OKC Thunder 2011-2012 Final Player Grades and Season-End Profile: Royal Ivey

Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Name: Royal Ivey

Nickname: "Cheese"

Player History:

A four year starter at the University of Texas (2001-2004), Ivey was a part of three consecutive Longhorn trips to the Sweet 16 followed by an appearance in the Final Four his senior year. From his time in Austin, Ivey continues to hold a place at the top as the all time leader in games started at the University of Texas with 126. Drafted by Atlanta with the 37th pick, Ivey had good but not great results for the Hawks before having a career season coming off the bench in 2007-2008 with the Bucks, highlighted by an 8 assist game against Golden State. After bouncing between the Bucks and the 76ers, "Cheese" made his way to the Thunder on July 21 of 2010. Ivey's parents are both artists.

Pre-Season Expectations:

Averaging only 6.2 minutes per game in '10-'11, Ivey didn't get a great deal of time to prove himself as a viable member of the Thunder's backcourt and statistics showed as much. Going into the '11-'12 season, Ivey was expected to play as large a role in the locker room, if not larger, than his duties on the hardwood. An 8 year veteran of the NBA in the winter of his career, 2012 would prove to be an unexpected opportunity for Ivey to prove he still had it.

Regular Season Grade: C+

GIven that not much was expected, be it in terms of minutes or production, Ivey performed admirably in choppy waters following the loss of Eric Maynor early in the season. Nearly doubling his minutes from '10-'11 with an average of 10.4 a game, "Cheese" provided clutch perimeter defense in pockets and would provide the steady presence of an 8 year vet when called for. While never lighting the world ablaze on the stat sheet, Ivey's intangibles did not go unnoticed. After a 115-104 win over the Suns, Coach Scott Brooks said of Ivey, "It's amazing. (Royal Ivey) has 17 minutes, doesn't score, doesn't get an assist, doesn't get a rebound but he had a big impact on the basketball game just with his toughness".

Post-Season Grade: C

With the addition of Derek Fisher in March, the opportunities to contribute on the floor would take a step back from what they had been over the majority of the regular season. Averaging a total of 4.2 minutes per game over the Western Conference Championship run and into the NBA Finals, it's difficult to say that Ivey disappointed given the lack of time to sway the argument. That being said, it's equally difficult to imply that he exceeded expectations.

Most Memorable Game: Golden State 87 at Oklahoma City 110

While no one game stands out for Ivey in terms of the box score, there are a handful that came to mind. For no other reason than recalling Ivey having a great night, I went with this one. In the interest of full disclosure, I did have to call a buddy that I've split season tickets with since October of 2008 to get his call on it. Same conclusion, the Golden State game, though without looking at the stat sheet he had recalled Ivey scoring around 19 points. While it wasn't 19, it was a respectable 3-7 from beyond the arc for 9 points along with 2 rebounds, an assist, and one steal. Point being, if you leave a game feeling like one guy hit 19, though he only had 9, he left an impression that transcended the numbers.

Most Memorable Single Moment:

Following what was a tough loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles in late January, Melissa Rohlin of the Los Angeles Times took a moment to visit the Thunder locker room and chat with some of the players. Starting at the 1:35 mark, Rohlin speaks with Reggie Jackson and Ivey about their brief stay in Los Angeles. It is magical, it is gripping, and it involves Denzel Washington. With the quiet charisma of a 1983 Michael Landon, Royal Ivey captivates a nation if only for a brief moment.

Future Expectations:

With the return of Eric Maynor, Reggie Jackson's surprisingly steady '11-'12 performance, and front office budget issues that place Ivey in the same uncertain future as Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed, hazarding a guess at the future of "Cheese" with the Thunder results in, at best, an educated guess. I like Ivey's bench presence and his defensive tenacity is great, but Jackson's youth and Maynor's return suggest Ivey may be in Tulsa or another franchise for the '12-13 NBA season. Royal has mentioned an interest in coaching after he retires from playing. Given the respect he's garnered from Scott Brooks, this is a very real possibility in the near future.

***

Player Grades:

A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations

Other Player Grades:

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