2013-2014 Thunder Player Grades: Hasheem Thabeet carves his niche

That shirt makes me hungry for pineapple. - Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

You might not love his game, but you definitely love his smile. Get the lowdown on Hasheem and how he's fit in with the Thunder.

Full Name: HASHEEM THABEET

Nickname: "HASH"

Years in NBA: 6

Contract Status: Has a team option on his contract for 1.25 million next season. Should the Thunder decline to pick up the option, Thabeet would become an unrestricted free agent. The Thunder are strongly likely to see Thabeet return, especially given how he's made charity appearances after the completion of the playoffs.

Notable Factoid: Hasheem Thabeet speaks with the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, on a regular basis. Apparently, he's a huge basketball fan.

Player History

Hasheem Thabeet didn't play basketball until the age of 15, when he was spotted by a coach at a Tanzanian high school. Thabeet played for that high school and in local pickup games for two years, before going to the US at age 17 to play basketball. Thabeet would not return to Tanzania for almost four consecutive years. After false starts with schools in California and Mississippi, Hash went to Cypress Christian High School in Houston, Texas. There, he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds. Thabeet was recruited almost exclusively by Jim Calhoun, and had committed to UConn upon the conclusion of his Senior year.

Hasheem Thabeet's Freshman campaign from 2006-2007 was definitely an interesting one. Thabeet wasn't necessarily skilled enough to make much of an offensive impact, and he wasn't strong enough to make an impact on the boards. Yet his length and mobility made all the difference, as he blocked the third most shots in the country. The team, on the other hand, was largely a disappointment, finishing with a losing conference record and failing to make any post-season tournament.

In 2007-2008, Thabeet's game improved across the board. He wasn't exactly putting the ball on the floor yet, but greater confidence and control did wonders. Thabeet's most marked statistical improvement was in his free throw percentage, which went from 51% to 69% over the course of a year. He was also the second-best shot blocker in the country, and was named the NABC Defensive Player of the Year. As a team, Connecticut returned the vast majority of the previous year's team and made a serious improvement as well. They ended up posting a winning conference record before being upset in the first round by the University of San Diego (thanks Chris).

2008-2009 would prove to be Thabeet's last season in college. His ability to block shots was pretty much at its' peak, but he continued to improve in every other statistical category. Thabeet's skills also saw improvement, as he was able to do basic post-ups on offense and was better about positioning himself on the floor. As a team, the Huskies returned most of their important players and got an additional boost from freshman Kemba Walker. After enduring a surprise loss to Syracuse in the conference tournament, Connecticut would eventually wind up as a 1 seed and go to the final four. Thabeet had a particularly strong performance in the team's elimination game against Michigan State, scoring 17 points.

The 2009 NBA Draft saw Thabeet selected 2nd overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. Thabeet gained popularity amongst discussion of a weak class, and there were definite questions surrounding his offensive ability. Those questions proved valid as Thabeet entered the Summer League and posted bad numbers. He was only the team's sixth best scorer despite typing for the most minutes, and failed to average a block a game. His field goal percentage was also down to 45%, which is terrible for someone who takes virtually all of their shots near the rim.

The 2009-2010 season wasn't much better for Thabeet. The Grizzlies, who were so-so that year but had established stars, gave him spot minutes on the bench, generally ranging from 5-15. Overall, Thabeet was extremely disappointing out of the gate. He struggled to make much of an impact on most of the games he participated in. His numbers were okay, but the looming problems of foul trouble, lack of body strength, and bad hands really kept him from posting big numbers. It was around this time that Thabeet started to garner a bad reputation in the media. Many questioned his work ethic, while others seemed to get the impression that he was entitled. Whatever the case with him may be, the only accolade Thabeet earned during his rookie season was to be the highest drafter player ever sent to the D-League by his team.

There wasn't much better news for Thabeet in the 2010-2011 season, as Thabeet saw his minutes decreased. Thabeet's stats also went down, and it was clear that his game wasn't on an NBA level. At the Trade Deadline, the Grizz traded Hasheem and a pick to the Rockets for Shane Battier. The Rockets almost immediately sent him to the D-League, and left him there for most of the rest of the season. 2011-2012 was even worse, as Thabeet was simply dumped to the Blazers in a package for Marcus Camby at the trade deadline. He had spent the vast majority of the year on the bench. Thabeet actually garnered time with a mightily struggling Portland team, but really didn't do much notable. He did grab more than five rebounds on two occasions....

Anyway, in 2011, Thabeet finally came to the Oklahoma City Thunder. During that 2011-2012 season, Thabeet would see the most minutes of his career. Of course, those numbers are misleading, because he logged a ton of meaningless minutes during huge Thunder blowouts. But that season probably marked the first time in his post-college career that Thabeet had effectively filled a role. He was called on as the team's fourth big man, logging minutes behind Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison. He didn't play regular minutes in every game, but he did prove to be a capable defender and was a key piece in a couple of close victories. Most notably, Thabeet's 10 point 4 rebound performance against the Clippers was probably the best of his career.

As the season went on, Thabeet did end up fading a bit and tended to get lost while the team wasn't in blowout mode. Thabeet was still too foul-prone to be effective on every single night, and actually negatively affected the team on a few occasions with poor defensive positioning. Due to Thabeet's gradually declining stats, Brooks decided to tighten up the rotation. Thabeet would end up only getting blowout minutes and a few precious spot minutes against the Grizzlies, and really didn't get the chance to make an impact overall.

Pre-Season Expectations

I don't know at what point everyone gave up on Hasheem Thabeet fulfilling his potential. But even the most hardcore of Thunder fans would think that Thabeet was going to be a serviceable backup, at best. Thabeet has simply never had the coordination necessary to score regularly, nor the bulk to hold his ground defensively. Furthermore, his speed isn't what it was in college. Thus, Thabeet is mostly reduced to a defensive specialist, using his height and length at the most opportune times. Meanwhile, the rest of the team is busy simply making sure he doesn't trip over his own feet.

Of course, Thabeet was said to have improved his discipline, and is putting in constant work with the Thunder staff. Thabeet also regularly appears off the court with Durant and Westbrook, suggesting he's fitting in well. So there's probably some small glimmer of hope out there. You know, the hope that says that Thabeet could legitimately be a defensive force in the league, protecting the paint.

Before the year, it seemed as if Thabeet was slated to get regular minutes. Steven Adams appeared especially green in the Summer League despite flashes of brilliance, and didn't appear to be ready for an NBA role. Thabeet could perform the role capably at least some of the time, so it looked like he might be the best option while Adams developed.

Regular Season Grade

Unfortunately, Hasheem Thabeet's season was over before it started. Steven Adams was regularly outperforming him in just about every possible category during the Pre-Season. But even if that wasn't enough to prove the Kiwi's superiority, Thabeet went and doomed himself right off the bat. You see, in the Pre-Season finale against the New Orleans Pelicans, he decided to shove and headbutt Greg Steimsma. Thabeet was suspended for the season opener, in which Steven Adams' showed his ability to effect the game.

From then on, the choice was clear. Thabeet was pretty much the fifth big man, only called on if the situation was favorable or if it was an absolute emergency.

The first emergency came on November 13th. Kendrick Perkins had to be in Beaumont for his grandfather's funeral, leaving the Thunder thin on the front lines. If that weren't enough, a skirmish in the first quarter sent Ibaka to the locker room, leaving OKC rail thin against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. In stepped Thabeet, who was....mediocre. He was too slow to effect a few plays around the rim and turned the ball over too much, but he did score and rebound decently. The performance was enough to earn him a couple of token minutes during the next game, during which Perk was also absent.

Hasheem's next non-Garbage time appearance came on February 28th, in the wake of Perk's long-term injury. This game was actually a good indication of what Thabeet can do. He was really active on interior defense and actually fulfilled the role of rim protector for a night. The goodwill lasted, as Thabeet basically re-entered the same role he had with the team last year for the duration of Perk's injury.  Basically, he'd get about 5-10 minutes a night (unless it was a blowout). Thabeet played mostly in the first half and mostly served to provide defense in the paint. Thabeet failed to make much of an impact, but the players alongside him were struggling as well. Most notably, the lineup had a painful lack of ball movement, leaving a lot less opportunities for a player that almost totally relies upon it to score.

Anyway, Thabeet's last meaningful minutes came during the earlier stages of the crazy triple overtime game in Toronto. Once Perk returned, Thabeet's usefulness was at an end.

Unless you think hitting incredibly awkward jumpers in blowouts is a useful skill. I certainly do!

Post-Season Grade: A+ (JK, but not really)

0 Points, 4 Fouls, 1 call answered. His work is done.

Most Memorable Moments

What do you think of Hasheem Thabeet? Will he be called upon again next season? Let us know in the comments!

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