of the most important things in the development of a young player. While NBA teams may not be able to provide the young players with copious amounts of playing time, they can provide them with an avenue (the D-League) to continue developing and improving, all while playing basketball in real game situations. The Thunder hope that the pipeline from Tulsa to OKC will provide them with cheap, young talent that will allow them to maintain their championship contending core.