The Scene At Shootaround
SALT LAKE CITY — About 30 minutes before the curtain was pulled back and media was allowed into the Energy Solutions Arena for the Thunder’s shootaround, I had planned on asking Thunder coach Scott Brooks how he would handle his point guard rotation tonight.
It was a pressing problem for the coach because he didn’t have more than one healthy point guard, starter Russell Westbrook. And Utah’s guard play, with starter Deron Williams and backups Eric Maynor and Ronnie Price, is one of the best in basketball. But the Thunder issued a press release which provided the answer just before the team opened its shootaround. Kyle Weaver had been recalled from the Tulsa 66ers of the D-League and will be in uniform tonight against the Jazz. With Kevin Ollie and Shaun Livingston both out with knee ailments, Weaver will play extended minutes behind Westbrook.
The emergency duty the Thunder has called on Weaver to provide is what makes the second-year guard valuable. The 6-foot-6 guard can play multiple positions while also being a pest on defense and an asset as a spot-up shooter. Thunder coaches specifically had Weaver work on his point guard skills in the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues for moments like this.
“Kyle needs to just run the team,” Brooks said. “Get us in, make plays offensively. Defensively, he’s solid. He has great length. He’s a position defender. He uses his body well and he’s gotten stronger. I think he’s improved. He’s going to get an opportunity tonight and I expect him to play well.”
For Weaver, it’s the opportunity he’s waited on all season, one that has seemed to take much longer to arrive than the 14 games it’s been. Weaver has played in only two games this season, averaging 5.5 points, 2.0 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 15 minutes, his partial playing time coming only in blowouts, 14 of those minutes during the 14-point loss at Orlando. It’s been a frustrating transition at times for a player who, as a rookie, played in 56 games, 19 as a starter, and averaged 20.8 minutes.
“You’re a competitor,” Weaver said. “You want to be out there, especially after having that first year where you did have a few chances to be out there on the floor contributing. But it’s a learning process, too. A lot of players go through this. Some of the best players go through it or have been through it. I’ve just got to take it for what it’s worth, and the time that I’m out there just pick up on things.”
Last season’s experience, Weaver said, will help him go into tonight’s game with confidence and poise when his number is called. He now knows what to expect rather than having to be thrust into a backup role while still being unsure of himself.
“Last year was definitely a big help, being able to be out there on the floor,” Weaver said. “It makes everything a bit smoother and hopefully I’ll be a lot more comfortable out there.”
Ollie, who had been the team’s calming force off the bench behind Westbrook, said his biggest advice to Weaver is to take command of the offense.
“Be confident,” Ollie said. “I know he has great belief in himself and knows the team is behind him. Just be assertive out there. Be a leader. As the point guard, your voice has to be projected over everybody. And they got to know that you’re in command.”
KEYS TO THE GAME
In identifying the keys to tonight’s game, Thunder coach Scott Brooks started with, well, defense of course.
“We’re going to try to take away as many paint points as we possible can,” Brooks said. “They want to get to the basket, they want to cut hard. And they do. They’re one of the best screen-setting teams and coming off screens. Obviously there a very well coached basketball team. But we just can’t allow them a lot of paint points.”
Brooks also said the Thunder has to match Utah’s physical play and avoid allowing the Jazz to let their toughness dictate what the team does offensively. Protecting the basket, closing out on shooters and getting back in transition, Brooks said, will be vital to OKC’s chances for victory.
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