The other side of the championship.
Bounced out in the 1st round against the Lakers in 2010. Beaten in the Western Conference Finals by the Mavericks in 2011. Out worked by the Heat in 2012. Their best three players on average are 23 years old. They beat the San Antonio Spurs, fresh off of a 20 game win streak (as well as had the best record in the NBA) four games in a row to make it into the Finals.
You already know, but it’s not over for this team. Not by a long shot. I can’t wait to see what this team will be able to do in the future.
Hang your head high KD. 3 time scoring champ. Runner-Up MVP. You have at least 15 years left of your career. You’ll get yours sooner or later.
Seriously though, this image makes me so sad :(
(photo via jose3030)
2012 NBA Finals - Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat: The Blueprint
Looks like we’re finally getting the Finals matchup we as fans have hoped we would get ever since this lockout shortened season started. And with this particular pairing, we are given a variety of narratives to follow. The top two MVP vote-getters in Lebron James and Kevin Durant will be going head-to-head. The “Good Guy” Thunder team will go up against the “Bad Guy” Heat team (a terrible story line if you think about it). The narrative that interests me the most, though, is how these two teams represent two different (and essentially polarizing) ways to build a contending team.
Let’s start with the Miami Heat. We all know how this story begins: some of the top NBA players of their positions headline an incredibly stacked 2010 free agent class, led by big names like Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Wade ultimately decided to resign with the team who drafted him, the Miami Heat, while recruiting Bosh in the process. Then on July 8th, 2010, Lebron made one of the worst PR moves with a television broadcasted decision to join Wade and Bosh in Miami. Thus, the super team, Big Three Miami Heat was actualized.
Of course, this was only possible because of the Heat’s player contract situation. The team made it so that every players’ salary, with the exception of Mario Chalmers’ and Michael Beasley’s, would only go up until 2010, in anticipation for the high profile free agent class. Beasley’s contract was ended up being traded for two second round picks and cash considerations, thus freeing even more cap space for the team. These moves allowed for the signings of three top free agents, being able to resign key role players for less money (Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, James Jones), and signed cheaper free agents as well (Mike Miller, Mike Bibby, Juwan Howard, to name a few).
As for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they were able to accomplish what every terrible, lottery bound team attempts to do: rebuild through drafting great players that hopefully develop into stars. In 2007, the Sonics had the 5th worst record (31-51) and was awarded the 2nd pick which became Kevin Durant (they also had the Boston Celtics’ 5th pick through the Ray Allen trade, which became Jeff Green). In 2008, the Sonics had the 2nd worst record (20-62), was awarded the 4th pick, and drafted Russell Westbrook. In the same year, they obtained the 24th pick via a trade with the Phoenix Suns, and drafted Serge Ibaka. In 2009, the now relocated Thunder had the 4th worst record (23-59) and were awarded the 3rd pick, drafting James Harden. From this point on, the Thunder would only see improvement.
In the 2009-10 season, the Thunder would improve their record by 27 wins to 50-32, clinching the 8th seed in the West. They would take the eventual champion Lakers to 6 games before being eliminated from the playoffs. In the 2010-11 season, the Thunder would improve by 5 games, solidifying the 4th seed in the West, and would reach the Western Conference Finals where they would fall in 5 games to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. Now in the 2011-12 season, the Thunder earned the 2nd seed in the West, won 4 games in a row against a San Antonio Spurs team that previously was on a 20 game win streak, and now face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
And in that span, Kevin Durant was Rookie of the Year, made 3 All-Star appearances, made 3 All-NBA first team appearances, was awarded the 2012 All-Star MVP, won 3 scoring titles in a row, and came in 2nd in MVP votes in 2012 behind Lebron James. Russell Westbrook also has two All-Star appearances and two All-NBA second team appearances. Also, don’t forget that James Harden is the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year and that Serge Ibaka came in 2nd in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind Tyson Chandler.
Though both the Heat and the Thunder present two different blueprints as to how a team can be built into contenders, I doubt any other team can replicate what either of these Finalists have done.
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (you know, the whole reason why a lockout occurred in the first place), it will be tougher for teams to hold onto so many max contracts (the Thunder will have to deal with this problem once contract negotiations begin with Harden and Ibaka). Also, not only does a team need a ton of cap space in order to make signings like this work, but the city needs to be a destination in which high profile players would like to go. In 2010, teams like New Jersey and the LA Clippers had enough cap space for at least one max contract, but (at least at that time) neither team had a history of enough success that would garner interest.
And if teams wishing to rebuild through the draft are essentially gambling. Even if a team gets high draft picks a few years straight, those picks mean nothing if the players chosen don’t pan out into star players. The Thunder just happened to hit home runs three years in a row, none of which happened to be #1 draft picks in the first place.
The only exceptions I can think of either situation came years before: The Celtics gathering their Big 3, and the San Antonio Spurs. Granted, the Celtics had to trade for both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo happened to pan out at that season, thus leading to a Championship. The Spurs on the other hand, didn’t have a plethora of high draft picks. After drafting Tim Duncan with the #1 pick in 1997, they have always had success year after year, winning 4 total Championships. In that span, they were able to draft value picks: Manu Ginobili at #57 in 1999 and Tony Parker at #28 in 2001. Either way, these scenarios are still very unique and will be difficult to replicate.
By no means do I think that one way to build a contender is better than the other. Obviously, both teams are great (the best in each conference at this moment) and I honestly believe that the Finals this year are a complete toss-up as to who will win it all. Each team has a trio of incredible talent, each with a player than can be the greatest player on the court for an entire game. The Thunder have an outstanding offense with a great defense. The Heat have an outstanding defense with a great offense. Both teams are playing better than how they were in the regular season. It’s the 1st, 4th, and 5th picks of the 2003 draft against the 2nd, 4th, and 3rd picks of the 2007-2009 drafts. When it comes down to it, I’m going with my gut:
Oklahoma City Thunder in 6.
The site shows the shot tendencies of both teams overall, as well as main six players on each team (James, Wade, Bosh, Chalmers, Haslem, and Battier for the Heat; Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka, Perkins, and Sefolosha for the Thunder). It’s a great resource if you want to keep track of two incredible offenses that will go head-to-head tonight.
This is all types of amazing.
Putting that into perspective, Harden and Ibaka are only 2 months and 1 month older than I, respectively. And they’re all going to the NBA Finals. Makes me wonder what I’m doing with my life.
Congratulations to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They may be young, but they’re also damn talented and have the swagger to possibly go all the way. I can’t wait until the Finals.
R-n-G Picks - Most Valuable Player: Lebron James, Miami Heat
Runner-Ups: Kevin Durant, Tony Parker, Chris Paul
Let’s look at Lebron’s basic stats:
27.1 PPG, 53.1% FG*, 36.3% 3PT*, 7.9 RPG*, 6.3 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG
(* - career highs). Those stats alone are very impressive, but he’s also leading the league in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) with an incredible 30.8, which also happens to be one of the best PER ratings in the modern NBA era. He also has a career high in True Shooting Percentage (TS%) with .605. Stats aside, out of all the players in consideration, he has had arguably the most consistent year, and has been able to dominate more with less talent. ”What? Less talent?” Yes, because Dwyane Wade had missed 17 games, most of which the Heat have won because of Lebron.
If you don’t believe that Lebron is having the best season out of every player in the NBA, then you might just not like him very much.
Kevin Durant has had similar basic stats to Lebron James, but he has always had Russell Westbrook and James Harden by his side. Tony Parker has had an MVP like season, leading the Spurs to an NBA high 50 wins with a different type of offensive system. If you haven’t caught Tony Parker playing out of his mind, then you’ve been missing out. As for Chris Paul, he was able to change the entire culture of the Los Angeles Clippers team, and the way he dominates 4th quarters is incredible.
Can we go ahead and declare that this season has had the most ridiculous, amazing posterizing dunks that we’ve ever seen? Just days after Blake Griffin abuses Pau Gasol twice, here we have Kevin Durant completely murder Pacers center Roy Hibbert. Take that.
This video needs more replays.
If you caught the Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder overtime thriller Sunday evening, you were in for quite the night.
Kevin Durant set a new career high 51 points off of 28 field goals. He shot 5-6 from 3 point land, and 8-10 from the free throw line. That’s MVP material, right up there with Lebron, Kobe, and CP3 this season.
Oh, and don’t forget Russell Westbrook who scored 40 points off of 29 shots. He also dished 9 dimes and committed only 2 turnovers.
But my favorite statline comes from none other than Serge Ibaka, who got a triple double. 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 blocks. That was the first ever triple-double in Sonics-Thunder history that included blocks. He also had a game high plus-minus of +31 in a game where the Thunder only won by 6.
It’s kind of crazy to say that “History was made” with three great performances coming from one team because it simply does not happen very often at all. This was the first ever NBA game where one team had a player score 50 points, another player score 40 points, and another player getting a triple-double.
This is a fun OKC Thunder team, ain’t it? Keep on runnin’ n’ gunnin’ guys.
NBA Valentines Pt. 3
Late last week, Chris Sheridan reported the 19 NBA Players that would be on Team USA’s Preliminary Roster for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. It’s old news at this point, but I wanted to weigh in with my opinions. I like writing and I love basketball, so I’m going for it.
Here’s the 20 player roster:
Of course, only 12 of these players will make the final roster and become Olympians, so 7 great and talented players will have to be cut. Who’s likely to make it? Either way, players from both the 2008 Olympics and 2010 FIBA World Championships will be watching from their TV screens. Here’s my depth chart of who I think will make the team:
Guard: Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade
Forward: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love
Center: Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh
That makes 7 players from the 2008 Olympic team, 4 players from the FIBA World Championship team, and 1 who was on neither.
Choosing a 3rd point guard was tough, but I decidedly gave it to Billups for one main reason: veteran leadership. He’d play a similar role to what he did in Turkey and what Jason Kidd did in Beijing, something both (relatively) young PGs like Westbrook and Williams can’t bring. The third point guard roster spot wouldn’t get many minutes anyway coming behind Paul and Rose, so that experience will be key.
Eric Gordon, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, and Tyson Chandler are all players I really liked in the FIBA Championships, but their talents (Gordon’s shooting and Iguodala’s lock down defense) can already be found in better players like Kobe, Lebron, and Dwight and thus are expendable.
A glaring absence from my list is obviously Blake Griffin, but I couldn’t put him in over Kevin Love. In my opinion, though Blake is a great and electrifying player, Love is the better Power Forward, especially for international play. Both players do two things very well: score and rebound, and both are decent passers for their position. The difference, though, is Love’s jump shot. He will be able to space the floor from the perimeter, which should be better for Dwight Howard anyway. Blake’s jumper simply isn’t there.
In spite of his play so far this season, Lamar Odom was tough to leave out. The versatility a team gets out of him is matched by basically no one, so you can make the case that he can take a spot over LaMarcus Aldridge. The biggest reason why I chose LMA over Odom, though, was simply because Aldridge is a much better player. He will be an All-Star this season.
The biggest issue may just be who starts at the point guard spot. Lebron, Durant, and Dwight are easy locks for their starting positions, and Wade came off the bench behind Kobe in 2008, so that shouldn’t be a problem, but who will Mike Krzyzewski choose as the starting guard? You can easily argue for either Chris Paul or Derrick Rose to start at point. Both are great passers with great basketball IQ, and they both know their roles of when to score. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
I also have Aldridge and Bosh under the Center spot in the depth chart because international basketball tends to play smaller. Those two players, as well as Love, can all easily slide into the center spot and play alongside one another whenever Dwight needs a break. So technically they’re Forward/Centers.
And my biggest snub from the 19 man roster? Andrew Bynum. Besides Dwight, there is no other Center as dominant in the league as Bynum, and I’m guessing the low amount of games he’s played thus far has affected his absence on the roster. He would most likely take the place of either Aldridge or even Bosh in my opinion.
So that’s my two cents. What are your thoughts? Do you disagree with any of my picks?
2011-2012 Bold Statements: League MVP - Chris Paul
I am buying into “Lob City” and yes, I do believe that Chris Paul will win the MVP award this season. First, he’s still one of the top 2 scoring options for the Clippers. If he doesn’t get monster scoring numbers in a game, his assist rate just skyrockets. Don’t forget that he consistently is in the top 5 in steals every season.
Chris Paul is the type of point guard that makes everyone else on his team better. It will be because of him that Blake Griffin’s numbers will rise. It will be because of him that DeAndre Jordan will be in talks for Most Improved Player. It’s because of him that Caron Butler could maintain a 3 point percentage around 40% this year. He even knows how to move off the ball and spot up when Chauncey brings the ball down the court.
This is arguably the best talent that Chris Paul has ever been surrounded with, so expect not only for CP3’s numbers to rise, but the Clippers to rise up in the West. Should be an exciting year in LA.
Kevin Durant - If it wasn’t for that huge CP3 trade, this would be Kevin Durant’s year. I have the Thunder slated to reach the NBA Finals and eventually win the Championship, and it will be mostly because of this guy. He’ll be the scoring champ for his 3rd straight year, and I expect his other stats to go up a little as well. I may very well be wrong and KD will most likely get MVP because the Thunder will by far have a better record, but I believe in the Clippers hype.
Dwight Howard - I had a tough time deciding between Dwight and Lebron. Yes, Lebron will have better overall stats, but Dwight will do more for the Magic (and eventually whichever team he may get traded to) to keep them in the Playoffs than Lebron will for Miami.
Dark Horse Candidate: Kobe Bryant
What? Kobe Bryant a Dark Horse? I don’t believe it’s too farfetched. There is too much going against the Lakers this year. They lost Lamar Odom. They have a new system with Mike Brown. Pau Gasol looks like he may have a down year because of this new system. Their bench looks worse than last year. In spite of all this, though, the Lakers will have a great record and it will be all because of one man: the Black Mamba.