Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel have formed the Thunder’s center rotation over the last two years. Oklahoma City’s overachievement last season was in part due to the strength that the Thunder had at that position. When Adams sat, Noel stepped in ably.
In years before Noel joined the team, the backup center spot was spotty. Dakari Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Jerami Grant all saw time at center but none of these were proper solutions. Patterson and Grant were both undersized and did not have the best of times guarding bigger, stronger players. Johnson was simply too raw for the NBA.
Nerlens Noel was not all that great in his first season but his improvement last season was impressive. Noel stopped trying to do too much on defense. Nerlens was not jumping around trying to swat every single shot; he calmed down and focused on his fundamentals much more.
Noel provided steady interior defense and his emergence allowed Oklahoma City to manage the minutes of Steven Adams much more carefully. Adams is a very good starting center but he gets worn down when he plays more than 30 minutes per night. Noel playing well meant that Adams only played 26.7 minutes per night.
Nerlens will hit free agency and he will get a lot of attractive offers. For my money, he was one of the best backup bigs in the league. I struggle to see him staying in Oklahoma City for another season if he gets a better offer elsewhere.
From a purely financial perspective, Nerlens Noel did not get that eight figure second contract at the end of his rookie deal which would secure lifetime financial security. Noel turned down a $70m deal when he was a restricted free agent with the Mavericks. You would have to think that financial security will be important to him as he hits free agency now.
The likely departure of Nerlens Noel means that the Thunder have to start preparing to acquire a center in free agency. There are a couple of options that the Thunder should pursue.
Height - 6’10
Weight - 260 lb
Age - 33
Aron Baynes is arguably the best known backup center in the league. His play is championed religiously by the famous fan account, Aron Baynes’ Fan Club. The memes and jokes are hilarious but they should not distract from Aron Baynes’ play last year. He was legitimately good for Phoenix and displayed a lot of growth in his game at the age of 33.
Baynes is a totally different to the guy who came into the league with the San Antonio Spurs. Baynes is still an strong interior defender but he has become a threat from downtown. He is a stretch five but unlike most stretch fives, Baynes has the frame to defend stronger players.
His greatest strength is his defense. Baynes is a fundamentally sound defensive player who has a knack for taking away easy looks at the rim. He rarely bites on pump fakes and picks his spots to challenge the attacking player very well. Aron is very good at making himself as big as possible around the rim; this is one of the reasons why he has been such a good rim protector.
Baynes’ rim protection is his bread and butter but he has added more tools to his game as the league has trended smaller. Baynes is fairly comfortable at defending in space when hedging onto a pick and roll. Baynes’ timing comes to the fore again in this situation; he is very good at deterring the driving ball-handler just long enough for the primary defender to recover.
Aron’s combination of strength and speed is obviously an important reason for his effectiveness in space but it is his reading of the game that allows him to stay on the floor. Baynes puts himself in position to cover angles effectively and makes scoring at the rim much more difficult.
Aron Baynes is also a solid shooter from deep. Baynes shot 35% on 4.0 3PA last season for the Phoenix Suns. In context, that volume is more than any of the wings on the Thunder last season. He is a floor-spacer that the opposing defense has to guard.
When Baynes started taking these shots in Boston, I was shocked. When he started knocking down these looks in playoff games, I was laughing at the surrealness of a bearded Aussie center bombing away from deep.
Oklahoma City could put Aron’s shooting to good use. The Thunder would be able to run pick and pop actions and drag the opposing big out of the paint. That sort of spacing is one of things that Coach Mark Daigneault spoke about during his first press conference.
He is a tone-setter for a team. Baynes plays with a physicality that is only matched by Steven Adams. Baynes is always willing to set a hard screen and sacrifice his own body for the success of the team. That type of willingness to play hard gets everybody to buy into the team as a collective group.
Steven Adams is that physical tone-setter for the Thunder but imagine if he had a partner in Baynes. Two players who bring that team-first mentality is so crucial especially when a team is young.
Height - 6’11
Weight - 240 lb
Age - 22
When it was reported that the Sacramento Kings would not pick up Harry Giles’ team option for his fourth year, my jaw hit the floor. I could not believe that Vlade Divac had not picked up the option of such a young, promising player. It was a huge blunder by the Kings’ front office. Sacramento’s mistake can be the Thunder’s gain.
Giles’ NBA career has been ravaged by missed games. Harry Giles sat out his first season as he worked with the Kings on building his body to survive the rigours of the NBA. The second and third season has also been hit by injuries. To this date, Giles has not played over 70 games in an NBA season.
However, in his third season, Harry Giles turned a corner and looked very good. Giles’ development as a passer, scorer and defensive presence has been hugely impressive. In my opinion, he is the kind of player who the Thunder should have a look at.
Giles does not bring veteran steadiness but he is a young player who will only improve going forward. He fits in terms of the timeline, Giles is in the same age range as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Darius Bazley. Harry is a player who could grow alongside the other members of Thunder 2.0.
The other reason why Giles is such an appealing option is his obvious talent level. Giles has shown moments of real quality in his brief appearances. I am not exaggerating when I am saying that Harry Giles could be a very good center in the NBA if he can grow in the right environment.
Giles’ main strength is his passing. Giles is a prodigious passer and can pick out the right pass with ease. A lot of bigs tend to get flustered when they have to find a teammate with the ball. Harry Giles is calm and patient in these situations. He will wait until the right pass materialise.
Sacramento put him in hand-off situations at the top of the key a fair amount last year and he always looked comfortable in this type of action. Giles was comfortable dictating the offense.
With time and minutes, his passing will only get sharper. Oklahoma City could benefit from having a big man who can pass the ball proficiently. Last season, Coach Billy Donovan worked hand-off actions into the flow of the offense. He tasked Steven Adams with finding cutters.
This action worked brilliantly for the Thunder last year and it added another layer of complexity to the offense. I cannot see Coach Mark throwing this action out of the offense given its success last year. Giles being able to work through this type of set would mean that Oklahoma City could run hand-off actions to a greater extent.
Harry Giles is also a physical, disruptive defender. Giles is a lengthy athlete who can cover ground quickly; he is a nightmare for an offense on switches. Giles has the physical tools to guard the interior and perimeter effectively but it is his mind that enables his tools to be effective.
Giles is very good at recognising how he should move when defending a pick and roll. He seamlessly switches through hedges and drops without really making too many mistakes. There are times when Giles loses track of the action but he is a young player and errors are not uncommon.
In most situations, he is good at dissuading the drive before recovering to deal with his assignment. His speed is obviously very valuable in this situation but Giles’ positioning is good. He puts himself in a place where he can deal with both threats adequately.
Giles fouls way too much for my liking, a common issue for young big men, but I like his aggression and feistiness on defense. Giles takes a lot of pride in getting stops and this is something that I like to see. Young players who care about defense will have the willingness to learn how to be excellent defenders down the line.
Giles’ athleticism means that he is an efficient scorer inside. Harry knocked down 80.3% of his looks within 3ft last season. This is very strong but it is his shooting which is interesting to me. Harry Giles shot 43% on 10-16ft jumpers last year; this is impressive efficiency for a player who is still in the early stages of his development.
That efficiency is not a fluke, his shooting mechanics are really solid. His mechanics certainly suggest that he could step out to the 3-point line with a little development work. He would need time to get used to the greater distance but his release point and base are clean.
The biggest issue with Giles is his injury history. Harry Giles’ injury history does not make for good reading. In high school, he tore the ACL in his right knee. In his left knee, he tore the MCL, meniscus and ACL. There is a lot of wear and tear on his lower body.
Moreover, Giles spent his first season in the NBA as a medical redshirt. The Kings wrote the year off and worked with Giles on strengthening his body. All of these injuries and missed time are worrying. There is a real chance that Giles will pick up another injury and will never be able to reach his potential.
Despite his injury issues, I cannot help but feel that there is something about Harry Giles. When I watched his film, I was impressed by his attitude and skill-set. He could be a very good player going forward and that would be hugely beneficial for the Thunder. A promising, young center on a team-friendly deal is always a positive.