Tag Archives: oklahoma city thunder
The Northwest division has seen a lot of activity this offseason, with the division’s bottom feeders making a multitude of moves in hopes of catching up with the cream-of-the-crop. Last year’s champs and NBA runner-up, Oklahoma City, returns their entire core and added a few interesting pieces through free agency and the draft. The deep but star-less Nuggets will also be trotting out a very similar roster as last year. But the Blazers, Wolves, and Jazz all saw some drastic changes to their rosters. In fact, the Blazers and Wolves engaged in one of the offseason’s more interesting story-lines as they bid for young, versatile Frenchman Nicolas Batum. There were rumors circling this particular negation that it may be personal between Wolves GM David Kahn and Blazers owner Paul Allen, as Allen had previously dealt the Wolves damaged goods in the form of Martell Webster a few years back. Allen ultimately decided to match the offer-sheet and keep Batum in Portland, but only after agreeing to pay a steep salary increase. There are plenty of intriguing story-lines in the division, and I expect it to play out as one of the more competitive in the league next season. Without further ado, a deeper look into the activity in the Northwest division.
Oklahoma City Thunder (1st Place 2011-2012)
Players Added: Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Hollis Thompson
Players Lost: Royal Ivey
The Dime: Fresh off a terrific season and a trip to the NBA finals, OKC was able to make a big splash in the draft. As uber-talented, but enigmatic Perry Jones III slid down the draft board, my fellow Dimer Mr. Bohlin and I were fervently sending messages back and forth hoping the Wiz would find a way to trade up into the bottom half of the draft for him. However, Sam Presti burst our bubble by selecting the Baylor forward. I think is a terrific fit for the Thunder as he is able to defend multiple positions and can get up and down the floor (the trend in the NBA is moving toward very versatile, very athletic wings) and he will be able to play a role but will not be expected to be a star, which we all expected from him at Baylor and why his short career was so disappointing. The GM also added UCONN bust Hasheem Thabeet (his track record is terrific, makes it tougher to doubt him on this pick-up) and former-Georgetown sharp-shooter Hollis Thompson. The rest of the crew is expected to be back next year, when Presti will be faced with much tougher situations when extensions for rising starts James Harden and Serge Ibaka will be due. If they are able to secure one, or both, of these players to remain alongside KD and Russell Westbrook than the Thunder will be poised to continue making deep runs in the playoffs for years to come. It will be interesting to see if the Thunder are tempted at the trade deadline this year to move either of these rising starts to ensure they can get assets in return, but I have my doubts they’d be willing to do this as they are primed for a title run next year.
Denver Nuggets (2nd Place 2011-2012)
Players Added: Evan Fournier, Quincy Miller, Anthony Randolph
Players Lost: Chris “Birdman” Anderson
The Dime: The Nuggets are one of the NBA’s most cohesive and well coached teams. Their performance on the floor always seems to exceed the expectations that their level of talent suggest is possible. Their team lacks an identifiable star or even a clear cut best player, but their free-wheeling, up-and-down style of play gives teams fits in the Denver altitude. It has been an interesting off-season in the Mile-High City. Fan-favorite Birdman has been told thanks, but no thanks, and received the amnesty ax. They signed former Wizard headache Javale McGee to a ridiculous 4 year $44 million contract. They drafted one of the few international players in this year’s draft, 3-point shooting Frenchman Evan Fournier (I’m never a huge supporter of drafting internationals). George Karl will again have his hands full figuring out how to balance the minutes of this talented and deep Nuggets roster. I will be interested to continue to watch the emergence of DC-native Ty Lawson (did you see how he fried the Lakers??!!) this year and see if he is able to make the next step in his development. A trendy pick for playoff success last year, I think that this is the year the balanced Nuggets will break through and make some noise come playoff time.
Utah Jazz (3rd Place 2011-2012)
Players Added: Shan Foster, Randy Foye, Mo Williams, Marvin Williams
Players Lost: Devin Harris
The Dime: The Utah Jazz have an incredibly talented front-court. With Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter and Paul Millsap the Jazz can score in the paint, bang on the boards, and defend the rim with the best in the West. However, it’s their back-court that’s needed upgrading since Deron Williams forced himself out of town. This offseason the Jazz tried to address those needs, by adding two former Clippers, Mo Williams and Randy Foye, as well as selecting Shan Foster in the draft. Although these players are talented, I do not think the Jazz have the guard play necessary to really make a move up the standings. Although they can be a tough match-up for anyone because of their size, the Jazz are moving against the NBA-trend of getting smaller and more athletic, a culture move I believe will keep their tires spinning but not moving forward.
Portland Trailblazers (4th Place 2011-2012)
Players Added: Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Sasha Pavlovic, Will Barton, Dan Gadzuric, Ronnie Price, Jared Jefferies
Players Lost: Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton, Jonny Flynn, Joel Pryzbilla, Hasheem Thabeet, Jamal Crawford, Elliot Williams
The Dime: The Blazers have had one of the league’s most dramatic facelifts since season end, adding 7 new players to their roster of 15 this offseason. The “star” of the bunch is first-round pick Damian Lillard out of Weber St. This kid is going to be a player without question, and if the summer league is any indication, we can expect him and LaMarcus Aldridge to be a dangerous pick-and-roll/pop tandem. The Blazers also added former- Illinois 7-footer Meyers Leonard, hoping they can buck the trend of their drafted big-men having health issues. Although highly skilled, I personally don’t see Leonard being an impact pro. I really liked their selection of Will Barton, a slashing scorer from Memphis who will be able to provide some energy and athleticism off their bench. Their biggest offseason headline has to be their bidding war with David Kahn and the Wolves for the young and talented Nicolas Batum. Signed to a $46 million offer-sheet in Minnesota, the Blazers decided to match the offer for the versatile French swingman. Don’t get me wrong, Batum is a terrific player and can be an important piece for a winning team, but he can never be THE piece for a winner. He will be expected to really up his production from last year and provide a complement to their All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. I will be watching closely to see if Batum is up to the challenge.
Minnesota Timberwolves (5th Place 2011-2012)
Players Added: Dante Cunningham, Andrei Kirilenko (Pictured above), Robbie Hummel, Chase Buddinger
Players Lost: Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Darko Milicic, Brad Miller, Anthony Randolph, Wayne Ellington, Anthony Tolliver
The Dime: The Wolves were one of the NBA’s most exiting teams last year with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, quickly becoming a must-see game. Exciting or not, they still finished in dead last in their division. Kevin Love has already come out and said he does not want to play for a bottom-feeder, which means the time is now for the Wolves to return to the winning ways they haven’t seen since KG was the “Big Ticket” in Minneapolis. This offseason was intriguing for the Wolves, and I really liked the moves the notorious David Kahn made (first time that sentence has EVER been muttered about Kahn’s decisions as GM). His pursuit of Batum, although they did not land him, made basketball sense (SF is their biggest need and Batum is an athletic small forward, who can defend, rebound, and shoot the three). They added Chase Buddigner to help provide some offensive fire-power and further stretch the floor, and brought back Andrei Kirilenko to the NBA after a year’s hiatus in Europe. Their recent trade for my former teammate Dante Cunningham provides some additional inside depth. With Rubio returning from last season’s knee injury, the Wolves believe they are poised to improve on their performance from last season and make a push for the playoffs in the next two seasons.
Being a point guard in the NBA is a lot like being a quarterback in the NFL in that there is an immense learning curve. Point guards, as a whole, just don’t come into the NBA as competent, All-Star level players. The adjustment period from slow, slapping-the-floor-on-defense, laterally inept college guards to the supersonic speed of players like Derrick Rose at the professional level can be lengthy. The intricacies of the game such as clock management, speed changes, transition positioning, and effective pick and roll offense is very difficult to learn in 82 games. That sort of thing is difficult to learn in 164 games, even. There are always exceptions to the rule, but the general trend is that point guards take time.
Take Steve Nash, for example. A two-time MVP, 8-time All-Star, and almost a lock to make it to the Hall of Fame. Nash didn’t even average double-digit point totals until his 5th season in the NBA. Granted, he was injured part of the time and served as a backup for two seasons, but one of the best shooters of our generation shot 36% from the field in his third season. Nash is one of the top floor generals in the game now, even at 38 years old, but he never started out being an absolute monster until much later in his career.
Chauncey Billups was even worse. An NBA Champion and Finals MVP with 5 All-Star appearances took literally eight years in the league before he finally landed a consistent starting job. He bounced around in Boston, Toronto, Denver, and even Minnesota, playing pretty inconsistent basketball because he wasn’t a spectacular shooter. Then he landed in Detroit at 26 years of age, and the ended up beating Kobe, Shaq, and the rest of the Lakers in the NBA Finals. It took him 3 seasons to even shoot over 40% in the NBA, which isn’t necessarily what you want from a third pick, overall.
Jason Kidd, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul, none of those great guards even figured it out until their third season, which brings us to the new rule I’m going to establish in making my case for John Wall taking astronomical leaps next season as a player. The Year Three Rule means that any point guard worth his salt is going to take an enormous leap forward in his third season. If he doesn’t, then that player is going to end up, at best, a floor manager and not a superstar. In establishing my argument for John Wall, I’ll lean on a player who has a very similar history to Wall in Russell Westbrook.
Russ Westbrook, or recently known as the guy who “put da team on his back” and led the Thunder during Game 4 of the NBA Finals with 43 points, is incredibly close to John Wall based on projections. The similarities are almost too hard to ignore statistically speaking (not necessarily aesthetically).
Player A Year 1 (Age 20): 15.3 PPG, 5.3 AST/g, 4.9 Reb, 3.3 TO
Player BYear 1 (Age 20): 16.4 PPG, 8.3 AST/g, 4.6 Reb, 3.8 TO
Player A Year 2: 16.1 PPG, 8.0 AST/g, 4.9 Reb, 3.3 TO
Player BYear 2: 16.3 PPG, 8 AST/g, 4.5 Reb, 3.9 TO
Would you guess Player B, whom you might consider the better of the two, to be John Wall? Not using any advanced statistics at all, these two players had by and large incredibly similar box scores night in and night out during their first two years in the league. The important factor in this is age, as both Wall and Westbrook were twenty years old coming into the league, and thus hold very similar trajectory paths for potential growth. Wall led in points and assists despite having severely inferior talent set up around him. The similarities between the two are so uncanny because, I believe, they have one thing in common: their athleticism.
Both Wall and Westbrook can easily get by being slightly above average NBA players based solely on their unique athletic abilities. Westbrook happens to be a slasher without a conscience who can get to the rim at will and slam on 7 footers any time he’d like to. Wall, on the other hand, has such fast breakaway speed that on any given night he can score 10 points strictly on being faster than everyone else. Their physical attributes are what make them similar, despite being different in type and form. With these skills both players were able to pick up the reigns at a much quicker rate because at that speed, no game is played too fast. Westbrook and Wall were already at the speed the NBA plays at, so they didn’t necessarily have to make that adjustment. Add in the fact they both get to the line about 6 times a game, and you’ve got their averages. It’s not that hard to do (relatively speaking) when you’re Wall and Westbrook-type athletes.
What held these two back in their first two years was their shooting. Neither one could shoot worth a darn their first two seasons, as evidenced by their abysmally low shooting percentages from basically anywhere on the floor. Wall shot 40% and 42% from the floor in years one and two, and Westbrook wasn’t far behind shooting 39% and 40%, respectively. Their True Shooting percentages (which takes into account two pointers, three pointers, and free throws) weren’t all that great, either; Wall was at 49% and 50% in year one and two, while Westbrook struggled around 49% both seasons. For comparison’s sake, Shannon Brown and Jamal Crawford hover around the 50% level consistently, whereas Kyrie Irving was at an ungodly 56% last year. Again, their freakish athleticism allowed them to skirt by without hitting three pointers or long two’s.
The statistical evidence backs this assertion up, too, as the bulk of Wall’s shots came from either getting to the rim (5.3 attempts and 5.8 attempts per game year one and two) or settling for long two pointers from 16-23 ft. (4.2 attempts and 4.4 attempts). Unfortunately for Wall, hitting 30% of shots from 16-23 feet both seasons means your jumper hasn’t improved at all. He settled from jumpers that didn’t go in when he wasn’t slashing, and it’s likely because he knew his game was one dimensional.
Westbrook was the same story: 5.7 and 5.6 at the rim shots per game in years one and two, hitting at a high rate. From 16-23 ft, though, 3.2 and 3.7 attempts per game, hitting only 38% and 37% from that range. The numbers are mildly better, but it doesn’t mean that either player had developed a jumper at that point. Westbrook took less shots from longer range and made more of them, but Scott Brooks will tell you his jumper wasn’t anything to write home about. I’m not trying to force the comparison by any stretch, but it’s true that neither really had a good jumper.
On the brighter side of things, as a passer Wall definitely holds the advantage by a pretty substantial margin, both in per game average and in percentages. Wall’s assist percentages (the estimate percentage of field goals assisted by a player while he’s on the court) in year one and two were 36% and 36.9%, whereas Westbrook was at a very low 27.5% in year one to 38.6% in year two. Again, for a comparison Chris Paul was at 38% and 41% years one and two, but someone like Jrue Holiday was at 24% and 29%. Wall’s usage rate was slightly lower than Westbrook’s too, which means he was a bit more efficient as a passer.
So when all the statistical jargon is out of the way, where does that lead us with how John Wall might progress in year three? Well, assuming he can start hitting his midrange jumper even remotely better, it’s going to be an incredibly good year for Mr. Wall.
Westbrook turned into a supernova in year three; his game literally exploded in every way as he shot to stardom as the best young point guard not named Derrick Rose. 22 PPG, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 23.6 PER (up from 17.6; league average is 15). Westbrook started hitting three pointers at a passable 33% (up from 22% the year before), which was more than enough to open up the floor for him to slash even more. The extra shots at the rim (he upped his number from 5.6 to 6.8) gave him more free throw attempts which led to more points in total. Westbrook started converting 60.4% of his shots at the rim, too. And guess what? John Wall already does that. It’s hard to argue that Wall isn’t already the most effective player in the league at finishing.
Westbrook took the huge leap because he played to his strengths and managed to knock down shots away from the rim at a good enough rate that defenses had to play him differently. If Wall can do that exact same thing, he’s already looking at being ahead of Westbrook in terms of potential. Seeing as those two are so similar, it’s not outlandish to believe that might happen. Wall is a phenomenal talent, and while everyone wants their number one draft pick to come in right away and be a superstar, realistically with point guards that is not the case. As has happened in the past with Rondo, Kidd, Nash, Paul, and Rose, given time, the progression between good guard and great guard will take (at least) until year 3. I’m convinced with Wall that the year three leap is going to be one worth waiting for.
The saga of where Hollis Thompson will continue his basketball career came to an end today. According to Thompson’s representation (@OCR_Team) the former Hoyas wing has agreed to a three-year deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Details of the contract have yet to be released but I would have to imagine they are similar to the deal former West Virginia Mountaineer Kevin Jones signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers after going undrafted. It is unknown whether Thompson will join the Thunder summer league team in Orlando but I would assume he will be there for their final two contests unless the sports hernia he’d been dealing with hasn’t healed.
More on this as it develops but Hoyas fans can rest easy knowing one of their own, Thompson, will be continuing to chase his NBA dream with a great organization.
Update: Thunder GM Sam Presti was quoted saying that Thompson would be sidelined for three to four more weeks after having minor surgery on his left groin this week. Eliminating any opportunity he would have had to participate in Thunder summer league games.
Rashard Lewis Highlights, in case you forgot how good he used to be.
When a player scores fewer total points than the total number of shots they attempted during a season, it’s typically considered a bad thing. Unless of course, your name is Rashard Lewis. If you’re him, then your 2011-2012 season (the same one in which you barely surpassed your rookie year totals when you were 19) has to be considered a success. “Why,” you ask? Allow me to digress.
Rashard Lewis made $21,136,631 last season while playing only 28 games. To put that on a per minute basis, our friends at Wiz of Awes calculated that Lewis made almost $29,000 per minute played. Those are Michael Jackson Thriller numbers. Let’s break them down, since we like statistics so much.
- In two minutes, Lewis surpassed the minimum wage mark more than twice!
- Over the course of the year, Rashard made more than 30,195 Niger residents do in a year.
- The price of one 20 megaton nuclear warhead is ~$20 million; so Rashard could buy one and have over $1 million to spare on militarily fortifying his house from invasion!
- Invisible Children, the charity hell-bent on capturing KONY, has made $10.3 million to date. Rashard could’ve caught KONY twice in one year.
- Rashard Lewis could purchase Little Hawkins Island in Georgia for $20 million and, again, use $1 million leftover to decorate it with presumably knee braces and shoes
- Rashard could have not only bought Air Bud (R.I.P.) to play in his place for Washington (and perhaps be slightly more productive on a per minute basis), he could have financed 7 sequels at $3 million per movie that featured the Wizards!
So as not to seem redundant, I’ll stop there because I’m sure you get the point. Either way, Rashard definitely came out a successful man last season off the basketball court. On it, however, is another story.
Mr. Lewis averaged 7.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, which as stated before was his second lowest total since his rookie season. That year, he was a 19 year old kid coming fresh out of high school with a chip on his shoulder after being passed up during the first round. Flash forward to 2012, and the 6’11 stretch power forward/small forward/walking ATM got shut down less than halfway through the season because cash can’t buy you new knees. Just ask Vince Carter, Penny Hardaway, or Greg Oden. His descent into obscurity was rapid, and I am of the opinion that Rashard may never be an effective NBA player again.
Rashard’s career Player Efficiency Rating is 17.1; that’s two points ahead of the league average of 15. Even before this season, he hadn’t reached average since 2008-2009, where he was at an
impressive salvageable 16.8 PER. Since then, his decline due to lingering, balky, knees has been succinct. Lewis now is the proud owner of a 9.3 PER, which is good enough for being .3 points ahead of Darko Milicic (who was also shut down and injured). Think Andray Blatche was absolutely horrendous last season? Well The Captain beat Rashard out by 1.3 points (10.3) this season. Even at All Day Dray’s worst physical condition, he’s still better than Rashard. All these numbers simply confirm what we were seeing on the court (if you didn’t miss the elusive ‘Shard during his few appearances).
The thing is, Rashard could still salvage his career for a playoff contender because GMs still love people who can hit the long ball and happen to be have lots of lenghty. Matt Bonner, who at his most athletic might be slightly slower than a balky Lewis, is currently getting good minutes for the Spurs. 6’11 guys who shoot 39% on their career from 3-point range have a place in the Association. It’s that simple. Raef Lafrentz was a top-notch center for awhile; Wang ZhiZhi managed a 5 year career despite injury and ineffectiveness. And even though Rashard makes a ton of money (virtually immovable) and shot a career low 24% from deep last season, he may still have a chance to play for a contender. He may not offer defense, but ‘Shard can still bring a bit of versatility to an offense (providing he can still motor up and down the court). Someone in desperate need of stretching out defenses could take a chance…right?
The problem for Rashard is managing to get out of Washington. He may have something left in the tank but unless he is willing to perform a drastically limited role, the opportunities with the Wizards will be slim to none. Seeing as Nene, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, and Jan Vesely all crowd the front court, Lewis does not have very many chances to log minutes. In D.C., Rashard is going to be doing spot duty and filling in for potentially injured players. That is, unless, he can successfully manage a buyout (if he even wants one). If I were Rashard, I would simply keep collecting contracts and relaxing waiting for the Wizards to make a move. There is no rush to get “healthy” or rest your knees when you’re 33 and only have a few years left on those knees.
So that’s where Rashard sits. Hedging his bets that his knees can withstand a few more painful runs up and down the court to bolster his already impressive resume with the one thing that eludes him: a ring. Rashard isn’t going to play for anything else, and only championship squads will have any interest in him. His options are limited, and his going rate, as shown above, is extremely high. At the moment I have no real suggestions for what to do with him other than to let Ernie work his magic. He’s notorious for being a swindler, so I’m sure he could convince someone to take him. In the meantime, Rashard will eat up cap space and remain an albatross on a financially secure team with no real incentive just yet to dump him in order to mortgage the future. Get healthy in the offseason, Lewis, because you may not have much more opportunity to play the sport you love.
Final Grade: A+ He made a lot of money and got to spend more time with his family. Sure, he suffered on the basketball court, but off of it Rashard took his life game to new heights!