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Posts Tagged ‘Serge Ibaka

Oklahoma City’s marriage to Serge Ibaka

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The most important decision of the Oklahoma City Kevin Durant era was when they traded James Harden to Houston. Clearly the Thunder understood they couldn’t pay Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Harden long term and stay under the luxury tax.

Although there are other things problematic with the Harden trade such as dealing him a year too early, the real long term decision they made was choosing to keep Ibaka over Harden.

The Thunder likely made this decision on the merit of fit over raw talent. Harden was considered the Thunder’s “3rd star” over Ibaka at the time, but Ibaka is a defensive anchor and a big man, while Harden is an offensive perimeter star like Westbrook and Durant. Thus the Thunder decided they need a defensive anchor/big man more than a 3rd offensive perimeter star.

My main objection to this for the last few years is keeping the best offensive talent is a good idea, because defense can be made up for elsewhere. With Durant, Westbrook and Harden, the Thunder could have filled the rest of the team with defensive role players and done whatever they can playing-style to have a defensive identity. By giving more offensive responsibility to Harden, Durant and Westbrook, along with Harden himself, may have been groomed into expending more energy on defense such as how Chris Bosh became a far more valuable defender in Miami than Toronto now that he wasn’t required to use as much energy on offense. The Thunder would NOT have had a defense-less roster if they chose to trade Ibaka. Westbrook, Durant, Harden is still a physically imposing wing rotation on the defensive end and they had other role players like Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison who were game on that end. That’s before considering Ibaka could have gotten them strong value in return for a trade, possibly a defense-first cheap prospect or big.

However to defend the Thunder there may be a few other reasons to shy away from Harden. One is that we don’t know how Harden acted behind the scenes to being the Thunder’s 3rd perimeter scorer and whether long term he’d have wanted out to become a star elsewhere. Secondly, Harden’s personality is different than Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka’s. Harden’s reputation as loving nightclubs is now well known and his body is not as finely conditioned as his three former Thunder teammates. It’s possible the Thunder partly made they trade because they were turned off by factors like Harden’s late night habits or diet, especially during the 2012 Finals.

The Thunder haven’t made the Finals since they traded Harden as their 3rd star. They’d had a few excuses. It’s hard to blame them for 2013 when they didn’t have Russell Westbrook. Last year they lost Serge Ibaka for the first 2 games of the Spurs series. However they still lost the last 2 games of the series with Ibaka, including Game 6 at home when Tony Parker missed the 2nd half. If the Thunder had the team to beat the Spurs when healthy, there’s no way they can blow an elimination home game with the gift of Parker’s injury. I personally don’t feel the Thunder were going to beat the Spurs last year even if Ibaka played the whole series. The Spurs caliber of play had been higher in the regular season and postseason and they proved it the last few games of the series once they made the adjustment by putting Matt Bonner in the starting lineup to stretch the Thunder out. The Spurs point differential over the Thunder was also overall a massive domination, which is tough to blame on just 2 Ibaka-less games. Furthermore OKC missing Ibaka for 2 games is a problem some teams have to get past to win the title. When Miami won their title in 2012 they had to do with Chris Bosh for some of the 2nd and 3rd round and managed to get through it.

Still, the Thunder have plenty of time to prove their decision to keep Ibaka over Harden is correct. They’re playing the long game to develop young talents like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams long enough to win around Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka before Durant and Westbrook hit their free agencies in 2016 and 2017. It’s hard to bag the Thunder for their post Harden plan not working yet when they’re only passed year 2 of it and those years were marred by injury.


But what’s interesting is they probably chose Ibaka over pursuing the “3 offensive star” model again. What I mean is the complete lack of Serge Ibaka-Oklahoma City involvement in the Kevin Love rumors this summer. I’m of the belief that if Oklahoma City offered Ibaka along with pieces like Jeremy Lamb and draft picks, there’s an excellent chance they’d be heavy players or leading for Love.

Consider the deal all signs say Minnesota wanted before Andrew Wiggins was offered, which is was a Klay Thompson/David Lee centered package from the Warriors. I presume Minnesota wants to win games next year and pursue the playoff appearances upside of a Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, etc. roster. Serge Ibaka is an ideal fit for this plan from Minnesota. He is both a win-now player and young enough to be in long term plans. He fits in perfectly beside Nik Pekovic, with Pekovic providing the low post offense and Ibaka providing the floor spacing and defense. When added to the Thunder’s ability to sweeten the deal with young prospects and draft picks, it’s exactly the type of deal to woo the Timberwolves right now.

Yet the Thunder have not been in the picture, it hasn’t even been reported they’ve made any offer at all. I would put the chances of the Thunder offering their best non-Durant and Westbrook pieces for Love but having it turned down behind the scenes, as fairly minimal. Even if turned down it’d likely have been heard about in some way or Minnesota would have leaked it to gain leverage over other suitors. Remember that Kevin Love trade rumors were going strong for a month before Cleveland’s Andrew Wiggins offer got involved, so it’s not as if Minnesota would have been turning down Ibaka for Wiggins this whole time, if charging hard after Love, Oklahoma City’s biggest opposition in mid-late June would have been the Boston and Golden State offers. It’s pretty easy to speculate a conclusion from this. The Thunder don’t have an interest in moving Ibaka for Love for some of the same reasons they chose Ibaka over Harden. They prefer having the defensive compliment over a 3rd offensive star, along with possible continuity reasons.

And I’m of the belief this is probably even crazier than choosing Ibaka over Harden. Love at least is a big man instead of a 3rd offensive wing, fitting into the lineup more than Harden did. Any concerns about Harden’s off-court commitment not being at Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka’s level, don’t exist with Kevin Love. Although he provides less defense than Ibaka, his offense is a perfect fit for the Thunder co-stars, providing devastating spacing on a roster where teams already struggle to defend Westbrook and Durant at once, along with his outlet passing skills complimenting Westbrook and Durant, two of the scariest transition players in the league for different reasons. He gives OKC what they’ve needed for a long time which is a low post scorer. In addition to his defensive rebounds, his offensive rebounding could provide a scary amount of 2nd chances, putback points and free throw line trips to an OKC offense that doesn’t even need it to dominate. Love is widely considered a better player than Serge Ibaka. Love is considered potentially the best true power forward in the game and a top 10 player in the league, which is the type of resume Serge Ibaka does not have. By virtue of being presumably better, I have to think there’s a good chance Kevin Love makes every team in the league better than if they had Ibaka.

Defensively Love could try to make a Bosh-like transition to a stronger defensive focus, while again, Westbrook and Durant may benefit defensively from playing with Love. It’s true they give up shotblocking by trading Ibaka, but they also gain all these other offensive things Love does that Ibaka doesn’t, along with his rebounding.

What it comes down to is that Durant, Westbrook and Love would be anchor an insanely talented at a level beyond the present Thunder. And when a franchise can overwhelm the league with star talent it usually works out. Some of the great teams haven’t been the best “fits” positionally. The 1980s Celtics effectively had 3 star bigs in Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish instead of a more balanced roster with a PG or SG star, but they still fit well and won 3 championships. The most recent Miami Heat had a lot of overlap between Dwyane Wade and Lebron James and at first before we knew Chris Bosh could make a defensive transition, it didn’t appear they had an anchor on that end. The list of teams who lost because they didn’t have enough talent, is longer than the list of teams who teamed up superstars in their mid 20s but didn’t fit together well enough to win.

Another HUGE motive for the Thunder to go after Kevin Love, is it takes him off the board for other teams. Letting Kevin Love be traded to the Cavaliers creates a serious threat in Cleveland to win the title the next two years. The Thunder snatching Love instead would’ve taken the wind out of Lebron’s sails, presuming the Cavs would then proceed with an Andrew Wiggins-centered long term plan. Likewise for when it looked like the Warriors were a top contender for Love last month. The Thunder would’ve been wise to act against a potential West behemoth being created in Golden State and a Stephen Curry-Kevin Love combination. Considering all the other reasons why it’s smart to trade Ibaka for a star talent in Love, strategically weakening the competition alone especially now that we know that competition is “Lebron’s team”, would just be the sealer for me. The Thunder would have 3 of the game’s superstars in their mid 20s and importantly, there’d be a shortage of other teams in the league who had more than one. This is the type of landscape giving them the upside of not just a title but a dominant dynasty.

Finally, there’s an argument just for variance. We saw how the 2013-2014 Thunder played in the regular season and postseason and it wasn’t spectacular. Again one can harp on the Ibaka injury, but not taking care of business in Game 6 at home with the injury bug on the Spurs side, is a major enough sign the Thunder weren’t ready to win the title last year. So why not trade Ibaka for Kevin Love for the sake of it being different? It’s not a guarantee to work out spectacularly as Durant-Westbrook-Love enter their names in superstar “Big 3” lore, but there appears to be a fair chance it could. And the downside? There’s only so badly a Durant-Westbrook-Love era could turn out. Perhaps there’s a chance they win games in the mid 50s but bow out in the 2nd and 3rd round. Well that’s the same downside the Thunder core right now has.

The Thunder have 2 seasons until Durant’s free agency and last year’s results would not make me excited about the status quo. That’s not to say they have to make a move just for the sake of it, but if you can team up a potential top 10 player in the league with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? Why not see what’s behind this Door Number 2? Why not try to the shoot the moon? Why not go for the “scary, seize the balance of power of the league?” option? To be frank, don’t complicate it. Serge Ibaka is a good player, Kevin Love is a superstar player and going from good to superstar at PF could take the Thunder to an entirely different level in a way desperately needed to avoid Durant 2016 free agency problems.

Written by jr.

August 1, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Minnesota should consider Oklahoma City as a Kevin Love trading partner

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Despite a strong point differential, by sitting 6 Gs behind the 8th seed Warriors and in 10th place, Minnesota’s season is all but over. With Kevin Love a season and a half until free agency, they have to start considering trading him now or this summer, to get full value for him instead of dealing from a position of weakness.

If Kevin Love for Blake Griffin is not a possibility with the latter’s surge in play recently, the team I love for Minnesota as a trade partner is Oklahoma City. Say the Thunder are willing to offer a package such as:

Serge Ibaka
One of Reggie Jackson or Jeremy Lamb
2014 Dallas 1st (protection: top 20 2014, top 20 2015, top 20 2016, top 20 2017, unprotected 2018)
2014 Oklahoma City 1st

While Kevin Love is better than Serge Ibaka, the drop-off may not hurt the Timberwolves as much as it seems because of Ibaka fits such a need. Ibaka’s shotblocking and floor spacing is a pitch-perfect fit beside Nik Pekovic, who’s defense has improved himself. Between the two of them the Timberwolves frontcourt would still be set as a two way force for the future.

In addition the Timberwolves get what they’ve lacked for years, a young blue chip 2 guard in either Jackson or Lamb. Jackson is the currently more productive player, but Lamb’s shooting and floor spacing is a better compliment to Ricky Rubio. Both appear to have a high upside.

The draft picks are also of course important. In addition to their likely lottery pick this year, if Dallas makes the playoffs the Wolves would get two other 1sts around the 21st or 22nd pick and 29th or 30th picks to fortify their team. If Dallas misses the playoffs the pick becomes an even more interesting asset, as their odds of finishing in the top 10 teams in the league by 2017 will go down once Dirk shows his age. If retired by 2018, there is no floor for how poor the Mavericks could be, or how high a pick the Timberwolves could get from them. By adding young players to a core including Rubio, Lamb/Jackson, Martin, Budinger, Ibaka, Pekovic, Shabazz, Dieng, the Timberwolves would have a talented team post Kevin Love. The model would be the Denver Nuggets, who after trading Carmelo Anthony for a group of players including a blue chip Danillo Gallinari and others like Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and draft picks, continued to win and even set a franchise record a few years later. The Timberwolves would provide a fast brand of athleticism and skill that could not only compete for a playoff spot but be marketable to fans. It is hard for me to envision them doing better than the above.

However, the deal isn’t a no-brainer for the Thunder. At least not this trade deadline, where the team is rolling along and may not want to disrupt their chemistry. Still, especially if they once again fall short in the playoffs, it’s hard to turn down teaming Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. Championships have been typically won in the NBA by having a stacked top 3 players and then the pieces fitting in around them. The Thunder have typically been one of the best perimeter defensive teams in the league in the Durant era, helping them play great D despite Kevin Love’s average play on that end. It also bears mentioning that Love may improve as a defender if needing to spend less energy on offense, just as Chris Bosh has been unrecognizably superior as a defender in Miami than he was in Toronto. On offense his floor spacing is a perfect fit to Westbrook and Durant’s driving, as is his offensive rebounding. The Thunder would likely be the most devastating offensive team in the team and impossible to match up with. While they would be giving up a lot in the above deal, it may be worth it to recapture the “3 star” model they gave up when losing James Harden. Despite paying a high price for Love, they wouldn’t empty out their young store of assets. They’d keep one of Jackson or Lamb, in addition to Steven Adams and Perry Jones III. It’s enough to continue Sam Presti’s history of young, cheap infrastructure around his stars.

Overall, this seems like the best fit for a Kevin Love deal because of how complimentary  to the Timberwolves lineup a return package like Serge Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb would be to help the team keep chugging along, Nuggets style. The Thunder truly go for a multiple title era.

Written by jr.

February 14, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Is Russell Westbrook’s talent level overrated?

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Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11

Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I tried to make a list of the 30-40 most talented 25 and under players, using my talent grading system. I may not post it. My apprehension is that a large number of the players are too closely graded, making it hard to rank one over the other.

However I will say that if I do post it, Russell Westbrook will be ranked lower than you can imagine. Now, by making it onto the list, Westbrook is still a blue chip talent. Some other players I gave a similar grade include Chandler Parsons, Derrick Favors, Jrue Holiday, Larry Sanders, Mike Conley, Jr. to name a few. All excellent talents, but in a tier below superstar, perennial all-star talent, which many believe Westbrook has.

As a talent Westbrook has a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. In what I call “physical impact talent”, Westbrook may be as gifted as any PG in NBA history. Westbrook is one of the most athletic specimens in all of sports, pairing that explosiveness with a strong body. Add in elite ballhandling and he’s as dynamic as it gets in the NBA, for skills attacking the basket off the dribble. In both the halfcourt and transition he puts relentless pressure on the opponent that defines the pace of the game.

However, the above only makes up 1/3 of what I use to rate talent. Where my doubts about Westbrook’s talent lie is the other 2/3.

My “skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent” category treats shooting range as key, in addition to passing or post skills if a player has them. Westbrook is an average shooter at best for a PG. With a career 3P% of .302 and 0.6 3PM/2.1 3PA split, including .321 3P last year and 1.2 3PM/3.7 3PA, his outside shooters are weak – especially considering that with the defenses worrying about Westbrook’s slashing and Kevin Durant, those 3 point shots are likely to be open. Westbrook’s career 81.4% FT rate is respectable for a PG.

With that said, Westbrook is at least a decent passer and his size gives him post potential against smaller defenders.

In this category, I’d rate Westbrook from average to slightly above average.

The final category I look at is “feel for the game talent”, or to put it another way, instincts. Russell’s decision making and awareness of teammates has been criticized throughout his career. Fluidity and control is the biggest smoking guns I look for in feel for the game. Westbrook does not have fluidity that stands out and at times, can look out of control driving to the basket. I’d rate Westbrook from average to slightly below average in feel for the game.

In short, this combination – all time great physical impact tools, but average skill and feel for the game, does not rate as a superstar talent by my system. I do have Derrick Rose on that next level of talent because I see his feel for the game as elite, showing great fluidity and control – while his skills and physical talents are similar to Westbrook’s. Stephen Curry is an all time great shooter with an elite feel for the game, making up for a weakness physically. Rajon Rondo is an elite athlete with an elite feel for the game, but struggles to shoot, albeit making it up with exceptional passing skills. Those players are elite in 2 categories and average in another by my grading, while Westbrook is elite in 1 and average in 2.

Mike Conley, Jr. is obviously physically inferior to Westbrook, however he is a better shooter (.362 3P last year on 3.7 3PA) and is a more controlled, fluid and feel for the game friendly player. Jrue Holiday doesn’t shoot any better than Westbrook, but also has a high feel for the game, in addition to a great combination of speed and strength superior to Conley, but inferior to Westbrook. It makes sense to me that their feel for the game/fluidity talent, or shooting in Conley’s case, would make up for what Westbrook has over them physically.

Ricky Rubio is something of an inverse Westbrook. He has a feel for the game that is truly special – genius, arguably. However with just decent athleticism and serious shooting/touch problems, the “other 2/3s” for him is also a problem.

At other positions, Westbrook’s teammate Serge Ibaka compares favorably to him as a talent, for me. Ibaka has elite athleticism and length, helping him physically impact the game. Struggling to put the ball on the floor hurts his ability to attack the basket. He has a great jumpshot for a PF, better range than what Westbrook has for a PG. However, I likewise do not see more than average feel for the game. He at times can look stiff instead of natural and uses athleticism more than positional instincts to defend.

Now whether you take any of the above as meaningful is up to you. However it poses another question. How can I justify saying this, when Westbrook’s production can (seemingly) only be reached by a superstar talent? There are different methods of evaluating production of course, some may trust his 23.2ppg, 7.4apg, 5.2rpg as meaningful, whereas I’m more impressed by his combination of volume (25.08 possessions/game, using FGA+0.44*FTA+TOV) and above average efficiency (111 ORTG, league average 105.9). Others may point to that he helps spearhead one of the best offenses and teams in the league.

Either way, it’s hard to argue Westbrook isn’t a superstar talent, if he’s producing like one.

My argument against this is unreliable context. In other words, there could be a Kevin Durant effect. Durant is a rare type of superstar offensively, enough that it’s reasonable to present that Westbrook, among other Thunder players like Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, may benefit in the efficiency category from it.

And certainly, if Westbrook had been traded to his own team last summer, my initial reaction would’ve been “watch out above for falling shooting percentage”. With the extra defensive attention on him, I’d have actively expected that efficiency to fall below the league average rate of 105.9. His TS% of .532 last year is already below average, it may have dripped dangerously to .50 on his own team. Both of this would have made it reasonable to call him a blue chip, but flawed talent.

This isn’t entirely fair, of course. To call out Westbrook’s efficiency for falling, when he’s never had the chance to prove that won’t happen. My point is more to present reasonable doubt. That just because Westbrook has star numbers, doesn’t mean he has to be a superstar talent.

And frankly, it’s not that big of a deal to be ‘only’ as talented as a player like Mike Conley, Jr. or Chandler Parsons or his teammate Serge Ibaka, if he is. Westbrook is an excellent talent and with Ibaka, Sefolosha, Collision, Jackson, etc., along with Jeremy Lamb, who I feel has superstar talent – the Thunder still have a stacked team around Kevin Durant.

Written by jr.

September 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Sam Presti’s real devastating blunder: Ibaka over Harden

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English: Serge Ibaka, basketball player from O...

English: Serge Ibaka, basketball player from Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oklahoma City’s James Harden trade which is now turning into one of the most important in NBA history, has been much derided. Two main criticisms are that they didn’t get enough back in Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and picks, or that they should have just played out the year with Harden to try and win the title, before moving them. I’m not as critical as the former as many because I see Lamb as a future star. The latter is a very valid criticism, the Thunder degraded their title chance in 2013 unnecessarily.

However what I see as the real head scratcher and devastating move for Presti, is the decision to essentially choose Serge Ibaka over James Harden. The team clearly couldn’t keep both on large contracts with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with owners who wanted to stay under the luxury tax, but by trading one it would have worked. The Thunder chose to keep Ibaka and trade Harden. In the long run this is the decision that truly matters.

The justification some gave for this, is that Ibaka compliments Durant and Westbrook more. Ibaka is the defensive heart of the team while Harden was an offensive star like Durant and Westbrook. Ibaka is a big while all three of Durant, Westbrook, Harden are perimeter players taking each other’s minutes and shots.

Using this to take Ibaka over Harden was a huge mistake. What really rules the NBA is star talent. And even before his Houston breakout as a franchise player, it was clear Harden was the special, star talent and Ibaka closer to a role player.

The idea that Ibaka was more desirable because he plays defense, is flawed because star talents make it easier to build defensive teams. First of all, with Durant, Westbrook and Harden on the team, the Thunder could fill out the entire rest of the roster with plus defensive players, if not specialists. Last year in the playoffs the offensively significant, defensive sieve Kevin Martin had a featured role and defensively significant, offensive liability Ronnie Brewer wasn’t playing. Having Harden instead of Ibaka allows the Thunder to put Brewers on the teams instead of Martins.

Also relevant is the concept of energy. When playing with Durant, Westbrook and Harden, everyone else would be depended on to expend energy on the defensive end that they didn’t offensively. Arguably one of the reasons that players like Norris Cole, Iman Shumpert, Avery Bradley have struggled shooting the ball so far in their career, is that they’re giving everything they have defensively. For a player like Reggie Jackson, his defensive energy is likely to be different if he’s depended on as the Thunder’s 3rd option next year, than if he had a Cole-like strict defensive specialist role on a team with Harden on it.

The point is that a team with Westbrook, Durant and Harden wouldn’t have had a problem playing defense, whether it’s because they could fill out the roster with defenders, or because those defenders would have energy. Furthermore all three of those stars are physically superior to their position, giving them the opportunity to play better than average defense as they mature, especially with having each other to take off the pressure of carrying an offense from each other. In addition to this, the Thunder also had other defensive role players like Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins. I have little doubt the Thunder would’ve been good enough defensively to contend year in and year out with Durant, Westbrook and Harden.

The other relevant point is that Serge Ibaka isn’t THAT good at defense. He is not Ben Wallace, he is not Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan on the defensive end. He blocks shots at a great level, but has a disappointing feel for positional rotations and defense that doesn’t show up on the statsheet. I strongly object to Ibaka getting put in the defensive player of the year conversation with other more instincts-friendly players like Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert. I certainly didn’t see Ibaka making a real defensive impact on the game when the Thunder needed it against Memphis this year. Serge Ibaka is a good player, but he is not a great player. What really moves the needle in the NBA is great players.

As for Ibaka playing a big man position being more appealing than three perimeter players, what really matters is how much a player helps a team win, not what position he plays. Harden may not have been able to play as many minutes at SG as Ibaka at PF, but in my opinion, not enough to make up for the difference that Harden is the superior player per minute.

While the hindsight-trades game can get dull, to me the real moment for the Thunder was this. If they had put Ibaka on the trade block on draft night 2012, surely they’d have found suitors. The Sacramento Kings reportedly were shopping the 5th overall pick or upgrades and Ibaka is a perfect fit beside Demarcus Cousins. The Detroit Pistons likewise could’ve paired up Ibaka and Greg Monroe for the 9th pick. The Milwaukee Bucks drafted John Henson 14th, a similar enough prospect to Ibaka that surely they’d have preferred the established version. The natural move for the Thunder was to get a lottery pick for Ibaka and draft a cheap big man in one of Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard or John Henson to replace him at PF. Some of those picks would’ve worked out better than others it appears, but Oklahoma City have already proven they’re reliable at drafting, why not lean on it again? Not to mention that even if the worst case scenario of drafting a bust, with Durant, Westbrook and Harden, they’d have gotten over it just fine. Trading their 4th best and most talented player in Ibaka for a cheap big man who could do 80-100% of what he does was the move, not trading one of their star talents.

Ultimately Sam Presti has done a lot right with the Thunder, but the decision to take Ibaka over Harden is crippling. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Team up the best players and figure out the rest later”, seemingly taking Ibaka for positional and fit reasons, is missing the forest from the trees.

Written by jr.

July 6, 2013 at 11:53 am

The NBA’s 50 Most Interesting People of ’10-11 (Part I)

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A countdown of the 50 most interesting people in the NBA this year based on what they have and have not

Image via nba.com

done. This post will count down from 50 to 31.

50. Joel Anthony

Who’d have thunk that the 4th most important player after Miami’s Big 3 would be an undrafted guy who spent more time on the bench than on the floor in college? Dude’s become a living symbol of team balance. The Heat have so much focus on scoring with their 3 stars that not only can they afford to have a 2 PPG guy as stater – they STILL are putting too much emphasis on scorers even with a guy like Anthony.

49. LaMarcus Aldridge

With Roy falling on hard time, Aldridge has emerged as the Blazers’ star, as they continue to both disappoint and overachieve. Aldridge has yet to really capture our attention with star-like intrigue, but his new prominence is noteworthy.

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8 thoughts on the Thunder’s elimination

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Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunders at ...

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1. For the second year in a row, the Oklahoma City Thunder exit the playoffs in a way that leaves us all excited for the future. One of the biggest turnarounds in history last year to get to the 1st round, now they get to the conference finals. They remain precocious as hell, and short of some major blow up in the off-season, I expect they’ll be the favorites to win the Western Conference next year, as well as to be the dominant team in the West going forward.

2. I think people need to keep some perspective though. This was a Thunder team that achieved their record in the regular season largely by beating mediocre teams (they struggled against the elite), and that were very fortunate that instead of having to face the best team in the conference in the second round (as a #4 seed should), they played an 8 seed. And even then, they only beat the 8 seed with the help of home court advantage. It’s wrong to talk about the series with the Dallas Mavericks as if it was the gentleman sweep that a 4-1 victory implies – the Mavs had to turn it on completely and get a bit lucky just to win 2 of 3 home games. However, the fact remains that after getting a fortunate draw, they managed only 1 win when faced with a true contender.

Bottom line is that no one should look at this Thunder team like one that took the playoffs by storm this year.

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From the bad coaching files: Scott Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in

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Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach...

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr

If you were watching Game 4 of the Dallas-Oklahoma City series last night, you saw one of the biggest 4th quarter collapses in NBA Playoff history. The Thunder were leading by 15 with under 5 minutes left and lost in overtime.

The turning point was James Harden fouling out, of which Dallas went on a 17-2 run immediately following. But for me what really sunk the Thunder was Scott Brooks. Specifically, Brooks leaving Thabo Sefolosha in the game the entire last 5 minutes and overtime.

If you’ve watched the Thunder regularly, you’ll have seen the team strugging offensively with Sefolosha is in the game. The concept is simple – Since Sefolosha is a virtual non offensive threat, the man defending him usually leaves him to go play a free safety role on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Compounding this, since the C position is usually played by Kendrick Perkins or Nick Collision, the Thunder are left playing virtually 3 on 5 with Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka. When 2 of 5 defenders are free to double team without repurcussions, it makes the offense disastrous. Read the rest of this entry »

Developing an NBA GMing strategy: Entrepreneur/Net Worth Theory

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One question defines the search of NBA GMs and backseat fans alike:

“What’s the best way to improve this team’s position going forward?”

Of course this appears a near answerless question. Or else we wouldn’t argue so much about it. But the easy answers are “be lucky” and “make good decisions.” Most concede the biggest common denominator on championship teams are superstar players. Superstars are usually acquired via draft which is luck heavy. Thus luck is the most inarguable dominant factor in making succesful teams.

But it’s not everything. Success is luck + good decisions. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ failure after drafting Lebron, among others, prove teams that draft superstars need to make good decisions to win. Furthermore even if you believe ‘tanking’ for superstars is the best way to go about succeeding, this fits under the strategic decisions umbrella and as a plausible answer for the ‘good way’. Though it’d only explain how to start a team, leaving the other half of our strategy empty.

Thus in search of our definitive NBA strategy, we turn back to the question ‘What’s the best way to improve this team’s position going forward’:

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The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Danger of Too Much Patience

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In a few short years the Oklahoma City Thunder have become the belle of the ball. With two superstars under 24 in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and other young talent like Jeff Green, Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor and Cole Aldrich they appear set for a decade of contention which has drawn the envy of most fans around the league

Just not this year. Oh they’re good. On pace for a 55 win season or so. But they lack a true interior defensive and rebounding presence. A few more playoff dependable veterans would help a playoff run too.

Sam Presti seems content with this not being the Thunder’s year. His mantra has always been looking at the future over the present and choosing draft picks and cap flexibility over expensive veterans – and that eventually players like Ibaka, Aldrich, and Harden will provide the interior defense and supporting scoring needed.

But should he give up on this year? Durant and Westbrook could be the best two guys on a championship team right now. They’re that good. To sacrifice a year of their primes is giving up a lot. Presti should double take on what he’s giving up. Years of possible contention with prime superstars is the scarcest of resources. Ask Jazz and Suns fans. You always want more.

The future could hold problems for the Thunder they presently avoid. Injuries could befall them like it has the Portland Trailblazers recently. The salary commitment to their young talent is about to balloon and squeeze their depth and flexibility. Increased salary means depreciated value to the supporting young guys and less expiring contracts to facilitate deals with – all their trade chips they’re loaded with now will disappear. Perhaps most importantly is the Miami Heat factor. The Heat are already dominating and have no PG, C or bench. The Heat with depth may make the 2012, 2013, and 2014 titles unattainable. Thus giving up on 2011 could end up a very regrettable decision for the Thunder.

The Thunder can make a contender right now by shopping Harden, Sefolosha, Ibaka, Aldrich, Maynor and picks for an interior defender and a veteran bench. Those are the final pieces and OKC easily has the chips to get them. Anderson Varejao is available. Nene Hilario will likely be if Melo is traded. Ben Gordon and Stephen Jackson are available. These are the players who can take them over the top. With big contracts they wouldn’t take much to get either – leaving young assets to spare for the Thunder

Tradeable young players differs the Thunder from teams like Utah and New Orleans. The Hornets and Jazz have had 50 win teams on the fringe of contention the last few years, but a lack of young assets and bad contracts and luxury tax issues in their place made trades difficult. If the Thunder wait too long they will find themselves in a similar situation. Their young assets will turn into paid veterans, unmoveable contracts will replace expirings. And the oppurtunity to make the leap won’t be there.

Thus the patience that has been their strength and calling card may end up their undoing.

Written by jr.

January 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm