Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 17


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sarver sorry fans saw depleted Spurs | Five questions loom for OKC now | LeBron wasn’t a great recruiter early on in Cleveland | Report: Wolves shopping Budinger

No. 1: Suns owner sorry fans saw depleted version of Spurs — It’s not all that unusual for NBA teams to rest a few of their superstar, veteran players in the preseason so as to perhaps work in  younger guys, or, simply, just give their best guys a night off. At around 1 p.m. yesterday, the San Antonio Spurs tweeted that Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter would miss Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to injury and that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich would also not travel with the team for the game. That left Tony Parker as the only household name to suit up last night and with 2:31 left in the game, Suns owner Robert Sarver addressed fans and apologized for San Antonio’s star-less lineup. Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic has more:

During a time out with 2:31 to go in the Suns’ 121-90 victory at US Airways Center, Sarver came to scorer’s table to get on the public address system.

“Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight,” Sarver said. “This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I’ve got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you.”

The game’s official attendance was 13,552, although many of those paid tickets were unused. After the game, Sarver said the fans who mail in a ticket stub or proof of attendance would receive a gift certificate for tickets, merchandise or food. The amount had not been determined.

“I just felt that the fans paid good money for the game and they didn’t see the players that they anticipated seeing,” Sarver said. “It was just a gesture to let them know that we appreciate their support and want to do something to compensate for that.”

Sarver said the organization had heard from fans who were displeased that they would not see all of the available Spurs.

“But that wasn’t really the reason I did it,” Sarver said. “I just think it was the right thing to do.”

Sarver said he did not believe that any league fine or reprimand was in order for the Spurs not bringing all of their healthy players to the game, the Spurs’ first preseason game since returning from a trip to Germany and Turkey last week.

“It’s their decision and it’s my decision to decide what to do for our fans,” Sarver said. “I’m fine with it.”

Some fans thanked Sarver as he returned to his seat and excited the arena’s lower bowl to head to the locker room.

“People acknowledged it and feel good about it,” Sarver said. “They know you’re thinking about them and you realize that they spent a lot of money to buy these tickets.”

It was not the first time that Sarver had a reaction to the Spurs holding out Duncan and Ginobili. In 2005, he flapped his arms like chicken wings at the Spurs bench when San Antonio chose to hold out their two stars from a regular-season game. He again drew negative social media reaction Thursday night from Spurs fans.

“It’s not really about them (the Spurs),” Sarver said. “They control what they do. We have to control what we do.”

UPDATE, 11:35 a.m.: And here’s what Sarver will be giving those Suns fans who send him their ticket …

And further details on what Sarver is offering is available via Suns.com


VIDEO: Robert Sarver addresses Suns fans during last night’s Phoenix-San Antonio game

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Five questions for OKC after Durant’s surgery


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks describes how the loss of Durant impacts the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant had surgery on his fractured right foot on Thursday, the team announced. He will be evaluated in six weeks. By then, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 16 games into a most unusual season.

Durant’s injury obviously will have wide-ranging effects, from whom coach Scott Brooks will start at small forward, which could determine who then starts at the vacant shooting guard spot, to which players with previously limited roles are in line for significantly more playing time.

Durant last season averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists and led the Thunder in 3-point shooting percentage. He won the MVP. So there’s plenty of making-up to do.

Here’s five questions the Thunder face with their regular-season opener 13 days away:

1. Who will replace Durant in the starting lineup?

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are the two main candidates. Lamb, the 6-foot-5 wing, is also a candidate to start at shooting guard, although Brooks seems feel most comfortable with the second-year, defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson. Roberson has started all three preseason games, and if he maintains the starting spot — which he manned last season when Russell Westbrook was out and Reggie Jackson took over point guard — that would allow Lamb to start at small forward. Jones is a 6-11 forward and a rare Thunder first-round pick who has yet to earn much beyond spot work in his first two seasons. His shooting range is improving and he’s athletic, but he’d have to prove he can guard NBA wings. The bigger issue with Jones here is he’s not much of an offensive threat, or at least we can’t claim that he is or could be because we just haven’t seen much of him. Without Durant and with Roberson at shooting guard, the Thunder will desperately need scoring threats around Westbrook. That would seem to give the edge to Lamb, an inconsistent shooter to be sure, but a player the Thunder hopes can become a valued slasher and 3-point shooter. His long, lanky frame can also be beneficial on the defensive end.

2. Since OKC needs scoring threats in the starting lineup, what does that mean at center?

Brooks is an extremely loyal coach and he loves to stick with his guys through thick and thin. That is obviously the case with center Kendrick Perkins. For everything you might think Kendrick can’t do — or no longer does well — Brooks will give you two things he loves about him. But Perkins’ starting days should be coming to an end. Even before Durant’s injury, Brooks claimed the starting position was up for grabs. Well, second-year center Steven Adams is grabbing it. He’s been excellent through three preseason games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.7 minutes. Those are numbers Perkins couldn’t touch even during his heyday in Boston. Not that Stevens could sustain such lofty production, but he continues to show he has great hands to catch-and-finish, he’s developed a nice rapport with Westbrook and he’s not afraid of physical play. Perkins has been out since the start of training camp with a quad injury, which makes only more sense for him to come off the bench as he rounds back into shape. Get ready Thunder fans who’ve been clamoring for Perkins to sit, Adams is making it possible for you to get your wish.

3. How will this affect Russell Westbrook?

Twitter is full of smarty-pants suggesting that Durant’s absence is the point guard’s green light to jack up 40 shot a night. Maybe in his dreams, Westbrook sees himself running circles through defenses like stationary pylons, dunking at the rim, slapping his imaginary guns into his imaginary holster after splashing endless 3s and draining his trademark high-rising free-throw jumper at will as teammates stand and golf-clap his virtuosity. Back in reality, Westbrook just might surprise the masses who doubt he can be a team player. But that’s been the goal even before Durant’s injury. The Thunder, like most teams, want to move the ball, get more players involved, be more, well, Spurs-like. At the start of training camp, Westbrook addressed the topic and even said: “There should be something that you see new from us.” Maybe it was just talk, but Westbrook seems sincere when he talks about getting everybody involved. Maybe Tuesday’s preseason win against Memphis, the first game without Durant, was a preview. Westbrook played 26 minutes and scored 14 points with 12 assists. He took just 10 shots and OKC scored 117 points in a 10-point win. If this is the model for how Westbrook will approach the season, the Thunder could well be a better team when Durant returns.

4. What about Reggie Jackson? He says he badly wants to start. What does this do for that cause?

Not much. Brooks has already declared Westbrook as the best point guard in the NBA, so he’s probably not going to then move Westbrook to shooting guard to allow Jackson to start at the point. As for Jackson starting at shooting guard, it makes OKC small in the backcourt and Jackson’s playmaking and scoring punch is too valuable off the bench. But surely Jackson sees the bigger picture. He’s eligible for an extension at the end of the month, which might not happen (and it’s probably beneficial for his value not to sign an extension), and would make him a restricted free agent next summer. Even coming off the bench, Jackson is going to play starters minutes and finish games. Without Durant he instantly becomes a top scoring option, so he could set himself up for a big scoring season, which will only inflate his value next summer. If Jackson decides to mope about not starting over a less accomplished player such as Roberson or Jones, or even Lamb, the Thunder will have trouble. But Jackson has never shown to be that type of player.

5. Is there a wild card on the Thunder roster?

His name is Anthony Morrow. As Brooks mentioned at the start of training camp, the team actually has a player with a higher 3-point percentage than Durant. The Thunder could have used him last season, but better late than never. Morrow has never been able to stick with any one team during his career, but the Thunder offers a unique situation where he really can solely focus on shooting 3s (and mix in a little defense). With Durant out, defenses will focus on Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka, who has become one of the best mid-range, pick-and-pop shooters in the league, and if Morrow can knock down 3s at his career rate of 42.8 percent, he could certainly see more minutes than his career average of 23.7, at least until Durant returns. Through three preseason games, Morrow is averaging 16.7 points and is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. He’s also managed to get to the free-throw line, making all 14 of his attempts. Morrow’s accuracy could be the single most effective weapon in replacing Durant’s scoring.

Measuring ball and player movement


VIDEO: Spurs Season Preview: Year in Review

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – With the way the San Antonio Spurs eviscerated the Miami Heat defense on their way to the largest point differential in Finals history, ball movement has become a hot topic around the NBA. (You could say that the Spurs have spurred a ball-movement movement.)

The Cavs, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Thunder and Warriors are among the many teams who have given lip service to moving the ball better this season. And why not? More movement should make your team tougher to guard and give it a better chance to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

In the past, there wasn’t a great way to measure ball movement. We had assist ratio (AST/FGM), but an assist could be recorded without a lot of ball movement, a lot of ball movement doesn’t necessarily lead to an assist, and assigning assists is ultimately at the discretion of the official scorer.

Now, we have SportVU. And the presence of its cameras in every arena can give us a much better picture of how much teams really move the ball … and move themselves. The cameras track every movement on the court, both by the players and the basketball.

The Spurs are the first team that come to mind when discussing ball movement. But they ranked fourth in passes per possession last season, according to SportVU, behind Charlotte, Chicago and Utah.

Those three were all bottom-seven offensive teams, though. One reason they passed more often is because they often went deep into the shot clock without finding a good shot. The Jazz took a league-high 21 percent of their shots in the final six seconds of the shot clock. The Bulls (20 percent, fourth highest rate) and Bobcats (17 percent, 10th highest rate) took a lot of their shots in the final six seconds too.

Ball movement

20141016_passesTo account for that, SportVU can look at passes on a per-minute basis. And to simplify things, it can isolate passes and player movement in the frontcourt on possessions that lasted more than six seconds (to eliminate fast breaks).

When we do that, we see that the Spurs do moved the ball more than any other team, more than 15 times per minute. The Bobcats were still near the top of the list, but the Jazz (14.1) and Bulls (13.9) ranked ninth and 11th respectively.

The league average was about 13.6 passes per minute (one every 4.4 seconds), and the Golden State Warriors are at the bottom of the list at 11.7 passes per minute, a number which might change with a new coach.

The Sacramento Kings were just above the Warriors at 11.9 passes per minute, but interestingly, ranked high in terms of player movement.

Player movement

20141016_distanceNot surprisingly, the Spurs were at the top of this list, too. Not only is the ball moving in San Antonio’s offense, but so are the players. Tony Parker is passing off and circling under the basket before getting the ball back at the top of the key. Tiago Splitter is setting multiple screens on most possessions. And Danny Green is running from corner to corner to get open while his defender is focused on the ball.

The Bobcats, Sixers, Wizards, Jazz and Bucks also ranked in the top 10 in both ball and player movement. The Warriors, Pistons, Knicks and Thunder, meanwhile, ranked in the bottom 10 in both.

The anomalies

There was a decent correlation between ball movement and player movement, but there were teams that ranked high in one and not the other.

The Kings and Pelicans each ranked in the top five in player movement, but in the bottom five in ball movement. New Orleans ranked third in the league in drives, but was the team most likely to shoot on those drives.

On average, about 65 percent of drives would result in a drawn foul or a shot by the driver. Tyreke Evans (70 percent), Eric Gordon (79 percent) and Austin Rivers (82 percent) were all guys who drove a lot, but not for the purpose of finding an open teammate.

The Kings’ offense featured a lot of cutting, but not a lot of passes. Isaiah Thomas led all starting point guards in seconds (of possession) per touch (5.45). And DeMarcus Cousins (1.95) led all power forwards and centers in the same category.

On the other side of the ledger were the Clippers and Lakers, who ranked high in ball movement (eighth and fifth, respectively), but low in player movement (22nd and 25th).

The Clippers’ offense is a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls and a solid helping of post-ups, each of which draw extra defenders to the ball and create open looks for other guys. But those other guys aren’t moving that much when they’re not involved in the primary action. The Lakers, with far less talent, often swung the ball around the perimeter until somebody had enough space to launch a three.

Is better ball movement the answer?

The Spurs move the ball beautifully, move themselves often, ranked sixth in offensive efficiency in the regular season and took it to a new level in The Finals. But the Spurs are special.

There is no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency. Three top-10 offenses — Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Toronto — ranked in the bottom 10 in ball movement (passes per minute in half-court possessions). And five bottom-10 offenses — Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Utah, Charlotte and the Lakers — ranked in the top 10.

If you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you don’t need to move the ball that much. And if you have the combination of Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, you’re going to get some great shots by just running a pick-and-roll. If you don’t have enough talent, it’s not going to matter much how much you move the ball.

The same goes with player movement. As noted above, the Clippers ranked 22nd in player movement (team distance per minute in half-court possessions), and they had the No. 1 offense in the league.

You might think that better ball movement allows you to better sustain your offensive success in the playoffs, when you’re facing defenses that know all your players and aim to take away your primary actions. But last year, there was no correlation between teams that moved the ball well in the regular season and those that improved offensively in the playoffs.

Again, the Spurs are special.

Blogtable: LeBron’s MVP challenger

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Darkhorse MVP | Best backcourt | Speeding up the game


> Kevin Durant is likely out of the MVP picture, making LeBron the clear frontrunner. Who is your darkhorse MVP candidate?

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Chris Paul (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I don’t think Durant is out of MVP contention simply because he’ll miss games — if OKC were to sputter along below .500 without him, then win at an .800 clip with him, that would make all the MVP case he’d need. But I’ll play along: If James doesn’t win his fifth MVP, I’m guessing Chris Paul pushes the Clippers to something special out West and snags it. Media voters love imbuing point guards will all sorts of bonus intangibles that say “valuable” (which is why Chicago’s Derrick Rose could get back in the conversation, too).

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m not sure you would label Chris Paul as a dark horse. But in the  second year under Doc Rivers and with the door opened by OKC, the Clippers could make a run at best record in the West/league and that could push CP3 over the top. Way outside in dark would be Anthony Davis, if he can somehow lead the Pelicans into the playoffs.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comStephen Curry. I’ve been a believer since the day Steve Kerr was hired that Golden State is going to have a fun and loose squad that will play the same way. They’ll maintain the defensive principles, but Kerr will usher in a much more appealing, go-go offense that is going to play right into Curry’s hands. He’s set to go bonkers, folks, and the Warriors (health be with them) will follow.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: On the assumption that by darkhorse you mean “Anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant”: Anthony Davis. The problem for Davis is that this will depend a lot on his teammates — the Pelicans are in position to make the playoffs, but if they miss, AD MVP would be a hard campaign to win. The problem for the rest of the league, meanwhile, is that he is ready to burst to the next level. He is established as a superstar into the next decade. The only question is whether that future arrives in 2014-15.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose would likely split the vote in Chicago, while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul would do the same in L.A. The Spurs are too balanced and the Pelicans won’t be good enough for Anthony Davis’ candidacy. So I’ll go with Stephen Curry, with the idea that the Warriors will improve offensively (into the top seven in efficiency) and win 50-plus games again, with Curry averaging something in the range of 25 points and 10 assists.

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Blake Griffin (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI don’t know that “darkhorse” is the right word to use for what Russell Westbrook will be this season, but he’s my guy. With Kevin Durant out of the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup for up to two months, Russ West will have the MVP platform that has eluded him the past couple of seasons. He’s certainly played like one at times. But there has always been the Durant factor that kept him from getting the sort of MVP love his production deserved. I know his performance comes with the high-risk, high-reward factor that has always driven his biggest critics a bit crazy. But he won’t be denied if the Thunder can stay afloat in the West without Durant the way they did last season when Westbrook was recovering from his knee surgery.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogHow about Russell Westbrook? For basically his entire NBA career, Westbrook has been judged almost solely based in relation to the production of his teammate, Kevin Durant. But with Durant gone, we may finally get to see maximum Westbrook, where he can take as many shots as he wants and drive to the basket as often as he wants. Durant and Westbrook account for the bulk of OKC’s offense, so without Durant there’s a lot of making up to do. But if the Thunder manage to not just survive but thrive without Durant, it could go a long way toward proving Westbrook’s value to his squad.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italy: My dark horse is… Kevin Durant. I don’t see him out of the race, even if he’s going to miss the first 20 games of the season. But he’ll have 62 more games to show everybody he deserves the prize. He’s getting closer and closer to LeBron and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that when he’ll be back. If I have to pick a name different from LeBron and KD, then I’m going with Chris Paul: the Clippers have a new spirit thanks to Steve Ballmer and he can be the guy who guide them at the top of the West.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Tony Parker could win it! It can go down like the Oscars: you know, when an actor wins the award not for the movie that he just made, but for those he had done before that. If that’s the case, then Tony Parker could win the MVP trophy, one season after the spectacular things he did with the Spurs. It’ll help his cause if San Antonio will wrap up another 55+ season and finish at the top.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: I’m going with Blake Griffin. His offensive repertoire expanded last season and with more improvement in his game this season he should be a top candidate. There’s more tricks to his game than just dunking, he’s now a legitimate post presence and has an expanding jump shot. The next evolution of his game could be a 3-point shot. Griffin attempted 44 threes last season, hitting just 27 percent of them, but it appears that he’s testing out a 3-point shot in the preseason. Last week he showed glimpses of an expanding shot from the corner, an element that will give his game and the Clippers’ offense a new dimension. Speaking of the Clippers, they’re a legitimate contender to win the West and that generally helps when the MVP is voted on.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Blake Griffin of the Clippers. He was in the running last season, and now is one of a real top candidate. His shooting skill seems like better than last season and he can score more points by jump shot from the perimeter this season. Kevin Durant’s injured and LeBron James will share the ball more than Heat era. So I think Griffin has a big chance to get MVP, if he keeps his condition.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Chris Paul. I really believe the Clippers’ point guard, the best in the league, has to elevate his game this season if the Clippers are to go to the next level. Doc Rivers’ arrival changed the Clippers for better, but until Paul takes his game to a whole new level, these Clippers will continue to stumble in the poststeason. I think somewhere CP3 realises this as well. He will want to come out aggressive and leave his stamp on this season through an MVP performance.

Juan Carlos Campos, NBA Mexico: The theory would indicate that yes, LeBron James has a clear and relatively easy path to be the league’s MVP this year. With that said, I think that Stephen Curry is more than ready to take the leap into super stardom and compete hand to hand with “King” James to be named the most valuable this season. Already in the pre-season he’s shown signs of that – just ask Kobe Bryant.

Abraham Romero, NBA Spain: Blake Griffin. The Clippers and Cavs have the best roster and Blake has improved his game to an amazing level: he can dunk, shoot, rebound, assist … If LeBron relaxes a bit in Cleveland … the MVP goes to L.A.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 15


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nash may come off bench for Lakers | Adams defends his style of play | Matthews thinks he’s NBA’s top two-way SG | Jackson putting Knicks through ‘mindfulness training’

No. 1: Nash likely to backup Lin on Lakers — Most would agree that the best years of Steve Nash‘s illustrious career is well behind him, but he’s still trying to make an impact for the Los Angeles Lakers as his career winds down. Apparently, if Nash hopes to do that this season, he could have to do it in a reserve role. According to Mike Bresnahan and Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, coach Byron Scott may start Jeremy Lin at the point, not the former two-time MVP Nash:

Lakers Coach Byron Scott indicated Jeremy Lin could become the starting point guard because of Nash’s recurring back problems, a switch that made sense because of Nash’s on-again, off-again availability.

Nash played well in the Lakers’ exhibition opener but sat out their second game and pulled himself out of their third exhibition at halftime because he didn’t feel right.

Nash, who turns 41 in February, played only 15 games last season and is in the last year of a three-year, $28-million contract. He averaged 6.8 assists and 5.7 assists last season.

Scott said he hadn’t officially decided on a permanent switch but appeared to lean toward Lin for continuity’s sake.

“I have no doubt in my mind that if I went to Steve and said tomorrow, ‘You know what, I’m going to start Jeremy and the games that you’re available, we’re going bring you off the bench,’ he’s such a professional that I don’t think it would be a problem whatsoever,” Scott said Tuesday.

Nash was not available for comment after the Lakers practiced but he would not fight the switch, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Either way, the Lakers planned to sit him for about one-fourth of their games throughout the regular season.

Lin said he would “no question” like to start but had a hard time articulating his thoughts on it, mainly because he respected Nash while watching NBA games as a teenager, long before he actually began playing in them.

“Just talking to him, he wants to be healthy, he wants to enjoy what is probably his last year and I would want them for him as well,” Lin said. “But at the end of the day, whatever position [Scott] calls me to, or whatever it is, I’m going to do my best.”


VIDEO: Byron Scott talks about why he would start Jeremy Lin over Steve Nash

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC trying to figure out its Plan B | Bryant mentoring in a new way | Jackson: Dolan won’t ‘meddle’ in roster moves | Shaw monitoring Lawson’s ankle injury

No. 1: OKC searching for lineup solution in wake of Durant injury — In case you were under a rock yesterday, the Oklahoma City Thunder received some tough news mid-morning that their superstar (and the NBA’s reigning MVP) Kevin Durant will be out 6-8 weeks with a stress-related fracture in his right foot. It’s tough news for that team to swallow, but they must move forward as the start of the season approaches. One of the most well-informed OKC observers, The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry, offers up this view on what may be next in Thunder-land:

There is no Plan B for losing the NBA’s leading scorer four times over to injury. Still, the Thunder must come up with one.

Quick.

Five preseason games might remain, but Oklahoma City’s season opener arrives two weeks from Wednesday. And the Thunder, remember, hasn’t even determined — or at least hasn’t announced — who’ll be this year’s starting shooting guard and center.

Now tack onto that the chore of figuring out who will be the starting small forward. Figuring out who will replicate Durant’s 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Figuring out how to survive 20 games in the ruthless Western Conference.

“Replacing 30 points and high efficiency, that is not going to be easy,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said at a news conference discussing Durant’s injury Sunday. “It will be a collection of things.”

Presti pointed first to defense.

“One of the ways to improve your team and make up for loss offensively is to be play even better defensively and reduce the net rating between the offense and the defense,” Presti said.

Part of the shame in Durant going down will be the delayed unveiling of OKC’s revamped offense, which has looked phenomenal at times through two preseason games thanks to ball movement, spacing, cutting and off-ball action that has been missing for the better part of six seasons.

The challenge for the Thunder, and it will be a real challenge without the world’s best scorer standing on the wing striking nightly fear into defenders, is to maintain that offensive identity and allow it to lead to easier scoring opportunities. No longer can the Thunder rely simply on the two-headed monster of Durant and Russell Westbrook. For too long OKC has gotten by with their supreme talents bailing out the offense. Now, the offense will have to sustain what suddenly has become a far less talented active roster.

The basketball world already is on edge waiting to see what Westbrook will do as a ball-happy, shot-hungry point guard without Durant by his side. But if all goes according to plan, the basketball world will be disappointed. Because unlike the 2013 postseason, when the Thunder’s offense unsuccessfully went from a glorified two-man show with Westbrook healthy to a horrifying one-man show staring Durant after the infamous Patrick Beverley play, Westbrook and his teammates have displayed a commitment to better ball movement, better execution and, thus, better structure.

In time, it could lead to the Thunder becoming a better team.


VIDEO: Thunder GM Sam Presti discusses how OKC will move on after Kevin Durant’s injury

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Blogtable: Finding Westbrook’s place

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.

> Scott Brooks says Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. We’re wondering if Westbrook should play 2 guard instead. What’s your thinking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Scott Brooks, former professional point guard by trade, considers Russell Westbrook to be a point guard, that’s good enough for me. What’s in a name, The Bard asked. That which we call a Rose (Derrick) by any other name would smell as sweet (if healthy). Same goes for Westbrook. No need to get hung up on position designation. The key is for Westbrook to complement Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup and for Brooks to build his backcourt to complement his irrepressibly athletic ball dominator. Time to move on from the John Stockton archetype, at least in this guy’s case.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With all of the great point guards currently in the NBA, who is the best is a classic barstool question that can have many different and valid answers. Russell Westbrook, with all of his flaws, is the correct one on any given night. No, he’ll never be linked with John Stockton as a classic set-up man or Chris Paul as an overall floor general, but the Thunder have been one of the league’s elite teams with him at the point. It seems to me that if you moved him to the 2 spot, you’d actually be turning him loose to shoot even more and eliminating a raw, physical mismatch that he has over most other point guards. I’m also wondering why anyone wants to change one of the two main cogs on a Thunder team that has a .688 winning percentage over the past five seasons?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would you play the, ahem, best point guard in the league at shooting guard? No. I’m leaving Westbrook right where he is. Westbrook is an All-Star, the guy does things no one else can do. OK, so some of what he does also makes you want to pull your hair out. He mentioned Monday that incorporating more player and ball movement into the offense is a high priority and suggested we might see something new from the Thunder in that regard. So we’ll see. But starting Reggie Jackson at the point and Westbrook at the 2 doesn’t make this team better. Westbrook averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 apg after all those surgeries last year. In the playoffs he averaged 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. Anyone else does that and we’re calling him the best point guard in the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: His career best for 3-point percentage is 33 percent and he’s been better than 44 percent overall twice in six seasons. So there’s that. Plus, he is uniquely effective because he is a PG with superior athleticism and better size than most on the other side of the matchup. Move Westbrook to the other backcourt spot and suddenly the Thunder have a small backdoor, a shooting guard who can’t spot up and concerns about not maximizing your second-best player. The only reason it should be discussed is if OKC wants to play Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Otherwise, no go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s certainly the most talented point guard in the league and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players, period. Westbrook without the ball in his hands is not the same Westbrook. There are possessions — sometimes when the game is on the line — when he needs to be more of a true point guard, but if you live by the Russ, you have to sometimes die by the Russ. It’s not like you can flip a switch in his head.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Of course, Scott Brooks is campaigning for Russ Westbrook, as any coach worth his whistle should. And he can make a great argument for the force of nature that Westbrook has become, warts and all. He doesn’t own the No. 1 spot on my list. That spot still belongs to Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. But Westbrook is easily in my top five. My bigger issue is  with this mysterious “we” who are contemplating whether or not Westbrook should play the 2? That’s like playing a high-risk, high-reward dual threat NFL quarterback at wide receiver. Makes no sense to me!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Russell Westbrook might be the most *talented* point guard in the NBA. I mean, his athleticism at the position is really unparalleled, both in the NBA today and historically. His combination of size and speed and explosiveness render him almost unstoppable in the open court. But that incredible package of skills also seems to dazzle Westbrook at times, and he doesn’t fully know how to consistently utilize those gifts in such a way as to lead the Thunder to titles. Westbrook is an amazing talent, but that doesn’t make him the best point guard in the NBA. Because that person’s name is Chris Paul.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Westbrook stays where he is. Look at Kevin Durant’s numbers — the current league MVP has four scoring titles, with Westbrook playing point-guard. Also, consider this, Westbrook averaged 8.1 apg in the 2014 postseason, only behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, both of whose teams did not proceed beyond the second round. How much better can Westbrook or anyone else at point-guard do? Moreover, with Westbrook playing the 2-spot, how often is he going to get the ball, with Durant definitely being OKC’s number one offensive option. OKC’s problems against the NBA’s best remains an overdependence on Durant and Westbrook for their scoring. They need to address that rather than tinker with Westbrook’s position.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: When it comes to ranking point guards, Chris Paul is 1A and Russell is 1B in my book. I think playing him at the 2 is nonsense. Even if you add a another point guard, that’s just gonna cut into the touches and times he and Durant get to bring the ball upcourt. I do like two point guard sets and think Russ could excel in them, but only if you don’t have a point-forward type player like KD. Free Westbrook!

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: These days there’s not a huge difference between a point guard and a shooting guard. It depends on the opponent and certain moments during the game, but Russell can play either position.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 1


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after his first practice with the Lakers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant, Nash take part in practice | Jackson wants to be a starter | Gay holding off on contract extension talk | Smith pledges to shoot less 3-pointers in Detroit

No. 1: Lakers’ Bryant, Nash participate in practice — The L.A. Lakers had one of their worst seasons ever, something that could be attributed to the number 21. That’s the total number of games that Kobe Bryant (six) and Steve Nash (15) played in for L.A. last season. With the start of training camp on Tuesday, though, the Lakers got good news simply in the fact both players suited up and made it through practice without issue. The Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan has more on Bryant and Nash’s first practice under coach Byron Scott, including Bryant’s trademark competitiveness showing up early on:

To hear everybody talk, Kobe Bryant was 26 years old, not 36. He was merely coming off a bruised thigh and scratched elbow, not a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee.

The Lakers didn’t do any scrimmaging Tuesday, but Bryant made an impact while practicing for 2 hours 15 minutes, his first official action since playing only six games last season.

He had to be asked to leave the court. For his own sake.

“Basically, I had to ask Kobe to, you know, ‘Why don’t you shut it down? We’ve got another one tomorrow,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said, encouraging Bryant to sit out end-of-practice conditioning.

Bryant said he felt like himself, adding, “and that’s a good thing.”

It might not be glamorous, but this defense-first thing will continue for a while.

“Every day until I get to the point where I don’t think we need to. And I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Scott said. “I know in my years of playing and coaching that that’s something that wins championships.”

The running might not stop for a while either, though Nash joined Bryant in skipping the end-of-practice sprinting that left plenty of players huffing and puffing, with some even laying down or leaning against the basketball hoop support.

Nash, who will be 41 in February, practiced for about 90 minutes before heading to the sideline for some rest. Scott said he “was in great shape” after playing only 15 games last season mainly because of recurring nerve damage in his back.

The bigger deal these days is Bryant’s return to the court. Even Bryant acknowledged it.

“I think the Achilles’ injury just ignited a new challenge for me personally to see if I can do this, right?” Bryant said. “Because you don’t know. So it’s a challenge that presented itself to see if I can make this a successful comeback.”

Additionally, Lakers fans will be happy to see this bit of news from Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears:


VIDEO: Steve Nash talks after the Lakers’ practice on Tuesday

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 30


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew reveals their early power rankings for 2014-15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Durant plans to play in 2016 Olympics | Rose confident Bulls will soon have title run | Wistful KG appreciates his 20th season | Business already good for Cavs | Hinkie unsure if Embiid will play this season

No. 1: Report: Durant plans to play in 2016 Olympics — Team USA secured gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup despite not having LeBron James, Kevin Durant and several other household names on the roster. While James is still on the fence about playing in the 2016 Olympics, Durant is hoping he’ll get to be back on the squad. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Durant says in an upcoming interview how he is ready to get back on the court with Team USA and also talks about his future with the Thunder:

Durant withdrew from national-team duty in August shortly before the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.

“Hopefully I’ll be there. It’s whoever Mr. [Jerry] Colangelo and Coach K [Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski] pick,” Durant said in‎ an interview on his 26th birthday scheduled to air later this week on SportsCenter. “I would love to have the chance to play in another Olympics.”

Durant said again Monday that fatigue was his motivation for leaving Team USA before the World Cup, insisting that neither his summerlong shoe-contract negotiations with Nike and Under Armour nor the season-ending compound leg fracture suffered Aug. 1 by Indiana Pacers star Paul George prompted his withdrawal.

“I was tired,” Durant said. “I just wanted to have some time to just enjoy my summer and continue to work on my game but just enjoy my summer. Coach K and Mr. Colangelo understood and they made this whole thing easy for me.

“The thing I didn’t want to happen was for it to overshadow what those guys were doing because they deserved to be in their moment. I was so excited for them, especially the newer guys that hadn’t played in international competition before. It felt like four years ago when we were playing in 2010 and had all the young guys. That’s what their team looked like, so I was excited they got the W [in the tournament in Spain].”

For Durant, the summer of 2016 also happens to be his free-agent summer, which he also addresses in the SportsCenter sitdown, acknowledging the fact that his future — much like James’ this past season — is already generating plenty of discussion.

Even though Durant is two summers away from free agency, teams such as the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Wizards are among those that have already been strongly linked to him.

“You know they’re going to come, [so] just answer them and let people know I really enjoy being in Oklahoma City and I’m just trying to focus on the season,” said Durant, who grew up a Wizards fan as a Maryland native, of the inevitable questions about his future looming this season. “But I know those questions are going to come and I’m not going to lie about them. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t think about it. But also just know, my main focus is trying to be the best player I can be and the best leader I can be for Oklahoma City and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.‎”

In the interview, Durant also discusses Oklahoma City’s free-agent pursuit of Pau Gasol at length for the first time. Despite repeated personal pleas in July from Durant and fellow Thunder star Russell Westbrook, Gasol elected to sign with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent.

“Sometimes that stuff don’t work out for you, but as long as you can say you put a full-court press on, that’s cool, no matter what,” Durant said. “That was a fun process, so I was excited to be a part of something like that for once. … Never [recruited] before to that extent. I may have texted guys, but no one as big as Pau Gasol. We put all our effort into it. It didn’t work out for us, but sometimes that’s how the game goes.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook chat during OKC’s media day

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: Nets’ expectations for 2015

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: ‘This is Kyrie’s show’ | Kupchak still talking titles in LA | Hollins installing new system one step at a time | Vogel still believes in Pacers

No. 1: LeBron: This is Kyrie’s show — The new look comes with a new outlook for LeBron James, whose return to Cleveland puts him in a position where he has to adjust his game significantly for the second time in four years. He had to make adjustments to the way he played when he left Cleveland for Miami in 2010 to play alongside fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and will have to do so again now that he’s back home in Northeast Ohio playing alongside fellow All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  While it’s clearly LeBron’s house, the world’s best player makes it clear that it’s Kyrie’s show now. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

With two championships under his belt and the storybook factor of coming back home on his side, the presumption was that LeBron James would be the unequivocal top dog of Cleveland’s new-look Big Three.

Instead, it turns out James is more than willing to share the spotlight, as well as when it comes time to decide which player will have the ball in his hands for the majority of the Cavaliers’ possessions.

“I’ll probably handle the ball a little bit, but this is Kyrie [Irving's] show,” James said Saturday following the team’s first practice of training camp. “He’s our point guard. He’s our floor general, and we need him to put us in position to succeed offensively. He has to demand that and command that from us with him handling the ball.”

James split ballhandling duties with Dwyane Wade most of the time during his four years with the Miami Heat, causing Mario Chalmers often to play off the ball on offense even though he defended the opposing team’s point guard on the other end.

Now, James will have another ball-dominant guard in Irving to play with, and not only is it something that he accepted in his return to Cleveland, it actually played a role in selling him on the move from Miami.

“Coming back, my [Sports Illustrated] letter kind of spoke for it, what this city and Northeast Ohio, what I mean to it. That had a lot to do with it, probably 95 percent of it. And the fact that Kyrie was here as well. That’s a huge part,” James said. “I’ve never played with a point guard like Kyrie Irving, a guy that can kind of take over a game for himself. We need it. So, that was a huge thing and that was way before we even got [Kevin] Love and signed Mike Miller and Trix (Shawn Marion) and the rest of the guys. That was very intriguing.”

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