Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE
The Golden State Warriors face the Oklahoma City Thunder today at 4 p.m. PST. A win would be nice, but for those of us who don't get a chance to watch much more than the Warriors it's also a first chance to get a glimpse at what the new-look Thunder look like after their big trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets. To help prepare us, I contacted SBN's Welcome to Loud City for some insight.
That was the Thunder's first year in OKC after
being stolen moving from Seattle, not too long after Scott Brooks took over for P.J. Carlesimo, and the season before they drafted James Harden and got their first playoff berth in their new city. It was also the last season the Warriors even sniffed the playoffs.
Normally I approach these Q&A's thinking about how the Warriors can beat the opposing team but suffice it to say that I'm not all that confident in getting a win today in OKC (and I'm hoping that by lowering expectations the way I did leading up to the Clippers game the Warriors shock the world and pull out a win). So today I'm more interested in how the Oklahoma City Thunder after the James Harden trade. Zorgon of SB Nation's Welcome to Loud City - and a GSoM community member - offered his insight on his home team.
1. With a few weeks to fully digest it, how do you feel about the Harden trade - and maybe the decision to keep Ibaka instead - now?
Zorgon: Well, I'll preface this statement by saying that there are a lot of Thunder fans panicking right now, declaring that we just threw a dynasty down the drain. But I'm a huge fan of what's gone down.
Ibaka is the hardest working player on the team, and his game has consistently improved every season. He's used to being a guy who could never be trusted with the ball and consistently slapped with three in the key. Now, I don't mind if he's taking contested mid-range jumpers and open threes.
Harden was a great talent too, but you had the feeling that the guy had just about reached his ceiling. Once you signed Ibaka, if you kept Harden on the roster, you were basically locking yourself into a long-term box with little chance for improvement.
Now, we have two guaranteed lotto picks in Lamb and the eventual Rockets pick, along with a superb scorer in Martin and some long-term cap flexibility. Sure, we might struggle a little bit this year, but I have no doubt that we'll be looking at this deal three years from now and saying it was the right move.
2. Ok, now that we've gotten those feelings out of the way, how do you think that move will affect this team's title hopes this season? How, if at all, has the identity of this team changed with Harden no longer in that 6th man role?
Zorgon: The move has had a really interesting effect on the team. When Eric Maynor was injured last year, the Thunder had two backup point guards who really couldn't pass in Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson. Thus, James Harden moved to the defacto point guard role and really made things happen. As expected, with Maynor back at backup point, the team became more pass-oriented and spread out the scoring a bit.
But, unexpectedly, Russell Westbrook has become a lot more passive himself. When he starts out a night cold he's not nearly as prone to jack it up, and he can rack up a lot of assists in a short amount of time. To fill Westbrook's scoring void, Serge Ibaka has really stepped up, showcasing his newfound ability to shoot while continuing to be an excellent cutter into the lane.
3. Speaking of Westbrook, I find that some of the criticisms he gets border on science fiction; you can still find people who will tell you the team will never get to the Finals with him at point guard...which is...um....anyway. What do you think is the most absurd, baseless, and downright laughable critique of Westbrook that you've heard so far this year?
Zorgon: That's the thing. Most of them are boring and uncreative arguments coming from people who don't know anything about basketball. But the one that gets on my nerves the most is the argument that Westbrook is "out of control" when he enters the lane. Lots of people have said it, but Coach Nick of BBallBreakdown (who normally has some really solid analysis) pointed it out most eloquently.
Let's get one thing straight: Russell Westbrook made a name for himself by being reckless and out of control. He's the Honey Badger, and he's scored on more "uncontrolled" layups than you can shake a fist at. Sure, when he takes a dive, it looks ugly. But when he hits that crazy layup, which is more often than not, it's serene.
4. Martin might be the polar opposite of the strawman Westbrook criticisms I mentioned above. Many of us are familiar with Martin because he spent the beginning of his career in Northern California, but what are your early impressions about what he contributes to the team?
Zorgon: He's not James Harden.
But honestly, I like his style better. Harden would mostly create his own shots and had a really keen passing ability. Martin, on the other hand, just scores. I've seen him fake out his defender on multiple occasions, but for the most part, he works well off the ball. Moreover, if he's having a bad night, he doesn't force the issue like Harden would. He bides his time and lets the team ride the hot hand. If nothing's doing, he uses his excellent offensive IQ to draw a crafty foul.
The only huge knock on Martin's game is his atrocious defense. The Thunder have Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook to cover for him, but if Martin gets put on the wrong man, he can almost single handedly lose a game. Still, it's a small price to pay for a fantastic offensive arsenal, and Harden wasn't much better.
5. Perry Jones III was a guy who was talked about as a lottery pick - perhaps, to some, even worthy of the Warriors' pick - and yet he fell all the way to OKC. Was this a case of the rich getting richer by way of thievery or yet another young unpolished prospect who was never worthy of the hype to begin with?
Zorgon: I know this is an overused saying, but the jury's still out on him.
Perry Jones III had an unbelievably awesome pre-season. He was getting regular minutes with the starters, shooting a ridiculously high percentage, and showed a nice awareness on defense. In other words, he was looking like a KD-lite.
Scott Brooks said he was going to get 8-10 minutes a game at small forward behind Durant. But once the trade happened and the season rolled around, that promise never materialized. He continues to sit on the bench while Hasheem Thabeet gets minutes looking clumsy.
If you had to ask me, Scott Brooks is just afraid of going small. But I really can't answer your question until we see some real minutes out of the guy. The pre-Season said he was a star, but I give no more credence to that than I do Bellinelli's lighting up of the Summer League.
6. As you know, our basketball fandom sort of overlaps: I'm a fan of OKC despite having lived in Seattle (from where they were stolen!) and still read WTLC. I know you're a Warriors fan who I've seen comment at GSoM quite a bit. For those who have seen you around and wondered, how did you come to be a Warriors fan?
Zorgon: Well, I've been a off and on commenter at GSoM since 2006, in the think of the Mike Montgomery era of the Warriors. Back in the early days of GSoM (when I was still in high school), I wrote in to the essay contest you guys hosted for "America's Next Biggest Warrior Fan". I got third, and the whole situation is basically described there.
Fast forward to We Believe, I went to Game 1 of the upset the Warriors pulled off over the Thunder in Dallas, and a year after that I went to GSoM Night at the Oracle. The Bay Area was an amazing place, and I hope to go back soon. I'll always maintain that the Nellieball Warriors were the perfect team to follow as a teenager. When you got angry, Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis got angry. There were moments of pure joy and moments of pure sorrow. They kind of perfectly espoused what area of life I was in at that time, and they were just superb to watch.
I haven't been able to follow the Warriors as religiously as I used to, but I still catch 75% of their games and cheer like hell for them when they come to the Peake. The best game was two years ago, when Monta Ellis hit back to back threes to send it to OT. I had seats right behind the basket for that game, and I literally almost fainted.
Anyway, the Thunder have been a huge positive in my life, but the Warriors will always be my first love. Also, I'd just like to mention that Adonal Foyle is the greatest Warriors player of all time. If you're a long-time GSoMer, you'll understand.
For more on the Oklahoma City Thunder, check out Welcome to Loud City.