The Oklahoma City Thunder are Knocking

March 6, 2010

by Jack Maidment

Their final season in Seattle? They finished 20-62. Not good.

Their first season in Oklahoma? 23-59. Better, but still downright filthy.

People acknowledged that the Oklahoma City Thunder were heading one way and one way only a little while ago, but even so, their improvement this year can only be seen as a major surprise.

Currently sitting 12 games above .500, the Oklahoma City Thunder have come a long way.

Are they reliant on Kevin Durant?

Absolutely, but so would you be if your team had a player as good and as potentially great, actually great, as Durant.

He is 21 years of age, the leader of an NBA franchise and the finest pure 3 in the game.

Is Carmelo Anthony better offensively?

By a wafer, yes.

But given his age his all round game and his length, Durant is the man you take if you’re starting a franchise from scratch tomorrow.

And that is not easy to say.

Carmelo possesses the finest combination of being able to score and being able to score in a variety of ways.

LeBron is power.

Carmelo is finesse. But crucially he can be power personified.

The point, is Durant will reach the same stage.

When his jumper gets some polish and his post game improves there will be no question. And then there will only be one for KD to aim for.

To only associate the Thunder with the Texas Longhorn does a major disservice to Russell Westbrook whose development and contribution have been overshadowed by his team mates’ scoring streak.

But. Without Westbrook, and for that matter Jeff Green, the Thunder would not be experiencing the rush toward the top of the West that they find themselves in.

They are seeded 6th in the West with the 9th seed Memphis 5 games behind.

The Thunder seem a lock for the post season which will provide Durant and co another chance to show just how far they’ve come.

And how far they are planning to go.


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.


NBA Draft 2009: Ricky Rubio Wants LA Clippers Or Nothing?

May 22, 2009
Dollars or Euros next year?

Dollars or Euros next year?

by Jack Maidment

Making it to the League is the objective right? That’s pretty damn exciting. Getting paid to do something you love? Sign me up.

The opportunity to get drafted is such a huge opportunity that where you play is kind of a foot note. However, Ricky Rubio, having already played pro ball in Europe since he was 5, is apparently less than thrilled at the prospect of relocating to Memphis. Or Oklahoma.

So, while everyone else focuses on improving their draft stock, thus their wages, just being excited by the start of their NBA career, Rubio is busy scheming. Or at least his agent is.
“I’m drafted? Sick! Where to?”

“Oklahoma City”

“Oh. Ok. You know what, I’m good in Spain. I’ll check you next year.”

Apparently, Rubio wants LA. Or Sacramento at a push. Otherwise he is not interested.

The extent to which this is BS is clearly up for discussion, but it does ask a number of questions.

For 95% of the players in the Draft, this is the first chance they have to get paid to play. However, Brandon Jennings and Rubio are used to the sweet smell of Euros in their pockets.

This effectively means that the allure of the NBA is strictly based on playing experience rather than building an impressive bank balance.

They already got money AND a nice place to live.

Let’s be fair. If you had your choice of Rome and Barcelona or Oklahoma City which would you choose? Likely you would be booking your tickets to Europe straight away.

The fact is that truly elite athletes have a luxury that everyone else does not. The freedom to choose. They get their own way or, well, no, they just get their own way.

Kobe Bryant is rumoured to hold a no-trade clause in his contract. The only difference is that Rubio has not made it in America yet. It’s the same situation.

Now clearly Rubio is not Kobe, LeBron or Wade, but he has experienced enough success to stamp his feet a little if he feels it.

This throws in another variable in player’s decisions.

Do you want a good team to draft you so that you win straight away with sparce playing time?

Or a bad team with lots of time and lots of losing?

Or the team doesn’t matter at all, just location.

Luckily, the majority of Draftees do not have the sort of power that Rubio possesses, so they will go where they are told and be grateful for it.

The real difficulty for Rubio is that the likelihood of a ‘good’ location is fairly slim. And if he holds out and calls Memphis’s bluff, his reputation takes a huge hit.

If the Grizzlies or the Thunder stand firm and draft him but he returns to Spain, boy does the NBA look silly.

If it turns out to be lies, or not, Rubio can likely expect a loud welcome whatever.

Probably boos and jeers.


Good Times in Los Angeles: Lakers Survive Nuggets, Clippers Get Lucky

May 20, 2009
Jennings is Flashy

Jennings is Flashy

by Jack Maidment

One night. Two major stories.

Firstly, the LA Lakers recovered from an early hole to take game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against a Denver Nuggets team which threatened to steal home court all night long on the back of a lights out shooting performance from Carmelo Anthony.

Secondly, LA’s ‘Other Team’, the Clippers, lucked out and obtained the right to pick first in the eagerly anticipated NBA Draft.

Both events promised shocks and surprises and neither disappointed.

For the most part the Lakers were out played by a fired up Denver team who raced out to an early lead before the Lake Show’s bench dragged themselves back into it.

To be honest I’m not sure how Denver lost this game and George Karl’s face told the story at the final buzzer as his side ended the game 2 points down thanks to a Trevor Ariza steal, Kobe Bryant’s 4th quarter scoring outburst and Derek Fisher’s series of crucial big shots.

But lose they did and despite the hit that their playoff momentum took last night, at least the Nuggets know they can take this Laker team to the edge. A sweep this will not be.

The other half of LA joined the victory celebrations as the Clippers snatched the number 1 pick from the other hopefuls.

Hope for the re-birth of a long moribund franchise has been rekindled as the Clips won the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes.

The speculation now focuses on how the ‘Craziest Franchise in the League™’ can go about ruining the opportunity that chance has bestowed upon them.

It would not be a surprise to wake up and discover that the Clips had traded their first pick for a pack of magic beans. Or Tracy McGrady.

But, sanity prevailing, the Los Angeles Clippers will take Blake Griffin, adding character and ferocity in the paint.

The only other consensus top picks are center Hasheem Thabeet out of Connecticut and Ricky Rubio the Spanish wunderkind point guard.

Barring a spectacular workout by any other prospect, these two will go 2 and 3 with the Memphis Grizzlies likely to take Rubio second given his talent set and the apparent incompatibility of Thabeet with Marc Gasol.

Memphis promises to be a much improved team next year with a nice core of young, exciting players: Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, OJ Mayo. Now that is the definition of promise and potential.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will also rapidly improve after their 3rd pick likely takes the 7-3 Thabeet to bolster its front court with a shot blocking and athletic big man.

Based on starting point, the Thunder should become the new Portland, blessed with young players all of whom have tremendous upsides. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, the hugely underated Jeff Green and Hasheem Thabeet? Yes please.

Outside of Griffin, Rubio and Thabeet, the lottery gets vastly more difficult to call with teams reliant on workouts to determine their guy. However, the player snapping at the top 3 is surely Brandon Jennings, arguably the most exciting player in the draft.

An outstanding playmaker with a penchant for the flashy pass, the Compton native is the exact player that struggling teams need to fill arenas making it highly probable that he will be playing in Sacramento next year.

The League’s worst team slipped as low as they could in the Lottery, but the silver lining could be Jennings. A 6-1 point does not get the nickname ‘Young Money’ by chance. Dude is cash and promises much.

A year playing pro ball in Europe can only have given Jennings the experience that his draft colleagues lack. He is used to a demanding schedule, more practices, more travel.

Griffin may be solid and fierce. Rubio might possess great court vision. Thabeet might have a great upside. But, none of them can match the excitement that Jennings can, and will generate. My tip for fan favourite of the year.

Beyond that, the draft of 2009 is far from as deep as the past two years with GMs having to pray that they can uncover a diamond in the rough. Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans and James Harden will all look to impress and move up.

This class is open and the fact that nobody really knows who to take makes the build up to the big night itself almost as exciting as a Kobe/LeBron Finals. Ok, maybe not.

But it will be fun.

Do Be Do.