Good Monday, Thunder heads.
Much has happened since our last mailbag. Kendrick Perkins made his Thunder debut. The Thunder went on a season-long six-game winning streak…then saw it snapped by Toronto, which swept the season series. And James Harden has become a player.
In this week’s mailbag, we discuss ball-hogs, buried assets and Byron Mullens’ future.
And as always, join the conversation if you’d like. Our mailbag is always open.
How do you think the Rockets are finishing up the season? – Myron M.
Resiliently. After all they’ve been through they’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot. And they might actually make it! Five of their final 11 games are against teams below .500. And six of their final 11 come at home. Of their remaining road games – Miami, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Minnesota – only the Heat game looks like a guaranteed loss. The Rockets are only a game and a half behind Memphis for the eighth seed and the Grizzlies have a tougher home stretch with road games at Boston, Chicago, Portland and home dates with Utah, San Antonio and New Orleans remaining. I suspect it will come down to the wire between the Rockets and Grizzlies, maybe even the final day of the regular season.
Hey Darnell. Not to be overly critical because RW is clearly awesome and a work in progress. But clearly someone has not told this guy that he is incredible when he gets his teammates involved. I understand the need for him to be aggressive, but it seems like he can get his whenever and he doesn’t really need to “look for his offense.” Anyway, hopefully he can figure it out because I don’t think it bodes well for the playoffs for Russ to ball hog (a la Kobe) down the stretch. What do you think? – Marc.
We give players so much attention and adoration for scoring that few want to do anything else. Westbrook has proven he can be a great playmaker. But it always seems like there is a moment in every game when he’s just like, ‘Forget this. I’m scoring.’ You’re right, he’s awesome. But he’d be great if he was a threat to both score as well as make his teammates better at all times. It’d keep the defense off balance and improve everyone’s efficiency. Finding the right balance and consistently being able to play with it should be Westbrook’s focus this summer. His takeover-ability, however, actually should help the Thunder in the playoffs. It did last year. And if things get bogged down this postseason, it’s great to have an option that can create something in a hurry.
Hey Darnell. I’m a huge Thunder fan. Watched every game the past two years. Regarding this year’s draft, if Kawhi Leonard is still there when the Thunder picks, which is 50/50, we need to take him. He’s very athletic. A great rebounder and ball-handler. Solid defender, passer and shooter. He was a double-double machine all year. Please tell Presti or Scotty or anyone really about this kid. – Jeff S.
Sorry, Jeff. I highly doubt he’ll be around. I haven’t watched a second of San Diego State this season so I’m honestly not familiar with his game. I’ll have to take your word for it. But the Thunder is on pace to pick in the mid-20s. Leonard is projected to be a lottery pick. With Presti running the show, there’s always a chance of the Thunder trading on draft night, perhaps even trying to move up to get him or someone else. But if Leonard is as good as the scouts and so-called draft experts say he is, it’d be hard for the Thunder to get its hands on him.
Do you see Ivey and B.J. Mullens in the future plan of the Thunder? Oh yeah, KD’s scoring is down since All-Star, but four player’s scoring is up. Balance scoring and more assists = more wins. – John P.
I can’t see the organization giving up on Mullens this soon. He’s had two seasons but has played just 25 games. Mullens has simply been in an unfortunate situation where he’s had better and more experienced players (Nenad Krstic, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, Jeff Green, Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed and even Cole Aldrich) in front of him. But Mullens has shown improvement since he was drafted and could turn out to be a solid center. He’s still only 22. I think we all forget how young he is sometimes. There might be a lot of talent in that body. I would think the Thunder would want to try to pull it out. I can’t see Mohammed returning next year so that should help Mullens move into the third center spot. As for Ivey, he’s partially guaranteed for next year and I’d be shocked at this point if the front office doesn’t try to keep him in the mix to be a positive influence on these young bucks.
Darnell, can you give us a rundown of players whose rights are owned by OKC but who aren’t currently on the roster? Guys like Pleiss for example. What are they doing this year, and is there any chance they may help OKC in the future? – James K.
The Thunder has lots of them in addition to Tibor Pleiss, who is playing in Germany this season. Latvious Williams is the most intriguing. He was selected 48th overall by Miami last year but immediately traded to the Thunder. He’s a nice combo forward who can slash for scores, rebound and block shots. Robert Vaden is a shooting guard taken 54th overall in 2009 by Charlotte but immediately traded to the Thunder. He’s a shooter who can get hot from 3-point range. The Thunder also owns the draft rights to two power forwards, Ryan Reid, taken 57th overall last year by Indiana by immediately traded to OKC, and DeVon Hardin, who the franchise drafted 50th overall in 2008. Both are bruising, defensive-minded 4s. Hardin is a tremendous athlete. Williams, Vaden and Reid are all playing on the Tulsa 66ers Hardin is competing in Israel. There might be other more obscure players stashed away. But those are the main guys. And at this point, of those five guys, Pleiss and Williams are probably the only two I’d hold my breath for while waiting to see them in a Thunder uniform.
Can you ask Westbrook and Durant why they are such ball hogs and don’t pass to me? This is getting to be ridiculous. – James H.
It’s their team, James. Stay in your lane. You just got some slack on that leash of yours and now you want to start complaining? Pipe down, son! You’ve done a great job lately of getting in where you fit in. Keep it up.
I think having Perkins sit for two weeks did more good than if he was in right away. Sounds crazy, I know. But James Harden and Serge Ibaka have gone through the fire to get to where they are now. They are better players and the team chemistry is solid, deeper, more defined. It was tough to lose Jeff, but it was a necessary step to become what they are. And now…Perkins is back!!! – Kevin S.
Couldn’t agree more. Sorry I misunderstood you the first time. Ibaka had nine games to get acclimated in the first unit without all the attention being on Perkins or having Perkins throw the kitchen sink on defense at him. And James’ confidence sky-rocketed the moment Jeff Green didn’t get on the bus in San Antonio as the team headed to Orlando. He needed those games to show what he could do without the threat, albeit slight, of Perkins getting in the way. As a whole, the Thunder had to play a little bit with that us-against-the-world mentality. Mohammed was available. But I think the players, in the back of their heads, knew they were down “two” starters and had to account for it in some way. After a rocky two-game start against two of the league’s best teams, we saw inspired play and teamwork and execution. Things just clicked. Who knows if that attitude would have been there with Perkins?