As we head into March, after seeing a few games with what we can term the "new guys", I figured it's time for a little reflection, introduction, and prognostication. Let's begin with some numbers:
- Wear clean underwear son, you never know when you're gonna get your face bashed in. Russell Westbrook, zygomatic arch fracture. At least 1 game, probably 2-4.
- Keep all hands and feet inside of the car at all times (Part I). 2, the number of fingers broken, requiring surgery, from something as simple as a rebound...it only takes one, and bam. Russell Westbrook 14 games, Steven Adams...still counting.
- Keep all hands... (Part II). Keep your feet healthy, two pair of socks, keep 'em clean, you lose your feet, we've lost you (loosely translated quote from US captain in Vietnam). Kevin Durant, with a Jones fracture (whatever the hell that is...), Andrew Roberson, and Mitch McGary. I've quit keeping track...
- It's all in the hips...Kanter, 1 game, Mitch McGary.
- Knee-knockers are a killer. Perry Jones.
- Bam, one man appendicitis outbreak. Steven Novak. Out Indefinitely
Then January happened, and the Thunder went 7-7. Which, made most everybody freak out. What a hard month. But was it really? If you think about it, when a team transitions from a tough opening to getting on to it's winning ways, there's a spot in the performance regression line that stops the negative slope, evens out, and then trends into a positive sloping arc. That is, unless you just have a point where everything starts working perfectly, then it's just a point, a nice V...which, like much math, doesn't represent the real world. In January, the Thunder righted a lot of wrongs, and did a lot of right things, but lost some games. Not to overlook the fact that they also looked incredibly painful in some games, dropping losses to teams which they had no business losing. They were working through a new offense, as well as getting together with new personnel on the floor (back from injuries, and new peoples like Morrow and Waiters). Realistically, it takes time, like bringing on a new mechanic in an auto shop, or a new teacher into a school system. There will be undoubtedly two things: 1. Nice things they can already do, that's why you hired them, and 2. A transition period where they put things like a wrench in the wrong place, or say The Pledge of Allegiance in the morning rather than lunch time...a blending of chemistry shall we say. The Thunder didn't really lose ground in January, as much as tread water at an inconvenient time for fans.
February rolls along. Westbrook just completed the second best month of basketball in history, along with Oscar Robinson, averaging 31pts, 9rebs, and 10ast per game. He also strung together 3 straight triple doubles, which most recently was accomplished by King James in 2009. And we all felt something strangely amiss as the rumors grew more loudly and we realized the truth of the rumbles about someone in the locker room not being happy. (I'm going to take the high road with Reggie, against my better judgement, because he was a heck of a Thunder asset for his time here.) Which made us all incredibly nervous, as we've seen teams like the Lakers, and Heat, have non-blending chemistry with a slew of All-Stars make awkwardly faltering runs into the playoffs. Then the new guys got here...let's meet them real quick.
Enes Kanter: Coming out of a somewhat similar situation as Reggie, which we should keep in mind...he was not happy in Utah. Born in Switzerland, but is really Turkish...like Thabo, who was Swiss, but French. Serge, who's Congolese, but speaks French mostly, and plays for Spain... (where do we find these guys...)
- In the league 4 years, counting this one.
- Played in Europe
- Averaged 7.5 rebounds and 12 pts last year.
- Averaging 9 rebounds and 15.8 points through 4 games.
Bottom Line: He's happy to be here, more umph, on both offense and defense (averaging 1.5 more fouls shows some effort on defense). Plus...and I mean a big plus, Russ likes him. The team likes him.
DJ Augustin: Played with KD in Texas, the key being that they were tight. Meaning a couple of things: 1. DJ wasn't a trouble maker, and worked hard...2 things KD doesn't put up with. Journeyman: Charlotte, Indiana, Toronto, Chicago, and Detriot. He's been around (on teams that didn't make the playoffs), and seems quickly to be very happy to be with KD and the rest of the guys.
- In the league 6 years.
- Played with KD in Texas.
- Averaged more than 2 turnovers only 1 season...guys got handles and he's a true point guard.
- 88% FT shooter for the past two seasons
- Shot 40% from 3 last year...which is better than Daequan Cook and Kevin Martin...when they were here.
Kyle Singler: Love to hate Blue Devils, until they get in the NBA, a few things about a Dukie: 1. Smart, high basketball IQ. 2. Hard worker. 3. Always fundamentally sound. Been with Detroit his whole career thus far.
- Only been in the NBA 2 years, he's still growing. On the high side, could always wake up and bloom into a less attractive Gordon Heyward.
- Increased 3 point shooting from 35% - 37% to 40% for the Thunder, over past 2.5 years. For a new guy in the league, from Duke...that's a great sign.
- Still learning the game, but will pick it up quicker than the average bear...you just don't get into Duke or Stanford because you can play ball...(which on another note, is why I secretly hate all people named Lopez in the NBA...smart players are always dangerous players, I.E. Nick the Brick Collision).
Steve Novak: Every trade has one...the player to be named later. However, Novak's a great pickup. Journeyman like Augustin, brings veteran experience and NBA Dad of the Year type stuff to the Thunder (read the Twittersphere...funny guy, family guy). Played with Houston, L.A., Dallas, San Antinio, and subbed in for the Yankees once or twice.
- 8 year veteran, brings some age and maturity to the locker room, level head, all around strong moral leader type...follows and sets an example.
- Has shot below 45% from 3 pt range only once in past four years. We've not seen this yet, and with the appendectomy, I'm guessing we might not...with the recovery and the fact that we have a roster spot problem.
Back to the Season...
In February, the Thunder went 9-3. Interesing. We all had a our radiation gear on, heading for the fallout shelter, with our Scott Brooks effigies bounding on poles, ready to burn them and hire Kelvin Samson...Not really, I just wanted to see what you'd say. But...we were doing some serious beer drinking round table discussing, stomping, and huffing. However...
- The Thunder lost 3 games by a total of 10 points...(3 Pelicans, 4 Phoenix, and 3 Blazers)...each of them having a shot at the end of the game to tie...or having made the shot and went to OT like the Suns. Previous 4 losses in January, were by 11, 8, 10, 10..so something was changing.
The arc has definitely started to go up. The Thunder didn't break 100 points in their last 5 games of January, bottoming out at 74 total points against the Griz, on their last January date.
- They didn't go a game without scoring 100 points in February.
Arc = Up.
Now...8 away games left, all winnable...although there are some tough ones, San Antionio, Grizzlies, Dalllas (depends on the Mavs doesn't it), and back to the Suns. 14 home games left...I like that.
If we can get healthy. Which appears to be the major challenge of this team this year. The Thunder own the 8th spot in the standings, and with the season's draw improving, we should be able to realize that we are now in the best part of "The Long Haul" that was laid out in December.
Scottsters tips for avoiding injuries:
- No more rebounds, definitely too dangerous on the fingers.
- Roberson doesn't get to play. You bash in a teammates face, you don't play, simple rule.
- Space Boots...it's the next wave of NBA footwear. Forget the Jumping Man Jordans...we want Clod Hopping Power Ball.
Tips for finishing the season strong:
- Defense. Dang, it is true, whether I like it or not, Defense wins games...particularly at the beginning and end of games.
- Russell has to continue his pace of stat devastation, all while learning to pass the ball in crunch time, and making sure that he stays healthy in his space boots. This is difficult, because after stopping a robbery, delivering a baby, and inventing cold fusion while putting up a triple double the last 3 games, two of them were arguably at the cost of the win at the very end...so to be clear: Russ has to be Russ, but, in crunch time, that's the time to use the Defense's overplay on you, to make your team mates better...which is not all on Russ.
- The rest of the team on the floor has to stop being Michael Jackson with popcorn reading comments in crunch time. It is not the Russell Westbrook show, no matter what the stat sheet says. Two of the games we lost in February involved Russell missing a shot at the rim as time was running out. Triple double Russ needs one more assist to [insert ANYBODY THAT CAN MOVE TO THE BASKET] for a quick dish, catch, and score. Even Big Dog could do that sometimes...improve movement to the basket late, improve catching, and dunking. This is when Dunks are important...crunch time. Far less dunks are missed when getting an open look in crunch time (with an impending foul), than shots. Get the real "And One" and stop just shouting it out loud.
- Slim Reaper...gotta have you, whether you like the nickname or not. We have absolutely got to get The K-D on the floor doing K-D stuff.
- I hate to say it, cuz, I hate to dis people, but some things have to be said, and you can like somebody and dislike them at the same time...which is confusing, and hard, and some people don't like it, it's easier to just like or not like someone...(I'm doing that thing again where my wife yells "JUST TELL ME").
Michael Cage has got to go.
It is a key to the Thunder winning...we cannot be the Super Fans we need to be to help this team push into the playoffs, with our ears bleeding from the Matt Pinto like pace, and Captain Obvious anecdotes. There can be only one Matt Pinto, who can describe a transition bucket while telling you how many assists it is, this year, as opposed to last year, how many dunks that was for a player's career, what Roberson's grades were, and Russell's fiancee's dinner menu for the rest of the week, all in stride before the ball falls out of the net.
Live Long and Prosper (AND ONE!) Said Spock, Never.
Shouts out to Leonard Spock McCoy, Earl Lloyd, and Anthony The Brick Mason, you all had lives that people appreciated and valued...RIP gentlemen.