Preview & Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

Kurt —  February 10, 2009

NBA: NOV 07 Thunder at Jazz

Records: Lakers 41-9 (1st in the West) Thunder 13-38 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.5 (1st in league) Thunder 103.4 (27th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th in league) Thunder 109.4 (21st in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder Russell Westbrook, Kyle Weaver, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Jeff Green

Saving Adam Morrison: While the trade of Clipper killer Vladimir Radmanovic (did you see the game last night?) for Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown was primarily a salary cap move, it also has some possibilities for the Lakers. I haven’t seen much of Morrison this year, so I asked Anthony Macri (coach at IMG in Florida and writer for Basketball Prospectus) for his thoughts on Morrison.

1.) Morrison can make shots. He did not magically forget how to do so in between college and the NBA. I think so much of an individual’s success in the NBA depends very heavily on fit that it is pretty impossible to write a player off after one stop and a few bad years.

2.) The Triangle could be a great fit for Morrison. We will have to see if he “gets it”–if he understands how to operate in that offense. If he does, he could make an impact quickly just by making shots. Because the Triangle is at its best when the ball is shared via the pass and not pounded into the ground, Morrison will not be asked to dribble, but rather to pass, cut, and flash. He can operate out of the high post and from the key spot (the wing).

3.) I’m not sure he has to do much of anything, anyway. This is not the move to put the Lakers over the hump, it is insurance and roster-related (read salary move). It may turn out to be a pleasant surprise for Los Angeles, but if not, there is no real loss for the Lakers.

If there is one guy Adam Morrison should be excited about playing for, it is Phil Jackson. Not this year, because this year he’s going to wear a suit a lot and try to chat up the Laker Girls. But he is the kind of guy Jackson and his system can really help find a niche. Through it all, everyone still thinks Morrison could be a good NBA shooter. What he needs is confidence, the confidence that comes with success in the game. Jackson (and this is what Radmanovic never grasped) asks role players to fit in very tightly-defined roles for the team — but within that role is where you can succeed. The Lakers don’t want Sasha Vujacic as a playmaking PG — that’s not what he does well. But as an energy defender and guy who can spot up the three, he is good. So stick to those things your good at. That is how the Lakers got decent production out of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown — tightly defined roles. Jackson will eventually ask Morrison to do just what he is good at, but that may be something useful.

Quick thoughts: Thoughts on a few things today:

• This got brought up in the comments by Mark Sigal and I mentioned it as key at that other gig — Maybe the most impressive part of the road trip was the start of the Fourth Quarter against Cleveland. The Lakers had battled back in the third quarter and were up five to start the fourth. Phil Jackson did what he does every game and played four bench players with Pau Gasol. The Cavaliers, in a little bit of a panic, played LeBron James, Mo Williams and their best lineup. It didn’t matter, the Lakers pulled away — stretching the lead to 10 and holding it there until halfway through the quarter when the starters returned. The Lakers bench was better than the Cavaliers starters, because they had a plan and stuck with their system even under pressure. Last season’s Lakers did not always do that.

• Derek Fisher has a new Web site up that is worth checking out.

• About Jamie being eliminated from Top Chef, it took me a few days to get over it, but she screwed up and had it coming. Forced out of her comfort zone, she floundered. What can be frustrating about that show is to watch someone like Leah coast through. She is not going to win, better chefs than her have been eliminated, but because she plays it safe she never gets in too much trouble. She doesn’t win, she just tries not to lose. Jamie had a chance to win it, now it’s just Stephan. Really, if he doesn’t win it that will be a miscarriage of justice.

• My latest idea for improving FB&G: Bacon!

The Thunder Coming In: Oklahoma City has actually been playing pretty well of late, having gone 5-5 in their last 10 games. What’s more, if you watch them, this is no fluke. This is a team that is young, but in a couple of years (with some smart drafts) could be very good.

Leading the way is Kevin Durant, who has been playing All Star level basketball. Let’s let the Daily Thunder take it from there

In December, Durant mounted an impressive stat line: 25.1 points and 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 6.5 free throw attempts per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from behind the arc. Then in January, he showed it was no fluke, notching 27.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 8.7 free throw attempts per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and 39.6 percent from deep.

The Thunder also have been getting solid play the last 10 games from Jeff Green, who is shooting 56.4% eFG% and 47% from three in that span. Also, Russell Westbrook is showing why some of us fell in love with his game at UCLA. How about some David Thorpe on Westbrook:

As I’ve written before, one of the things I love about Westbrook is his willingness to get things done in the paint, usually crashing for offensive rebounds and finishing in transition. But now he’s more comfortable getting inside in other ways.

He’s been using his explosive crossover or hesitation dribble move to get in the paint, where he lowers his hips and drives right through defenders. And sometimes he uses his length and strength to back guys down in the post. In other words, he’s become a nightmare matchup — he’s too quick for shooting guards to stay in front of when he’s matched up with them, and he’s too powerful for point guards to stop.

He’s averaged 18.8 ppg in his last five games, with 5.4 boards and 4.4 assists. He’s No. 5 in PER for all rookies, and No. 1 for guards and for rookies playing 30-plus minutes a game. Imagine what he’ll be like when he improves his outside shooting.

Keys To The Game: It sounds like a broken record, but here goes — they key to this game is in the paint, and the Lakers should pound the ball there. Nobody on the Thunder can stop Gasol or Odom on the block, the Lakers need to establish that and other things will open up. Also, to counter their size issues, the Thunder are willing to front the post — the Lakers have struggled with this when they don’t rotate the ball quickly. If there is fronting the ball has to be reversed to the weak side, and things will open up.

It’s an interesting case because while the Thunder are smaller along the front line (6-9 is the tallest the starters go) they are a good team on the boards, at both ends. They scrap. Giving up offensive boards is one of he flaws for the Lakers (they are tied for 17th in the league). The Lakers need to be focused, particularly on the defensive glass, not to give up the easy second chance points.

Easy baskets are the way the Thunder can hang in this, which brings us to transition defense. The Thunder do not play at a fast pace but Westbrook and Watson are good in transition, and Durant can close in the open court. The Lakers simply have to get back and take this away.

If the Lakers can take away transition, what they will find is a young team that wants to “out athlete” you in the half court, sort of 90s isolation basketball not a lot of consistent team play. Force them to execute in the half court, play good help defense and you can stymie this team.

However, the Lakers, particularly the bench, should be able to get points in transition and run on the Thunder.

Personally, I want to see the Lakers crush this team because I’m not over the Seattle thing yet.

Where you can watch: Back home, it’s a 7:30 start out West on Fox Sports and online at your favorite locations.


236 responses to Preview & Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

  1. I just watched the ending off the Cavs/Pacers game. Too bogus calls, I can’t believe either one of those fouls were called. At least Granger got the same call that Lebron did, otherwise the Pacers would have had a legitimate complaint to make.

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  2. I’m going to resist defending Simmons here because 1) that’s all I seem to do around here, and 2) he didn’t really put any effort into this piece (usually if I get 3 laughs I’m satified, but this was kind of flat). The comment that his ESPN Mag articles are worse than his columns is definitely true (he’s also writing a book on the NBA right now, so he probably mailed this in).

    Just remember that for hardcore fans (Simmons is one, believe me) it’s hard to let go of old grudges sometimes. Colorado, Shaq (if you’re not Phoenix), the ’06 Suns game — this stuff looms large still for some people. But if the Lakers/Kobe reach that next level, even the “haters” will come around to respect.

    To people who dislike you, you’re always a ball hog/soft team/pretender/overrated until the moment you’re not.

    …Of course at that point we’ll be blessed with more championships, so we won’t care about approval. So I guess why stress?

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  3. 184) “Kobe has a mentality and drive that Lebron seems to be lacking. He has the killer instinct, but more importantly, Kobe has the killer desire and abilities”

    I don’t think it is fair to say that about LeBron yet. Too often, when comparing Kobe and LeBron, we forget the extreme difference in experience between the two. That is actually a tribute to LeBron, because he is so good at this age. And he has shown a steady improvement in his game from year-to-year, so he is obviously working on his weakpoints.

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  4. 141) ‘If you accidentally puke on the man you’re guarding is that a normal foul or a technical?”

    That depends on intent. Was it just incidental puking, or did the player puke for the head?

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  5. 108) Brian
    “He may be the most dominant athlete to ever play in the NBA to date. ”

    Three words:
    Wilt Chamber Lain

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  6. I’m all for healthy debate, but I feel the Lebron v. Kobe discussion just goes in circles and circles. People have their guy and their opinion and can use a litany of stats and examples to make the argument that one is better than the other. I could really care less, I just want the Lakers to win the title, but I’ll take a win against Utah tonight.

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  7. 198

    1. There’s a huge difference between affinity and bias. I’ve got an “affinity” for apples and not for cherries, but I don’t go around claiming the former can cure cancer and the latter are poisonous.
    2. You’re just proving what Simmons said: for many fans (and it seems you’re one of them), if you’re not showing an unconditional love for a player/team, then you’re a hater. “Hate” is a big word, people. Hater is someone who calls Kobe rapist, who shuts down every discussion with “MJ was better”, whose main argument is “ball-hog”, not someone who prefers what LBJ did in MSG to what Kobe did. Affinities and support should not make us blind.
    3. OK, I withdraw word “worthless”. I’ll quote Darius: “I think we should all just take anything Simmons says about Kobe or the Lakers and just let it slide. Regardless of what he says, he has an agenda. I like Simmons and read what he puts out there because on general basketball stuff, he usually offers a very informed and intelligent opinion.” So for Darius himself there’s a difference between Simmons wih and without an agenda. Well, that’s exactly what I’m saying, right? We prefer to listen to people without one, and if they have it we should just “let it slide”. And here comes my question again: why is Boston fan’s agenda worse than our agenda? Why we shouldn’t let the things Kurt or Darius write slide, if we accept Darius’s reasoning?

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  8. #204:
    Killer instinct can only be learned up to a certain point. Beyond that, it needs to be programmed in from the start.

    Example, cats. They are not born learning how to hunt, they need to be taught by their mother before they leave her, or they have to learn on their own later in life. But whether they are taught as kittens or not, they all have an instinctual desire to pounce on small moving things–especially small moving things that squeak in terror. That part is hardwired into them. What to do after the pounce is what is learned.

    Similarly, Lebron may be able to learn how to do everything that Kobe can do, but he will never be so driven and determined that he plays with two injured fingers and stomach flu. Remember Lebron’s sprained finger injury?
    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=3150876

    Kobe’s willingness to do whatever it takes to win, no matter the cost to him or anyone aroudn him is a kind of mentality either is there or it’s not. You just can’ t learn that, any more than you can coach a payer taller.

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  9. JM,
    In regards to Simmons, what I’m really questioning is his claim of objectivity. In several of his points he talks about the ways that he has defended Kobe in the past or ways where he has shown a level of appreciation that would disqualify him from being a hater. My point is though, that when he admits that he lets his feelings about Kobe the person affect his thought process on Kobe the player, I think he loses the high ground of objectivity. This is exemplified by him making a moral judgement on Kobe’s reaction when he (Kobe) fell into Bynum and injured him. Simmons’ assertion that Kobe was more upset that the injury lessens his title chances (notice he implies Kobe’s chances and not the teams’ chances) than he was upset about his teammate clutching his knee in pain on the ground is a comment on Kobe the person that has crept into his analysis of Kobe the player. In the end, we can all not like any player…I was never too fond of Reggie Miller or Karl Malone. But I never had any dislike towards them as people, only as players. This led me to critique their games on the substance of their on court prowess and skill not on my dislike of who they were as people. I am not saying that Simmons is incapable of giving any praisd at all, because he obvioulsy is. But what I am saying is that when he lets these other judgements affect his basketball analysis he loses the objectivity he claims to have because those other thoughts will taint that objectivity.

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  10. What I think a lot of people forget is that Kobe has been involved the argument of Who is the Best Player since 2000, when it was between him and Shaq.

    It’s now 2009, and he’s still being out up against others. Yes, it’s true that LeBron is making strides, and not taking anything away from LeBron, but Kobe was 21 when this talk first started, and at 24, Kobe was ahead of where LeBron is. Only, people will only see that he played with Shaq.

    LeBron is impressive, but he has not done anything that Kobe hasn’t, and at 24, the only thing that is better than Kobe’s game at 24 is his physical advantage.

    I don’t know why I keep getting lured in to these discussions…..

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  11. Darius,

    Or the fact that Simmons states:

    “….his teammates stood around and watched him like movie extras. In 37 minutes, Kobe took 31 shots and another 20 free throws. He finished with three assists and no boards. He may as well have been playing by himself on one of those Pop-A-Shot machines.”

    but conveniently fails to mention that LeBron he took 1 more shot than Kobe, made 2 less, shot 1 less FT, and made 4 less. In a game that was close to the final minute. Couldn’t it be said that LeBron’s quest to match Kobe was a detriment to the Cavs? The Lakers crushed the Knicks by the 4th.

    I wonder if we would EVER see an article praising LeBron without having to bash Kobe.

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  12. 208) I don’t think you can say that yet about LeBron.

    From what I have observed (admittedly, I don’t watch him play that often), he does everything within his power to win games. He obviously works on his game in the offseason, because he has made improvements from year-to-year.

    I also don’t think that you can accurately compare injuries from one player to another, because one player played with an injury to a particular part of the body and another didn’t. We don’t know the impact a certain injury has to a certain player. And there are occasions when playing with an injury actually hurts your team, either because in the short term there are others (uninjured) who could do a better job, or because if you let something heal your long-term performance will improve. And there have been times when in my (non-medical professional) opinion it would have been better for Kobe to take a couple of days off.

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  13. Whether Kobe should take time off to heal his shooting hand or not can and has been discussed at length all over Laker blogs and forums. Playing with stomach flu is slightly different and the in my mind strongest argument for staying home that day would be that the other guys in the locker room with him were exposed to the stomach bug the moment he walked in.

    I think where we are disagreeing is that you think Lebron will develop this type of mentality over time, where as I think that if that was even possible, he would have already. Matter of fact, I don’t think it’s possible. It’s one of those things, like perfect pitch or lightning reflexes, that you either are born with, or you’re not.

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  14. JM,

    The fact that this is not my mother tongue got in the way of all I wanted to say… I’m not going to get into an argument with you, because clearly there’s no point to it. If you read carefully all the previous posts in this blog, although we try to be unbiased, most of us are biased towards one thing or the other regarding the Lakers. We try NOT to be, but we fail to succeed in that department.

    Now, Simmons writes for a sports mag and he still has the right to be biased… He doesn’t have the right to throw sand in people’s eyes, imho. Are you a Kobe hater? Then just assume it, period.

    And for a guy praising basketball fundamentals, Simmons praises LEBron way to much. His fundamentals are TERRIBLE… He’s as much of a ballhog as Kobe, but those drive and kick assists pad his stats enough just to make people go other way.

    Here in Europe, most people don’t like to watch any Cavs games (we only get one game per night on TV on my country, for example). Actually, as much as it kills me to say it, but I prefer to see the Celtic play rather than the Cavs. Set plays, sharing the ball, having some flow in their game. The Cavs are basically handing the ball to Lebron every possession and wait for him to drive and finish or drive and kick for the open three pointer. If every team played like them, NBA games would have as much TV ratings as an AND1 mix tape… All I’m saying.

    PS: I was angry when they gave Lebron the 2 FT’s but at least they made it up on the other end. Maybe the superstar status in the NBA is coming to an end (FINALLY!)?

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  15. JM – I’m a big Simmons fan and I take his Laker hatred with a grain of salt. It’s just one of those things that you knows that he brings to the table in his writing. He’s a Chowd – he can’t help himself.

    My problem with that The Mag piece is that he mailed it in (as others have pointed out). It was poorly thought out and even more poorly justified. I would have had rather he said “You know what – I do hate Kobe. Just like I hate everything else about the Lakers” and left it at that. And as has been pointed out – I had three *major* issues with what he wrote in the column: 1) the characterization of Kobe’s feelings when Bynum got hurt (which goes against everything Kobe has said about Byum in the last year), 2) the holding up of Larry Bird as the paragon of selfless, stats-ignoring play (when it’s fairly well-known that Bird tried to break scoring records at every arena he played in), and 3) the claim that Kobe’s 61 was bad for basketball, but Lebron’s 52 was all in the flow of the game (when LBJ took more total shots than Kobe did).

    You can chalk up #1 to his admitted dislike for Kobe, but #2 and #3 were not only disingenuous and intellectually dishonest, but also patently absurd.

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  16. exhelodrvr/#206 –

    But we’ve already seen an athlete of Wilt’s caliber in Shaq. I still don’t think we’ve ever seen an athlete like LBJ. He combines the quickness, agility, and explosiveness of a guard with the size and strength of a power forward.

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  17. 211.

    I don’t think that very many people were arguing that Kobe was better than Shaq during our 3-peat (and rightly so).

    As far as pure skills are concerned, Kobe was far superior at age 24 to where LeBron is at age 24, and Kobe’s on a different planet skill-wise right now.

    But the opposite is true when it comes to physical advantage, where LeBron at 24 is far superior to Kobe at 24, and now that Kobe has lost a step, is like a member of a different species.

    As far as accomplishments are concerned, it’s really hard to say who has really done more individually at age 24: number 2 player and finisher on three championship teams or single-handedly led a team to an ECF and a Finals? That’s a tough call.

    212.

    Personally, I’d take Kobe’s Garden game over LeBron’s. Forget the points total, 19-31 and 20-20 is ridiculous efficiency.

    Frankly, I think people make too much out of scoring being somehow an inherently selfish act. You can be just as selfish about getting assists (see Starbury) and rebounds (see LeBron’s last rebound in his MSG game). And there is even such a thing as a selfish triple-double (see Ricky Davis)

    It’s really not that complicated of a game. If you’re hot, you should shoot the ball.

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  18. 217.

    I would argue that Elgin Baylor’s physical/athletic/ball handling combo advantage was just as stark in his own era as Lebron’s is today.

    For the record, Elgin’s Peak Years:
    60-61: 34.8 ppg, 19.8 rpg, & 5.1 apg
    61-62: 38.3 ppg, 18.6 rpg, & 4.6 apg
    62-63: 34.0 ppg, 14.3 rpg, & 4.8 apg

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  19. Lakers/Jazz tonight! They really hate you guys! Check it out-

    http://www.jazzbots.com/web/2009/02/11/the-mentally-ill-lakers-fan/

    This is hilarious! I hope they kill you guys!

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  20. Sean P. you are totally on point!

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  21. Sean P,

    Go back and read articles and magazines from then, and you’ll see many of them have Kobe/Shaq either 1and/or 2. Not my opinion, that’s how it was. My point is Kobe has lasted through these conversations for 9 years.

    Making the ECF and Finals? That is not a tough call. Even if that is your logic, then they would be equal, at worst. Leading the Cavs to the Finals in a year that the East was woefully weak, is not a greater accomplishment than leading a team through the consensus toughest Conference ever, easily.

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  22. 219. Hilarious. Fans wouldn’t mind the bashing, as long as they keep away from Fish and/or the team. It’s something we can live with.

    Anyway, apparently Adam Morisson’s getting THE treatment right now:

    From the Yahoo Laker Page:

    “Adam Morrison told reporters that on his first day at the Lakers’ practice facility, he found a photo taped up to his locker, showing Morrison in tears from his final college game with Gonzaga.

    It was UCLA that eliminated Gonzaga from the 2006 NCAA tournament, so Morrison strongly suspected Lakers guard Jordan Farmar—who was on that UCLA team—as the culprit.

    “I knew I would get some flak for that coming back to L.A.,” said Morrison, traded with Shannon Brown to the Lakers from Charlotte for Vladimir Radmanovic. “But it’s all in good fun. I can’t say anything, because they won.”

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  23. the other Stephen February 11, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    in the end, whoever coined the name “Bron Bron” is a genius.

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  24. the other Stephen February 11, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    kind of makes me want to say “Brawny Brawny.”

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  25. If we hold on and have the best record, then Kobe should receive consideration towards winning another MVP. Yes we have more talented players and supporting casts than most, but he has just continued to excel (sp?) through it all this year. Winning 2 MVPs puts him more in line with other all time greats. Mailman has 2, Nash has 2, and I would rate #24 much higher on the all time best totem pole. Here’s hoping we win a title and he gets another MVP and a first Finals MVP.

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  26. 222.

    It would be helpful if you could cite some articles that say this. If this was so prevalent as you say, these should not be hard to find

    In lue of such, if one looks at MVP award shares, which is voted on by the media, one can see that Shaq finished higher than Kobe in all three of the 3-peat years:

    ’99-00: Shaq (1); Kobe (12)
    ’00-01: Shaq (3); Kobe (9)
    ’01-02: Shaq (3); Kobe (5)

    As far as Kobe v. LeBron is concerned, you are right in that Lebron has not beat any great teams in the playoffs (although Detroit’s team in ’06-07 was better than his own). Also, I was wrong in saying that LeBRon reach a an ECF and and Finals (well he did, but it was in the same year which is not what I was referring to), as I forgot that the Cavs played the C’s in the semi-finals last year.

    As far as your toughest conference ever reference, are you referring to last year? You certainly can’t be talking about our 3-peat years when the whole league was at its nadir. And if you are talking about last year, I don’t see how that is a relevant conversation to who has accomplished more by age 24.

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  27. Gr8 Scott,

    I think the door opened up around 3-4 weeks ago. Possibly after the X-mas game. Now, after this road trip, and us beating Boston, then Cleveland convincingly, and LeBron being anything but superhuman against us, the door is definitely open.

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  28. Sorry for bring up the Simmons article…

    I’ve concluded that LeBron/Kobe debates are like Burger King/Wendys.

    Some ppl LOVE the framebroiled goodness that is Burger King (LeBron) while a lot of ppl prefer the natural taste of the Wendy’s burgers along with the great deal of variety of the menu(i.e. baked potatoes, chili, frosty, etc.) (Kobe). Both are well respected, and both, on a good day, could arguably be as good as McDonalds (Jordan).

    However, McDonalds eventually had to change up its menu and diversify although Wendys has had a diverse menu from Day One, similar to Jordan’s use of his athleticism to his expansion of his shooting range and his evolving arsenal of moves.

    Now I’m hungry.

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  29. new post up on the Jazz

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  30. AFB, in LA the proper debate is In-N-Out vs Tommy’s 😉

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  31. Isn’t the Tommys vs. In-N-Out debate really a matter of how many beers you have had in the previous three hours. The more beers, the better Tommy’s chili burger sounds.

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  32. 231… duly noted 😉

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  33. AFB,

    Thanks for clearing all up this up for us.

    Harold, your comment at #175 could not have been more precise. So good, in fact, that I e-mailed it over to our buddy Henry at Truehoop. I’ve gotten feedback from him before, so I hope he responds to it again, considering his recent Anti-Laker streak. I will let you know if he has anything to say in response.

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  34. Brian,
    You referenced individual dominance. No one has come even close to WIlt in that category. Shaq was nowhere near as dominant as Wilt.

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  35. In-n-out all the way.

    End.

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