Today we look at Thunder backup center, Nazr Mohammed. Mohammed was acquired mid-way through the season to much less fanfare than the Kendrick Perkins-Jeff Green trade, but it was a masterstroke by GM Sam Presti none the less. Mohammed proved to be the ideal capable backup to Perkins and is looking to continue his contribution in OKC in the future.
Mohammed is the son of immigrants from Ghana and spent his formative years growing up in Chicago. He was recruited by the Rick Pitino at Kentucky and as part of the teams that won two championships during his stay. The first was under Pitino in 1996 and the second was as a part of the Tubby Smith-led team that won a championship in 1998. Mohammed opted to turn pro after his junior season.
Mohammed was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 29th pick in 1998 and immediately traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. Unfortunately for Mohammed, this was the same season that endured the last NBA lockout, so his early production was a bit stunted. He spent two years with the 76ers and then bounced around to various teams before landing with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. Mohammed reached the apex of his career in that season as the starting center of the NBA champion Spurs.
After failing to come to terms with the Spurs for an extension, Mohammed later became the starting center of the Detroit Pistons, and the Pistons traded him to the Charlotte Bobcats. He spent two seasons with Charlotte before becoming part of the trade that sent him to OKC in exchange for D.J. White and Morris Peterson. GM Presti once again demonstrated his management acumen by trading away two players who were unlikely to have any contribution to their playoff run for a dedicated bench post player who was in the final year of a digestible contract.
Mohammed is not under contract for the upcoming season but has expressed an interest to remain with the Thunder. It looks like Mohammed's young son is already lobbying to stay in his own special way.
Mohammed started out the 2010-11 season as the center for the Bobcats and split time with Kwame Brown. In the previous season, the Bobcats had reached their greatest success in franchise history, winning 44 games and earning a playoff spot under talented but wayward wandering coach Larry Brown and new owner Michael Jordan. The team felt that it had a good combination of youth and veteran leadership and was primed to go a step farther in the Eastern Conference.
Regular Season Grade: B
Unfortunately for the Bobcats (although good for the Thunder), Charlotte fell far short of pre-season expectations. The team under-performed early on, and in a move that should have shocked absolutely nobody, Larry Brown quit in December. Mohammed had played consistently when his minutes were stable, but on a team in the middle of transition from experience to youth, he quickly became a trading piece.
When Mohammed came to the Thunder, he brought ample success and experience, having won championships at both college and pro level, as well as having had the opportunity to play next to Tim Duncan. He immediately made a considerable impact on the team, especially on the defensive end of the court. The Thunder had experienced great struggles in their interior defense, and almost overnight that trend began to change for the better. Perkins was seen as the key cog in that transformation, but it is important to note that the change began even before an injured Perkins stepped on the court, and it was in part due to Mohammed's presence in playing along side Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka.
Mohammed was primarily expected to bring the team greater interior defense, which he did. However, where he surpassed expectations was on the offensive end of the court. Once Mohammed established himself in the regular rotation, his limited but competent offensive proficiency rose to the surface. Six times he managed to score in double figures while still averaging almost five rebounds per game. The Thunder had struggled all season long with a lack of a post-presence, and it was the surprising Mohammed that finally gave them some inside scoring effort.
Post Season Grade: C+
Mohammed, like many role players, had his post-season defined by match-ups. Mohammed is a classic post-defender, big, strong, and with good length but without great quickness or lateral movement. As such, in the first two rounds Mohammed had good opportunity to contribute. He played solid if not spectacular basketball against the supercharged Nuggets in the first round, helping carry the Thunder to a 3-0 series lead. In the second round, Mohammed had his greatest success against the stalwart Grizzlies front line. When he was given the minutes in which to work against Memphis, he helped key critical wins in Games Four, Five, and Seven. In a series that was entirely predicated on stopping Grizzlies big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Mohammed worked diligently to keep the Thunder competitive on the interior. As a result, the Thunder advanced into the Conference Finals.
In the Thunder's final round, however, match-ups again dictated Mohammed's effectiveness. Dallas, unlike Denver or Memphis, does not run an offense that emphasizes post-play. Rather, they are a perimeter-oriented offense that runs through Dirk Nowitzki. Because of this reality, Mohammed's opportunity for contribution was extremely limited because he does not have the athletic ability to stay with either Dirk or the Mavs' center, Tyson Chandler. Mohammed did not log a single minute in Games three, four, and five and was relegated to bench cheerleader as the Thunder lost the series in five games.
Most Memorable Game:
While in a Thunder uniform, I think that the April 10 win against the Lakers was one of Mohammed's biggest games of the season. His numbers were solid if unspectacular (6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal in 16 minutes), but what the performance really signified to me was the arrival of the Thunder's front-line defense. OKC viewed LA as the mountain they would have to climb, so they rebuilt their interior defense to contend with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. The Thunder, now armed with Perkins, Collison, Ibaka, and Mohammed, had the tools to deal with the Lakers' size. By standing toe to toe with LA and watching the purple and gold fade in the end, we knew that OKC now had the tools it needed to deal with the Lakers in a playoff series.
(of course, it's funny the way life eventually works out)
Most Memorable Single Moment:
There aren't too many big moments that Mohammed offered this season because seldom was he placed in a position to offer one, but this block leading to the transition fast break was pretty great to see.
Mohammed has expressed publicly that he wants to remain in OKC, and I think that the franchise would be a wonderful place for him to be as he enters the final phase of his career. I think Mohammed knows that the years of him being a legitimate starting center in the league are over, so it is best for him to find a stable organization like the Thunder where he can prolong his career and offer him the opportunity to contribute on the court. The Thunder franchise definitely offers him this kind of opportunity.
For the Thunder, Mohammed represents the right kind of player that they need for the stage they are in. OKC has a very solid front line with an anchor (Perkins), a role player (Collison), and a burgeoning superstar (Ibaka) that just needs time to gel together to raise their collective prowess. Mohammed is the perfect kind of player for their make-up because he is a team-oriented player who will produce as long as he gets his consistent 10-15 minutes per game.
More importantly, I really want to see Mohammed have an impact on Serge Ibaka. Serge is a remarkable talent but still extremely raw. Ibaka needs veteran players around him to make sure his education continues, and Mohammed can offer himself as that kind of influence.
As long as the asking price is right, Nazr Mohammed should be in Thunder blue for the foreseeable future.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations