Thunder in Oklahoma City

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By Stefan Anderson

It was all good just a week ago, well maybe a few weeks ago.

Prior to the All-Star break the Oklahoma City Thunder were rolling through teams, gathering wins in seven of its eight games during the stretch, and showing they are amongst the elite of the NBA. It has been a different story as of late for OKC , losing its last six of eight games heading into a downward spiral heading into the latter part of the season. But what has caused the Thunder to come falling down ?

The second ranked offensive team has struggled to complete games due to their inconsistencies of lineups have led the Thunder to fall out of the discussion of the top teams and one game from losing their 3rd place standing in the Western Conference.

OKC’s lineup has two gaps in the shooting guard and center position.

Since James Harden was sent to Houston, the Thunder has yet to find a solution at the two spot.  Andre Roberson has shouldered the load due his defense prowess but offensively just allows teams to help on drives and trap the teams prolific scorers, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Dion Waiters appeared to be a solution for a brief stint , but his streaky shooting has given Coach Billy Donavon and fellow teammates headaches. Although OKC traded for Randy Foye at the trade deadline, Foye has yet to find his niche amongst his new roster.

Why not give a proven shooter an opportunity? Anthony Morrow has been known to be less of a defender than a Roberson, but has a better offensive skill set than Roberson and with Waiters giving the Thunder a -5.7 rating while on the court and not to mention his current 24/68 shooting slump over the past  few games. I think Morrow makes a good fill-in for Thunder.

Also, Steven Adams gives solid minutes each night as a starter we practically ever seen their $70 million dollar signee, Enes Kanter,when it matters.  Kanter gives the Thunder another scorer when the possessions are closer allows another option for Durant and Westbrook to make more plays.

During the limited minutes experienced the lineup of Westbrook, Morrow, Durant, Ibaka and Kanter has been a plus in the majority of categories including points and field goal efficiency.  I am aware that the two players listed are not adept defenders but they Thunder have not been able to come up with stops with better defenders on the floor and cannot gain points either.

In their recent fourth quarter debacles, the Thunder have reverted to their old offensively ways of Durant/Westbrook isolate and score.  The two are in the top ten in isolation possessions this season, with Durant in 6th with 220 and Westbrook in 8th with 199, but have taken nearly half of their team’s shots during the final period.

For example:

  • In their loss to Indiana: Durant and Westbrook combined for 9-21 shots taken in the 4th.
  • Loss to vs New Orleans , 16-24
  • Loss to Golden State, 13-24
  • Loss to LA Clippers , 11-20
  • Loss to Golden State, 11-20

That ball stopping offense cannot help them win as it has been proven these past two weeks. The lineup change could be what they are looking with the recent slide. The Thunder are one of the best teams in the NBA, but will fall short again if they cannot figure out to close out games.

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Ok, Now What

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By Stefan Anderson

Coming off an impressive win against the Los Angeles Clippers and showing signs of the alpha dog in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to make a huge change mid-season. After winning 10 of their last 12 games, only losing to the two best teams in the NBA, the Spurs and the Warriors, the axe has come down former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt.

Blatt, had to face the news of his firing on his day off, in what seemed to be the coming for a long time. Monday evening’s 132-98 massacre with Golden State might have been the last stop on the Blatt train but is one that doesn’t seem as farfetched.

From blatant disrespect from the league’s premier star and Cleveland’s prize possession Lebron James, after subbing himself mid-game during a match with Atlanta, calling his own audible on set plays and most recently sitting in Blatt’s chair on the bench, the message was clear that whatever the king says goes.

Although he coached Cleveland to a finals matchup with Golden State even capturing two game with a diminished roster to choose from. To then returning to having the best record in the East sitting 30-11, was still not enough to satisfy King James.

But this is very similar a former star who James’ game emulates after, Magic Johnson.

Johnson grew frustrated with his head coach at the time Paul Westhead during the 1981 season, similar to James, Magic also had his franchise in his palms and ultimately had Westhead removed from his position.

Luckily for the Lakers, there was an assistant by the name of Pat Riley, who stepped in and carried the torch to what we know now as the “Showtime” Lakers. Tyron Lue, will now step in as Cleveland head after five years of being an assistant for Boston, Los Angeles and Cleveland to help restore faith for the Cavs. Lue, as a player was coached by Phil Jackson and is under the coaching tree of former Celtics and current Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, and has the knowledge that can help lead the Cavs to the promise land.

The promise land won’t easy for the Land.

The Cavs have bigger fish to fry. Cleveland although remain on top of the East will have to win against either San Antonio or Golden State to win a championship. With the inconsistency of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love it will be a tough feat. The huge difference between Cleveland and the other top tier teams is depth and bench production.

San Antonio is 1st in bench efficiency; Golden State is 3rd and Cleveland ranks 24th, with the bench only accounting for 28.2 points a game. The Cavs will need the supporting cast step up or find pieces to help bolster their bench. Irving has missed 42 games over the past 3 season and has yet to play a full 82-game season in his short career, Love is currently battling an “undisclosed” injury, Iman Shumpert has only appeared in 19 games and Mo Williams has not played effective minutes in months. Once again, leaving the load on James to carry Cleveland once again.

Lue can be the solution for Cleveland, but their roster has to make some important changes that can that make sense of the 109 million dollar payroll. The overall goal has to be restore the relationships lost with Blatt and make your superstar, Lebron James, job a lot easier.

 

Sunshine In A Dark Place

d'antoni.jpgBy Stefan Anderson

Just over a decade ago, Mike D’Antoni was the head coach of the infamous Run-N-Gun Phoenix Suns in the late 2000’s, that made a lasting imprint on the NBA.Years removed the league, we missed D’Antoni’s offense in the NBA and pondered why such an explosive offense hasn’t been brought on by other teams. Now, the Marshall product has now returned to bench with the league’s worst team the Philadelphia 76ers, bringing a bright spot to the gloomy franchise.

We have seen this time and time, where D’Antoni’s offensive philosophy, that has birthed a new generation of basketball. The system focuses on playing with more space, a faster pace, allowing point guards to push the ball and getting shots early in the shot clock working to get more possessions out of each game.

The system has allowed many guards to flourish over the years. Examples are:

  • Prior to being traded for Carmelo Anthony in 2010-11, Raymond Felton was having his best NBA season. During the 54 games he played with the Knicks, Felton was able to put up 19.0 points per game and average career high 9.0 assists.
  • Can’t forget about that kid named Jeremy Lin, who had New York City in a frenzy under D’Antoni. “Linsanity” also had a great year under D’Antoni averaging 14.6 ppg and 6.2 apg.
  • D’Antpni most successful project thus far would be Steve Nash. Nash would go on to nab two MVP trophies under D’Antoni direction averaging 17.5 and 11.2 during his tenure with D’Antoni.

It’s shown that guards have benefited from D’Antoni success and his new point guard experiment Ish Smith has grown since his arrival. Smith has gone on to average 16.8 ppg and 8.3 apg since D’Antoni arrival. In his second tenure with the Sixers, Smith has gone on to have five game where he accounted for 10 assists or more.

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Not only did Smith improve under D’Antoni but the Sixers as a whole also have grown since December 18th.

Philadelphia prior to D’Antoni:  91.4 ppg on 81 FGA, 41% FGP, 32 % 3PT, and 18.7 apg

Philadelphia after D’Antoni: 99.7 ppg, 84.4 FGA, 45% FGP, 33% 3PT, 23.3 apg and winning 4 games during the 14-game stretch.

With point guard play and high offense being on demand, it doesn’t make sense why the offensive guru wasn’t given a chance prior to. Although Philadelphia is far from contenting again, this experiment it should allow him to find another opportunity elsewhere and possibly help solve the conundrum in City of Brotherly Love.

Watch The Throne

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By Stefan Anderson

June 16th caused a major shift in the balance of power for the NBA. The Golden State Warriors captured their first title in 40 years and the Cleveland Cavaliers still have that bitter taste of the finals loss.

Today on Christmas, we will finally get see the unanswered questions.

What if Cleveland had their big three? Would Stephen Curry be able to attack Kyrie Irving and make him look inadequate like the other guards he faced in the postseason? So many questions and now we finally get our answers today.

The most important question, has Lebron James’s crown been taken by Stephen Curry?

This is reminiscent of few years ago when Kobe Bryant was the alpha dog and an emerging Lebron James was coming to heir the throne and had to face off against him on Christmas day. James was 3-0 versus Bryant and ultimately took the NBA by storm. This win could be important for Curry as he puts his exclamation mark that he is the best player in the league.

Curry, fresh off his first championship and MVP award has shown no signs of slowing down and is playing at even higher level than the previous season. “Chef Curry” has seen a spike in each category other than assists and free throw percentage and his team is right along with him at astonishing 27-1 record.

But while Warriors are on a remarkable run, the balance of power in conferences has shifted as well. With the Eastern Conference being known as the weaker conference, we have seen more teams in the East improve as the 9th best team in the East, Boston, has same record as the 3rd best record in the West, the Clippers.

But as the East has gotten better, Cleveland still remains the best team in the conference and King James and Co, are headed back to full strength with the return of Kyrie Irving and Mo Williams and have to show that are just as superior as the Warriors.

The Warriors 1st ranked pace could be damaging for the Cavs 28th ranked pace, but it could also hurt Golden State as well. Unlike Golden State who has 13.5 point differential are not used to playing close like Cleveland. Cleveland has played in 8 games with the score was decided by 5 or less unlike Golden State that only played in four games.

But it will not be easy as King James is “Mr.Christmas”, averaging 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds and seven wins in his nine holiday appearances.

This will be an interesting matchup and will serve as an evaluation for the rest of the NBA to see who the real powerhouse team is.

Pick One !

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We’re implementing a new section of The Starting Point, called Pick One! , which compares two greats against each other to see who you would prefer.We will start off with a #TBT edition, comparing two of the decades best floor general’s, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, both are shoe-in Hall of Famers and could easily go down as top 5 of their position. Lets take a look at their stats and you choose who was better Nash or Kidd.

Player        FG  FGA  FG%  3P 3PA  3P%  2P 2PA  2P% eFG%  FT FTA  FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS
Jason Kidd   4.5 11.2 .400 1.4 4.1 .349 3.0 7.1 .429 .464 2.2 2.8 .785 1.3 5.0 6.3 8.7 1.9 0.3 2.9 1.8 12.6
Steve Nash   5.2 10.6 .490 1.4 3.2 .428 3.8 7.4 .518 .556 2.5 2.8 .904 0.5 2.5 3.0 8.5 0.7 0.1 2.9 1.6 14.3

Breaking Barriers

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By Jazmine August

It seems like the idea of women in sports has been the buzz around the business over the last few weeks. Starting with San Antonio Spurs assistant coach, Becky Hammon, serving as the team’s NBA Summer League  head coach, a first in men’s professional sports history. But Hammon didn’t stop there, she led the team to a championship during the tournament.

Women have been involved in sports for decades, from the league offices to reporting from the sidelines but we are now seeing women break into the coveted society of coaching men’s professional sports.  Just two weeks after Becky Hammon broke headlines, the Arizona Cardinals named Dr. Jen Welter to their coaching staff throughout training camp and the pre-season working with inside linebackers. In a recent interview Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said, “Coaching is nothing more than teaching” and believes that,  “One thing I have learned from players is, ‘How are you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, man, I’ll listen.’ I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors for her”

And these women are more than qualified. Becky Hammon played 16 years in the NBA, was named WNBA All-Star six times, two-time  All NBA first team and two-time Olympian with the Russian national team. Dr. Jen Welter has not only played 14 seasons with the Women’s Football Alliance, but she holds a masters in sports psychology and a doctorate in psychology all while winning two gold medals playing for Team USA in the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship in 2010 and 2013.

But before there was a Becky Hammon and a Dr. Jen Welter, there was Stephanie Ready, the first female assistant coach of a men’s professional team. She was named assistant coach of the NBA D-League now defunct team the Greenville Groove and she help lead them to a D-League Championship in the 2001-2002 season. Not only is Ready a woman which is a minority in the world of professional sports but she is a black woman. In an interview with on NBA.com, Ready states that “there were lots of sleepless nights up late watching video, writing scouting reports and doing game prep” but she added that “I did everything the right way and worked my tail off.”

Stephanie Ready is now gearing up for her 12th season as the Charlotte Hornets sideline reporter. She has also covered the NBA and WNBA playoffs and the NCAA Women’s basketball tournament for ESPN. Ready says that “being a double-minority if you will because I’m African-American and a woman in the sports industry, you have to really be conscientious of how you get to where you are and (again) who came before you”

Women like Stephanie Ready, Becky Hammon and Dr. Jen Selter who are blazing the path for young women with a deep affinity for sports inspire me to even believe that I can make my mark in this male dominated world. I know who’s shoulder’s I stand on.

State of the West

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Golden State WarriorsBy Stefan Anderson

Perennially, the Western Conference, has the superior conference of the National Basketball Association and this year, it will be no different. Preceding the NBA Champs, the Golden State Warriors, repeat their success of the 2014-2015 season, everyone out West is looking to take the conference for their own. Here is some things to take in perspective as we look at the West.

Watch the Throne

Of course the Warriors will be the team to beat this year, but some teams are after the reigning champs’ title, specifically the Spurs and the Clippers. San Antonio and Los Angeles have made the big free agent splashes, with the Spurs snagging up prized FA prospect LaMarcus Aldridge and veteran David West. The Clippers were able to bring back DeAndre Jordan after the dilemma he starred in for weeks, along with veteran leadership in Paul Pierce and great assets in Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith. The irony that both Coach/President of B-Ball Ops, made the moves to dethrone the Warriors, but both teams present the greatest threat to Golden State and I believe can complete the jobs unless they meet in the playoffs.

The Last Harrah

Which one of the superstars in the final moments could lead their team to a better season? Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki? The answer was clear that it was more likely for the Mavs to be in a better position with the addition of Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan, but following the negation of Jordan left Dallas in the same position as Los Angeles. Both have great rosters filled with good role players and prospects but with their aging stars it will difficult to surpass the top tier teams of the West.

The Forgotten Team

After appearing to jump to the forefront of the conference, the Thunder, took a step back and missed the playoffs after the concurring injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The two nearly seen any action together and have yet to progress with their roster that has been bolstered after last year trade deadline. “Loud City” has been forgotten of their past success and have not been mentioned for whatever reason it may be, but with Billy Donavon at the helm, new beginnings could help to find that output they could not find with Scott Brooks.

First out the Hole

The Suns and the Kings have been on the outside looking in for the past few season, both teams showcase great rosters but yet have made the efforts to see the next level.  Both teams have veteran leadership this season, with the Suns acquiring Tyson Chandler and the Kings with Caron Butler and Rajon Rondo. Both teams could be this year’s New Orleans Pelicans, with the new additions.

Team of the Future

After the departure of their starting lineup, except for Damian Lillard, the Blazers have put together a group of young players that would be outcasts elsewhere but could join forces to become the team of the future. But the Blazers will have to compete with the young talents like the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves, who both possess an abundance of young talent looking to make their splash in the league and quit be the doormats for the superior teams.