Some extended thoughts from the last night’s games that weren’t big enough to warrant an entire column …
WANTED: SOONER SHOOTER
Before we start talking about Oklahoma City as a juggernaut for the next decade, or even as a tough out in the 2010 playoffs, the Thunder need to get another shooter.
After Chris Paul shredded their D for an easy layup with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, OKC trailed by three. Obviously they would have to go to Kevin Durant, as he’s not only their go-to superstar, but also the only real three-point threat on the court, with James Harden (35% from deep) running a distant second. (True, Durant is shooting 31% on threes this season, but numbers go out the window for true clutch players.) KD had a chance to take a game-tying shot over the shorter Paul, but instead gave it up to Harden before N.O. deflected the ball out of bounds. On OKC’s next chance, Durant couldn’t get open, and Russell Westbrook, Harden and Thabo Sefolosha played hot-potato; it was clear none of them felt comfortable taking the big three. Westbrook missed just before the buzzer and the Hornets closed it out at the line.
As much as I love Jeff Green‘s do-everything game, the one area where he can’t do anything is beyond the arc. One time last night the Hornets left Green (29% 3PA) wide open for a three, which he measured for a long time before knocking it down, and by his face he appeared surprised that he hit it. Westbrook isn’t any better (26% 3PA), and Sefolosha (34% 3PA) doesn’t attempt many triples, let alone make them.
OKC needs another shooter to complement Durant, especially in crunch time. But looking at the lineup, it might have to be an internal move, i.e. somebody stepping their game up to be that long-range threat. Westbrook needs to be on the court in the fourth quarter to run the show, play D and take advantage of his explosiveness (he had a clutch offensive rebound/putback late in the fourth against the Hornets); Green is OKC’s big man when they go small and he does so many other things that he has to be out there; Sefolosha is the defensive stopper; and of course there’s Durant. Right now Harden or Nick Collison has been the fifth guy on the floor — Collison for his rebounding, Harden for his scoring.
Ideally, the rookie Harden develops into that shooter the team needs and the problem is solved. Because although there should be some players on the trading block (J.J. Redick?), I don’t expect Thunder GM Sam Presti to make a hasty move at the deadline just to hire a gun for the playoffs: Presti’s best asset so far, along with talent evaluation, has been his patience in building this roster. But it might be something to think about next summer, when OKC has a lot of money to spend.
Maybe they’ll throw a wad of cash at unrestricted FA Ray Allen, just to make my eye develop a twitch as a Sonics fan.
Serge Ibaka is kind of a beast. I first heard of him at the adidas Nations high school camp a couple years ago, and soon after, his European agency contacted me about doing an Ibaka profile leading up to the ’08 Draft. After a long, complicated process of international calls and translating French, I finally got the interview and featured Ibaka as a “Player 2 Watch” in our Summer ’08 issue.
Drafted when the Thunder were still the Sonics and stashed in Europe for another year, Ibaka has been a difference-maker as a rookie this season, averaging 5.2 points, 4.8 boards and 1.0 blocks in a little over 15 minutes a night. He doesn’t really know how to play basketball yet, but he’s ripped and has crazy hops and tries to send every shot that crosses his face into the fourth row.
Last night Ibaka got head-level with the rim and sent a Darius Songaila offering to the frank man, prompting one OKC announcer to scream, “There has been a SERGE in the building!” as the crowd when nuts. In contrast to the “young Shawn Kemp” comparison I made in the initial Dime story, Ibaka’s ceiling is more like an energy guy off the bench for a good team. But I also see him being Tyrus Thomas-ish in that he could be a regular on the “Top 10 Dunks/Blocks/Plays of the Season” for years to come.
I flipped to Spurs/Pistons at the tail-end of a conversation between announcers about Antonio McDyess. From what I gathered, Sean Elliott was saying McDyess told him that if the Spurs won a championship this year he might retire, but if they fell short, he’d definitely come back because he wants to go out with a ring.
My first thought was, “If the Spurs don’t win, he’s gonna sign with the Lakers.” But then I looked it up, and it turns out ‘Dyess signed a three-year deal with San Antonio over the summer. When a guy is close to retirement and chasing a ring, he’d ideally sign a one-year contract so he can jump from one contender to another as the tides change.
As much as I like the Spurs, this seems like an “all-in” year for them. Not in the sense that Tim Duncan is slipping (because he’s really not, at least not significantly), but more because after this season, no one knows how the core in San Antonio will look. Richard Jefferson becomes a $15 million expiring contract for 2011, Manu Ginobili becomes a free agent (he’ll likely re-sign, but still), and key veterans like Roger Mason, Mike Finley and Matt Bonner also have their contracts run out. As long as Duncan is near 20-and-10 form and Tony Parker is still in his prime, the Spurs will always be a dangerous playoff team, but next summer they won’t have a lot of maneuverability seeing as Duncan, Parker and Jefferson take up a combined $47.2 million in salary.
As for McDyess, I doubt the Spurs would do him a favor and trade him to Cleveland, L.A., Orlando or Boston when they’re competing with those teams for a ‘chip, especially when they’ve had enough trouble over the years finding quality big men to play alongside Duncan. Win or lose, it looks like ‘Dyess will have to ride it out with the Spurs and see if they continue to put a championship-level roster around its superstars.