What a week!
Since we last emptied our inbox, the Thunder has lost on a buzzer-beater, gone into overtime twice (three times if you count double-OT) and hosted the Miami Heat.
Over that same span, Serge Ibaka has found the doghouse, Daequan Cook has found his stroke, Russell Westbrook registered his third triple-double of the year and Kevin Durant had a career night in the midst of averaging 35.5 points and 10.7 rebounds in four games.
Ready to do it all over again?
The Thunder has an abbreviated three-game schedule this week, hosting New Orleans on Wednesday before a road back-to-back set at Phoenix and Utah. It’ll be hard to top last week’s excitement. But with this team, you just never know.
Let’s get to the mailbag.
Where can we find stats/info on Pleiss? What team is he playing for and how is he playing? Are the Thunder keeping in touch with him and watching his development closely? – Daniel.
Eurobasket.com has stats that seem to be accurate and updated regularly. It looks like in 21 games Pleiss is averaging 9.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 20.6 minutes. The name of his team is Brose Baskets. And, yes, the Thunder’s front office keeps close tabs on him. Several front office executives have traveled across the water to check in with Pleiss and monitor his development. I hear he’s doing quite well. The Thunder has made it a point to maintain positive relationships with the international clubs that their draft picks play on. That was the case with Serge Ibaka and, to a lesser extent DeVon Hardin and Robert Vaden. It’s been no different with Pleiss.
This might be the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, and I don’t mean this as a slight against Westbrook (I think he is a great, explosive player). But do you think the fact that he is not a “true” point guard holds the team back at all? Sometimes he gets into hero mode which takes others out of rhythm and Maynor sometimes seems to do a better job of getting everyone involved. Is this an issue for the Thunder or am I overreacting? – Timothy.
You’re overreacting. Westbrook’s hero-mode mentality looks terrible at times. But no one has any complaints when that style takes over and wins games. Besides, how many “true” point guards are there in the league today? Three? Four? Maybe. The NBA has changed. John Stockton isn’t walking through that door. I will say that Westbrook has fallen in love with his pull-up jumper. I wrote last year that it was much better even though the stats didn’t indicate as much. But this year, Westbrook has become more consistent and the numbers bear out that fact. Now, he forces it too much at times and that does in fact hurt the team. But he’s not the only one who takes bad or rushed shots. The bottom line, though, is Westbrook helps this team much, much more than he hurts it. And he’s got to be on the floor, doing exactly what’s brought him this far.
Wondered if you see any major changes in the starting frontline for next season? Is the organization happy with Cole Aldrich? – Mike S.
Based on my conversations, the Thunder is going to be patient with Aldrich. He fits a need, plays his role and, if he reaches his potential, he could be an extremely valuable piece to the puzzle. I’m not ready to rule him out as a starter next season. But he’s a long way away today, so far that just cracking the rotation on opening night would be a big achievement. I do think the Thunder is actively searching for an upgrade in the frontcourt. Management is patient and methodical, but those guys aren’t just sitting on their hands. They see the issues and, I’m almost positive, have a plan and a plan B and C to address it. As I’ve said before, the uncertainty with the salary cap continues to be a speed bump. Until the rules are known, very few teams are going to make bold moves. Count the Thunder among the masses that will remain prudent.
Will Carmelo or KD play PF at All-Star Game? And with KD playing the 4 in Int’l game, starting to run KD on screens and Green being said to be better suited at the 3, what does this portend for the future? – Mike W.
My guess is Melo, if he’s still a Nugget, will start at power forward in the All-Star Game. There’s no real D played at the start, so it’s not like “defending” Amar’e would be a challenge for either Melo or KD. As for KD seeing minutes at the 4, it’s a possibility that several basketball minds in the Thunder’s organization has tossed around. And on more than one occasion. That day might not be far off. Durant already steals minutes at power forward. But he might be a couple of years away from major minutes at that spot. The Thunder has to decide if he can effectively and efficiently perform at the 4. Moving him there just to put Green into his natural position wouldn’t be smart.
Why has Serge not been getting very many minutes as of late? And should the Thunder trade Harden due to Cook’s improved play? – Trevor.
Brooks has explained Ibaka’s lack of playing time lately on bad matchups and, most recently, not being focused and ready to play. It’s debatable whether a matchup should keep him off the floor. Miami played LeBron at the 4 on Sunday, and you’d certainly not want Ibaka checking Bron. But why not put Ibaka at the 5? We can second guess so many things. But I tend to believe Brooks knows best in those moments. It’s his roster. He sees the players every day. And he has a pulse on which players are providing what at different times. All I can say about your second question is Cook is mostly a one-trick pony. Harden has potential to be a versatile threat. If Harden is ever traded, it won’t be because Cook can come in and hit a few 3s.
Do you think cook is getting more playing time because the Thunder is showcasing him as possible trade bait? – Jason.
I’ve never really bought into that theory. I doubt teams, especially playoff-bound squads, “showcase” players in this league. Teams already know what players can do without seeing them in an additional 10 games before making a decision on them. The only exception might be whether a guy is healthy, but even elaborate physicals get to the root of those issues. So, no, I don’t think that’s why Cook is playing. I think Brooks sees that his lineup is in desperate need of 3-point shooting and Cook can get hot in a hurry. He’s helped recently and has been rewarded for remaining a professional despite a lack of playing time. That said, he still could be trade bait leading up to the Feb. 24 deadline.
Hubie Brown and several national media members commented on our stagnant 4th quarter offense against the Heat, which fans and local media have been seeing somewhat consistently over the past couple of years. It seems for 3-4 possessions in the middle of the 4th we fall asleep, stop moving, and run down the shot clock – instead of running our offense. Is this a coaching issue? An execution problem? Tired legs? I guess my biggest question is why does it happen so often? – Ryan.
You can blame it on so many things. But your biggest question is the best. Why it happens so often is mind-boggling. In fairness, though, the reality is that many NBA teams go into one-on-one mode in the fourth quarter. That’s when the best players step up and make big plays. The best teams, however, have systems that have been in place and they have become second nature to their players. The Thunder is still young, and we’re seeing the team’s growing pains. They’re learning how to execute down the stretch and get quality shots when defenses tighten up. Right now, it looks like every man for himself at times. But when they learn how to play off each other better, the results will look better. From a strategic standpoint, the Thunder’s offense relies heavily on scoring in transition as a primary option and then driving and kicking in the half court. Both of those dry up in the fourth quarter when defenses dig in. And the Thunder doesn’t have consistent enough shooters to employ a drive-and-kick game in the first place, let alone in the fourth quarter. As a result (stop me if you’ve heard this), many fourth-quarter possessions look like this: Russell Westbrook pounds the ball looking for something before finding nothing. He finally passes off to Jeff Green, who does the same before passing to Kevin Durant or back to Westbrook. Durant or Westbrook then play hot potato with five seconds left on the shot clock and have to force up a contested jumper. A simple solution is off-ball screens to free up Durant or one of the shooters, Harden or Cook. Out of that, better catch-and-shoot options or some misdirection action can be utilized.
Who are some players that the Thunder might go after to replace Jeff Green if we lose him to free agency? – Stevie.
Carl Landry would top my list. He’s still young. He should be relatively cheap. He knows his role. And he provides some much-needed toughness. Samuel Dalembert and Nene (if he opts out this summer; highly unlikely) are two other guys I’ve thought for a few years now could fit well with the Thunder. How would you feel about a Dalembert/Ibaka duo up front next season? Kris Humphries is having a career year in New Jersey and is a hard-nosed bull who certainly fits the ‘Thunder Way.’ Milwaukee’s Luc Mbah a Moute is a strong defender who can play the 3 and 4. Orlando’s Brandon Bass is a nice cost-effective option if he can be pried away in a trade. And Sacramento’s Jason Thompson could be viable low-risk, high-reward option depending on the money. Now, I realize two things about this list: 1) I have three current members of the 12-win Kings, not a team whose players you’re dying to get your hands on. 2) There are no big names. That’s intentional. Despite a published report that the Thunder was in serious talks with Cleveland for Anderson Varejao, I maintain that we aren’t likely to see those high-dollar, long-term contracts come to OKC. So while names like Varejao, Kendrick Perkins, Marc Gasol, Luis Scola and Kevin Love are wonderful for the wish list, they just don’t seem realistic. Plus, Ibaka’s upside might warrant only a serviceable power player, not some sort of star, going forward.
If there was a mid-season MVP award given, give us your top 3 MVPs as of right now, and why. Thanks and keep up the good work! – Dustin.
1. LeBron James. 2. Derrick Rose. 3. Chris Paul. The separation between James and Rose is minuscule in my book. And prior to Sunday’s game between the Thunder and Heat, I had Rose first. But James has been phenomenal in Miami and that team’s clear leader despite playing alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Rose, meanwhile, has carried his banged-up Bulls, first without Carlos Boozer and, now, without Joakim Noah. Rose is still surrounded by some nice talent in Luol Deng and the now healthy Boozer. But Rose has elevated his game to new heights and is borderline unstoppable each night. And Paul is flying quietly under the radar, leading a hodgepodge Hornets team to a potential top four seed in the West. Nobody thought that was possible in October.
How far do you think the thunder will go into the playoffs this year? – Josh.
As of right now, depending on the matchup, the Thunder could be a one-and-done team. And I don’t mean a first-round winner. This team’s defense has been downright disappointing for most every game. And when the defense does kick it into gear, the offense disappears. The Thunder has gotten away with its issues so far this season against the likes of Detroit, Milwaukee, Indiana, New Jersey and Golden State. But Dallas, Denver, New Orleans and Utah are different breeds. Oklahoma City can beat any of those teams in a seven-game series (the Mavs and Nuggets would be tough). But we’ve become far removed from the team that many thought was all but guaranteed to get to the second round, possibly even the conference finals.
Thanks as always to everyone who asked questions. Join the discussion next time if you’d like. Talk to you next week.