OKC Thunder 2011-2012 Final Player Grades and Season Profile: Nazr Mohammed

Feb 22, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Nazr Mohammed (8) shoots the ball as Boston Celtics center Greg Stiemsma (54) defends during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Name: Nazr Mohammed

Nickname: Naz, ODB

Player History:

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 was part of the teams that won two championships during his stay.

Mohammed was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 29th pick in 1998 and immediately traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. He spent two years with the 76ers and then bounced around to various teams before landing with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 and won a championship there as the starting center.

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. After the trade, Mohammed stepped into the Thunder lineup seamlessly, even starting 7 games as Kendrick Perkins returned from a knee injury. After a solid 2011 campaign, Mohammed subsequently signed a one year extension with the Thunder that ran through 2012.

Pre-Season Expectations:

Mohammed entered the 2011-12 season as the back-up center for Kendrick Perkins. Averaging about 18 minutes per game a year ago, Mohammed's mandate was clear - when called upon, grab rebounds and protect the rim. Be ready, but don't be surprised if your number isn't called a lot. Mohammed is the consummate pro, and so he accepted this mandate with professionalism and grace. He set about to offer the Thunder bench experience, a locker room voice, and a portion of team cohesiveness that he learned while playing with the Thunder's model for excellence, the Spurs. Nazr wasn't going to light up the scoreboard, but if the team needed him, he would not let the team down.

Regular Season Grade: C

Mohammed came into the 66 game season knowing that he would have to be ready if the Thunder experienced any sort of fatigue or lingering injuries from its front line. However, over the course of the season Mohammed saw his minutes and opportunities decrease, even as the number of games began to pile up. Nazr started off the season strong, scoring a few buckets per game and grabbing about 4 rebounds in 11 minutes per game. He was doing a solid job spelling Perkins when needed and we had hopes that it would allow the front line to stay fresh and healthy.

As the season wore on though, apparently Mohammed began to wear down as well. He saw his minutes drop to 10 in March and then under 9 per game in April and his productivity fell with it. Coach Scott Brooks was clearly trying to shore up his playoff rotation, but with the team slumping in April it stood to reason that he could have made better use of Mohammed in order to make sure everyone stayed healthy. Was Mohammed just losing steam amidst the chaotic 66 game regular season? It is reasonable to think so, yet his productivity scaled with his opportunity so we may never know for sure.

In the end, Mohammed did what was asked of him in the regular season, but he was rarely given the opportunity to show that he could do more than what was asked.

Post-Season Grade: B

Mohammed was used sparingly throughout the playoffs, but he did have one critical role in the 2nd round. He, along with Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison, would have to defend the Lakers' dominant big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Round 1 vs the Mavericks: C

Mohammed only played in 2 of the 4 games against Dallas, and this really was not a series where he would be needed. Dallas has a dearth of quality big men, so it was not difficult for the Thunder's starters to control the interior. Mohammed did play a solid Game 4, which featured a come-from-behind win, and in that game scored 4 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in 11 minutes.

Round 2 vs the Lakers: B

This round against the Lakers was Mohammed's best opportunity to add value to the Thunder's front line, and Nazr acquitted himself well. Facing the twin towers Gasol and Bynum, OKC had to give its full focus on slowing the pair down in the paint and on the offensive boards.

Mohammed's production early on was instrumental in setting the tone for the Thunder. Bynum in particular has a tendency to lose focus when he faces a strident path, and Mohammed did a sound job in helping to frustrate Bynum in Games 1 through 3. By the time the critical Games 4 and 5 rolled around, Bynum had become mostly a spectator as Kobe Bryant took over all the offensive responsibilities. Once the Lakers shifted from an interior team to a Kobe-centric perimeter team, the Thunder's work was 3/4 done. Mohammed played a critical role in helping the front line maintain its focus, and he is to be commended for that.

Round 3 vs the Spurs: N/A

If Round 2 was the best scenario for Mohammed to contribute, Round 3 was the worst. The Spurs' offense of the past, where the ball is thrown into Duncan in the post, has been shed for a super quick drive-and-kick guard oriented scheme. The Thunder bigs were at a disadvantage in this series and the pressure moved to OKC perimeter defenders to slow down Tony Parker and stay with the 3-point shooters. Mohammed's interior defense was of little help, so as a result he only played 5 minutes in the entire series.

Finals vs the Heat: N/A

See above. Mohammed did not play in the Finals, and if he did it probably would not have made any difference.

Most Memorable Game:

Mohammed did great work in the 4 games the Thunder played against the Houston Rockets. His best game of that series (and the season) was a Jan. 7th affair, which was the 2nd night of a Rockets back-to-back.

The Thunder started out the game sluggishly, and Kevin Durant was suffering through one of his poorer 1st halves of the season. Mohammed stepped up in a big way, scoring 17 points in only 18 minutes while grabbing 6 rebounds. If not for Mohammed's play in the 1st half, the Thunder probably would have lost. He was without a doubt the best 'Thunder Down Under' in this OKC win.

Most Memorable Single Moment:

This might be surprising to you, but it is extremely difficult to find Nazr Mohammed highlights. To be sure the game mentioned above featured several Mohammed-esque plays:


There was also this less-than-highlight-reel-worthy play against the Wizards that undoubtedly spawned a dozen "forgetful old man" jokes.

Future Expectations:

Mohammed has served in his role as backup center well over these past two seasons, and for that OKC fans should be grateful. However, the writing appears to be on the wall for Mohammed. Even though he has expressed a strong interest in returning to the team, the Thunder's development of Cole Aldrich combined with the recent acquisition of Hasheem Thabeet likely means that the center position is set for the future and Nazr is not going to be a part of it. Mohammed understands the importance of promoting Aldrich, stating in his exit interview:

"If I was in [Cole's] position, I’d want to get on the court...I feel that that’s the next progression. You’ve got to give him a chance and see what you’ve got. That’s the way the game is. If you’ve got the choice of investing in a guy 14 years in the game or a guy in his third year, you’ve got to go with the guy in his third year and see what he’s got."

That is probably one of the most honest and humble things I've ever seen a veteran say about his young understudy, and it is a testament to Mohammed's dedication to the team. He understood the situation he was coming into, knew that it would likely be a short-term situation, and embraced it whole-heartedly to the Thunder's benefit.

As Mohammed is likely preparing to move on, I hope Thunder fans will remember his sacrificial perspective as Nazr winds down his career. I think he still has a place in the league, even if it is not with the Thunder. A young team with talent and something to prove (76ers? Pacers?) might stand to benefit to bring in Mohammed and let him try to do again what he helped accomplish in OKC.

***

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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