In the Thunder's first pre-season game against the Timberwolves, coach Billy Donovan played Steve Novak for 11 minutes. About 9 of those 11 minutes were spent on the floor with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. This is very interesting, as any lineup with Durant and Westbrook on the floor would be expected to get regular minutes.
Novak came to Oklahoma City last year in the Kanter-Perkins deal, but hardly saw any minutes for the Thunder. Indeed, the last time Novak could truly call himself a regular contributor to an NBA squad was 2013. Few would see Novak as a potential factor this season, mainly because he's too much of a defensive liability.
Despite Novak's limitations, he's still easily the best three point shooting big man on the Thunder's roster. Every player in the NBA respects his range, meaning that Novak's presence on the floor is the easiest way to get opposing power forwards out of the paint. Novak is also an effective pick and pop partner for the same reason.
Ultimately, what Steve Novak does best is create space. Russell Westbrook thrives mostly when he can have space created for him. So really, matching Novak and Westbrook on offense only makes sense. Here's three plays where you can definitively see what Steve Novak brings to the table.
The Thunder begin the play with their three frontcourt players surrounding the arc. The Timberwolves know all of the Thunder frontcourt players can shoot, so they play tight defense. This leaves the paint extremely vulnerable.
Also, KD and Westbrook are already alone on one side of the floor. With space to work, they're one of the hardest to stop pick and roll combos in the NBA.
KD and Westbrook execute a give and go. Wiggins must stay with Durant, whom is a threat to hit from this range. Jones tries to go under KD and stay with Russ, but still loses Russ. This frees Russ to go to the paint, where only Kevin Martin is awaiting him. Towns and Dieng, the two Timberwolf bigs, are still above the free throw line.
Westbrook easily scores over the defensively subpar Kevin Martin to end the play. But suppose Westbrook had met, say, Tony Allen in the paint? Well, Waiters is wide open for the catch and shoot three in the corner. Also, had Wiggins decided to hedge Westbrook, Durant would have been wide open for a three himself.
If an opposing team wanted to stop this play, the smartest way might be to keep a big man in the paint and challenge Kanter to shoot. But everything happens so early in the shot clock that it's hard to plan for.
Waiters and KD are in the corners. Novak and McGary are in the high post, and Novak fakes a screen around McGary for an open three. Payne follows, but Novak immediately cuts back to the hoop. Payne is a step behind in recovering.
Novak goes straight under the hoop, and Payne must follow. At this point, Payne is completely turned around and unaware of what's going on with Westbrook. Meanwhile, Westbrook is taking McGary's pick. The T-Wolves must double Westbrook on the pick and roll, and McGary can roll to the rim unhindered.
Adriean Payne is caught off-guard, and must foul McGary. Had Payne been a bit more attentive and met McGary in time, Mitch could have simply tossed it out to Novak for three. I have a feeling Novak cut back to the three point line a bit late, simply because he caught Payne's attention so well.
This play is very similar to the last one. KD and Waiters are still in the corners. Westbrook is receiving a high screen, but this time it's from Novak. McGary remains down on the block, where he is most effective.
Novak attempts the screen. Payne attempts to hedge Westbrook, while Miller goes over the screen to prevent the shot. Had Novak gone through with the screen, he'd be free for a pick and pop. Novak's screen was a fake, though. Payne and Miller didn't notice, and ended up colliding with each other.
And the play is complete. Miller and Payne aren't exactly the best defensive players in the world, but Novak's sneakiness really worked wonders here.
It's still obvious to anyone that Steve Novak is a flawed player. Novak simply isn't strong or quick enough to be much of a factor when it comes to defense or rebounding. But in specific situations where the opposing team is having a really easy time closing down the paint, I think Novak can seriously shake things up. I mean, think about shot blocking power forwards like Tim Duncan, Derrick Favors, and Pau Gasol. Novak could definitely make all of them a serious defensive liability. Yes, there's always the possibility that Novak gets worked on the other end. But Novak is faster than all three of the players I mentioned, so a pressure defense could be effective.
Also, don't underestimate Novak's clutchness. Steve hit a game-winning three at the end of Sunday's scrimmage in Newcastle. Furthermore, Novak hit a off the dribble floater to end the third quarter of this game. And that floater was courtesy of a Westbrook pass.
Do you think Steve Novak should get regular minutes this year? Vote in the poll or drop a comment and let us know!