Realities OKC Thunder Fans need to face

Realities OKC Thunder Fans need to face

Every Thunder fan and undoubtedly, General Manager Sam Presti himself, knows that OKC needs to provide some scoring punch to stand alongside the great Russell Westbrook on the court.

If they don’t, they will  lose him after next season. It is simple as that.

A lot of arm chair GM’s (myself included) offer up suggestions on who we can get to help Russ.

Many people have stated OKC should go after Blake Griffin, with all the speculation around the league that he will be leaving the Clippers in Free Agency. I would love to have Griffin wearing OKC blue. He has an all around game, ability to stretch the floor, commands double teams, is relentless on hustle plays and knows how to play with a ball dominant point guard, after playing so many years with Chris Paul.

All of these things make him an ideal target for OKC to go after except for two standout issues; firstly his constant injuries make him a potential highly paid lame duck, which OKC simply cannot afford and the second reason, I will delve into a bit further into this post.

Other people who do not like Blake Griffin, due to his altercations with the equipment manager, point towards Paul Millsap. Again a perfect fit for OKC. Others still look to replace the small forward they lost in Kevin Durant, with Gordon Hayward.

Some others suggest we should go after a combination of the three; get either Griffin or Millsap and go after Hayward. A starting lineup of Westbrook, Oladipo, Hayward, Millsap and Adams would rival even Golden State and then OKC could finally compete on an equal footing with them. We would have our own big 4!

Right? Uh, I’m sorry, but no little guy. All those suggestions are excellent, if not for that pesky second reason I alluded to earlier; the salary cap.

There are a few things you need to know about the salary cap, before all of this will make sense. I have read various articles as well as the extensive explanation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which the players and the NBA signed back in 2011 and amended this year. The full document from Larry Coon can be found HERE if you have a mind to review it yourself.

Disclaimer:// I am in no way purporting to be an expert in the CBA in any way. I’m sure there are loopholes the experts can exploit, but I believe I have the general gist of what is going on.

I will go through some of the key points which will affect OKC, as well as every other team in the league, in the upcoming free agency. I will try to not get bogged down into too much detail, but I will have to go into some, so please bear with me.

The Salary Cap in the NBA is a soft cap. This means that teams can go over the amount set by the NBA. This season, the salary cap was set at $94,100,000.

The area that teams can go above the salary cap is referred to as the Luxury Tax Threshold. For this current season, the threshold is set at $113,300,000.

What is this threshold used for? It is predominantly used to sign your own players to new contracts which would otherwise push you over the salary cap. Imagine if we couldn’t sign Westbrook because we had gone over the salary cap? That would suck right? That’s what the threshold is there to prevent from occurring.

Teams can use an number of Tax Exceptions to move into the Luxury Tax Threshold without being penalised. The most regular ones used are:

The Bird Exemption, which allows your star or veteran player to be re-signed to the team which had chosen them in the draft, such as Westbrook, or if a team traded for a player with a team which still held that player’s Bird Rights, such as we did for Kanter, Oladipo and Taj. We still own the Bird rights for all 3 players.

The Non-Bird Exemption, which allows a team to sign one of their own free agent players, who the team didn’t hold the Bird rights to, but who played for more than one season for that team.

The Rookie Exemption, which allows a team to go over the salary cap to sign up the rookie who they drafted.

The Traded Player Exemption, which allows a team that is already within the threshold, to trade player or players with another team, as long as they retain an equal amount of salary in return. For instance, if we traded Cam Payne and Morrow who for arguments sake were on $10mil combined for Taj and McDermott, who were also on $10mil combined, then that would be ok if we were still within the threshold.

Those are the only ways really to retain your own players or trade for a player while staying within the Luxury Tax Threshold.

Now, teams can certainly spend over and above the threshold if they wish, but they will be hit with a penalty, which is the Luxury Tax component.

In previous years this tax was a $1 for $1 value, so for instance if you were $10mil over the threshold, you would pay $10mil additional in taxes to the NBA.

Recently this has changed however and the tax begins at $1.50 for every $1, so now if you were $10mil over the threshold, you would pay an addition $15mil in taxes. What is worse, is that the figure increases depending on how far over the threshold you actually are.

Here is the schedule of those tax increases.

 

Ouch! As you can see, the taxes are really incentivising teams to be around or slightly under the Luxury Tax Threshold. This should prevent a repeat of the Golden State Warriors situation, where they have built up a super team with 4 all stars and a few players who would be starters on any other team.

As a side note, it will be interesting to see what happens to Golden State next year, as Curry will be a free agent and move away from his current $12mil contract and receive a max contract of about $35mil per year. Add to that KD’s salary of $27.7mil, Klay’s salary of $19mil and Draymond’s salary of $17.5mil and you can see that they will have to start making some tough decisions.

Those 4 salaries alone amount to circa $100mil and the salary cap for next year is only $101mil with a Luxury Tax Threshold of $122mil. The amended CBA also now makes it so a team must have a minimum of 14 players on its salary.

That means GSW only have $21mil left to pay 10 players on their team next year before they start getting hit with a luxury tax. Good luck trying to sort that one out GSW without losing a star and a portion of your bench to sign up the golden boy, Stephan Curry. There is no doubt that Stephan Curry WILL be a Warrior next year, so lets see who they cut or trade. *Cough* Durant *Cough*.

The reason I say they will need to make some tough decisions soon, is that teams cannot stay above the Luxury Tax Threshold with impunity.

The Repeater Tax which is mentioned on the right side of the scale above, refers to an even heftier tax which is imposed on any team which is above the salary cap for 3 seasons out of the previous 4. As you can see, those penalties really are going to cause some chaos among the league, with teams who are not in contention dumping salary to get under the cap to ensure they don’t end up paying the repeater tax for no reward.

Even teams that are in contention for the championship, such as Golden State and Cleveland, will have to consider revamping their teams at some point, as no matter how rich an owner is, I doubt they want to start paying a tax of $2.50 for every $1 going all the way up to $4.75 and higher for every $1.

Cleveland have already been above the Threshold 2 of the last 3 years and I can imagine they will be again next year, unless they blow up the team. GSW were above the threshold 1 out of the last 2 years, but they will without doubt be over it again next year. If they go over a year after that, for instance to sign KD, then POW! Repeater Tax will hit them.

The Thunder are in the same position as GSW by the way. They were over the Luxury Tax Threshold in the 2015-16 season and actually paid tax to the tune of $14.5mil.

OK, enough talking about GSW and Voldermort KD. I think GSW and Voldermort KD have been linked to OKC enough. I don’t want to mention Voldermort …. I’m sorry, my keyboard just keeps typing Voldermort every time I try to type Voldermort. SEE!

Ohh! He doesn’t look impressed does he?

OK, enough talking about GSW and “He Whose Name Will Not Be Mentioned”, or typed it seems, again and lets focus on OKC.

This season we were back under the salary cap, as shown below, together with what exceptions we used to sign the players with.

So you can see that this season, we were $5,317,596 under the salary cap but we still had $24,517,596 to play with under the Luxury Tax Threshold. Not bad right?

Well, no. Here is the kicker. A team can ONLY sign a free agent using the room it has left UNDER the salary cap. So we only had $5,317,596 we could have used to sign up a free agent with.

There are a 3 exceptions to this rule, but the CBA has severely limited what you can do with it.

The Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception allows a team who is above the salary cap, but still within the threshold to sign a free agent, up to a maximum of $5,797,000 next year.

The Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception allows a team who is above the salary cap AND above the threshold, to sign a free agent up to a maximum of $3,581,000 next year. So over $2mil less than if you were within the Threshold.

The Minimum Player Salary Exception allows a team who is above the salary cap to sign a free agent to the minimum salary. For next year this ranges from $562,393 for an undrafted rookie, like we did for Semaj Christon this season, up to $1,605,797 for a vet who has been in the league for 10 or more years. This will be what David West signed for with the Spurs last season and the Warriors this season.

As you can see, there is not a lot of money to throw around to attract free agents, if you are over the salary cap in any way.

What blows apart the theories of attempting to sign up Griffin or Millsap or Hayward, is that all 3 of those players are looking for max contracts, which will be around $30mil each year.

Where OKC gets even more unstuck, is that Sam Presti signed up Westbrook, Adams and Oladipo to sizeable contracts to ensure the team didn’t just fall apart after “He Whose Name Will Not Be Mentioned” left us high and dry. Those sizeable contracts kick in next season.

Next season the Salary Cap is $101,000,000 for the entire team. The Luxury Tax Threshold is set at $121,000.000.

With those figures in mind, here is what the team salary looks like next season.

As you can see, the Thunder is already $9,431,486 over the salary cap and that is without even signing any of our 3 free agents. We only have $10,568,514 to sign those 3 players if we have any hope of being under the threshold, otherwise we will have been over for 2 of the last 3 seasons and in very real danger of hitting the repeater tax the following year; a situation I am certain the usually frugal Thunder board will not allow.

So we have no hope at all in signing a big name free agent in the offseason. Being over the salary cap precludes OKC from even entertaining the thought.

The one good piece of news, is that nearly all of us fans thought Jerami Grant was a free agent this offseason. It turns out we have a team option on him, to keep him for another season at just $1,524,305. I have included his salary in the equation above, because Presti would be crazy not to retain Grant, especially in light of the next bit of news.

OKC has reportedly put Cap Holds for 3 people for next season. This means, they have allowed a certain amount of money for what they want to sign up our own free agents for.

They have set aside $13,425,000 for Taj Gibson, $1,524,305 to secure Jerami Grant’s team option (I knew Presti was a smart man) and $5,457,681 for Andre Roberson. These amounts are added to the teams salary, until another team signs up those players.

So in reality we are actually $28,314,167 over the salary cap taking into account Taj and Dre’s Cap Holds, which pushes us straight over the Luxury Tax Threshold.

That is just to keep the team we already had this season!

A couple of things of note here. First is that no money has been put aside for Nick Collison, so I am assuming he is retiring this offseason, or being made an assistant coach.

Second is that from all the reports I have been reading, teams are likely to offer Andre Roberson anywhere from $18,000,000 per year up to $22,000,000 per year. This is 4 times the amount OKC have set aside for him, so we will be saying goodbye to Dre next year. There is no way he would, or should, pass up that sort of money. I hope he flourishes for whatever team he ends up with.

So we will have exactly the same team we have now, except without Dre if we retain Taj Gibson?

This year we got to 6th place, but only off the heroics of Russell Westbrook and remember the first point of this post? We need to get some shooters to help Westbrook out or we will probably lose him too!

So where to from here?

I would drop Dre’s contract straight up. There is no way OKC is going to match $18mil – $22mil to keep Dre, so why tie up $5.5mil you could use to offer a free agent come off-season?

Personally, I really like Taj Gibson, he is a solid rebounder, a solid defender, a solid low post player, has a solid 15ft jumper and he is a great locker room guy who can mentor the young guys we have. He is a solid C++ type player all around.

What he doesn’t have however, is what OKC needs to be competitive. He does not have enough range on his shots to space out the floor to allow Russ and Adams to operate.

Also, for some reason, he did not play more than 20mpg all season, including the playoffs. I don’t know if that was because of Coach Donovan wanting to go with different options, if the coach thought there were better options on the team, or if it was because Taj’s old legs can’t handle more than 20mpg. Either of the 3 scenario’s don’t make a compelling argument for keeping Taj, in my opinion.

I would waive his contract in search of a perimeter shooter, either at the SF position or as a stretch 4.

So that brings us back under the threshold, but still has us at the $9.43mil over the salary cap I estimated before. It still doesn’t allow OKC to sign up a meaningful free agent, so how do we get some help for Russ?

Time for some hard decisions.

Kanter is a key component of the bench for OKC. He is a great team mate and the fans, including me, all love him, especially his dynamics on and off the court with Steven Adams. However, it has to be noted that he could hardly be played at all in the playoffs. He was excellent when we had Russ and KD who spaced out the floor for him, but without both those guys on the court with him, the Rockets were able to focus their efforts on him, causing him to struggle offensively; his major strength of his game was negated in the playoffs and his major weakness, his defence, was exposed again and again as they attacked him relentlessly.

Bearing in mind we have another stud centre, who will very likely be promoted to the pro’s next season in Dakari Johnson, I would make the tough choice and trade Kanter for future draft picks. If possible, I would package him and Singler together for future draft picks. It will be the only way we could unload Singler’s hefty salary onto another unsuspecting victim team.

Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Indiana, Lakers, Miami, Minnesota, New York, Orlando and Philadelphia are all teams with sufficient cap room to pick up either one or both contracts and still retain their core group.

That would leave us looking something like this:

We would have about $13mil to try and sign up a decent, not a star mind you, or even fringe star free agent, but a decent free agent. We would need to be very strategic about who we went after. Someone who we could afford and would help our team get better.

Personally, I believe we should go after the Aussie, Joe Ingles who hits free agency this year. From what I am seeing he will be signed up in the vicinity of $12mil-$13mil per year which fits in perfectly for what we would have available under the salary cap.

Even better is that Utah needs to expend all their efforts in securing their star player in Gordon Hayward, so they only have a Cap Hold of $4mil on Ingles. He is definitely leaving them this off season.

Ingles would be a perfect starting SF for us. He is a very good defender. He is a 6’8, 226lb SF with long arms, who is able to lock down opposition 2’s to 4’s, which makes him a GREAT defender switching against a pick and roll.

He has played lock down defence against players like Lou Williams, who you may remember as the guy who torched us in the playoffs, all the way up to “The King” Lebron James.

He is also has that savvy veteran presence about him. Make no mistake, Ingles is not the usual guy coming off his first rookie contract. He used to be one of the biggest names in basketball in Australia’s NBA. This guy can play.

He dribbles the ball like a point guard and is a very able passer which allowed Utah to promote him to the starting 2 guard position for them towards the latter part of the season.

What makes him perfect for OKC, other than his defence, his ball handling, his passing skills and his veteran savvy, is that he ended the season averaging 44.1% from 3 point range.

He is a great cutter to the basket and can hit open mid range jumpers and layups as well, with an effective FG stat of 58.9% for the season. Those are great numbers.

Since the all-star break, when he began seeing more playing time with the Jazz, Ingles also chipped in 4.1rpg, 3.4apg and 1.3spg. All very handy numbers.

This guy is one of the best SF’s at the price range we could afford, that we could ever pick up for the team in my opinion. There would be minimal drop off on the defensive end from this season, but he will space the floor wide open for Russ and Adams to do their thing.

The other player I thought would be worth going after was Danilo Gallinari from Denver, but he is already pegged to get over $16mil with them and he is likely to go to free agency and lock in maybe $20mil per year. Too rich for the Thunder.

The other position we desperately need to get assistance from is the backup point guard position. We need someone who can keep the scoreboard ticking while Russ sits on the bench. OKC went on just plain, dry bone, arid droughts every time Mr Triple Double was not on the floor. They blew large leads when they had them and if they were behind, they were WAY behind by the time Russ got back out there.

That trend just cannot continue next season. Russ is going to tire of that real fast, no matter what he says on the press conferences about not seperating the bench players from himself.

My choice for backup PG, is this guy.

Langston Galloway is a 6’2, 200lb PG who can also play the SG position, if OKC wanted to play small ball, which Coach Donovan does like to play with.

He is a dogged defender who chases guards all over the floor and is just a pure sniper from long range. He averaged 39% from deep for the entire season, putting up over 4 three point shots per game in just 20mpg.

Since he got traded to the Pelicans however, for the last 19 games of the season, he averaged 47.5% from 3 point range! He also got 2rpg, 1.5apg and 0.6spg for the season.

Galloway is currently with the New Orleans Pelicans, but has a player option to opt out of his contract this offseason. He is owed $5,430,000 if he stays with the Pelicans, but we should entice him to play for OKC for the Mid-Level Exception of $5,797,000 in the first year, with an extension over that amount for the following years.

The opportunity to play and learn under the MVP and best PG in the league might be a great selling point to pull him across to wear OKC blue.

Once we have those two positions locked up, we would need to look at the rookies. OKC does have the number 21 draft pick, but if it goes like every other year, they will probably stash that player in the D-League to develop for at least a year.

OKC currently have 3 players in the D-League who in my view should be promoted to the pro’s next year.

First is Josh Heustis. He is no longer a rookie, but OKC took up his option last year, so his salary is against the books whether we play him or not. With Roberson very likely departing, he should find playing time as a backup SF behind McDermott.

The kid has really worked on his game and has been playing great basketball in the D-League this season. He has always been known as a great defender, in the mold of Andre Roberson, except this kid is averaging 14.6ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.3apg, 0.7spg and 1.7bpg. This kid is turning into a real solid two way player.

What’s impressed me most about his development, other than his great shot blocking and new found offensive prowess, is that he is putting up 6 three point shots per game and hitting 38.5% from deep. That, to me at least, is a guy who deserves some valuable minutes on this team. He has been patient all these years developing his game and really should be given a chance to now shine.

The second person who I have no doubt will be brought up to the pro’s, is Dakari Johnson. He is a 7ft, 255lb monster who has dominated the D-League this year. He’s averaging 18.5ppg, 8rpg, 2.3apg, 0.8spg and 1.3bpg. He is a great low post defender, has great low post moves and can hit 18ft jumpers. This kid has an all round game and would be the perfect backup C for Steven Adams. We won’t lose too much in way of offence, from losing Kanter, but we will gain tremendously on the defensive end.

To me this one is a no brainer, especially when you consider you could sign him for the Minimum Salary Exemption of $562,393 which is just perfect for OKC.

The third player I feel we should promote to the pro’s is Alex Caruso. He is a 6’5, 186lb guard who is another solid 2 way player. He averaged 12ppg, 4rpg, 5.2apg and lead the D-League in steals with 2.2spg. He was also deadly from 3 point range, putting up 3 shots per game and hitting 40% from deep. He would also be on the Minimum Salary Exemption of $562,393 which again, is just perfect for OKC.

The other changes will be just internal growth of the players. Oladipo, Grant, Abrines and Sabonis all gained valuable experience in the playoffs this year. I fully expect them to develop their games further in the offseason and become a much greater factor for the Thunder next season.

OKC has the option of starting Jerami Grant at the starting 4 spot as a true stretch 4 (he shot 37.7% from 3 this season) who is a great shot blocker and very mobile defender, who can defend all 5 positions on the floor. The other option is to start Domontas Sabonis, as a bigger and stronger PF who is more of a post up scorer, but also has shown he can hit from deep. Personally I would prefer Grant, just to stretch the floor that much further.

If we could sign those free agents and promote the 3 rookies we would have a starting lineup of Russ, Dipo, Ingles, Grant and Adams with a bench of Galloway, Abrines, McDermott, Sabonis, Dakari, Huestis and Caruso.

That would give OKC all the scoring power they would need to both spread the floor and support Russ to keep the score board ticking along. All those players (other than maybe Abrines and McDermott) are true 2 way players who can score AND defend at a high level.

Most importantly, all those players salaries would fit under the Luxury Tax Threshold meaning we would be 2 years in a row without paying the Luxury Tax, a very important component in ensuring we don’t end up paying the repeater tax for at least another 4 years.

What do you think would be the best fits for the Thunder next year, taking into account the reality of the Salary Cap, the Threshold, the Luxury Tax and the Repeater Tax which Sam Presti will definitely be taking into account in any moves we make in the offseason?

 

 

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Who is to blame for OKC’s Playoff Woes?

Who is to blame for OKC’s Playoff Woes?

Let’s be brutally honest, no one thought OKC would even be in the playoffs this year. The reasons are as varied as they are valid.

After watching Lebron leave the Cleveland Caviliers for no return, with his now infamous “Decision” and sending Cleveland into NBA Purgatory for several years, to then watch him do it again to the Miami Heat a few years later and decimate a team who, prior to that was in the finals for 4 straight years; what GM in their right mind would allow a top 5 player in the league be in the  exact same position?

Sam Presti would and in fact did!

An usually astute GM, who I actually consider to be one of the top GM’s in the NBA today, made a decision of the heart in allowing Kevin Durant to hold the team in limbo for an entire year, without commitment, rather than trading him for whatever considerable pieces and valuable draft picks a player of his calibre would have returned to the team.

The OKC roster was built around having KD in the lineup. A declining Serge Ibaka was traded for Victor Oladipo, a true 2 way shooting guard, which OKC has been searching for it’s entire existence. To sweaten the deal even further, OKC who had no first round picks in the draft, obtained an 11th pick which netted them the promising power forward Domantas Sabonas, as well as getting a true 3 point shooting threat in forward Ersan Ilyasova. One of the greatest trades I can recall ever in OKC’s favour.

Presti then bought out the contract of 2013 draftee, Alex Abrines, another young SG, to allow him to leave Spain and join the Thunder roster. He promoted Semaj Christon to the lineup to backup 2nd year PG Cameron Payne and was in heavy discussions with Al Horford in free agency, to truly make a “Big 3” in OKC to rival that of any other team.

All that fell apart when KD made his own version of the “Decision – Mark II” however. OKC was left with a 28ppg hole in their lineup and no Al Horford, who apparently was able to read the KD situation of non-commital better than Sam Presti did.

Very valid reason for failing.

OKC  was now left with the 2nd youngest team in the league, behind only the perennial cellar dwellers, the Philadelphia 76’ers. They had 8 new faces on the roster, 3 of whom only joined after the all-star break and had 3 rookies in Sabonas, Abrines and Christon who all played significant minutes each game.

Without a doubt, these are all great reasons for OKC failing this year.

Except for one fact. They didn’t!

One man, Russell Westbrook, ensured that no excuses were to be accepted this year and behind a season of the ages, he carried his young Thunder team on his back all the way to the 6th seed in a tough Western Conference. In fact, 3 weeks before the season’s end, OKC had a very real chance of getting the 4th seed and securing home court advantage in the first round.

So let’s not start accepting excuses now. This is the playoffs. It’s time people put their big boy pants on and started accepting responsibility for the losses.

Victor Oladipo, who was easily the second best player on the Thunder team all season, has appeared scared and lost in the playoffs. Yes, this is his first time ever to the playoffs, but let’s face it, he is no rookie. This is the time he should be shining!

A usually reliable scorer, who consistently dropped 16ppg all season and was known for hitting clutch buckets exactly when the Thunder needed it; a player who when hot, could easily torch teams for 30 points, has simply crumbled under the pressure of playing on the big stage.

In game one, he played 32mins and scored a total of 6 points. He also shot a very Andre Roberson style 0%, going 0 for 6 from three point range. Ironically, Andre Roberson who played 35mins, scored a career high 18 points and shot 67% hitting 4 for 6 from deep.

In game two, Dipo played 41mins and scored a slightly better 11 points, but his three point shot was a still atrocious 14%, going 1 for 7 from deep. Roberson, was his more usual 0%, going 0 from 3 from deep but he still cut hard to the bucket and scored 12 points in only 27 minutes. All this, while playing the entire game protecting James Harden and making him miss shot after shot, with the majority of Harden’s points coming from the free throw line.

Oladipo needs to look himself in the mirror and think hard; as the second best scorer on the team is he really going to allow the elite defender, but offensively challenged Andre Roberson outscore him for the remaining two games of the playoffs? Because if he is, then the Thunder WILL only have 2 games left to play. Dipo needs to do whatever he needs, to get himself back to his usual attacking, no one can stop me, mind set he has played with his entire career and start scoring.

Even the great Michael Jordan was unable to win in the playoffs by himself. Dipo needs to step up and become Westbrook’s Pippen, for OKC to have even a remote chance of seeing game 5 in this series.

Enes Kanter has been MIA the entire series. The third highest scorer on the team and the undisputed leader of the second unit, has scored a total of 8 points in game one and 4 points in game two.

On the face of it, you would be excused for thinking he has done a Victor Oladipo and simply crumbled under the pressure of the playoffs. That is until you see the amount of minutes he has played per game. Coach Donovan has only allowed his 6th man of the year candidate, a man who had more double doubles than any other player in the league coming of the bench this season, to play 16mins in game one and 7mins in game two.

It has been widely speculated that in game one, with James Harden blowing past Kanter time and time again, after being caught out repeatedly on the switch on a high pick and roll, that Billy Donovan turned to Mo Cheeks (his senior assistant) and seemed to mouth the words, “We cannot play Kanter.”

People blame Kanter’s defensive inability as the reason Houston scored so many points in game one. They nod their heads in understanding Coach Donovan’s decision, in not playing Kanter in game two and having him as little more than a highly overpaid spectator on the bench.

But really is it Kanter’s fault?

Kanter is an offensive threat. He is the only consistent scorer on the second unit and his defence has lifted dramatically from last year. He is also a rebounding juffernaught who passes the ball out of the post with the skill of most backup point guards. But let’s face facts, he is a 6’11, 245lb centre who was not blessed with the greatest lateral quickness in the league.

Is the coach seriously expecting him to be at the top of the arc and defend James Harden, who makes his living blowing by nearly every point guards and shooting guards in the league, whose actual job it IS to stop him, by himself? Is he expecting Kanter to be on an island on his own and defend Harden one on one at 24ft from the bucket and actually stop him? That is just an exercise in futility.

No, it is Coach Donovan who is the man who needs to accept the lion’s share of the responsibily for OKC’s playoff woes. He has looked lost this entire series.

In both game one and game two, Houston has been running the exact same set any time they were in desperate need of a bucket. That is the high pick and roll, with Harden going downhill against a less mobile defender, usually the centre of the power forward.

Only once, in game two, did I see this get defended well however. Harden got the switch he wanted and drove straight to the bucket, only to find Adams had stepped in front of the restricted zone blocking his path and another player boxed out Nene, closing down the passing lane for Harden to either drop it off to his big man or throw it up for an alley oop. Result, no bucket.

Every other time the centre, usually Adams, has been focussed fully on Nene or Capella to prevent the pass off and relying on the high post defender to stop Harden one on one. Adams most times isn’t even close to attempt to challenge Harden’s shot!  Even Roberson, OKC’s best wing defender, hasn’t been able to consistently stay in front of Harden in those situations and you are expecting a 245lb centre to stop him one on one? Seriously?

It is up to the coach to put in play some defensive schemes to prevent this from occurring. If Kanter is able to steer Harden to the left hand side only to meet Adams or Gbson in the paint, with another player blocking the passing lane, it would force Harden to either make a difficult contested shot, or to kick it back out instead of the easy layup and one he has been living off this series. I’ve seen it work once, why isn’t this a focus on their defence.

Maybe then the coach could utilise his 3rd highest scorer on the team all season, instead of having him sitting on the bench the entire, soon to be short if no changes are made, playoff series.

The other reason Coach Donovan needs to held accountable is his player rotations. I am certain Donovan has this written up on a blackboard somewherein the locker room.

He has been living and dying by this philosphy the entire season. It seems to be embedded in his DNA and he won’t deviate from it one iota. You know what else has been happening the entire season? Extended scoring droughts when Westbrook is on the bench. OKC blowing big leads. OKC digging themselves into a hole. A hole they constantly pray Westbrook will be able to dig them out of.

This defence to the exclusion of all else philosophy results in lineups of Semaj Christon, a regular seson 17% three point shooter, playing alongside Dre a 25% three point shooter. Two great defenders no doubt, but both abysmal offensive players. Semaj averaged about 3ppg even though he played close to 20mpg the latter part of the season with Roberson averaging 6.6ppg while playing 30mpg. The thing with Roberson, is that nearly all of his 6.6ppg come off easy buckets which are assisted by Russell Westbrook. When Russ sits, Roberson’s points are non-existent.

Add to that Alex Abrines, who has disappeared in the playoffs scoring a grand total of 0 points in both games even though he has averaged 12mpg. Kyle Singler, who was played in favour of Sabonis, even though he sat on the bench spectating the entire season, most of which he wore a suit. After one good game defending against Gallinari, he suddenly became Donvovan’s go to man for the playoffs however. He scored 0 points. Sabonis, who granted only played 2mins 20 the entire second game also scored 0 points.

Kanter, the man OKC has relied upon for two entire seasons to provide points off the bench, a man who averaged 21mpg and provided 14ppg and 7rpg in return, saw a dismal 7 mins in game 2 and scored only 4 points.

Is there little wonder how the Thunder blew a 12 point lead, to end up losing game two by 4 points?

What is even more perplexing than playing his “defence win championships,” zero offence lineup whenever the team’s leading scorer, Westbrook, was sitting on the bench, is that Taj Gibson only saw 20mins the entire game, a trend which hasn’t deviated since the day he joined the Thunder. Why not play your veteran PF who can both score and defend at a high level.

Doug McDermott, who whenever in the game, always seems to score and make good things happen; even when he isn’t shooting he occupies a defender and opens the lane making it easier for Westbrook and the bigs to score; he saw only 13mins, even though he scored 11 points in those little minutes.

It is like Donovan has no idea how to play McDermott. He has had little playing time all season, with the coach opting to stick with Abrines, even when he is having a poor shooting night, or as happened this series and other games through the season, a 0% shooting night. McDermott is older, has more confidence, is stronger and can defend better than the laterally challenged Abrines, who was getting blown past by players in both games, yet still McDermott either sits on the bench for the entire game, or sees less minutes than Abrines.

Here’s a clue coach.

Go back and watch how Atlanta Hawks utlilised Kyle Korver last year both offensively and defensively. McDermott is the exact same player, except younger and cheaper. He modelled his game after Korver. He has the exact same strengths, the same weaknesses as Korver. Atlanta was one of the best defensive teams in the East last year while still having Korver hitting dagger three after dagger three on opponents.

Research Korver! Use McDermott!

Norris Cole, the vet PG with playoff experience, who was signed up for $300,000 for only a few months work, for the exact reason that he would be vital in the playoffs has seen a total of 5mins in game one and 0mins in game two. Cole is a decent defender, but more importantly he is an offensive threat. He can create his own shot and create shots for others.

Donovan needs to stop playing guys who can’t score, just because they are better defenders. None of the OKC players are terrible defenders. Some are definitely stronger, yes, but not so much so that it warrants playing them if they produce nothing on the offensive end of the floor.

Great offensive players will always beat great defensive players in the NBA. It is how the game has been structured. The NBA wants high scoring, exciting offensive displays. That’s why they changed all the rules to give the offensive players an advantage. Do you think everyone who guards Westbrook is that teams equivelant of Kanter? Of course not. But he still goes out and averages 32ppg on them. What about Dre defending Harden? Harden is still going to score his points. Lebron, Kwahi, KD, Cousins, the list goes on. They will get their points no matter who you put on them.

You just need to accept that fact. But you can’t then go and play people who provide 0ppg for you just because they are great defenders. That’s why OKC goes on so many scoring droughts. Against teams like Rockets, GSW, Cavs, Spurs – the powerhouse teams, you simply cannot afford to go on scoring droughts or you will just be beaten game after game. Westbrook cannot keep on digging the Thunder out of a hole every single night, then bare the brunt of the criticism because people think he takes too many shots, as he is after last nights loss. That is just the perfect recipe to lose your superstar player and most likely MVP of the league to free agency.

Play your players who actually can put points on the board. They are not that bad defensively. Even if they are, Donovan has coached them for a year or two now. Work out ways to mitigate their weaknesses.

I just wish someone would go into the Thunder locker room and scrub the “Defence wins Championships” quote off the board. In it’s place, post up this quote from Davies Basketball Head Coach, Bart Manson. It encapsulates everything I have been thinking all year long, every single time I see the lineup Coach Donovan goes with when Westbrook is sitting on the bench.

 

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Russ for MVP – Hall of Famers Agree

Russ for MVP – Hall of Famers Agree

Oscar Robertson attended the last game of the season, at OKC today to watch the only player to have equaled his historic, 55-year-old record of averaging a triple double for an entire season, as well as the man who broke his equally long, 55-year-old record of most triple doubles in a season. Two records which most NBA players and experts, thought would never again be achieved.

Unless you have been living in a cave with no internet access (*shudder* the thought of living without internet), you already know that the man is Russell Westbrook.

As part of a special presentation, “The Big O”, Oscar Robertson, presented Westbrook with the James Naismith Achievement Award for Individual Achievement.

At the end of the presentation, with the roar of the crowd chanting MVP, The Big O, after already congratulating Westbrook for his achievement, said he had 3 final things to say. With his fist in the air, he called to the heavens, with a suitable pause between each utterance, M …… V …… P!

The crowd erupted to any even louder cheer. They loved that it was not only themselves believing that Westbrook should win the MVP award, but to have it confirmed by a Hall of Fame player; an icon of basketball and one of the greats of all time in Oscar Robertson believing it as well? They went nuts!

It should have been no surprise as other greats have already come out and said Westbrook should win the MVP.

Oscar has said before tonight, about who he thought should get the MVP, “I think it’s Westbrook. That’s what I really think.”

Charles Barkley said he thinks Westbrook is the MVP, as well as adding “That’s a man. If you don’t respect and admire Russell Westbrook, there’s something wrong with you. And let me tell you something. I’ve been in this thing for 30 years. I’ve never seen a player give maximum effort every single night like him. And I played against the greats. Even Jordan didn’t play as hard as Russell Westbrook does, and Michael’s the greatest of all time. But this guy gives maximum effort every single play every single night, and you got to respect that.”

Shaquille O’Neil said “I’m gonna have to go with Russell Westbrook. A lot of triple doubles. He’s doing it by himself. And believe it or not, he’s playing the right way. A couple of years ago, everyone felt Russell’s a little too selfish. … Now, he’s making great passes, making great plays, leading his team, and doing it by himself.”

Shaq followed that up with a catagoric tweet about the MVP voting “If you have James Harden ahead of Russell Westbrook, you are wrong.”

Reggie Miller is so confident Westbrook will win the MVP, that he has bet a radio host $5,000 to a charity of his choice, that Russ wins the MVP.

Then you have the Greatest of All Time, in Michael Jordan this year comparing himself to Westbrook.  “30 years ago, that’s me,”

Kobe Bryant this year singled out Russell Westbrook as the player who reminds him most of himself in the NBA.

Allen Iverson also said this year that “Westbrook is the only player who reminds him of himself in his prime.” He also went on to say about who should be MVP. “Russ. When you’re doing something in this day and age, that we’ve never thought we would see ever again; as great as Kawhi is, as great as LeBron is, as great as James Harden is, as great as Isaiah is playing, what Russ is doing is incredible. You’ve got to take your hat off to him for what he’s doing. And taking nothing away from his team, when it comes to the word ‘superstar,’ he’s not playing with superstars. He’s playing with very talented players — he’s got a squad with him, I love his team — but him being the only superstar, and that team going as he goes, you have to recognize that. Get your popcorn before the game starts if you’re watching a Russell Westbrook.”

The Legend, Larry Bird went even further. He said about Westbrook “Here’s a young man that has had serious injuries — bad knee injuries throughout his career — yet every time he walks on the court, you know you’re going to get 100 percent from him. He attacks, he’s fearless and he plays the way it should be played, so I’m all for him. I hope he wins 10 MVPs in a row. I just love players that compete on a nightly basis and really take the challenge to their opponents”

If you move away from just the legends in the game, the current and ex-players of the NBA also think Westbrook should win MVP. Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin, Jamaal Crawford, CJ McCullom, Caron Butler, Baron Davis and many more, all think Westbrook is “The MVP”.

Even longtime critic of OKC and Westbrook himself, Flip Bayless, recently had this to say about the MVP award

And if that isn’t enough to convince you, then you have the “Stache Brothers”

The NBA however, is trying to put a dampener on it for some reason and delaying announcing the MVP until late June, this year. In the words of Michael Cage “Quit playing around” and just give Russell Westbrook the MVP trophy already! 🙂

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Westbrook or Harden – The MVP Debate

Westbrook or Harden – The MVP Debate

There are probably 4 players who you could, with a straight face, include in the discussions of MVP this year, being Westbrook, Harden, Lebron and Leonard. It has really come down to a 2-horse race now though, between Westbrook and Harden. So, let’s look at the two players and their supporting casts.

The only argument I hear against Russell Westbrook, is that he doesn’t deserve the MVP because OKC are only in 6th place, whereas James Harden has led the Rockets to third place.

Now let’s look at this sensibly. The award is for the M.V.P. which stands for the “Most Valuable Player.” The award is not, never has been, nor ever will be for the B.P.O.T.T.I.T.H.P.O.T.L. which stands for the “Best Player On The Team In The Highest Position On The Ladder.”

Could you imagine how big the base of the award would be if it read “Russell Westbrook – B.P.O.T.T.I.T.H.P.O.T.L. Winner for 2016-17”?

It would just be ludicrous, wouldn’t it? Nearly as ludicrous as the argument against Westbrook.

Let’s face it, when KD left with his 28.2ppg, with OKC getting nothing in return but an insincere letter to OKC which was more than likely written by his PR people and with KD holding off his “Decision” until all the free agents had been signed, he all but guaranteed he would have no competition from his old team. Every NBA expert around the league, fans around the league and even quite a few OKC diehard fans, thought OKC was heading towards a rebuilding year.

For 2/3rds of the season, OKC had the second youngest roster in the league, only barely ahead of the 76ers and it was only after the All-Star break when Sam Presti traded for old man Gibson (31yrs old), was OKC propelled to the lofty heights of 3rd youngest team in the league.

The team only has 4 players left from the previous season left who play regular minutes. They gained 8 new faces, which includes 3 rookies, who play significant minutes each game, as well as 3 others who only joined after the All-Star break. There are 2 other players from last year who round out the 14-man roster. First is the veteran, 36yr old Nick Collison, who has only played 18 games this season and of those games only averaged 6 minutes a game. The second is Kyle Singler, who has played only 28 games this season and of those games, only averaged 10mpg and quite frankly, would have been traded this season if any team were foolish enough to pick up his contract; unfortunately, none were.

Yes, quite a shuffle of the roster indeed, especially with having a 2nd year coach in the league steering the helm.

The Houston Rockets on the other hand, is a team custom built around James Harden. Of the 10 players Houston regularly play, 6 were there the previous year. 3 of those 6 are veterans with 3 players on their 2nd or 3rd year and are bench players. The 4 newcomers are all veteran players who can score in bunches. Houston basically plugged Harden’s main weaknesses, defence, with three truly 2-way players in Ariza, Beverley and Nene, then loaded the rest of the roster with shooters.

That, to me is a very solid roster, purpose built around their star.

Both Westbrook and Harden have a very similar playstyle. They have the ball in their hands 75% of the shot clock, they both like driving hard to the bucket and kicking out to the open player. With that in mind, let’s look at the two teams again, this time in more detail.

In the starting line-up for Rockets, you have a 13yr player in Trevor Ariza, an elite wing defender as well as a 35% 3PT shooter. A 5th year player in Patrick Beverly, another elite wing defender who is a 38% 3PT shooter. A new to the roster, but 15yr veteran, Nene, a great interior defender who is also a solid low post scorer, averaging 12ppg. They also added 9th year player Ryan Anderson, a 40% 3PT shooter, at PF to stretch the floor out even further. On the bench, they added 9th year player, Eric Gordon, a 38% 3PT shooter, averaging 17ppg off the bench and 12th year veteran, Lou Williams, a 35% 3PT shooter who is averaging 15.5ppg off the bench to their roster.

The entire Rockets line-up, bar Nene and 3rd year player, Clint Capela, both who are Centres and inside threats, are veteran scorers who are marksmen from range. This line-up suits Harden to a tee. It allows him the room to penetrate for easy buckets at the rim and if the opposition dares to double team him, he kicks it out to one of his 3 marksmen who will about 40% of the time, hit a three. No wonder he is leading the league in apg this year.

Pit those 7 players against the 8 players of Westbrook’s main supporting cast. In the starting 5 you have 4th year player in Victor Oladipo, who is probably the 2nd best player on the team. A great wing defender who is a 37% 3PT Shooter. A 4th year player in Andre Roberson who is an elite defender but only a 25% 3PT shooter, to go with his abysmal 42% FT shooting. Taj Gibson a veteran great defender and a solid inside scorer, but will not take a 3PT shot. A 4th year player in Steven Adams, who is a great interior defender and has this year added a 5-8ft jump hook. From the bench, you have the 4th year player in Kanter, who is a reasonable inside defender, but a great low post scorer. A rookie in Sabonis who is a decent low post defender and shows glimpses of being an inside scorer. He is also a 33% 3PT shooter. A rookie in Abrines who is a reasonable wing defender who is a 37% 3PT shooter. A rookie in Christon, who is a very good wing defender, but shoots an abysmal 17% 3PT shooter to go with his equally abysmal 50% from FT.

In addition to those players, OKC does have 3rd year player, Doug McDermott, who is a reasonable wing defender who is a 36% 3PT shooter and another 3rd year player in Jerami Grant, who is just a great all round defender who is a 37% 3PT shooter. For some reason, though, both players struggle to get decent minutes in the rotation.

As you can see, Harden is surrounded by veteran players, nearly all of whom can shoot from range and spread the floor, allowing him to manoeuvre at will in the lane or kick it out to open shooters if they close down on him.

Westbrook on the other hand, is surrounded by a young team who are mostly inside scorers, which not only closes the lane, preventing Westbrook from moving freely, but it also packs the entire paint, making it even more difficult for him to get a pass off to his players. To top it off, two of those players, the starting SF Roberson and the backup PG/SG Christon, both who play significant minutes, are such poor offensive threats, that there man usually drops away from them to close the passing lane or to double Russ.

Now tell me, who has the better team built around their play styles?

I think any reasonable person would agree, that Harden definitely has the better team built around him, to suit his playstyle. He has veteran players who are used to scoring under pressure. He has the floor stretched out to all him to move where he wants to score and assist. OKC on the other hand has a roster built, which specifically hampers Westbrook’s playstyle. Opposition teams pack the paint, making it hard for him to score and pass the ball and he has young players who are not used to scoring under pressure situations, which have shown with numerous scoring droughts throughout the season.

Now that we have agreed that Russ has a significantly harder time in achieving success for his team, let’s look at what the individual player themselves, contribute to the team. If Harden was removed from the roster, the Rockets could well still make the top 8. If Russ was removed from the roster, the Thunder would likely be one or two wins above the 76ers.

What if we look at the individual player’s achievements?

Harden is 2nd in the league in scoring at 29.2ppg, is 1st in the league in assists at 11.2apg, is 24th in the league in rebounding at 8.1rpg. He is also shooting 34.5% from 3PT range.

Harden holds no other records that I can find, other than having the most turnovers ever in a season.

Westbrook is 1st in the league in scoring at 31.8ppg, is 3rd in the league in assists at 10.4apg and is 10th in the league in rebounding at 10.7rpg. He is shooting 34.7% from 3PT range, 0.2% more than Harden.

NB:// Imagine what Russ’s stats would be if he was playing on the Rockets team with a totally open lane and marksmen all around him?

Scary thought, isn’t it?

So, what other records has Westbrook set?

  • Westbrook will secure 2nd scoring title this year.
  • Westbrook holds the current season record for assists with 22 assists in a game.
  • Westbrook holds the fastest triple double in 62yrs, recording it in 19mins, only 2 mins shy of the fastest which was set in 1955.
  • Westbrook is currently equal first for the most triple doubles in a season, matching Oscar Robertson who set the record in 1962. It is very likely Westbrook will break that record this season and be the number 1 ranked player in history with the most triple doubles in a season.
  • Westbrook is set to jointly hold the record for averaging a triple double for an entire season. The only other player to have achieved this, is Oscar Robertson in 1962.

NB:// It should be noted that 1962 was a totally different game to today which was the same year Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4ppg and 25.7rpg for the season. It was the year Wilt scored 100 points against the Knicks. He also had the most 40 point games in a season with 63. Numbers never to be seen again in the NBA.

  • Westbrook is currently tied 4th of all time, with Wilt Chamberlain in recording 78 triple doubles for his career, in only 9 years. He is very likely to pass Wilt this year to be in sole 4th place in history. He is only 29 triples doubles behind 3rd placed Jason Kidd, who achieved his 107 in 13 seasons.
  • He is the only player in history to achieve two consecutive All-Star MVP awards by himself.
  • He is the only player in history to achieve 40ppg, 12rpg, 11apg in 5 consecutive games.
  • He is the only player in history to achieve a triple double, while shooting a perfect 100% from 2PT, 3PT and FT range, set this year.
  • He holds the record in history for the most points ever scored with a triple double with 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists set this year.
  • He is the only player in history to record 5 consecutive 30 point, triple doubles.
  • He is only one of two players in NBA history to average 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists in a calendar month. The other is Oscar Robertson
  • He is only one of two players in NBA history to record at least 30 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals in a game. The other is Magic Johnson.
  • He is only one of two players in NBA history to record at least 120 points, 40 rebounds, and 30 assists over three consecutive games. The other is Wilt Chamberlain
  • He is only one of two players in NBA history average at least 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists over a 10-game span. The other is Michael Jordan
  • He is only one of two players in NBA history to average at least 23 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds in a single season. The other is Oscar Robertson.
  • He is only one of three players in NBA history to record at least 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in consecutive games. The other two are Michael Jordan and Pete Maravich.
  • He is only one of three players in NBA history to record at least 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor
  • He is only one of four players in NBA history to record five triple-doubles in six games. The other three are Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson

Impressive record list, isn’t it?

What’s more is that a lot of those records were set this year. Even the joint awards are with the true royalty of the NBA. Oscar, Wilt, Magic, Jordan, Baylor, Maravich. To be even mentioned in the same sentence as those players, is an an extraordinary achievement in itself and just goes to show the incredible season Westbrook has completed.

I believe whether you look at it from the point of view of, who is the most important to their team, who has brought their team the furthest off their own back, what the player has achieved this season or what records the player has achieved; there should clearly only be one unanimous MVP this year.

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5 Myths about Russell Westbrook – Debunked

5 Myths about Russell Westbrook – Debunked

eRussell Westbrook is likely the most polarizing player in the NBA today. People either love him or hate him, with little in between. The only things which people do not disagree on is that he is a great player.

Even with that acknowledgement, I have seen many myths being spread about Westbrook, with the same comments being said over and over in forums. What is most amusing is the statements are almost verbatim in each forum. Almost as if the lemmings who are spouting the misinformation are all citing from the one source book and hoping if they repeat it enough times, the world will take it as truth.

Today I wish to dispel some of those myths.

Myth 1: KD led OKC to the playoffs without Russ, but Russ couldn’t lead OKC to the playoffs without KD.

Fact: The season KD played “without Russ”, KD had the 3rd best player of the team, being Serge Ibaka, beside him the entire year. He also had 2 veteran scorers on the team in Caron Butler and Derek Fisher who played the year.  Finally, he didn’t play “without Westbrook” at all. In fact, Russ only missed 27 games in the first half of the season. KD had Westbrook beside him for 67% of the season.

The season Russ played without KD however, Ibaka missed the last 22% of the season with a knee injury. KD missed 67% of the season with his foot injury. Multiple players missed 60% of the season each. Russ also missed 20% of that season himself with a broken hand as well as a broken cheekbone. OKC had traded away the 2 veterans before the season had started and were left with a cobbled together group of D-League and 10-day contract players just so they had enough players to play, without forfeiting games. 

Hardly an apple for apples comparison at all, is it?

Of note, is that the games which Russ did play in, he carried the team to 40 wins, 27 losses during which he amassed 31 Double Doubles and 11 Triple Doubles and ended the season averaging 28.1ppg to win that year’s scoring title. The team ended the season equal to the Pelicans for 8th and lost out only on the head to head matches. Even with the worst injury riddled season in OKC Thunder history, which included himself missing 20% of the season, Russ still managed to get his team to finish with a winning % at 4 games over 500, which incidentally, would have placed OKC comfortably in the 8th position in any other year, including this one.

 

Myth 2: Russell Westbrook is a ball hog. He holds the ball in his hands longer than any other player on the team

Fact: This one makes me laugh all the time. I am doubtful whether even the lemmings themselves, believe this myth or if they have a dubious smirk on their face while they troll the forums with this comment.

How can a Point Guard who averages 10.4apg for an entire season, be considered a ball hog? A PG who for 49 out of 78 games had more than 10apg and of those 49 games, 22 of them was over 12apg. A man who still holds the current season record with 22 assists in a game, with one 19 assist game, two 17 assist games, three 16 assist games, three 15 assist games, six 14 assist games and six 13 assist games and you consider him a ball hog? Seriously?

To put it into perspective, of the 30 starting PG’s in the league who average more than 26mpg, the average assists per PG is 6apg. It used to be if a PG averaged 7apg, he would be considered a pass first Point Guard. I still remember when Rondo had a 14-assist game when he played with the Celtics and thinking he was one of the best playmakers in the league. Russ has 16 games of out 78 where he has had MORE than 14apg.

In the 14 seasons in which John Stockton averaged 30mpg or more, he averaged 11.6apg. In the 14 seasons in which Steve Nash averaged 30mpg or more, he averaged 9.3apg. These two point guards are commonly referred to as the two best Pure, Pass First PG’s in the modern era and Westbrook is sitting right in the middle of the two, averaging 10.4apg this season.

I think this fact alone negates the myth, but to elaborate on the second part of this myth, of course he holds the ball in his hands more than any other player on the team. He is the Point Guard. He is the best ball handler on the team. He is the most experienced player on the floor. He holds on to the ball and gives it up to his team mates when they are open for easy buckets. You know who else used to hold onto the ball more than any other player in the league? You guessed it. The two best Pure, Pass First PG’s in the modern era; John Stockton and Steve Nash. You could also have thrown in Rajon Rondo into that mix as well, when he was in his prime and considered the best Pass First PG in the game.

Myth 3: Russ is selfish. He is only out for himself. KD left OKC because Russ was too selfish.

You commonly see one, often two and sometimes even all three of these comments on forums, for those trolls who just must go for the trifecta.

Fact: I could simply answer this one by saying, “See Fact 2”, but I feel this requires a bit more of a response.

These comments are obviously made by people who are not OKC fans and most definitely, not by people who watched every game of last season.

Last season was the most selfish season I had ever seen by a star player. Fact! The problem is, the lemmings chose the wrong star. KD was the most selfish player I have ever seen on a team last year, bar none.

In his comeback, contract year KD wanted stats and he went after it with a passion. With the rookie coach Donovan on board and everyone given a mandate of, “Keep KD Happy”, KD told the coach he wanted to play the entire first and third quarters. Michael Cage, TV announcer for the Thunder, confirmed it in one of the games. Even though it threw out the player rotations, with periods where both Russ and KD were sitting at the same time, while opposition teams would go on a burst to close the gap or increase the lead, he would still play the entire first and third quarters.

I recall both announcers saying KD needs to lift that request because it was hurting the team, until finally after many losses or months, did he relent. I would see games where KD would be screaming at Adams and Kanter, while they ran up the court if they took an uncontested rebound from him on the defensive end. If he missed a defensive assignment, he would blame the youngest person, or the person next to him. You would commonly see Ibaka and KD arguing coming off the court at time outs, at times looking like it was about to come to blows. When he tried blaming Westbrook or Waiters, they would say a few choice words to him, then turn their back and ignore him and continue playing.

From the start of the season at holding the team to ransom (If he wanted to leave and loved OKC so much, why not ask Presti for a trade?), to demanding the ball in his hands at the end of quarters, even if he was double and triple teamed, to playing ISO nearly every play, to sulk on plays until he was given the role of Point Forward to ensure the ball was in his hands, even though most of the time of he was pressured by guards at half court it would result in a turnover, to not being man enough to tell Collison and Westbrook of his decision to leave, to holding off on making “His Decision” until all the free agents worth going after were taken, I cannot think of a more selfish star player on any team.

This might seem like sour grapes at losing KD, but I can honestly say I was delighted when he didn’t re-sign with the team. I thought the team had much better team chemistry the year before and definitely so this year, there was and is better ball movement without him and the bench players are actually able to develop their game. If anything, the only person I was upset with, was Sam Presti, for allowing KD the entire season without committing to the team, without trading him.

Truth be told, KD lost the team to Russ the year he was out. Russ followed Coach Donovan’s direction and ensured everybody touched the ball. He made Adams and Kanter better players, giving them passes at just the right moment for them to get easy baskets. He encouraged the team. He led from the front. He put his body on the line every single game to help the team to win and the team loved him for it. When KD came back, you could just see the tension on the court between his selfishness and lack of respect of his teammates, not named Westbrook.

Don’t believe me? When GSW played OKC, KD could be seen taunting the bench, his old players; players who he was the leader of, when GSW was up and you could see the bench respond accordingly, spitting vitriol back at him. When KD thought, he could still push around Andre Roberson and diminish him as a player and Roberson going nose to nose with him at mid court to prove that he wasn’t their leader or had their respect. When Russell Westbrook would scream “I am coming for you!” with pure venom in his eyes, towards KD and KD slink away back to the bench.

Put those examples against other ex-OKC players of last year. Serge Ibaka got a standing ovation when he was announced at Chesapeake Arena. Every single player, including Russ who doesn’t usually even associate with his own players at the beginning of games, he is so focused, went up to give him a hug. Again, at the end of the game, where every single player who had played with Ibaka, went over to give him a hug and have a laugh. The exact same thing happened when Dion Waiters came to play at Chesapeake. The exact same reception, from not only the crowd, but also the players. Heck, Jeremy Lamb who averaged about 2mpg for the Thunder and has been removed from the team for at least 3 years now, still gets a cheer from the crowd as soon he comes into the game.

Now tell me the players loved KD and they were sad when he left.

Myth 4: Russ is only out for triple doubles. PG’s shouldn’t rebound. Russ is hurting the team with his triple doubles.

Again, you will commonly see one, two or the trifecta of these inane comments floating around the forums.

Fact: As far as a triple double goes, you would think by its definition, being double digit points, rebounds and assists, that this was not a selfish stat at all, as the player is helping the team in a number of different ways.

As far as points and assists go, I don’t even think the lemmings could argue that those stats are in any way hurting the team. Not seriously anyway. So, that just leaves me with the rebounding argument.

It is commonly said, by non OKC fans and again, by those that don’t watch OKC play, that having a point guard that rebounds, is just stealing rebounds from the bigs and that it slows the game down. Now you must consider the makeup of OKC and what their strengths are.

Rebounding. OKC are the number 1 Rebounding team in the league with 56.1rpg, getting 1.3rpg more than 2nd placed Denver. They are the 3rd best Offensive Rebounding team in the league, just 0.3rpg off top placed Chicago. They are in 6th place on the Defensive boards, exactly 1rpg less than first placed New Orleans. 

OKC Rebounds and they rebound well. They rebound well because instead of the bigs jumping automatically to get a board, they do what every coach ever tries to get through their player’s head and that is, find a body, box them out first, then go for the board. OKC bigs take this to heart and they do box out players, which allows Westbrook with his unmatched athleticism, to fly in and get the board. This is not to say that everyone boxes out just so that Russ can get rebounds however. There is a subtle, but quite significant difference between the two sentences.

Everybody doesn’t just wait for Russ to get the board. Everyone on the team, whether it is the bigs, the small forwards, the shooting guards, even the backup PG’s all crash the boards. The 2 big positions and even the SF’s are often in double digit rebounds at the end of the game. There is no giving up of rebounds to Russ, it’s just that Russ’s pure athleticism, twitch reflexes and drive, push him to get a lot of the rebounds. Westbrook also gets a lot of offensive rebounds, 1.7rpg which is interestingly down from the 2.5orpg he had just one month ago. He gets his offensive boards, once again because of his sublime athleticism, his incredible twitch reflexes and most importantly, because when he takes a shot, he isn’t posing for the cameras with his hand raised in the air. He follows his shot and more often than not, is up in the air before the opposing bigs even know which direction the ball is bouncing off the rim

You simply do not get 10.7rpg as a PG because your players let you have them and be ranked 10th in the league. He is only behind 8 Centres and 1 Power Forward in the entire league in rebounds.

Now how does Russ getting rebounds help his team out? Well for one, it means the opposition isn’t getting the rebound. Secondly, it speeds the game up and becomes a near instant fast break, as either the bigs are sprinting down the court to receive and easy layup or dunk from a Westbrook pass, or, they get themselves in deep post position against the opposing teams smaller players, for the easy bucket, most times before the opposing bigs have even got to the 3PT line. Thirdly, it plays to OKC’s strength. OKC is not a good half court scoring team. They are however, the 3rd best fast break scoring team in the league behind only GSW and Phoenix. They are even above the Rockets with D’Antoni’s patented 7 second offence.

Finally, the stats just do not lie. OKC is currently winning 57.6% of the games it plays. When Russ gets a triple double, OKC wins 78% of its games, as opposed to them only winning 35% of the games when he does not have a triple double. If you want to criticise Westbrook, criticize him for having not gone for a triple double every single game this season. If he had, we would be just behind GSW who have won 82% of their games and ahead of Spurs 77%, Rockets 68% and the Cavs at 65%.

Russell Westbrook getting triple doubles is hurting the team? Pfft! That’s just ….

Myth 5: Russell Westbrook doesn’t deserve the MVP because OKC are only in 6th place

This one, I suppose is more opinion than anything else, but let me throw some facts at it anyway.

Fact: The award is for the M.V.P. which stands for the “Most Valuable Player.” The award is not and never has been, nor ever will be for the B.P.O.T.T.I.T.H.P.O.T.L. which stands for the “Best Player On The Team In The Highest Position On The Ladder.”  Could you imagine how big the base of the award would be if it read “Russell Westbrook – B.P.O.T.T.I.T.H.P.O.T.L. Winner for 2016-17”? It would just be ludicrous, wouldn’t it? Nearly as ludicrous as the argument against Westbrook.

There are probably 4 players who you could, with a straight face, include in the discussions of MVP this year, being Westbrook, Harden, Lebron and Leonard. It has really come down to a 2-horse race now though, between Westbrook and Harden. So let’s look at the two players and their supporting casts.

Let’s face it, when KD left with his 28.2ppg, with OKC getting nothing in return but an insincere letter to OKC which was more than likely written by his PR people and with KD holding off his “Decision” until all the free agents had been signed, he all but guaranteed he would have no competition from his old team. Every NBA expert around the league, fans around the league and even quite a few OKC diehard fans, thought OKC was heading towards a rebuilding year.

For 2/3rds of the season, OKC had the second youngest roster in the league, only barely ahead of the 76ers and it was only after the All-Star break when Sam Presti traded for old man Gibson (31yrs old), was OKC propelled to the lofty heights of 3rd youngest team in the league.

The team only has 4 players left from the previous season left who play regular minutes. They gained 8 new faces, which includes 3 rookies, who play significant minutes each game, as well as 3 others who only joined after the All-Star break. There are 2 other players from last year who round out the 14-man roster. First is the veteran, 36yr old Nick Collison, who has only played 18 games this season and of those games only averaged 6 minutes a game. The second is Kyle Singler, who has played only 28 games this season and of those games only averaged 10mpg and most seriously, would have been traded this season if any team were foolish enough to pick up his contract; unfortunately, none were. So quite a shuffle of the roster to go with having a 2nd year coach.

The Houston Rockets on the other hand, is a team custom built around James Harden. Of the 10 players Houston regularly play, 6 were there the previous year. 3 of those 6 are veterans with 3 players on their 2nd or 3rd year and are bench player. The 4 newcomers are all veteran players who can score in bunches. Houston basically plugged Harden’s main weaknesses, defence, with three true 2-way players.

Both Westbrook and Harden have a very similar playstyle. They have the ball in their hands 75% of the shot clock, they both like driving hard to the bucket and kicking out to the open player. With that in mind, let’s look at the two teams again, this time in more detail.

In the starting line-up for Rockets, you have a 13yr player in Trevor Ariza, an elite wing defender as well as a 35% 3PT shooter. A 5th year player in Patrick Beverly, another elite wing defender who is a 38% 3PT shooter. A new to the roster, but 15yr veteran, Nene, a great interior defender who is also a solid low post scorer, averaging 12ppg. They also added 9th year player Ryan Anderson, a 40% 3PT shooter, at PF to stretch the floor out even further. On the bench they added 9th year player, Eric Gordon, a 38% 3PT shooter, averaging 17ppg off the bench and 12th year veteran, Lou Williams, a 35% 3PT shooter who is averaging 15.5ppg off the bench to their roster.

The entire Rockets line-up, bar Nene and 3rd year player, Clint Capela, both who are Centres and inside threats, are veteran scorers who are marksmen from range. This line-up suits Harden to a tee. It allows him the room to penetrate for easy buckets at the rim and if the opposition dares to double team him, he kicks it out to one of his 3 marksmen who will about 40% of the time, hit a three. No wonder he is leading the league in apg this year.

Pit those 7 players against the 8 players of Westbrook’s main supporting cast. In the starting 5 you have 4th year player in Victor Oladipo, who is probably the 2nd best player on the team. A great wing defender who is a 37% 3PT Shooter. A 4th year player in Andre Roberson who is an elite defender but only a 25% 3PT shooter, to go with his abysmal 42% FT shooting. Taj Gibson a veteran great defender and a solid inside scorer, but will not take a 3PT shot. A 4th year player in Steven Adams, who is a great interior defender and has this year added a 5-8ft jump hook. From the bench, you have the 4th year player in Kanter, who is a reasonable inside defender, but a great low post scorer. A rookie in Sabonis who is a decent low post defender and shows glimpses of being an inside scorer. He is also a 33% 3PT shooter. A rookie in Abrines who is a reasonable wing defender who is a 37% 3PT shooter. A rookie in Christon, who is a very good wing defender, but shoots an abysmal 17% 3PT shooter to go with his equally abysmal 50% from FT.

In addition to those players, OKC does have 3rd year player, Doug McDermott, who is a reasonable wing defender who is a 36% 3PT shooter and another 3rd year player in Jerami Grant, who is just a great all round defender who is a 37% 3PT shooter. For some reason though, both players struggle to get decent minutes in the rotation.

As you can see, Harden is surrounded by veteran players, nearly all of whom can shoot from range and spread the floor, allowing him to manoeuvre at will in the lane or kick it out to open shooters if they close down on him.

Westbrook on the other hand, is surrounded by a young team who are mostly inside scorers, which not only closes the lane, preventing Westbrook from moving freely, but it also packs the entire paint, making it even more difficult for him to get a pass off to his players. To top it off, two of those players, the starting SF Roberson and the backup PG/SG Christon, both who play significant minutes, are such poor offensive threats, that there man usually drops away from them to close the passing lane or to double Russ.

Now tell me, who has the better team built around their play styles? I think any reasonable person would agree, that Harden definitely has the better team built around him, to suit his playstyle. He has veteran players who are used to scoring under pressure. He has the floor stretched out to all him to move where he wants to score and assist.

OKC on the other hand has a roster built, which specifically hampers Westbrook’s playstyle. Opposition teams pack the paint, making it hard for him to score and pass the ball and he has young players who are not used to scoring under pressure situations, which have shown with numerous scoring droughts throughout the season.

Now that we have agreed that Russ has a significantly harder time in achieving success for his team, let’s look at what the individual player themselves, contribute to the team. If Harden was removed from the roster, the Rockets could well still make the top 8. If Russ was removed from the roster, the Thunder would likely be one or two wins above the 76ers.

What if we look at the individual player’s achievements?

Harden is 2nd in the league in scoring at 29.2ppg, is 1st in the league in assists at 11.2apg, is 24th in the league in rebounding at 8.1rpg. He is also shooting 34.5% from 3PT range.

Harden holds no other records that I can find, other than having the most turnovers ever in a season.

Westbrook is 1st in the league with 31.8ppg, is 3rd in the league in assists at 10.4apg and is 10th in the league in rebounding at 10.7rpg. He is shooting 34.7% from 3PT range, 0.2% more than Harden.

NB:// Imagine what Russ’s stats would be if he was playing on the Rockets team with a totally open lane and marksmen all around him? Scary thought, isn’t it?

So what other records has Westbrook set?

  •    To go with his upcoming 2nd scoring title, Westbrook has the current season record for assists with 22 assists in a game.
  • ·     Westbrook holds the fastest triple double in 62yrs, recording it in 19mins, only 2 mins shy of the fastest which was set in 1955.
  • ·  Westbrook is currently equal first for the most triple doubles in a season, matching Oscar Robertson who set the record in 1962. It is very likely Westbrook will break that record this season and be the number 1 ranked player in history with the most triple doubles in a season.

NB:// It should be noted that 1962 was a totally different game to today which was the same year Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4ppg and 25.7rpg for the season. It was the year Wilt scored 100 points against the Knicks. He also had the most 40 point games in a season with 63. Numbers never to be seen again in the NBA.

  • ·      Westbrook is currently tied 4th of all time, with Wilt Chamberlain in recording 78 triple doubles for his career, in only 9 years. He is very likely to pass Wilt this year to be in sole 4th place in history. He is only 29 triples doubles behind 3rd placed Jason Kidd, who achieved his 107 in 13 seasons.
  • ·   He is the only player in history to achieve two consecutive All-Star MVP awards by himself.
  • ·     He is the only player in history to achieve 40ppg, 12rpg, 11apg in 5 consecutive games.
  • ·    He is the only player in history to achieve a triple double, while shooting a perfect 100% from 2PT, 3PT and FT range, set this year.
  • ·   He holds the record in history for the most points ever scored with a triple double with 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists set this year.
  • ·         He is the only player in history to record 5 consecutive 30 point, triple doubles.
  • ·      He is only one of two players in NBA history to average 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists in a calendar month. The other is Oscar Robertson.
  • ·   He is only one of two players in NBA history to record at least 30 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds, and 4 steals in a game. The other is Magic Johnson
  • ·   He is only one of two players in NBA history to record at least 120 points, 40 rebounds, and 30 assists over three consecutive games. The other is Wilt Chamberlain.
  • ·  He is only one of two players in NBA history to average at least 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists over a 10-game span. The other is Michael Jordan.
  • ·  He is only one of two players in NBA history to average at least 23 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds in a single season.The other is Oscar Robertson.
  • ·   He is only one of three players in NBA history to record at least 40 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in consecutive games. The other two are Michael Jordan and Pete Maravich.
  • ·   He is only one of three players in NBA history to record at least 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor
  • ·     He is only one of four players in NBA history to record five triple-doubles in six games. The other three are Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan.

I believe whether you look at it as who is most important to their team, who has brought their team the furthest off their own back, whether you look at what the player has achieved this season or what records the player has achieved; there should only be one unanimous MVP this year.

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