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Are Thunder really the NBA’s worst?

From Staff Reports Published: October 2, 2008
Another player I think fans will absolutely love is 13-year NBA veteran Joe Smith, a Maryland product who brings some veteran leadership and decent career stats to the Ford Center.

Sherman: Jeff Green could be big. Here's a guy who walks around with a smile on his face (not something you could always say about a Georgetown basketball player). He's also a guy who the diehard basketball fan is aware of but the casual fan will be surprised by. At the end of last season he started scoring a lot more and fans like guys who smile and score.

Rohde:Russell Westbrook, unless Sam Presti trades for Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Westbrook is young, high-energy and works hard. What's not to like? Chris Wilcox sure seems easy to like, though.

4. Should the team start Earl Watson at point guard all season, ease Russell Westbrook in or go ahead start Westbrook from the beginning?

Mayberry: No question easing the rook into the NBA game is the best way to go. Few rookie point guards can effectively handle the responsibility of running an offense from Day 1. Westbrook isn't even a true floor general but more of a combo guard who is more than capable of playing the point right now and developing into a full-time playmaker down the road. Watson, on the other hand, is a seven-year vet who's coming off a career year and a full season in coach P.J. Carlesimo's system. He knows what to expect and will not be rattled. The likely early struggles and inevitable inconsistency we would see out of Westbrook should seize any talk of throwing him to the wolves. It's just not worth it, especially with two second-year players in Durant and Green likely penciled in as starters and far from finished making their own mistakes.

Tramel: Either way works on Westbrook, starting or coming off the bench. The Hornets handed the reins to Chris Paul in September, and it worked great. In Salt Lake, Jerry Sloan brought along Deron Williams much more slowly, and Williams is a bonafide superstar, too.

Carlson: I'm not sure it really matters who starts. It matters more who is leading the offense at crunch time. If Westbrook is truly the franchise's point guard of the future, he must be given a chance to lead the team when games are on the line. If he is left on the bench in the fourth quarter, how will he be able to take over that role? Now, I'm not saying he has to play every single, solitary minute down the stretch, but he has to start getting that experience and establishing his place. Might as well start doing that now.

Baldwin: In any sport, at any level, the player who is playing best has earned the right to start. Who knows whether Watson or Westbrook will be "playing the best" at Thanksgiving much less January, February or March once Westbrook gains experience. Besides, who starts can be overrated. How many minutes a player is on the court is much more important. That's why Westbrook needs to average 25 to 30 minutes a game even if he's coming off the bench. My prediction is Westbrook will probably end up becoming the starter sometime after Christmas.

Sherman: Start Russell Westbrook right away and play him a lot, unless someone sees something in training camp that tells them this team can contend for an NBA title. The NBA isn't Major League Baseball, which tends to baby young stars, or the NFL, which had that same reputation but increasingly is throwing young players into the fire. Two of last year's worst NFL teams — Atlanta and Baltimore — have started rookie quarterbacks since the season-opener. So Westbrook needs to play, more because of his defensive potential — and this team needed a lot of defensive help last season. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Earl Watson and Westbrook on the court together a lot.

Rohde: This is why they have P.J. Carlesimo. That's not our call. If Westbrook is good enough, start him. If he's not, then don't. Remember, Watson is coming off surgery on a bum right thumb.

5. Which spot in the starting lineup will see the most flux?

Sherman: All of this stuff is just a guess, but I'm going to rank them: 1) Center, because they might let matchups and chemistry dictate whether to go big or small and because unless one of the three 7-footers (Swift, Petro, Sene) improve, Collison and Joe Smith are going to play a lot of center; 2) Point guard (see the Russell Westbrook/Earl Watson question); 3) Shooting guard (See No. 2); 4) Small forward: The versatility of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green make this a plus; 5) Power forward. I label this as the least "in flux" position because I think the Thunder needs Chris Wilcox to be a force and will give him every chance to become one. That said, if someone offers them a sweetheart trade offer for Wilcox, who is in the last year of a contract, he could be moved.

Carlson: Power forward. As our man Darnell Mayberry wrote last week, this is the team's deepest position. There are four guys who could conceivably start there — Nick Collison, Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith and D.J. White. Even Jeff Green has seen some time at the position in the past year. With that many options, it's difficult to believe there won't be a couple different guys who start there throughout the season.

Mayberry: Center. The Thunder is likely to begin the season with a power forward starting at center, either Nick Collison, Joe Smith or Chris Wilcox. But the organization also needs to evaluate young centers Robert Swift and Johan Petro, both of whom could be called upon as starters at points throughout the season.

Baldwin: Power forward/center. I include them together because they might become interchangeable. Thunder officials would like one of the young centers to make a major contribution. I don't see it. Instead I see Collison, Wilcox, Smith and others rotating at power forward and center. Sometimes it will boil down to who has the hot hand, injuries or possibly matchups with opposing teams.

Tramel: Center will be the most unstable position. Nick Collison can play it most nights, but there are some games where he won't be able to, and besides, he's reaching the age where injuries could mount.

Rohde: Center. Is it mathematically possible to have three 7-footers on your training camp roster, yet still have no center.

6. They need six months to get a mascot? What should it be?

Tramel: Thor should be them mascot. Thor! Thor! Thor! The Boomer King.

Carlson: Thor. It's the easiest answer, but it's also the best one. He is the freaking Norse God of Thunder, people. Could there be any better option? Oh, and did I forget to mention that in the comics, Thor makes his home in Oklahoma. Yep, he lives in Broxton. My hope is that this delay is because the team is trying to clear legal hoops to make Thor the mascot, not because it's still trying to figure out what to do.

Baldwin: Thor would work. Some sort of buffalo might work. I'm not even against something original. What does a gorilla have to do with Phoenix? Squatch supposedly lived in the Northwest but some claim Sasquatch has been spotted in southeastern Oklahoma. I've blogged the NBA has so many legal and licensing issues the league looks like the tortoise compared to the U.S. Congress. There is even a rumor there's an outside chance they won't have a mascot all season or until the very end of the season. Seems way too long to choose a costume for an acrobatic entertainer. But the past few months have taught us the NBA has about as many lawyers at its New York headquarters as the entire state of Oklahoma combined.

Rohde: Seems odd to have an opening night with no mascot. Little kids want something to cling to from the first game. Given the history of Sasquatch sightings in Oklahoma, we should go with the "Squatch" mascot from the Sonics. He's already on the Thunder payroll. Use Squatch on a trial basis. If the local fans like Squatch, and they should, then keep him. If they don't like Squatch, use him until the new mascot finally is revealed.

Sherman: Thor is the best and only option. The tie-in with Marvel Comics is a natural, and doesn't he live in Oklahoma?

Mayberry: Just put an athletic dude in a muscle suit, name him Rumble and call it a day.


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