When the Thunder signed Hasheem Thabeet last July, news of the deal created a chain reaction that consisted of two interrelated things.
Confusion. And comedy.
People, fans and media alike, didn't understand why Oklahoma City was taking on a player many had been written off as a bust. Their bewilderment led to the Thunder becoming the butt of jokes.
Eleven months later, the Thunder is now inching closer to getting the last laugh.
That's because Thabeet used his first season in a Thunder uniform to prove that he belongs in the NBA.
The 7-foot-3 center from Tanzania averaged 2.4 points, three rebounds and 0.9 blocked shots in 11.7 minutes. He played 66 games — including four as a fill-in starter — and that was one shy of matching his total from the previous two seasons.
More significantly than his modest statistics, Thabeet provided an impact, giving the Thunder size and depth at the center position
“I'm happy with how the year turned out,” Thabeet said.
At 26 and entering his fifth season, Thabeet might not become the defensive star he was projected by many to be when he was selected second overall in 2009. But no longer is it laughable to think the Thunder might have picked up a diamond in the rough. Thabeet has shown promise as a rebounder and shot-blocker, two of the most critical things the Thunder seeks from the center position.
Extrapolate Thabeet's production over 36 minutes, or a starter's typical playing time, and his value becomes much more apparent: 7.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.8 blocked shots, 1.4 and 60.4 percent shooting.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks and GM Sam Presti, two of Thabeet's biggest supporters from the start, both understand how successful Thabeet was this season and both made sure to encourage him to build on this year.
“They said I shouldn't settle,” Thabeet said. “I've got to come back hungry for more and just keep working.”
Thabeet thinks he could have had a better year than he did but realizes he made progress. He even called the season his most rewarding as a pro.
“So far, I would say yeah,” Thabeet said. “I haven't played a lot for the past three years. I never really worried about that even though I wasn't as happy. Now I'm happy, actually … I used to stress a lot over things I couldn't control and it didn't do me no good. Now … I want to work hard for my teammates … So it's working pretty well.”
All season, Thabeet respectfully declined to talk about his previous stops in Memphis, Houston and Portland. All three turned out to be disasters, and Thabeet is believed to have not been fully supported by the front offices and coaching staffs of all three organizations.
As a result, Thabeet floundered. He came to Oklahoma City with career averages of 2.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocked shots in 135 games.
But from the moment he joined the Thunder as an observer at the Orlando Pro Summer League, Thabeet was welcomed with open arms.
“It seemed like a lot was expected,” Thabeet said. “Once I really got into it everything was out there. All the (resources) you need to be successful was out there. It was for you just to go get it.”
Thabeet still remembers walking through the doors of the Thunder's practice facility in the early days and being greeted by one helping hand after another; not only by teammates and coaches, but also by the head of team security, the director of player services and the head athletic trainer.
“Everybody wants to help you to get better,” Thabeet said.