Monday, December 22, 2014

He's Holding On Too Tight...Lost the Edge...

At this point in the Thunder's season, the reality of the struggle to make the playoffs starts to sink in.

When we know we have a mountain to climb, a battle to fight...a marathon to run, but at least everybody's healthy.  Then, we start to drop a couple of games.  Games, that we were sure, or almost sure we should win.  ...And you remember that this team has only played together, as it is, for a few weeks now.  Passes flying off of hands, rebounds getting tipped, but not grabbed, more passes glancing off kneecaps, shots are missed, and Michael Cage says one more time, "That's timing, they'll get that worked out...".  The growed up bench and the superheroes aren't quite on the same page yet.  Then, just to piss you off and knock you off balance, they do share the ball like never before and guys that don't score, start scoring in a balanced fashion, and whoever we're playing sort of craps their's like a merry-go-round of insanity.

So, I sat down this morning with my coffee, and pondered why I'm a little worried, and worked on convincing myself that I shouldn't worry...except that didn't work.

I'm still a little worried...but also, excited at the same time.  This is what being a fan is all about. Crunch time, game time, the time to deliver what you get paid to do.  The only problem was that crunch time wasn't supposed to hit until February, or March, when we were a little behind schedule in our domination of the brick-house Western Conference.  Now we realize that we can't afford to have a game when a player "feels it" and gets it wrong.  We need the coaching staff, the starters, and the bench to all click like a well oiled machine.  Every day, every shot, every pass, every rebound, cut, pick, drive, formation...we can't go all drunk giraffe and cheetah on everyone like we've relied on in the past.

Kevin goes down with an ankle injury, and still isn't back...then the Mavs pick up Rondo, the Grizzlies rip up the Warriors, we lose to the Pelicans twice.

Yeah, I'm still a little worried...and this is a hard post.  The truth being that I'm not going all stats to back up what I'm thinking at the moment.  So, I'm running the risk of showing my 4-year old behind, wearing a captain's hat, trying to boss dad around while he's driving the boat.  That's why I don't write for ESPN.

So, after a long intro, that's probably shorter than my actual goes:

The coaching staff reworked our offense schemes this summer.  We've seen some of this, and we like it.  They reworked it again, after everybody and their wife got hurt.  We grimaced, but we won some games we could have lost, which made it ok.

Now Kevin and Russ are back, and they need to get back to doing what they do...right?

Except, for the fact that if we have truly increased our offensive efficiency and power on the bench, then the bench guys actually have to play, and shoot...right?

Nick and Serge don't have to shoot 3's anymore, we went and got Anthony Morrow to do that for us...right?

Jeremy and PJIII are growing up this year...right?

Reggie's in a contract year and should be tearing it up, if he wants his payday... right?

We've seen the Thunder, in their six game win streak, share the ball like they never have before.  That's because of two factors:  the bench has shown they can actually score, and the offense has guys moving, cutting, opening up a two man game, and getting layups in a much more efficient manner.  That's what excites me.

Was Kevin's 30 point first half a good thing?  Or did it lull everyone back into the sleep that Jeremy Lamb looks like he just woke up from when he's on the bench?  If KD's gonna have 60, then what do I have to do?  If Russell's gonna go all teleportation and Tasmanian Devil with a near triple double every night, what do I have to do?

The cuts are there, the shots are there, guys are open.  Reggie Jackson either misses Anthony Morrow in the corner when he drives underneath the basket, or he simply doesn't want to pass the ball to him.  Serge has become a tipper and bumbler of both passes and rebounds...(Just grab the damn ball!).

I think the Thunder are in a bit of an identity crisis, and I'll point it out now.  We are in the middle of changing some things, which spreads the offensive load around to a better balance.  Which is key, but The Thunder have to remember a couple of things...


We all hate the Spurs, right?  It's because it doesn't matter who's on the floor, they have an offensive system that doesn't depend on specific people being on the depends on specific roles being on the floor.  Those roles indicate the team chemistry because they can be supplied by Tim Duncan, or Tiago Splitter...Ginobili, Parker, or Leonard...they are interchangeable.  In the last 20 seconds of each quarter, you don't know who is gonna take the shot!?

If the Thunder can achieve a better balance, it will be because Kevin, Russell, and Reggie defer some of their opportunities in the short run, in order to let other players have that shot.  It will mean that Serge gets 60% of his points from 5 feet of the basket.  It will mean that Morrow has to take seven 3-pointers in order to have a game where he hits 5.  Right now, he's not getting the ball that much.  He's hit an off-screen curling 15-foot jumper in the last 3-4 games I've watched...and after he does, he never gets it again.

The only consistency I see right now, is the inability to know at the point guard position, whether we are going to score or pass.

I'm not knocking Russ, or Reggie...I'm simply pointing out that we have to know what we're doing.  If Reggie's running a play and the lane opens up...he may need to let that one go, in order to see something else.  We need to trade Kevin's 28 footers, and the Russ/Reggie rim attack, for more opportunities for alley oops to PJIII and Steven Adams.  "Opportunity Cost" means that you can get an assist on this possession, or 2 points...not both.  What are you looking to accomplish on this possession?  What are we looking to accomplish on this possession?

I am worried about Jackson and Russ, more than anyone else.  Here's why:  As a point guard, in high school, my job was to make sure the offense ran its course.  The offense provided shots...not me.  I was suppose to be able to see the points in the process for guys to get shots...and get them the ball.  I focused way too much on my own personal points, and it caused my team to be less than it could have been.   If I had thought more in abstract terms..."My job is get the lead from 5 to 10"...then I could figure out how to best do that.  If it's "cut the lead from 10 to 5", then my decisions are different, than just attacking every time.  There's more balance, more opportunity, more vision, more team basketball.

I love our scorers, and I don't mean to say we don't have roles...Nick knows his role, Perk knows his role.  But, the Thunder, as a team, have to approach every offensive possession as a mission to deconstruct the defense...not to showcase any one players ability to drain a three point shot from Tulsa, or to teleport past the defense for a layup.  Every move needs to have a larger reason behind it..."Drive the lane to draw 3 defenders into the paint...not to shoot...but to pull the defense IN...then do it again next possession, but kick it to Morrow, or Kevin." OR "Take a longer jumper because the guy is running off a screen and shoots 75% from the freethrow area...and PULL the defense OUT so that next possession, out of a pick-and-roll...Steven Adams hangs on the rim after cutting to an open lane".  I believe we start to run the offense a lot of times, but get bogged down in past habits when we drive the lane and think, "Man I got this guy, I'm gonna take it all the way"...somewhere in the process it breaks down before we get to the end-game we seek for a possession.

Chemistry and Opportunity.  The right mix for the right reason, at the right time, for the right person.

If that happens, The Thunder could be one of the best teams in the past 15 years.  They could destroy any team, if the skills of each player are balanced and utilized as a single tool to cut apart a defense.

That's my take.  I've said nothing on defense...that comes and goes...The Thunder will work hard on defense every game and every practice...we just need to see the offensive end become a place where hard work connects with talent while connecting with a solid overall strategy.

The coaches have to do their part, and I believe they have.  At times this season, we've gotten layups, dunks and 3's whenever we wanted, and the game was easy when that just can't hold on too tight personally.

Otherwise, it's just Rucker Park with a uniform on.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.

Had I written this last week, as I was supposed to, it would be much more relevant...since I've read several articles along the same lines.  However, that's why I'm a hobby blogger and not a real analyst...;)

The Staples "Easy" Button was quickly replaced by the "Panic" button early this season.  The red phone was picked up, Batman was called, and Ish Smith arrived in a flash.  

Which is a typical Thunder move, grabbing a player that nobody's heard of, and has no real upside that screams "pick me up".  Except...when we picked him up, I went through his numbers and saw that he had .9 turnovers per game...and I stopped right there.

That's why we love to hate the love we have for the Thunder, Presti and Brooks, the whole gang...always making strategic long term moves, and never going for the shiny on sale trinkets sold at the register.

Hand held firmly on the Panic button, we all searched for the silver lining, which has been pointed out several times over this past week.  I'll shortcut most of the blah blah part of the sports writers ability to write, and jump straight to the point.

Here's my version of the silver lining:

- Our second team has had to play against starters, and have been in most of the games they've played.

- With a full roster coming back, most all of those players have increased their ability to make plays, and to score.

Leading to...

- Many of those players will be coming off the bench, and not playing against starting defenses, but 2nd team defenses, which should increase their overall offensive efficiency.

For instance, last year, according to my calculations, the Thunder averaged around 11.6 points off the bench (

This season the bench players have increased their scoring averages, from last year, to date by the following:

Serge Ibaka0.7
Reggie Jackson6.4
Jeremy Lamb3.5
Kendrick Perkins1.5
Nick Collison0.4
Steven Adams4.8
Perry Jones11.5
Andre Roberson2.9

Which adds up to 20.2 points per game.  PJIII's points obviously are over-weighted with the missed games, Lance Thomas (6.1 ppg) and Anthony Morrow (11.4) push that total up to 37.7...which is quite a nice total.

Have you ever been in a basketball game, playing against players you know are better than you, and everyone on the floor is looking at you to score?

Our second team has...

Now, obviously with minutes being taken away, offensive efficiency will go down for these players. However, taking into account that they will also be playing against bench players, the reduction in efficiency will be somewhat offset.  

In short, our bench has learned how to go out there and play the game like Kevin and Russ don't exist. While their offensive time, and points will go down, there's a solid chance that they've learned that ball movement remains the key to scoring points, and our 2nd team could jump up to the one of the best benches in the NBA.

The final point, which may be the most important...without Kevin and Russ, the Thunder were 3rd in Defense in the NBA, allowing around 93 points per game.  

If they keep up the defensive intensity, and the bench continues to produce more points than they did last year, the Thunder will will look much like the Spurs...

But...with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

One game at a time.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Attachment Factor

One thing we Oklahomans rarely get an opportunity to realize, is our attachment to athletes within the state.

We have two to three primary colleges, (if you count Tulsa), and some minor league teams in baseball, football, etc.  We have had the ability to enjoy our college athletes for a few years, and then watch them as some of them move on to the NBA, NFL, or other sport.  Dez Bryant, DiMarco Murray, Adrian Peterson, Marcus Smart...all came up through the ranks of Oklahoma colleges, but the attachment of fans to these athletes occurs at the professional level, whether its the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, or St. Louis Cardinals (Matt Holliday).

Yet, our life in the NBA can still be reckoned as being relatively young for Oklahoma City.  

We love our Thunder players.  We are attached to most of them.  Even the ones we don't like, often seem to have a soft side, or up side that helps keep an off court attachment from fans to players.  

For instance, all the commercials we've seen for decades about the NBA helping out in the community...weren't quite as real (at least to me).  Most of us know that the NBA, NFL, and MLB retain the rights to athlete's for use in league promotional commercials and initiatives.  But, honestly, knowing that somehow made it part of a job, to me, rather than seeing the attachment of the athletes to the cities, people, and kids of their home teams.

The tornadoes in Oklahoma last year, changed much of that,  for me, along with my wife working at OU Children's Hospital.  The Moore tornado surely took the mojority of media attention, but there were efforts around the state as well, showing a presence of the NBA players' commitments to Oklahoma.  The team showed up to help, Football coaches showed up to help, and above it all were transplants in OKC opening their wallets, to the tune of millions, to help a hurting people.

It was touching...allergy inducing touching to most male-kinds.  

I was particularly attached to Thabo Sefalosha.  Thabo wasn't the most high profile player in OKC, over the past few years, but was a solid Thunder player that fit in with the family.  He knew his role, and worked incredibly hard to perform his best....on and off the court.  

Thabo gave his time and money to The Children's Hospital Foundation, YouthServices of Oklahoma County, and also Feed The Children, while in Oklahoma City as part of the Thunder.  

This presents a picture of a family man, that worked with the privileged life of an NBA player, with more financial resources than the average person...engaging his family into bettering the life of children here in Oklahoma.  

My favorite part of his participation?  He was a non-political advocate for the future of our state.  He didn't get embroiled in the many discussions and debates about how our state manages its affairs.  Instead, he simply used his personage, influence, and money to provide assistance to charitable organizations that bettered the children of our fine state.  

What a stand up guy...  What a stand up family.  I don't think his wife gets enough credit for being part of Thabo's time in OKC.  We should be truly grateful for the grace and love given by this family during their time here.  

But...  The NBA remains a business, and as Thunder fans, we must split the difference between loving our players, and knowing which ones may not be here next year.  In fact, we split the difference three ways, at times, loving the team, liking some players, and disliking others...  I've been guilty, as most of us have, of making statements like "you have got to get him off the floor, he's killing us!" [referring to Thabo].  

That's what makes having an NBA team fun, frustrating and exhilirating.  

I've heard it said that sports is the only truly unscripted reality television left.  Perhaps mixing NBA sports at the highest level, and Oklahoma's rabid dedication to college athletics, has created the perfect storm of a home for the Thunder. (pun intended)

And yet...Collision gets older every year.  Fisher didn't become an assistant, he became a head coach for another team.  Hasheem Thabeet's awesome antics and bench leading cheer section....[pause for a minute...who doesn't love it when he gets in a game and throws a shot up into Loud City?!], can't last forever.  And really, who doesn't want to see the untamed force of hooptology combine with the Sheep, or PJ3 for a backboard rattling alley oop?  We yearn to see the potential become reality for our younger players and their time on court with Russ and KD.

Nothing gold can stay.

We've encountered an attachment factor the likes we've never seen before.  College athlete's are here for a few years, Oklahoma knows that system...and we've prepared ourselves for watching them move on...

But I wasn't ready to let Thabo go, as a dude.  As a player, I knew his time was up...after coming back from his mid-season injuy, his defense slowed a bit, and his shot was horrible.   Not rocket science, when you know his contract is coming up.  


I want a good player, but I also have gotten to know the man, from a distance...quietly supporting organizations out of our spotlight...not a hero...not a savior...just a family giving back.  

Man I'm gonna miss him.  He's a class act.  I offered my services to help him with his jumpshot a bit, but perhaps my rates were too high.  

As we talk about getting free-agents, and building around our solid foundation...We do so in a league where, over the years, Shaq left a dominate team, Dwight Howard fled to brighter opportunities, LeBron goes back home, Garnett wins a championship by leaving the Northern Heartland for Bean City.  

Nothing gold can stay...  

I say be attached, and excited, and maybe we get so see some players be successful outside of OKC as we journey towards our ultimate goal.

Funny, though, how something as silly as an NBA team, can show us how our hearts sometimes get attached to things we never intended...and that the age old truth, "no risk, no reward", still holds true...I don't plan on becoming un-attached to any Thunder players anytime has already opened my eyes to a few great guys and families that Oklahoma is very privileged to have known.

Stay golden Thabo.