Oklahoma@Miami, Lakers@Clippers: This much we know

April 5, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Four teams with realistic championship aspirations faced off against each other on Wednesday night with the NBA regular season finish line in sight.

Here’s what we learned.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Miami Heat.

@There are way too many hot, young women going out with old (rich) men in Miami. Man.

@My heart might want something different (I see you Chi-Town) but an OKC-Miami NBA Finals would be out of this world. The standard of play when both teams are on the floor is off the scale.

@Kevin Durant has acquired The Look.

@LeBron James-KD is the best player match up in the league by a long way. They play each other pretty much the entire game and guarantee the other a tough night, both offensively and defensively.

@OKC can be nasty when it needs to be. Between Ibaka, Perkins, Mohammed and Collison, the Thunder have four solid bodies who can dish out a hit and on Wednesday they did. Frequently. The game had more missed layups than any other I have watched this season and every one was down to players waiting for the crunch.

@If I was a Miami fan, I would worry about Chris Bosh. He was milk-carton missing on Wednesday night and wanted no part of a positively scary OKC frontline.

@On that note, OKC’s front line is the best in the league. Between Perkins, Ibaka and Durant the Thunder have everything you need to be a great team on both ends of the floor.

@If Shane Battier cannot consistently make the left corner three in the fourth quarter the Heat could be in big trouble.

@Eric Spoelstra must drink a lot of Red Bull prior to each game. He walks around a lot. (Could make a ‘he spends more time on the floor than Mike Miller’ joke here, but I won’t because I am all class.)

@There is no scarier defensive player in the League than Serge Ibaka.

@If OKC-Miami do meet in the Finals Mike Breen is going to need to take a deep breath.

@Mike Breen is the best announcer in the NBA and it’s not even close.

@James Harden is the slipperiest player the the league.

Los Angeles Lakers @ Los Angeles Clippers

@There are way too many hot, young women going out with old (rich) men in Los Angeles. Man.

@Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant. The ‘raise up’ wing three pointer he hits with alarming regularity is probably the toughest shot any player takes in the league and it is also probably the most demoralising for the opposition.

@Yes Blake, the dunks are nice. But they are still only worth two points.

@Pretty sure Vinny Del Negro pulls names out of a hat to pick his starters and their minutes.

@Chauncey Billups has some truly horrible ties.

@Andrew Bynum is the biggest and strongest player in the league. There is no one in the entire NBA who can play him one on one any more. He made DeAndre Jordan look like a 6-year-old on the low block.

@Blake Griffin looks lost in just about every half court set. Although to be fair, so would you if you had VDN teaching you.

@Randy Foye cannot play Kobe Bryant straight up. Who knew. Kobe was asked in his half time interview what he thought about the Clippers leaving Foye on an island. Kobe grinned and simply said in that situation ‘it’s just time to go to work’.

@Pau Gasol is the most skilled big man in the league. He is also the owner of the best stinkface. After Blake dunked on him a second time on Wednesday Pau gave a facial expression similar to the one given by a workman who arrives home to see his wife getting banged by an alligator. Amazing.

@A Clipper-Laker series would be fun, but the Lakers would win.

@Ramon Sessions is an upgrade over Derek Fisher in the same way that the animation in Toy Story is an upgrade over Steamboat Micky.


The Oklahoma City Thunder are only headed one way.

December 14, 2009

by Jack Maidment

When assessing the deemed quality of a team’s draft selections over the past 3 years, what do you look for?

Games won or individual points per game? Best plus/minus rating or perhaps how quickly a player ‘fits in’?

All of the above can play a part in guiding an evaluation but ultimately the single most important question regarding new players has to be: where are they headed?

The players drafted by already successful teams must fill a niche in order to be rewarded with playing time and if they are perceived to be unable to contribute, or if they happen to face superior talent at their position, they will not play, in which case the answer is brutal in its simplicity. No place fast.

Players drafted to losers face different problems, but problems all the same.

Expectations are usually a volatile mix of despair and ‘new dawn’ at the basement dwellers. If you were chosen in the lottery it is very much deemed your responsibility to resurrect a previously moribund franchise.

There are minutes to be had but there is no learning curve steeper.

Losing will become all too familiar and only the truly persistent, not to mention talented, will prevail through the storm of progress which will inevitably involve at least one loss of faith by the fans.

Vehemently believing that progress is being made and that the sunlight of the playoffs is not too far away is key, especially when the boos are raining down.

Every team not talking championship will churn out the same rhetoric at the start of every season, that the franchise is going in the right direction and that young players are gradually utilising their potential, but the conviction they have in every cliché that they speak can mostly be described as wavering at best.

There are very few teams in recent years to have prophecised a bright future and then actually gone about delivering one.

Only two spring to mind: the Portland Trailblazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Teams that have been as low as you can go, categorical rebuilders, that have drafted well and grown as a team over a number of years in steps that can be easily identified.

No empty promises and General Manager speak. Just empirical results.

In Brandon Roy and LeMarcus Aldridge the Blazers drafted two players in whose hands the future of a franchise could be safely placed and through cunning in successive drafts they have been able to surround their leaders with the kind of complementary players that enable 50 win seasons and playoff runs.

Crucially, the Blazers stuck to their strategy, maintaining their youthful vision even when the losses were piling up.

They acknowledged the importance of learning together rather than seeking veterans who could taint the mix.

They were thrown in at the deep end. Eventually they swam.

The future has arrived for the team once known as the Jailblazers: 3 years ago making the playoffs was a pipe dream, this year just making it there isn’t enough.

If ever there was a case of duplicated blue prints the Thunder have traveled the same road as Portland in pursuit of wins and a team to be proud of.

In recent times, no team has been under heavier reconstruction than the Zombie Sonics.

Where many teams have readjusted or retooled, the Thunder have entirely re-modeled, building from scratch a team capable of making noise in the years to come.

In a coincidental twist of fate the promise of a better tomorrow for the Thunder was heavily influenced by the actions of the team most like themselves.

By passing on Kevin Durant for Greg Oden the Blazers ensured OKC would have the centrepiece on which they could build.

Injuries have restricted Oden’s progress and the fact that the Blazers are as good as they are without him suggests that if he can get healthy for any stretch of time Portland could be Finals material

The fortunes of the man picked directly behind him could not be any more contrasting.

Durant has gone from highly touted prospect to potential MVP and best player in the game discussions within the space of 3 seasons.

A meteoric rise indeed.

The Thunder were simply in the right place at the right time to grab Durant: the stars aligned as they occasionally do and they took advantage.

Few teams will ever experience that kind of luck.

That is without taking into account the calibre of Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook who make up Oklahoma’s Holy Trinity, three players drafted a year apart with the realistic ability to drive the Thunder toward title contention.

Currently sitting at two games above .500, the Thunder stand a very real chance of making the playoffs, the next step on their path to possible greatness, despite being just a year removed from a 23-59 record.

Durant may receive the majority of the plaudits but the respect and admiration for his running mates is coming: there is a reason why Charles Barkley calls Westbrook a ‘stud’.

Generously listed as 6’3, Westbrook is as springy as they come, the product of hours of sand work and plyometrics. Quick as a cat and strong to boot the UCLA product will challenge Mr Paul and Mr Nash for best point guard honors in the years to come.

As for Green, the man is versatile. Playing on the wing or in the post the Georgetown alumni presents opposing forwards with the kind of match up problems that coaches love to hate.

It will be apparent soon enough whether James Harden, OKC’s newest young gun, will force the Three Amigos into the Fantastic Four but it is already clear that the shooting guard will be at worst a solid and effective offensive weapon. He can score. Consistently.

If he can find the next level in the NBA the Thunder will possess not only the youngest core in the League but also the most fearsome in terms of where they are collectively, and individually, destined.

Add projects like BJ Mullens and the rehabilitated Shaun Livingstone to the Thunder mix and the roster is clearly on its way toward strength in depth, a prerequisite for competing at the highest level.

The Blazers and Thunder are moving forward rapidly and they have their unwavering vision, and luck, to thank for it.

So where are they headed? The Finals eventually.

The difficulty is that they will have to through each other to get there.


NBA Rookie Ratings: James Harden Is Just What The Oklahoma City Thunder Need.

September 29, 2009

hardenby Jack Maidment

Carmelo Anthony, Ben Gordon, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, OJ Mayo.

What do all of these players have in common? All were taken 3rd overall in their respective Draft classes.

Look at the list and think about the amount of talent that has been sniffed at until 1 and 2 are done. Since 1997, with Chauncey Billups heading to the Boston Celtics, the 3rd pick has more often than not been a major addition to the NBA.

Every player taken third in the recent past has not exploded like those above, indeed their have been players who have failed to deliver on the promise that accompanies such a high draft choice: Adam Morrison, Darius Miles and Raef LaFrentz are proof of that.

However, certainly more often than not the guy going third has been fairly studly.

Enter this year’s Mr Number 3, James Harden, taken by the Oklahoma City Thunder with their first draft pick since moving from Seattle.

Harden enjoyed two extremely solid seasons while playing for Arizona State averaging 20 in his second year. Combine that with 5.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists and you have the epitome of an extremely solid and effective college player.

His numbers don’t scream ‘SUPERSTAR’ like Kevin Durant’s did after his one season playing in Texas. Nevertheless his stats certainly seem to justify his 3rd selection status.

However, the run of great players going at 3 does not welcome the solid numbers of Harden. If you go 3 you need something more. Billups? Arguably the best leader in the League (although admittedly it took him a while to get there). Anthony? Best scorer in the NBA. Williams? Tied best point guard in the L. Gordon? Mr End of Game. Gasol? 3rd best power forward in the NBA with more trophies than he can carry.

You get the idea.

So perhaps Harden will break the run of great 3rd picks with his solid, but not otherworldly skillset. But on a team that boasts Kevin Durant, who will be in the Best Player in the Game discussions after this year, the Thunder don’t need a star. Harden’s ability to get points will help dilute the scoring load that currently rests with Durant, Westbrook and Green. That’s 4 players who can all get 20 a night without too much fuss.

If Harden can fulfil that task for the Thunder, Oklahoma’s third pick will entirely have vindicated his selection.


NBA Trade Rumors: Boston, Houston and New York all interested in #2 Pick

June 9, 2009
ricky-rubio2 
 
by Jack Maidment
 
Despite the perceived weakness of the 2009 Draft Class, many teams are still keen to get their hands on the top picks for a shot at taking the player can usher in a new era of success for their franchise.

For some this means finding the building block on which to add other pieces, looking ahead at least 2 or 3 years before really contemplating playoff success.

For others, a top 5 pick represents the opportunity to add ‘the last piece’ to a team that is ‘almost there’.

It appears that the Los Angeles Clippers are dead set on Blake Griffin with relatively little chance of a trade taking him away from Clipperville.

However, the same certainty cannot be applied to the Memphis Grizzlies who hold the rights to pick #2.

News is beginning to circulate that at least three other teams are keen to trade for their chance to pick second overall when Ricky Rubio, Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden, Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry will all be available.

The Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets are two of the three teams apparently interested but with neither team possessing a first round pick this year they will have to rely on a personnel switch to persuade Memphis to part with their valuables.

The third team, which does have picks to play with and is rumoured to be interested, is the New York Knicks. Rumour or no rumour, it makes sense for the Knicks to trade up with the franchise desperate for a player to build around.

Ricky Rubio will undoubtedly be the Knicks’ target: a player capable of boosting the team’s performance and popularity as well as providing the player the perfect market in which his management want him placed.

If these rumours materialise into something more concrete it will be interesting to see what the #2 is worth:

The Celtics will be the team with the least options given the liklihood that they will want to preserve the Big 4. That leaves Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House and other bench players as Boston’s bargaining chips?

The Rockets could try and offload Tracy McGrady’s salary for the pick plus player(s) from Memphis?

As for the Knicks? Well they could offer just about anyone from their roster.

I like Rubio in New York


NBA Draft 2009: Top 10 Largely Picks Itself

May 26, 2009
Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

Stephen Curry fits the Knicks

by Jack Maidment

Why would you pick Blake Griffin with the #1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft?

The answers are two fold:

1. You get the only player ‘guaranteed’ to make an impact straight away a player destined for All-Star status sooner rather than later.

2. As a struggling franchise you draft the player that will sell the most season tickets through sheer weight of interest.

Now, both of these reasons are obvious and self explanatory. Yet it is with no surprise that we hear that the Clippers are listening to offers for their pick.

Such a rumour has started to grow pace as a result of one man’s actions: Ricky Rubio.

It could be argued that the DNA of this Draft class rests heavily on how the man from Spain decides to handle himself as the Big Night draws closer.

Rumours are rumours and their one constant is that they don’t have to hold an ounce of truth: they will still grow larger and gain more talk time. Whether Rubio will commit to the draft regardless of location could dictate the specifics for, at least, the other players in the top 10.

It is difficult to isolate Rubio because his decision will affect everyone making the first 10 picks largely difficult to predict. However, some should be sure things. Observe:

Barring trades and Clipper Madness, Blake Griffin will go first to Los Angeles. As Ron Burgundy would say, ‘that’s a given’.

If Rubio plays hard ball the Grizzlies will likely take Hasheem Thabeet for two reasons. Firstly, he should compliment Marc Gasol’s post game.

Secondly, Memphis couldn’t accommodate another perimeter player who needs the ball to be successful. They already have OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay to demand the rock and it can only be shared so much.

Ricky Rubio may well look attractive to the Thunder, but the bottom line is: could he play in the same backcourt as Russell Westbrook? No. Westbrook can play at the 2, but both want the ball in their hand. Conflict? Yep.

So who do Oklahoma take? James Harden, the best SG in this class would provide them with a perimeter threat who can go to the hoop and finish. A perfect compliment to Westbrook, Durant and Jeff Green.

The Sacramento Kings could be a viable alternative for Rubio who would get the reigns to the team and would sell tickets. But, whether he would mesh with Kevin Martin, the franchise’s main scorer and ball demander, is a tough question to resolve.

The Washington Wizards will likely take Jordan Hill who will bring toughness and heart to a front line which lacks fire. His offensive game may be far from polished, but the fact that the Wiz will have Arenas, Butler and Jamison, Hill wont be relied on for production anyway. Just clean the glass and hustle.

Hill seems like a lock for Wahington. He just makes sense. The same can not be said for the next two picks.

It would appear that the T-Wolves and the Warriors will take Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, but which way round does not scream out.

Nellie Ball would suit Jennings more but Monta Ellis might not be too keen. But, to be fair, he might not like the other option any better.

Tyreke is probably a better fit for the Wolves who can persist with Randy Foye at the 1.

It’s a tough call.

If he is still there, the New York Knicks will take the best shooter in the draft, Stephen Curry who should fit perfectly into Mike D’Antoni’s offense. That will be nice.

Toronto picks 9th and they will need to address their lack of backcourt power, probably by taking Demar DeRozan. A real slasher, he should fit nicely with Calderon and compliment the Raptors frontline perfectly.

Ramon Sessions’ contract demands will likely lead the Bucks to draft a PG in the shape of Jonny Flynn.

If Rubio pulls out then everything will change, with Jennings the one to benefit.

If he stays in the draft and Memphis or Oklahoma call his bluff, the landscape will change all over again.

It’s all on Rubio.