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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Whats Next In OKC ?

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By Stefan Anderson

After helping the Thunder to 338 wins that included a trip to the NBA Finals, 3 conferences championship appearances and winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor, Scott Brooks was dismissed as the Oklahoma City play caller this afternoon.

The Thunder are now faced with a dilemma on many ends including seeking their head coach. With Russell Westbrook showing that he can be a superstar, does OKC take their chance to fight with other teams for the services of the reigning MVP Kevin Durant. More importantly, “Loud City” has to figure who is going to make their team gel and help propel that talented roster to the next level.

Here are some coach choices Oklahoma City could choose from:

The first two choices put out there is Kevin Ollie of the University of Connecticut, who played for OKC in his final years in the NBA and built a great relationship with Kevin Durant and could relate well to the roster. Also, Billy Donavan of the University of Florida, who has shown his coaching ability with his back-to-back National Championship and has flirted with the thought of the NBA for the past seasons. Donavan could be a great fit but will be a hard transition to coaching a great amount of talent those OKC possesses in a tough Western Conference.

But there are some other coaches that could make things interesting for the Thunder:

Mark Jackson: The former Golden State Warrior coach, who has now reverted back into the broadcasting, would be a great leader for OKC. Jackson instilled that culture of Golden State and brought that roster together that has now transformed into the league’s best team. The ESPN analyst could help bring the Thunder to that next level similar to what Steve Kerr did with his Warriors roster.

Stan Van Gundy:  Another coach turned broadcaster, Stan Van Gundy would be ideal for OKC as he has the tough mindset that his teams have already displayed with his teams in prior years (New York Knicks and Houston Rockets).  SVG could help with the progression of big men like Ibaka, Adams and Kanter, while handling a proflic scorer like Durant or Westbrook and combine the talents to make the Thunder reign supreme again.

Mike” D’Antoni: The high pace scoring and offensive guru could really fit the Thunder’s needs to offensively, imagine Russell Westbrook having the keys to D’Antoni offense, scary if you ask me.  It gives Durant the space needed to score from wherever he wants offensively and helps guys like Anthony Morrow become a standout shooter and Serge Ibaka to become a ferocious finisher. OKC already plays great defense but if he had an offensive assault that D’Antoni’s offense provides that could be a hand and glove fit for them.

Other coaches that could fall in the job search would be Brian Shaw, Mike Woodson, P.J Carlesimo, Doug Collins and with the questioning of Tom Thibodeau in Chicago he could also end up in the search for OKC’s vacant spot. Regardless of who takes the position, they will inherit a team with two of the top ten players and an plenty of talent that could end up as a championship team.

Race To MVP

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By Jazmine August

Is it safe to say Lebron James for MVP? Call me a prisoner of the moment but the Cavaliers Thursday night win against the league’s best Golden State Warriors was beyond impressive; mostly because of the King. Lebron scored 42 points and 5 assists on 15 of 25 shots, not to mention 11 rebounds. He has made his stake in this MVP race very clear.

While some may have written James off as just a runner up in the race; Lebron seemed to have been on cruise control from the start of the season to the All Star break. Has the King returned to reclaim his crown?

Despite Thursday’s loss to Cleveland, Stephen Curry has been playing pretty much lights out since the beginning of the season. Leading his team to the leagues best record 44-11 with his unguardable jumper, crafty moves and ball handling skills, Stephen Curry has been nothing short of sensational. For these reasons he is still the front runner in the MVP race; “Chef Curry” is averaging 23 points, 4 assist and 6 rebounds.

Let’s not forget about the bearded one. James Harden. Averaging 27 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists; he has gone from 6th man of the year to one of the NBA’s premiere players. Sitting comfortably at third place in the Western conference; James Harden is having a MVP caliber season.

In the same breath as you say James Harden you have to say the name of his former teammate Russell Westbrook. In the month of February, Russell Westbrook is averaging nearly a triple double. Westbrook’s season statistics are mirroring the likes of Oscar Robertson, Lebron James and Michael Jordan. Russ is averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.

Last but certainly not least, Anthony Davis may be the most underrated MVP candidate ever. Although most Pelican games are not nationally televised, Davis has been quietly averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds and has the league best player efficiency rating of 31.2. This year’s MVP race is clearly a tossup. A valid case can be made for each player.

Let the race begin.

Who’s Your MVP ?

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By Stefan Anderson

Past the halfway mark of the NBA season and the argument continues who will take home the league’s MVP. The topic of the discussion has been on Stephen Curry and James Harden due their consistency to perform on a high level.  But as of recent, Russell Westbrook has put together some performances to add himself to MVP race as well.

With all three stars going for the prize, the question remains who will be the 2014-2015 NBA MVP?

Let’s take a brief look at the candidate’s stats for this season:

Player               G GS   MP  FG  FGA  FG%  3P 3PA  3P%  2P  2PA  2P%  FT FTA  FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV  PF  PTS
Stephen Curry       53 53 33.2 8.2 17.1 .483 3.2 7.9 .404 5.0  9.1 .553 4.1 4.5 .904 0.7 3.9 4.6 7.9 2.2 0.2 3.0 2.0 23.8
James Harden        57 57 36.5 8.1 18.1 .450 2.7 7.0 .385 5.4 11.1 .491 8.2 9.5 .866 0.9 4.9 5.8 6.9 1.9 0.8 4.0 2.6 27.2
Russell Westbrook   43 43 32.6 8.8 20.2 .437 1.0 3.4 .291 7.8 16.8 .467 7.3 8.7 .839 1.8 4.7 6.5 8.0 2.0 0.1 3.8 2.6 25.9

There is no doubt in my mind that Stephen Curry will walk away with the trophy this summer, as the award is only his to lose. Leading Golden State to the league’s best record at 44-10, while averaging career highs in each category makes his resume look better than the other candidates.

However if I were to place my vote, I would give my vote to James Harden.

Harden who leads the NBA in scoring with 27.3 ppg, is a force to reckon with and has carried the Rockets all season as they remain the 3rd seed in the competitive Western Conference.

The self-proclaimed best all-around player provided for a less talented team than both the Thunder and Warriors.

Curry has the advantage of having arguably the NBA’s deadliest shooter in Klay Thompson, Most Improved Player candidate Draymond Green, Andre Iguodola, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and plethora of talent on that Golden State bench.

As for Westbrook, he would be placed in the same category as LeBron James, where your play remains superior but the amount of games missed due to injury removes your name out of the discussion. While having the reigning MVP, Kevin Durant as your running mate, along with an assortment of talent acquired through trades, OKC has a better roster than the Rockets.

The Rockets have no other play that can consistently score 20 points night in and night out, while still managing to average nearly six boards and six assists. In my opinion, that is what makes a player the Most Valuable Player of the NBA, someone who their team cannot play without and is the reason why your team remains successful.

Who’s in your Top 5 ?

point guardBy Stefan Anderson and Jazmine August

Point guards  of present day NBA are not only averaging 9 to 10 assists but have been able to put up 20 to 23 points a night. Some may say that these new age point guards are hybrid two-guards, who have a shoot first mentality. One of the NBA’s hottest topics has been the new “golden age “of floor generals and most importantly who is the best of the class ?

We took the discussion up here at The Starting Point and rated our Top 5 Point Guards in the NBA.

Jazmine’s Top 5 PG’s 

#1 Stephen Curry

It is no surprise that one Stephen Curry is at the top of my list of point guards in the NBA, Steph can easily be one of the top 5 all around players in the league; he’s just that great. His shooting ability and efficiency makes him by far the best shooter in the league and is in contention to be the best shooter ever. Steph is averaging 23 points and 8 assist and shooting 92% from the free throw line. He is not only excelling at passing but he can pull up from thirty as Stephen A. Smith would eloquently put it. These qualities have made the claim that he is the best point guard in the league very easy. Stephen Curry beat out Lebron James for the most NBA All-Star Votes, with over 1.5 million votes. As the run-away leader in the MVP race, Stephen Curry game has improved tremendously over the last three years. Aside from playing alongside players like Andrew Bogut and veteran player Andre Igoudala, Curry is a part of a unique fraternity; “The Splash Brothers”. When you pair him with stud Klay Thompson ,who together form “The Splash Brothers”, he is simply unstoppable. Not to mention, his team has the best record in the league, 36-6; they also play in the super-competitive western conference. Do I see the NBA Finals in their future?

#2 John Wall

The Washington Wizards have emerged as title contenders this season and in large that is due to its starting PG John Wall. This season Wall is averaging 17 points and 10 assist and shooting just about 50% from the field. Wall’s speed, agility and athleticism have propelled him to elite status among his counter parts. Not only has his mid-range game improved but his basketball IQ has done the same. When Wall was drafted first overall into the league in 2010, he only knew one gear and that was full-steam towards the basket. Wall now knows how to slow the game down and play at multiple paces. Wall broke Wizards record for most consecutive 12 assist games earlier this season. Wall amazes fans night in and night out with his crafty moves to the basket and agile passes to the likes of Nene and Paul Pierce. It doesn’t hurt that he has, rising-star guard Bradley Beal in the back court with him.

#3 Kyrie Irving

Starting point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers and playing alongside the best player in the world in Lebron James, Kyrie’s star still isn’t dimmed. Averaging 20 points, 5 assist. and shooting about 50 percent from the field, Kyrie is best known for his incomparable ball handling skills. When soaring past defenders, he appears to have the basketball on a string and still manages to finish at the rim. Arguably, the best finisher in the game, Kyrie has found some of the most creative and athletic ways to get past post-players that tower over his 6’3 stature. He has help lead his team to a quiet 5 game winning streak ,after struggling a bit in the start of the season. The Cavs have improved to a 25-20 record and are over .500 in a conference where the top 3 spots are pretty much up for grabs. Kyrie has improved his 3 point shooting; causing opposing teams to not only fear his passes but his lethal top of the key shots. It’s safe to say that Kyrie has a bright future ahead of him.

#4 Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard has emerged as one the most electrifying players in the NBA and in a conference ,where each night he’s facing some of the world’s toughest defensive players; his team still comes out victorious. After being named Rookie of the year in 2013, Lillard went on to lead his team to its first playoff victory in 14 years against the Houston Rockets in 2014. Lillard’s sharp passes, lethal jump-shots and rhythmic moves to the rim allows his teammates to flourish. What sets Lillard apart is his innate killer instinct and the fact that he doesn’t shy away from the moment. Although, Lillard was snubbed from the NBA All-Star starting roster, he is averaging 22 points, 6 assist, and a free throw percentage of 86%. Lillard has proved himself to be not only an excellent point guard but a closer and he’s only in his 3rd season in the league.

#5 Chris Paul

CP3; standing at just 6 feet tall and in his 10th season is still averaging 17 points and 10 assist. A true floor general and “Young OG”; he is known in the league for his defensive tenacity and his ability to lead his team at crucial points in the game. He has been named to the All-Defensive 1st or 2nd team six of the last seven years. Not only is he able to get in the paint and finish at the rim, he can defend just about any other point guard in the league. Chris Paul plays like a true, traditional point guard, reminiscent of a John Stockton or Gary Payton of the 1990s; this is his best gift and curse. In a hybrid-guard driven league, Chris Paul’s inability to put up as many points as today’s point guards has landed him at 5th on my list.

Stefan Top 5 PG’s:

# 1 Damian Lillard:

Lillard has become one of the biggest stars since entering the league two seasons ago. Leading the NBA in 4th quarter points, the Portland Trailblazers floor general, leadership skills and killer instinct is the reason I selected him over Curry. Distributing while taking over the scoring load (22 PPG and 6 APG) ,makes the Oakland Native a tough match-up for any point guard. With his potential propelling game to game, he soon will be one of the most notable stars in the league

#2 Stephen Curry:

To believe that he was not offered any scholarships to play Division I basketball and made it to the league as a walk-on, is remarkable. Curry has moved into the elite class of NBA players and can be hoisting up the MVP trophy at the end of this season. Curry possesses everything you want in your starting PG, great play-making skills with an unbelievable jump shot, and improved defense (leads NBA with 2.1 SPG). But I have not seen the clutch gene or a true killer instinct come out of Curry as of yet.

# 3 Rajon Rondo:

Mr.Triple Double; Rondo’s game is reminiscent of past guards and something every team needs. Rondo has a knack to make a play whether it’s on offense or defense.The former Celtic guard has not advanced his offensive game which makes him a liability in most cases but Rondo still gives you the qualities of a  traditional pass first guard.

#4 Russell Westbrook:

One of the most feared players in the NBA; Westbrook has the size of the two-guard and the athleticism of a wing player which makes his style of play unbearable for most guards in the NBA. The UCLA’s ill-advised play are his gift and curse and is one of the reasons why Westbrook is not at the top of totem pole for the point guards on this list. If Westbrook cleans up his game and becomes less turnover prone he will definitely be on top.

#5 Micheal Conley:

Many question whether to mention Conley in the top tier PG’s of the NBA. Well, Micheal Conley has my vote. To lead a great Memphis team, year after year while averaging nearly 18 points and 6 assist, and improving his stats playing in the tough Western conference. Conley doesn’t have the athletic capabilities of most of the guards on this list but definitely has a classic feel about him. He is often overlooked by many for what he does not have but not looked at for what he does bring to the court.

Scapegoat or Savior

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By Stefan Anderson

A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you.” MVP Kevin Durant uttered those words about his running mate Russell Westbrook after receiving the honor of becoming the league’s superior award.  But the speculations about Westbrook have been love or hate, or maybe hate to love from the majority of sports fans. I believe that Russ takes the blame for things that he has no fault taking blame for.

When Kevin Durant went on his miraculous tear this season, due to a Westbrook injury many questioned the necessity of keeping the tandem together. In the prior it was shown that Westbrook was vital to Oklahoma City’s success. After a second round exit by the Memphis Grizzlies, it proved that Russell Westbrook is what they needed after defenses set their plan against taking out Durant. A formula that worked previously, did not work this year when Memphis faced OKC in the first round that featured Westbrook.

The Thunder posted a 24-9 record while Westbrook, The team seen the emergence of many roles players including Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Serge Ibaka to help fill void of the Thunder’s secondary superstar. Although they played well without him they are fairly better offensively and defensively with Westbrook. With Westbrook the Thunder score nearly 5 more points and hold teams to almost 4 less points a game.

The majority of Westbrook’s criticism comes from his shot intake and erratic play but you cannot blame him for his needed offense. Although Ibaka has shown improvement over the years, his offense is still inconsistent along with Perkins and Sefolosha, lacking that 3rd scorer the Thunder lost when they traded James Harden.  With 2 guys that start and cannot scratch close to 10 points a game, his shot selection is explained well. 

What I can argue with is why Westbrook decides to make himself a better playmaker at times. His playoffs stats are a small sample size but show how he can improve his game slightly. In games that his team has lost this postseason, he averages more points less assists and rebounds (29 ppg, 8 rpg  and 7 apg) in opposite to when his teams wins (24 ppg, 9 rpg, 9apg). But Russell Westbrook competitive spirit is second to none, which is why he is so valued. If Kevin Durant goes cold as he did in Game 5 (6-22 from the field), you need a Russell Westbrook to win games as he showed in tonight game. Westbrook went off for 38 points, including the clutch steal over Chris Paul and then sinking the 3 game winning free throws.

“An emotional guy who would run through a wall for me. There are days when I want to just tackle you and tell you to snap out of it sometimes. I know there’s days you want to do the same with me. I love you man. Durant echoed those words after winning his first MVP award but he meant tonight, as Westbrook proved that he should never be the scapegoat for the losses but credited for all his efforts.