The start of the 2015-16 season is nearly a hundred days away. That’s a long time, and while the Washington Redskins and Liverpool might help me get by in the meantime, only the Oklahoma City Thunder can fill the Oklahoma City Thunder-sized and -shaped void in my sporting psyche.
With next season so far away, why not relive a few random games from last year? Over the next few weeks, I (and possibly others) will be selecting a few 2014-15 games at random and re-watching them, providing the type of hard hitting, retroactive analysis that can only come with the benefit of full hindsight. In other words, I won’t pretend that Reggie might turn his attitude around. I won’t pretend that Dion’s 2-3 start from the field might indicate he’s turned the corner. I’ll even try to pretend that KD doesn’t look like he is getting close to 100% and the Thunder are poised for a deep playoff run.
I may only watch a few of these games. I may watch all of them. I may accidentally select the Knicks loss first and not finish another one (which raises the question of who I’m actually addressing this blurb to in the first place). There are an awful lot of variables here, so I’ll just get started.
Up first: Your Oklahoma City Thunder host the Los Angeles Lakers, 03/24/15
You, too, can watch the game here:
Pre-Game Intro: Woah! I hadn’t planned on addressing things like network television intros or commercials, but this is easily the most depressing "pump up" video I’ve ever seen. Featured, in order, during a "highlight reel" set to some song called "I Feel Electric" (which I hope to not hear again): Waiters pulls up for a contested 3 on the wing that I’m nearly certain is a miss (/CUT), Morrow dribbles around a high screen (/CUT), Waiters feeds DJ for a corner three attempt that may or may not have gone in (/CUT), and then two straight Jeremy Lamb things. This is not a good way to captivate an audience. If there is a Scott Brooks pregame interview where he mentions "playing for each other," I’ll be forced to abandon the project long before the opening tip of the first game in the series. At a certain point, I have to stand up for myself. For the record, I have made it through 50 of the 8,286 seconds that this video is set to run.
00:00 – I skipped ahead to the opening tip because I actually want to watch this game. Adams taps it to Kanter, who tosses it back to Russ. Thunder up!
11:40 – Masked Russ with the fadeaway from the left wing off of one foot, which – believe it or not – is off target. Kanter grabs the board and misses the easy layup, but Adams forces a jump ball.
11:33 – Kanter steals a preposterously stupid save attempt by Jeremy Lin and finishes the and-1. Sit down!
09:42 – Despite an early 3, I’d imagine Jeremy Lin’s advanced stats are all nearly three digits in the negative already. Westbrook just hit an elbow pull-up – the one Hubie Brown and Reggie Miller call his specialty when it drops, and an unnecessary attempt too early in the shot clock when it doesn’t (always remember that both are the exact same shot, regardless of what they say).
09:07 – After putrid team defense leads to a wide open Ryan Kelly three, Kanter with a great look off the high pick and roll to Singler, who hits the corner three. With all due respect to Kyle Singler, does anyone even realize how things are going to be next year - when Westbrook and Kanter run the high pick and roll, and the guy in the corner is Kevin Durant? How will anyone guard that?
04:22 – Singler with a bullet feed to McGary for the easy finish. Nothing wrong with that sentence, just feels weird to type for some reason.
04:12 – Nice tip by Kanter. The weird thing about Kanter’s defense is the fact that he is a pretty savvy offensive rebounder. It just doesn’t make sense. He seems to care, or at least want to care, on both ends of the court, and on one he seems to have a tremendous feel for positioning and movement. When you see him make great reads that make difficult offensive putbacks look easy, it is nearly unfathomable that this is the guy statistically proven to be an historic liability on defense. You start to feel like it almost has to be effort, while you try to talk yourself out of feeling that way. Kanter clearly has a decent feel for the game. He has to get this sorted out.
TOKEN LAKERS COMMENT OF THE QUARTER – The Lakers will actually be a pretty interesting team to watch this year. D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle are obvious reasons why, but how they fit Jordan Clarkson and their other guard into the rotation could actually be kind of worth watching. Good thing, too, because I’m sure they’ll have like 67 games on TNT alone – and the 2015-16 Lakers aren’t playing more than 82. Ryan Kelly is a nice player off the bench, and Hibbert kind of makes sense. I mean, why not? If you’re a Lakers fan, your friends are absolutely making fun of the acquisition, but there is no doubt that Roy Hibbert improves their defense around the rim, and will be needed as Randle, Russell, and even Clarkson continue to develop (i.e. get abused on defense). Oh, also note that Kobe’s defense going forward is going to get much, much worse than even this:
03:56 – Kanter fouled after trying to run the break. God, I hated this, and I hated it more when McGary tried to follow Kanter’s lead. It would always inevitably lead to one successful conversion followed by many, many turnovers and offensive fouls.
02:22 – DJ finds McGary on the pick and roll, and Mitch is fouled in the act of finding a wide-open Waiters in the opposite corner. The Dion Waiters thing, in general…I’m not sure how I feel about it. I will cover it at length in a future piece, but if you want a prime example of Dion Waiters parking behind the arc, this is it. When he goes to the basket and cuts (kidding - he never cuts), he can actually be a fairly valuable offensive player. But there are 29 teams that want Dion Waiters to camp out in three-point territory. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that the lone team that doesn’t want that also happens to be your favorite team.
00:56 – Wow…Lin abuses Kanter with the up and under. Enes has a 15 and 10 first quarter, though. Games like this are why he was worth the contract. You know those nights where KD, Westbrook, and Ibaka are all cold? Kanter gives OKC yet another option who can pick up the slack and produce 10-12 point quarters when nothing else is working. That is absolutely worth $70 million for a contender – especially when it comes from a player who gets points within the half court offense. Next time the Thunder play the Grizzlies, KD will appreciate the sets where he can essentially be a decoy while Kanter hits 20 footers. Each Thunder basket that comes on a possession where KD doesn’t have to fist fight Tony Allen as the clock winds down is a huge win.
00:00 – End of the 1st. Thunder up 37-27.
11:23 – Let the record state that Jeremy Lamb is playing. McGary almost throws it away, and then gets away with an offensive foul as he finishes from the right block. Mitch is an interesting player for the Thunder. The McGary/Collison roles will be worth watching as next season starts, and if nothing else I think McGary absolutely has a spot in the Mad Men lineup that I will cover in a future piece (for the record, it is the craziest of all crazy-guy lineups in the league, and features Westbrook/Waiters/McGary/Serge/Adams – I’ll explain at a later date).
10:13 – DJ with a bullet one-handed pass to a streaking McGary who finishes with a dunk in transition. This is why McGary will get plenty of minutes no matter where he fits into the rotation. He flat out runs like crazy every time down the floor. At the very least, he will be a massive, massive pain for opposing bigs to chase every night. If I’m Billy Donovan, I play Mitch in the 4th quarter for just a few possessions after the starters are back in. Neither Randolph nor Gasol want any part of chasing him back up the court time and again. Any fresh legs will immediately be stricken.
07:07 – "Jabari Parker" misses a transition three for the Lakers, according to the commentator.
06:47 – DJ with a great feed to Adams for the dunk. Both Westbrook and DJ were really good last year about giving all the Thunder big men equal opportunities on pick and rolls. Maybe they were just happy to see anyone rolling other than Kendrick Perkins, but whether it was Kanter or Adams or Serge or McGary or Collison – if they made the cut and were open, they got the ball no matter the situation.
06:24 – DJ with the steal and the nice alley oop to the soaring Westbrook. KD loves, and it’s followed up by a Westbrook steal that leads to Kanter getting fouled. Thunder up, 49-36.
TOKEN LAKERS COMMENT OF THE QUARTER:
Forget everything I said before. Lakers fans, this is your new center.
02:21 – Novak gets in the game, and Westbrook finds Adams for the nice one hander. I briefly mentioned this shot in the recent piece I did on what we can expect from Adams in his third year, but his touch around the basket looks really, really good sometimes.
00:00 HALFTIME – THUNDER UP, 68-53.
12:00 – Anthony Morrow starts the second half instead of Waiters, despite Waiters scoring 11 on 4-7 in the first half.
11:13 – "I just now realized that Anthony Morrow started the second half" – Announcer.
10:40 – Singler posts up Clarkson on the right block. Shades of Hakeem/Robinson in ’95.
10:36 – Turnover, Singler.
09:16 – Great baseball pass from Adams to Westbrook, who converts in transition. Thunder up, 70-61.
TOKEN LAKERS COMMENT OF THE QUARTER:
If you’re Jordan Clarkson, how do you feel right now? Yes, Kobe will be gone soon, but that is still 1-4 years away – depending on how obnoxious Kobe decides to be. Really, though, you just watched your GM pick a PG #2 overall after you emerged as one of the league-wide surprises of the 2014-15 season. After the Lottery, it was assumed that you’d be doing things like running pick and rolls and making entry passes to Julius Randle and Jahlil Okafor for the next 12 years. Now everyone is just wondering how you fit with the next Chris Paul (God, please don’t let there ever be another Chris Paul in terms of antics, for the record). Clarkson seems destined to be one of those annoying opponents (think a poor man’s Eric Bledsoe) for a while, but still – he at least probably earned a shot to run the point in LA at least until the Lakers were spurned by Westbrook. It’s not like Kobe will let anyone else run the offense next year anyway.
05:53 – McGary brings the ball up court and it isn’t a disaster, but what people don’t get is that it is a disaster – if, for no other reason, than that it will absolutely lead to future disasters. It’s like the first slice of a large pizza you order for yourself: it’s awesome, but deep down you know you’ll keep going until it isn’t.
05:37 – Kanter gets good position and finishes with the baby hook. Thunder up, 85-67.
03:55 – Singler is blocked at the rim, but this is an ideal example of, again, a play that might be far different next year. Westbrook drives and finds Kanter, whose path to the rim is blocked so he runs a two-man game with Singler. Again, that will be Kevin Durant come October. This team is going to have so, so many options on offense.
03:28 – "Jabari Parker" referenced by the announcer again, and Jordan Clarkson has cut the OKC lead to 14.
00:39 – Exhibit A of why McGary and Kanter can never, ever play at the same time unless Donovan can also summon prime Scottie Pippen, or unless MTV Rock N’ Jock rules come into play and other Thunder defenders can use a broom on defense. Wayne Ellington goes baseline for the easy basket to cut the lead back down to 12. It’s not even like there was a lack of communication by the bigs; it’s as if there was total communication, and they both agreed that Ellington was getting the bucket no matter what.
00:29 – Westbrook with the pull-up 3 to create a two-for-one opportunity. I have long discussed this amongst friends, but it’s time to go public: I consider OKC two-for-one’s to be amongst the true "must watch" situations in all of sports. We always knew that Reggie was going to dribble around half court and take a 30 footer while basically giving an actual middle finger to everyone from Scott Brooks to James Naismith to…well, back to Scott Brooks, but Russell’s sample size is such that anything is possible. If anything makes OKC games worth watching, it is an inbounds pass to Russell Westbrook with 31 seconds left in a quarter.
00:00 – END OF THIRD QUARTER, THUNDER UP 100-88.
10:33 – Extremely boring start to the quarter, but there is a noteworthy DJ Augustin miss. His patience is apparent many times throughout nearly every game, but during this possession he gets the ball at the top of the key with fewer than 5 seconds left on the shot clock. Most players would pull up for three, but he is able to get closer to the rim and get a decent look from about 8 feet that he is probably fouled on. Yes, he misses this time, but DJ Augustin’s composure is going to mean something for the Thunder next season.
09:59 – Morrow with the utterly demoralizing 3 to answer Wayne Ellington’s. OKC up, 107-91.
08:26 – The Good Dion Waiters. He goes to the basket and converts. Why does he refuse to do this more often? It’s nothing short of vexing. These are the moments that you think back to and start to talk yourself into things like "Dion Waiters is a lottery-caliber talent, and might average 15 points this year." It’s crazy. You know it won’t happen. But plays like this almost make it seem possible. Dion has 20, and the Thunder are up by 17.
TOKEN LAKERS COMMENT OF THE QUARTER: I like Ed Davis, as he is one of the few NBA players from my hometown. That’s that.
08:04 – Waiters brings the ball up and dumps it off to DJ on the wing for a 3. Again, the Good Dion. He flashes these sequences that just make you wonder. This guy could be really, really good. The lead has ballooned to 20, and I am officially ready for the first episode of this series to end.
06:31 – Someone please put this game on a VHS, a DVD, and a thumbdrive (in MP4, .mov, and .wmv formats), and send it to Dion Waiters. Maybe even Laserdisc. I want to account for any possible video-viewing setup he may currently be utilizing. Here, he pump fakes and drives baseline for the two-handed dunk. This is the Dion Waiters who was drafted #4 overall. That guy is still on the roster.
06:15 – Remember that FOX234 was, at one time, a code you could use to get 15% off your purchase at NBAThunderShop.com. I’m unsure if this still works.
05:25 – After coming back to Earth with a reprehensible step-back jumper, Waiters with the drive and ditch to Singler, who nails the corner 3. Thunder lead back up to 19, at 122-103.
01:00 – My screen froze and I had to restart the stream. Right before the initial freezing, Jeremy Lamb missed a three. When I was trying to find the point where I had previously left off, I accidentally went further ahead – just in time to see Jeremy Lamb miss another three. Thunder up 127-115, and this one looks like it’s in the books.
FINAL – OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER WIN, 127-117.
There you have it for Episode 1 in this might be-series. Frankly, that was equal parts fun and exhausting. At the very least, however, it was interesting to watch knowing that guys like Singler and Kanter will now definitely be part of the Thunder’s future. Check out this link for the boxscore:
I would like to do this again. If there are any games you’d like me to cover, let me know in the comments section and I’ll do my best to check them out.