Posts Tagged ‘Steven Adams’

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.

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

(more…)

Ball movement high on Westbrook’s list

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the Thunder’s media day

OKLAHOMA CITY – Visions of Pau Gasol, back to the basket, effortlessly tossing passes to cutters and slashers and 3-point shooters as if directing a choreographed ballet certainly danced through the minds of the Thunder, whose ambitions to increase ball movement in their potent, but heavily star-driven offense seem to have only intensified.

“Well, yeah, we had obviously a chance,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Monday of OKC’s summer dalliance with Gasol, a terrific low-post passer who chose to leave the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls. “One thing I look at is I love the team I have. I wished him the best. I had a great meeting with him. But it’s not something I even think about now.”

Brooks does love his team, and he’ll never miss an opportunity to let everybody know it. In fact on Monday he announced, without provocation, that Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the game.

And Westbrook promptly agreed.

“I feel like I’m the best player on the floor every time I step on the floor. That’s just my mindset,” Westbrook said during an exceedingly short and curt media session, perhaps the most telling sign that he’s back to 100 percent from the knee injury that robbed him of the 2013 playoffs and half of last season. “It’s not just this year, not just last year. It’s just how I think when I get on the basketball floor.”

If that’s the case then the Thunder’s desire to move the ball around more, to involve more players not named Westbrook, Kevin Durant or pick-and-pop maestro Serge Ibaka should not be the excruciating exercise it has been, particularly during out-of-timeout or late-game situations when execution is paramount.

But this is also a tricky area because Brooks must also allow his two supremely gifted stars to exploit their own unique skills to create for themselves and score. An over-reliance, however, can lead to over-dribbling, teammates standing around and ultimately either Westbrook or Durant forcing low-percentage attempts late in the shot clock. Memphis, a quality defensive team, has flustered Durant and the Thunder in each of the last two postseasons, winning in five games in 2013 without Westbrook, and forcing a seven-game series last year.

When Westbrook was sidelined during the 2013 playoffs, he watched the games from the suite level and said it helped him see the game differently. He vowed to return a smarter player. He missed half of the regular season and then was sensational in the postseason, averaging 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. But he also attempted nearly 21 shots a game and made only 42 percent overall and 28 percent from beyond the arc.

This summer the Thunder added 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow, the type of consistently lethal perimeter shooter they’ve lacked, and emerging second-year center Steven Adams has shown the ability to catch-and-finish in the paint. Westbrook said moving the ball isn’t just more talk, even suggesting we will take notice.

“I think that’s key. Moving the ball is definitely a big part of our improvement as a team,” Westbrook said. “It’s something that we made a conscious effort to be able to go into this year trying to do. There should be something that you see new from us.”

The Thunder have incrementally increased their assist totals over the last three years. In 2011-12, they ranked last in the league in assist ratio (14.7), the number of assists a team averages per 100 possessions. That also happened to the be the lone season OKC advanced to the NBA Finals. That season it also had Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, another rare player capable of getting to the rim almost at will.

The trade of Harden to Houston just prior to the 2012-13 season naturally forced changes that seemed unnatural for a team that had grown together the previous three seasons. In 2012-13, OKC ranked 23rd (16.7) and last year they ranked 15th, although their assist ratio didn’t change (Westbrook’s absence obviously also has to be figured into that). For reference, the Spurs led the league at 19.2 assists per 100 possessions.

“We know what it takes to win games. We know what it takes to get to the top, but we don’t know what it feels like to win a championship,” Westbrook said. “There’s steps we have to make as a unit, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to make those.”

OKC’s Adams trying to find comfort level


VIDEO: Steven Adams talks about his performance so far in Orlando

ORLANDO — It was a rookie season in which Steven Adams’ crunching elbows and physical play around the basket became well known.

Turns out he’s got a sharp tongue for trash talk as well.

When Willie Reed of the Pacers used two hands on his back to try to keep him from burrowing down into the lane, the Thunder big man turned with the best zinger so far in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“Hey, you won’t be able to do that in the D-League,” Adams said.

The 7-foot wise-cracking New Zealander scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and turned the ball over five times in game three of the project to turn him into more of an offensive weapon in Oklahoma City.

Nobody is going to confuse him for Shaquille O’Neal or even a lumbering, aging Jermaine O’Neal at this point. But it’s been acknowledged all along that Adams is a project.

“We want to see Steven being able get the ball in the low post more and creating from there,” said Thunder assistant Darko Rajakovic, who is running the summer league bench. “He showed a couple of really good passes from the low post and a couple of pretty good moves and we have to be happy with that. It’s something that is adding to his game and is going to be an emphasis for the rest of the summer.”

Adams averaged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game as a rookie and the idea is to finally get some offensive production out of the middle of the Thunder lineup where Kendrick Perkins has barely registered a blip for years.

But while there’s every reason to believe that Adams can be that inside game to balance the perimeter play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right now it all comes down to getting him to embrace the role.

“I’m still a newb(ie), bro,” Adams said. “It’s getting better from when I started. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of reading my man and what I can do. They had that big 19 (6-foot-9, 275-pound Arinze Onuaku), who’s huge. I tried to back him down and got it stripped out. So I said, OK, I should use my speed against him. Just different reads like that.

“I’ve got to get comfortable with it and try to get more confident in getting the ball. Right now, I’m quite far away. I ain’t quite as demanding. It could be an option next year, but I’m not sure.

“If I was more confident with my moves, I’d be more demanding because I’d know I’d be able to score straightaway. That’s what I’m trying to get to from there.”

Through three games, Adams is averaging 9.3 points and shooting 9-for-15 from the field. More troublesome are his antics at the foul line, where he’s made just 11 of 23 (47.8 percent).

“Free throws, bro,” he said. “Free throws. Free throws. I’m working on that.

“I haven’t put up anything over the summer. We had a two-week break and I got advice to do nothing. At the end of the (NBA) season it was like, ‘He sucks at free throws.’ Now it’s ‘Oh my God. It’s rubbish.’ So I’ve got to get back to just sucking at free throws and we’ll go from there.”

Two years later, Cook seeks a shot

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

Sharpshooter Brian Cook is seeking to rejoin the NBA after taking off for family matters.

ORLANDO — The summer leagues are full of stories.

There are well-known rookies such as, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Shabazz Napier trying to make the step up to the next level.

There are second-year pros Steven Adams and Kelly Olynyk looking to expand their skills and add polish.

There are guys like Maarty Leunen, drafted by the Rockets back in 2008, who has made a playing career for himself in Europen, but wants a crack at the big time.

Then there’s Brian Cook.

At 33, he’s not just the oldest player on the court at the Orlando Pro Summer League. He’s the only one who’s been away from the game for the past two years and is knocking on the door trying to get back in.

Cook’s wife, Victoria, had cancer and he stepped away from his NBA career to help her through the battle with the disease.

“It was something that I had to do and it’s the kind of thing that you don’t even think twice about,” Cook said. “There are bigger things than playing games.”

But now, two years later, the 6-foot-9 forward with 3-point range is here with the Pistons in an attempt to resurrect his career.

“I’ve really missed being out there on the court competing every day,” Cook said. “I know some people might think it’s kind of strange to try to do this at this point or it’s a long shot. But I kind of think that I still have something to contribute to the game and I’m looking to maybe get in a couple of years.”

Cook, who was a first-round draft choice of the Lakers in 2003 and played for five different teams — also Magic, Rockets, Clippers, Wizards — in nine seasons, reached out to Stan Van Gundy as soon his former coach took over in Detroit and asked for an opportunity in the summer league. He is here with no guarantees, no promises.

“I called him right away,” Cook said. “As a free agent, I can try to get on anywhere. But I’m comfortable with Stan’s offense and I’m also comfortable with the way he respected me and treated me and really cared about me when I played for him here in Orlando. Those are the kind of things that you take for granted as young kid and then come to appreciate more once you mature and have been around the block a few times in different situations. You really come to appreciate it even more when you’ve been at home like I have for the past several years helping my wife and being with the family.”

Cook has struggled to find his shooting stroke in his first two games, making just 5-of-18 shots and 3-of-12 from behind the arc. But he figures the shot will come with time and repetition and Cook is currently enjoying just being back in a locker room again, back wearing a jersey, back sharing the the highs and lows of game experiences, even if it is mostly with kids who are at least 10 years younger.

Van Gundy might not be able to provide the spot on his roster this season as he makes over the Pistons, but he is giving the veteran a chance to show other NBA teams that there is still something left after Cook gave the last two years to his family and wife, who is now cancer-free.

“I really believe that I’ve still got the ability to compete at this level and help a team,” Cook said. “I’m just hoping for a real shot.”

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

Lamb, OKC’s rare 1st-rounder it didn’t select, needs to shine

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lamb addresses the media during his exit interview

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Oklahoma City Thunder have built a reputation as smart talent evaluators, having built a perennial contender on both lottery and late first-round draft picks. For now they hold onto the No. 21 and No. 29 picks in tonight’s NBA Draft.

That could change as the day progresses as plenty of teams without first-round picks want in on this deep and talented pool of players.

For the Thunder, the first-round pick they’re eager to see succeed is the rare one they didn’t select. Jeremy Lamb, the lanky, 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the sleepy eyes, was taken 12th overall in 2012 by the Houston Rockets. He came to OKC before he ever put on Rockets red as part of the James Harden trade prior to the 2012-13 season.

Now Lamb, 22, has the opportunity to be a significant, if not transformational, player for a Thunder team that desperately needs a strong perimeter shooter.

On a team-friendly deal for the next three seasons, Lamb has the size, speed and length to be a nuisance defensively, although last season he was largely a liability on that end. He got off to a solid start offensively (he shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc), but his production started to tail off in the second half of the season and once the Thunder acquired veteran small forward Caron Butler off waivers in early March, Lamb lost his spot in the rotation.

Butler, 34, will be seeking employment elsewhere next week, and so could free-agent-to-be Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder’s defensive-minded starting shooting guard for the last five seasons. But as Sefolosha lost his ability to can corner 3s in the postseason, he was benched in the first round against Memphis and in the West finals against the Spurs. He was not a part of the rotation in OKC’s final four West finals games.

There have also been persistent rumors since last season’s trade deadline that OKC is interested in trading for 6-foot-5 New York Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

The cost-conscious Thunder are never big players in free agency. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka locked into eight-figure contracts, there simply isn’t space to squeeze in an impactful free agent, and the cost-conscious franchise has no plans to venture into the luxury tax.

It puts the onus on player development, an area OKC prides itself, and rightly so. Players such as Durant (2nd overall), Westbrook (4th), Ibaka (24th), Harden (3rd), Reggie Jackson (24th) and Steven Adams (12th) all made significant strides after being drafted by the Thunder.

They believe Lamb, entering his third season, can also make a significant leap — whether that means winning a starting job or coming off the bench as the seventh man.

“He didn’t play much at all his first year; he had a pretty good second year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said during the team’s exit interviews following the West finals. “We’re going to challenge him to continue to get better. He has the ability to be a really terrific offensive player. Defensively we’re going to have to continue to develop that part of his game. As he puts work into his body to get stronger, he’s going to be able to be a much better player.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-3 point guard, assumed the starting shooting guard spot upon Sefolosha’s West finals benching. While the Thunder had success with the lineup, both Brooks and Westbrook seemed only lukewarm when asked if a Westbrook-Jackson starting backcourt is optimal for next season. Coming off the bench, Jackson could compete for Sixth Man of the Year honors.

OKC also has Andre Roberson heading into his second season. He started 16 games as a rookie during Westbrook’s injury absence. He’s a solid defender, but lacks a jump shot. Lamb has the shot, but must improve defensively.

“It’s a player I feel confident going forward with,” Brooks said of Lamb. “I like what he does. His future is very bright with the work that he puts in.”

Durant: Open, honest and still growing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks during the Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday

Kevin Durant mesmerized the basketball world with a regular season for the ages — 50-point games, impossible buzzer-beaters and statistical anomalies that flipped the record books back to Michael Jordan.

It all seemed to happen so easily, so naturally for him.

But on Sunday, barely 12 hours after his Oklahoma City Thunder bowed out of the Western Conference finals, the league’s Most Valuable Player, in a very honest moment, admitted that the season’s many adversities had stretched his psychological boundaries.

“It felt like everything was being thrown at me as a leader, just talking about myself,” Durant said. “It just felt like everything was being thrown at me to try to get me to quit, and there were nights where I didn’t think I could do it, where I didn’t think I could lead these guys.”

With co-star Russell Westbrook sidelined for nearly half of it with a knee injury, and later two more starters, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, each missing six weeks with their own ailments, Durant said the burden of leading and lifting his team throughout these last seven months tested his resolve through multiple sleepless nights.

“There were nights where I didn’t think I could do it because sometimes I was going as hard as I could and it still wasn’t working,” Durant said. “But I just stayed confident and just knowing that there’s going to be good and bad days, days when you struggle, days when you do well. Just knowing that helped me out a lot, and it prepared me a lot for this season and hopefully for the future. I’m thankful for those times that I can grow through them and get better from them.”

In the end, Durant and the Thunder reached their third West finals in four seasons, but ultimately fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship.

Still, the team remains young, immensely talented and intact. This season, with its many hurdles the team faced for the first time — including the blow of losing power forward Serge Ibaka for the first two games against the Spurs — might come to be looked upon as the moment on the timeline when Durant and OKC’s core came of age.

“Physically, I think I can compete with anybody; you put me on the court with anybody, I can hold my own, that’s just how I feel,” Durant said. “But mentally, everything being thrown at you, from Russell getting hurt — from him never being injured before — to having to be out there and being our source of energy for everybody on our team, giving everybody confidence from Serge to Nick [Collison] to Steven [Adams] to Thabo to Perk, from everybody looking at me and looking for confidence and looking to feel confident in themselves.

“Once I saw that I could do it, I kind of saw it from there in terms of having confidence. It was a great season as far as learning for all of us and being part of such a great group of guys that accept me no matter what, on my good and bad days.”

Durant won his first MVP in his seventh season. He averaged career-highs in points per game (32.0) and assists (5.5), plus 7.4 rpg. He was one of the game’s most efficient scorers, shooting 50.3 percent overall and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc.

When Westbrook received the stunning news that he would need a third surgery on his right knee just hours after posting a triple-double at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day, the job of keeping Oklahoma City near the top of the West standings fell on Durant.

He bettered his season averages through 26 games without Westbrook — 35.0 ppg (52.7 percent shooting, 39.9 percent on 3s), 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg) — and virtually made the MVP award his to lose. Oklahoma City surged to the top of the West. An adjustment period upon Westbrook’s return eventually led to the Thunder finishing with the No. 2 seed and 59 wins, one off the previous season’s win total and the franchise’s highest since moving to Oklahoma City.

Durant’s scoring efficiency dipped in the postseason (29.6 ppg on 46-percent shooting, 34.4 on 3s) and his performances from game to game, starting against Memphis’ suffocating defense, were uneven as he averaged a team-high 42.8 mpg.

In Game 6 against the Spurs, the magic he performed all season eluded him. Trailing 100-99 in the final 27 seconds of overtime, Durant looked to make a move past defender Kawhi Leonard from a few feet above the top of the arc, but he slipped to the floor and lost the ball for his seventh turnover.

Finally, with a chance to tie coming out of a timeout, Durant missed an open 3 from the wing with 15 seconds left. It was his sixth misfire on eight 3-pointers in the game, and his last shot of a long, taxing season.

And one Durant will glean plenty of meaning from as he exits into the offseason.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Durant said. “And I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I had this season to grow as a leader and a man and a basketball player.”

He will be back.

24 – Second thoughts — May 31


VIDEO: Ginobili steps up in crunch time for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Next man up.

The Spurs Way.

Sheer basketball beauty.

Explain it any way you can. But know this, the San Antonio Spurs were clearly meant for this, for this moment and for this rematch they have earned against the Miami Heat in The Finals — starting Thursday night in San Antonio.

You don’t go on the road for a close-out Game 6 against the MVP (Kevin Durant) and the force of nature (Russell Westbrook), lose your superstar point guard (Tony Parker) at halftime to ankle soreness and be anything but destined for The Finals.

Ultimately it was the ageless wonder that is Tim Duncan (aka The Big Fundamental, aka Old Man Riverwalk, aka Timmay, aka … you get the point) who went right at Serge Ibaka in overtime for the game-clinching baskets.

He had tons of help. Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and others chipped in to send this crew back to The Finals in back-to-back years for the first time in the #SpursWay era.

Heat-Spurs Round II is on … history in the making!

:1

Let’s do it again San Antonio and Miami … see you Thursday!

:2

They call it the #SpursWay my friend!

(more…)

Thunder rookie Adams gaining trust

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Rookie Steven Adams has given OKC a solid presence in the paint. (Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rookie Steven Adams has given OKC a solid presence in the paint. (Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lost in the Game 3 hoopla of Serge Ibaka‘s return was a solid performance from another Oklahoma City big man raised in a faraway land, who overcame a challenging childhood and has enough siblings to field three basketball teams.

New Zealand native and rookie 7-foot center Steven Adams has that much in common with the Congo’s Ibaka. Their games share few similarities beyond an ability to disrupt an opponent’s activity in the paint. Adams matched Ibaka’s four blocks in the Thunder’s Game 3 win and also added seven points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes.

The Thunder’s No. 12 overall pick last summer started the postseason with a small role in the first round against Memphis, garnering 19 total minutes in the first four games. Since, he’s logged at least 19 minutes in seven of the last 11 games, and he played at least 28 minutes in three of the last four.

In those three games, he’s provided 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting, mostly going up for dunks after his man leaves him to help, plus 28 rebounds and six blocks.

“Steven’s impact was good [in Game 3],” Brooks said. “I thought he did a good job of scoring around the basket. He got fouled, so he can obviously do a better job of making free throws (he was 3-for-7). I thought his defense was good. He has a hard job, like we all do. You have to be able to contain all their pick‑and‑roll players, and also get your body back to get the rebounds. But he’s an improving player.”

Adams plays with a fierceness that irritates opponents, sometimes so much that he induces them to make poor decisions. The Memphis Grizzlies still believe they would have won the first-round series if they had Zach Randolph for Game 7. But Randolph was suspended for that game after balling his fist and hitting Adams in the jaw as the two ran down the floor during Game 6.

He’s also an option the Thunder haven’t had in the past as a backup to the more sedentary Kendrick Perkins. The 255-pound Adams is far more athletic and can play with big and small Thunder lineups. He possesses soft hands, making him a trusted receiver of tough bounce passes from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

In Game 3, he took over early when Perkins got into foul trouble. He played a significant role in limiting the Spurs to just 40 points in the paint after they averaged 60 in the first two games.

A repeat performance will go a long way to helping tie the series before heading back to San Antonio.