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Oklahoma City Thunder's Hasheem Thabeet at a career high in happiness

The first three seasons of his NBA career were rough. Three teams. Four coaches. Lots of struggles. Which means that this season with the Thunder already qualifies as a success.
by Jenni Carlson Modified: January 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm •  Published: January 30, 2013

Hasheem Thabeet wants nothing more than to forget about the past and focus on the present.

Can't blame him for that.

The first three seasons of his NBA career were rough. Three teams. Four coaches. Lots of struggles.

Which means that this season with the Thunder already qualifies as a success. As the reserve big man prepares to face Memphis, the team that drafted him, he is flirting with career bests in points, rebounds, minutes and field goal percentage in his first season in Oklahoma City.

He's already at a career high in happiness.

“I love doing what I'm doing,” Thabeet said as he sat courtside at the Thunder practice facility Wednesday. “Every time I get to come out here, I love it.”

The Thunder has to feel pretty good about him, too. Signed to a two-year deal that will cost the team less than a million dollars a season, Thabeet has more than adequately filled the void left by the departures of Nazr Mohammed and Cole Aldrich. This was a team that needed a backup big man, and the 7-foot-3 center has been huge.

He's averaging a modest 2.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 11.6 minutes a game, but those numbers are almost double any of his other seasons.

“He's a different person since he's been there,” his agent Ugo Udezue said. “I don't know what Scott Brooks and the organization has done, but he's been a totally different person.”

So, what has the Thunder done?

Why is Thabeet starting to scratch the surface on the talent that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft?

For starters, the Thunder didn't saddle him with all the expectations that normally come with being the No. 2 pick. The team didn't expect him to be a game changer or even a finished product.

“We're going to put him in a situation to succeed,” Udezue remembers Brooks and Thunder general manager Sam Presti saying when they expressed interest in acquiring Thabeet last summer. “We're not going to put him in a situation where he has to do too much.”

That hasn't always been the case.

From the beginning in Memphis, expectations were sky high for Thabeet. He was drafted behind only Blake Griffin and ahead of the likes of James Harden, Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry. And as those guys excelled in their rookie seasons, the pressure built on Thabeet.

He played quite a bit early for the Grizzlies, even started several ballgames, but he struggled. There were quick fouls. There were bad turnovers. There were painful sequences.

The Grizzlies worked with him, having him catch tennis balls to try and improve his hand-eye coordination. But by February of his rookie season, Thabeet was struggling so badly that the Grizzlies sent him to the D-League.

He tore it up, frankly, but that dominate play didn't translate once he returned to the Grizzlies.

By his second season in Memphis, fans stood and booed when he checked into games.

His positive attitude, particularly in his all-capital-letters Twitter posts, only made things worse. It angered fans even more. They saw him playing badly, and yet, everything he said was good and happy.

Before the trade deadline, Memphis shipped him to Houston.

Rick Adelman, then the Rockets coach, seemed to have no use for Thabeet. That feeling didn't change much when Kevin McHale took over as coach before the next season.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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