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Tag:Oklahoma City THunder
Posted on: December 13, 2011 7:30 pm
 

Thunder acquires Lazar Hayward from Wolves

Posted by Royce Young

Most saw the need for a backup small forward for Kevin Durant. Sam Presti did too.

The Thunder acquired Lazar Hayward late Tuesday from the Wolves for Robert Vaden and two conditional second round picks. Hayward, a 6-6 swingman, is 25 years old and was taken 30th overall in 2010. Last season with Minnesota, he averaged 3.8 points and 1.6 rebounds in 42 games.

“We are excited to be able to add Lazar to our organization,” Sam Presti said in a release. “Lazar is someone who we followed closely through the draft process and identified as a potential fit for the culture and identity that we are continuing to build in Oklahoma City. His toughness, length and shooting are attributes that will add depth to our roster, while his professionalism and competitiveness embody the intangibles that we value as an organization.”

Hayward is out of Marquette and was a pretty good college player. He had a reputation there for being a gritty, tough player that got more out of effort than out of physical ability. You know, a Presti type of player.

OKC had a need at small forward and targeted Hayward as a low-risk backup. The Thunder gave up very little to a team that didn’t have a need for Hayward. It adds more depth and gives Scott Brooks a chance to play with rotations and playing time a bit more. The Wolves already had too much of a logjam at small forward with Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams, so unloading Hayward for a few assets made sense for them.

It also could potentially hint that the team doesn’t see Thabo as a backup to Durant but either a backup to James Harden or even still the starter.

Hayward’s contract has him on OKC’s books through 2013, with a team option for 2014. He’s making about $1.1 million per season the next two years and would make $2.1 in his option year.

Posted on: December 6, 2011 10:39 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 10:52 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA schedule: strength analysis

Posted by Ben Golliver

bulls-spurs
Aside from cutting the 2011-2012 NBA regular season length down from 82 games to 66 games, the lockout had one major impact on this year's schedule: every Western Conference team is no longer able to play a home-and-home series with every Eastern Conference team, and vice versa. Instead, each team gets just 18 non-conference games instead of 30, playing just three non-conference opponents twice.

Is this a big deal? Imagine you're the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, coming off one of the worst seasons any NBA team has every played. Would you rather play the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks twice each or would you prefer the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets? Obviously, your preference would be to stack up as many games as possible against poor teams.

There was no perfect solution for the NBA to balance this aspect of the schedule. Thanks to player movement, back-to-backs, back-to-back-to-backs, and the like, just about every team in the league feels like it's getting a raw deal this year. The distribution of non-conference opponents is sure to be a sore spot for some fanbases and a point of happiness for others.

So who are the first glance winners and losers? Let's take a look using a simple method.

Elite Winners: San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls

There are two clear winners when it comes to this aspect of the schedule and it just so happens that the winners were the league's top-2 teams during the regular season last year. Let's pencil it out using a straightforward win differential based on last season's performance.

The Spurs won 61 games last year and their three repeated non-conference opponents are Cleveland, Orlando and Philadelphia. Those three teams averaged a combined 37 wins last season. 61-37 gives you a differential of +24, the highest of any team in the league.

Chicago, who won 62 games last year, got similarly good luck, facing New Orleans, Memphis and Sacramento, who averaged 39 wins last year, yielding a +23 differential. If the Hornets wind up trading Chris Paul prior to their games with the Bulls, Chicago's advantage here becomes even more pronounced.

Elite Losers: Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder

Boston, with 57 wins, and Oklahoma City, with 56 wins, both were among the NBA's elite last year. However, both drew exceedingly difficult home-and-home opponents, likely by virtue of their television-friendly teams. 

Boston plays the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Thunder twice each. The Thunder is set to play the Celtics, the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic twice each. If Tyson Chandler and/or Dwight Howard change teams prior to the start of the season that would probably be appreciated in Massachusetts and Oklahoma. 

Both Boston and Oklahoma City, despite being well above .500 last year, have differentials of zero thanks to the tough scheduling.

Marginal Winners: Houston Rockets

The Rockets won just 43 games last year, missing out on the Western Conference playoffs. While they will struggle to climb up the Western Conference playoff table, they'll do it with the help of playing three of the East's weakest sisters: Charlotte, Toronto and Washington. It doesn't get much more cake than that. Houston winds up with a differential of +17 in these home-and-home match-ups, good for third best in the league.

Marginal Losers: New York Knicks

The Knicks are a premier team in the hearts and minds of just about everyone but they still won just 42 games last year. Given their acquisition of new star power and their big-city locale, the NBA has made sure they play plenty of marquee match-ups. Indeed, the Knicks are set to face home-and-homes with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, getting a bit of a reprieve with the Sacramento Kings. Still the presence of two 57-win teams from last year gives New York a differential of -4, tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the worst mark of any 2011 playoff team. 

Terrible Winners: Detroit Pistons

During the offseason, I graded Detroit's roster as the worst in the league and thankfully the schedulers had some mercy, scheduling the Pistons against Memphis, Minnesota and Sacramento, giving Detroit extra games against the two worst teams in the West. Despite winning just 30 games and heading to the lottery once again, the Pistons manage to have a +1 differential in this category, a pretty astounding feat.

Terrible Losers: Cleveland Cavaliers

It's no secret: the Cavaliers were garbage last year, setting an NBA record for consecutive losses and winning just 19 games overall. They didn't get lucky here, drawing home-and-homes with the league-best San Antonio Spurs and two middle-of-the-pack teams in the West: Phoenix and Utah. That's good enough for a league-worst -28 differential. By comparison, the 17-win Timberwolves drew Charlotte, Detroit and Indiana and had a -17 differential.

Remember, this is just one minor elements in the league's overall 2011-2012 adjusted schedule. Still, it's interesting to see the range involved. Here's a chart to help visualize what's happening. Click here for the full-size version.

chart-small-500

Here's a complete list of the differentials in 2010-211 win totals between each NBA team and the average of its three repeat non-conference opponents on the 2011-2012 schedule. All numbers rounded.

San Antonio Spurs 24
Chicago Bulls 23
Houston Rockets 17
Portland Trail Blazers 14
Denver Nuggets 14
Utah Jazz 11
Memphis Grizzlies 8
Phoenix Suns 7
Dallas Mavericks 5
Los Angeles Lakers 5
Indiana Pacers 4
Atlanta Hawks 4
Golden State Warriors 2
Los Angeles Clippers 2
New Orleans Hornets 2
Miami Heat 2
Detroit Pistons 1
Boston Celtics 0
Oklahoma City Thunder 0
Charlotte Bobcats -1
Orlando Magic -3
New York Knicks -4
Philadelphia 76ers -4
Milwaukee Bucks -11
New Jersey Nets -12
Minnesota Timberwolves -17
Washington Wizards -18
Sacramento Kings -21
Toronto Raptors -24
Cleveland Cavaliers -28
Posted on: December 6, 2011 8:21 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 12:47 pm
 

2011-12 schedule breakdown: 21 can't-miss games

Posted by Royce Young



When you have a season, you have to have a schedule. That's how it works, right?

Though it's abbreviated and not every city will see every team, the NBA put out its 66-game schedule Tuesday night.

And as it typically goes, within each schedules there your usual dregs and ho-hum matchups and there are big, storyline-filled mega showdowns. So let's get to it. What are the can't-miss games for this NBA season? Here are 21 you need to clear the calendar for, excluding the obvious can't-miss slate of Christmas games:

Dec. 26: Memphis at San Antonio:
It was stunning at the time, but after watching the Grizzlies rip through the Spurs before bowing out to the Thunder in seven-game, it felt like we should've seen this coming. And this was with the Grizzlies missing their best scorer in Rudy Gay.

Dec. 26: Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings
Jimmer Mania will finally get off to its NBA start and the league was kind enough to let it begin at home. You can be sure Sacto will be buzzing with the hated Lakers coming to town and Jimmer's debut, but there could be more to the hype than that. There could be a little optimism for the Kings are Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and company might have a little something brewing this season.

Dec. 26: Oklahoma City at Minnesota
Before there was Jimmer Mania, there was Rubio Fever. We've just had to wait a while for it. Anctipation! Kevin Love will finally be able to believe what he sees as the floppy-haired Spaniard takes the floor with the Timberwolves for the first time against Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder.

Dec. 27: Boston at Miami
The first meeting between the Heat and Celtics since last season's playoff series. It's no secret that LeBron and Wade don't really get along well with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The more teams don't like each other, the better.

Dec. 29: New York at Los Angeles Lakers
Maybe the two most visible franchises in the league with two rosters full of stars. Amar'e Stoudemire head-to-head against Pau Gasol is an awesome matchup, but if we're lucky, it'll be iso battles between Melo and Kobe for the last couple minutes of the game.

Dec. 29: Dallas at Oklahoma City
The first Thunder opportunity for payback and redemption would've come almost two months into the old season, but now it gets to happen right away. You can be sure the Arena Formerly Known As The Ford Center will be amped about this one. The last time the Mavericks were in Oklahoma City, they broke the Thunder’s heart with that ridiculous 15-point comeback. No way Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder fans have forgotten.

Jan. 1: Cleveland at New Jersey
Top pick Kyrie Irving will have a handful of games under his belt by the time he heads to New Jersey, but this will be his first game against an elite point guard. How will he hold up against Deron Williams? This could be a quick welcome-to-the-NBA moment for the Cavs new franchise kid.

Jan. 5: Dallas at San Antonio
The old champs versus the new ones provides a new twist to an old rivalry. These two Texas titans have never gotten along and have had some pretty awesome games over the past decade or so. You can be sure that for once, Dirk and the Mavs will have a bit more swagger in Dallas as the Mavs take the floor against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Funny how a ring can do that.

Jan. 13: Chicago at Boston
It's the Thibodeau Bowl. The Celtics might be aging but you know they aren't going to just hand the East over. The Bulls are rising and you know they want to rub last year's triumph over the Celtics in the regular season in their face.

Jan. 14: Lakers "at" Clippers
By no means have the Clippers caught up to the Lakers, but there is a chance that this team could be pretty decent. After a horrific start to last season, the Clippers put together a solid last four months of the season. Some might be looking at this game as a changing-of-the-guard type of affair -- which it's not -- but the Clippers could definitely raise some eyebrows.

Jan. 14: New Jersey at Utah
It'll certainly be more unceremonious as LeBron's return to Cleveland, but Deron Williams coming back to Utah will definitely have the attention of Jazz fans. There's some that still blame Jerry Sloan's retirement on Williams and that whole situation didn't sit well in Salt Lake. Williams will likely feel some anger from Jazz fans, even if it's not entirely deserved.

Jan. 19: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami
I'm not totally sure, but I think Kobe is still in American Airlines Center shooting. Kobe loves beating LeBron and you know the feeling is mutual. Two of the league's biggest, most visible teams with the two biggest, most visible stars. If you aren't watching, I have to wonder what the heck you could possibly be doing.

Jan. 20: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando
The first time the Lakers visit the Magic. The question is, will Dwight Howard be playing home, or away?

Jan. 29: Chicago at Miami
A rematch of the Eastern Finals. Derrick Rose's last memory of the Heat is LeBron and Wade storming back in Chicago and stealing Game 5 when the Bulls had it all but won. These two teams will likely be the class of the East and with this being the first meeting of the season, somebody's going to make a statement.

Feb. 9: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston
It's the league's best rivalry, maybe sports' best rivalry. Every Celtics-Lakers game is an event. I don't think I even need to give you reasons why this game is huge.

Feb. 17: Miami at Cleveland
LeBron returns, again. It's the third time he's played in Cleveland since "The Decision" and some of the sting certainly has worn off, at least in that fans won't be buying tickets ONLY to yell at LeBron. But you can be sure that an unusual amount of Maverick blue will be littered throughout Quicken Loans Arena.

Feb. 17: New Orleans at New York
Take a good look at Chris Paul and wish, Knicks fans, assuming CP3 still is in NOLA. You know he's a free agent in 2012 and you know he'd look pretty nice alongside Amar'e and Melo. But he's on the other side right now and there's a pretty good chance he's going to drive you crazy, at least on this night.

Feb. 23: Lakers at Oklahoma City
The Lakers always bring out the best in Thunder fans, and that's saying something. Kobe, Durant, Westbrook, Bynum, Gasol, Harden, Perkins -- the names are there and the games are always good.

March 25: Miami at Oklahoma City
LeBron and Kevin Durant. Two of basketballs most enjoyable, explosive talents that are always easy on the eye. The Thunder have always been painted as the anti-Heat, but the young kids from OKC don't care about making a statement for the little guy. There may be a good storyline, but it's more about a really good Eastern team versus a really good Western team.

April 1: Miami at Boston
LeBron and Wade return to the scene of one of their greatest crimes. The Heat opened the season in Boston and took an embarrassing, humbling loss at the hands of the Celtics but got revenge in the postseason, besting the Celtics in five with the final game coming on the parquet. It's not exactly a rivalry, but again, the Heat don't enjoy the Celtics and the Celtics certainly don't enjoy the Heat.

April 15: Miami at New York
The two supposed "super" teams meeting in Madison Square Garden with potential Eastern seeding implications? Yes, please. LeBron against Melo is good stuff no matter what, but you can be sure the Knicks will be trying to push the Heat with a stronger roster by this point.
Posted on: December 2, 2011 5:53 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 5:57 pm
 

Preview: NBA sets 5-game Christmas slate

Posted by Ben Golliver

nba-christmas

The NBA made its full 5-game Christmas Day slate official on Friday, releasing the opening night schedule in advance of Tuesday's full 2011-2012 schedule release. Here's a full game-by-game rundown for your holiday planning purposes. It's probably best to just ask for a divorce from your entire family right now.

Game 1: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks 12 p.m. ET TNT

A rematch of the 2011 Eastern Conference series that saw the Celtics rudely show the Knicks the door in four games, New York enters with homecourt advantage and, presumably, a return to full health. Amar'e Stoudemire's back should be better, Carmelo Anthony underwent offseason elbow surgery and veteran point guard Chauncey Billups who went down in the playoffs has had more than six months to get right.

The Celtics bring back their core four All-Stars in Rajon Rondo, Paul Piece, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, but there are plenty of questions as to who will make up the supporting cast. Be prepared to hear the words "last stand" for Boston and "Chris Paul" for New York ad nauseum on the broadcast. 

Game 2: Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks 2:30 p.m. ET ABC

The Big 3 and company must travel to Texas where the Mavericks will get to celebrate their 2011 NBA Finals victory over the Heat on opening night. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban couldn't have asked for anything more. Despite loads of roster questions and taking to the road on Christmas, Miami should enter the game as favorites, given that Vegas is convinced they are clearly the odds-on pick to win the 2012 title. Given how much time and energy LeBron James and Dwyane Wade spent working out and playing hoops this summer, it's a fair mantle to give them.

The big question for Dallas will be how much of last year's title-winners return? The roster is littered with free agents, including the staple of the defense, center Tyson Chandler, a major wing, Caron Butler, and key role guys in guards J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson. The free agency period will be a flurry of activity in Big D. 

Game 3: Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers 5 p.m. ET ABC

A marketer's dream: two supersize markets and storied franchises with two of the biggest names in the game head to head in the dream time slot on the league's showcase day. It was worth ending the lockout just for this game.

The Bulls will begin their quest back to the Eastern Conference Finals, hopefully with a new rotation piece or two to make the life of 2011 MVP point guard Derrick Rose easier. The Lakers usher in a new era under first year coach Mike Brown, who will have just a few weeks to learn that All-Star guard Kobe Bryant is in charge and his job is mostly to just push the right buttons when it comes to headcases Andrew Bynum (violent outrages), Pau Gasol (heart ache) and Metta World Peace (just about everything). 

Game 4: Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder 8 p.m. ET ESPN

The biggest question mark on the schedule: What will the Orlando Magic look like on Christmas? With rumor after rumor swirling around All-Star center Dwight Howard, and GM Otis Smith admitting that he is now open to trade possibilities, Orlando will carry a massive media storm into Oklahoma assuming that Howard isn't already dealt. Guard Gilbert Arenas will likely be shown the door with the amnesty clause and the Magic figure to be players on the trade market given their mediocre, overpriced roster parts.

If the Magic figure to be engulfed in turmoil, the Thunder should be just the opposite. Oklahoma City returns every important member of its rotation, including All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. A solid sleeper pick to win the 2012 NBA Finals, Oklahoma City has a carefully constructed top-8 that covers just about every base there is to cover. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd should make this a great coming out party for the maturing Thunder.

Game 5: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors 10:30 p.m. ET ESPN

The nightcap will be headlined by All-Star forward Blake Griffin, the league's most explosive up-and-coming inside force. Griffin's still-underrated sidekick, Eric Gordon, will get a nice opportunity to reintroduce himself to a national television audience.

Golden State has undergone a major makeover from the ownership level on down over the last 18 months and new coach Mark Jackson will make his professional debut. The Warriors figure to trot out their excellent backcourt one-two scoring punch in Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry and may even have a revamped post presence if they are able to get something done during free agency. The fifth game on the NBA's Christmas slate has shootout written all over it. Staying up late will be worth it.
Posted on: December 2, 2011 3:34 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Would OKC be better without Westbrook?

Posted by Royce Young

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... Wait, we're almost to winter. What happened? Who cares, there's a season! The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a couple weeks. To get you ready for the season, we've put together some pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Should Oklahoma City trade Russell Westbrook?

We all heard it. Read it. Saw it. Someone even said it. Russell Westbrook needs to chill out.

For the Thunder, pretty much all of the 2011 postseason was focused on Westbrook and what he should and shouldn’t be doing. Pass more, dribble less, shoot less, give it to Durant, know your role -- and on and on. Despite all of that outside noise, the Thunder became the youngest team in 20 years to go to the conference finals and that was with the 23-year-old Westbrook leading them.

For most Thunder fans, they were all saying, “What’s the big deal? That’s just Russell Westbrook.” But it didn’t matter. When people saw box scores showing 30 attempts by Westbrook’s name and the fact he took six more shots than Durant, there wasn’t a person in the world that could calm down the harrumphing going about.

A lot of it became about Durant needing a so-called "true" point guard to play with, someone that would get him the ball and then get out of the way. And while all this Chris Paul is hot and heavy right now, some have been rumoring him to Oklahoma City for Westbrook for some time. The common thinking is that alongside a pass-first guy like Paul, Durant would flourish and rule the league as the first 100-point-per-game scorer ever. (Or something like that.)

It was even taken so far that Durant and Westbrook were feuding, which isn't true at all. Did they and do they continue to get frustrated with each other? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean they want a divorce. Consider this quote from Durant this summer:

“I don’t want any other point guard,” Durant said. “He’s perfect for us, the type of guy he is, the type of player he is, the type of teammate he is. We’re all competitive, especially me and him. We get the best of each other in practice every day, and we want to go at each other and make each other better. We are going to have disagreements. That’s what all good players on good teams do.”

Let's assume though, you’re Sam Presti (designer glasses and perfectly gelled hair and all). You just signed Westbrook to an extension the second a new CBA is signed. Dell Demps calls you. Chris Paul for Westbrook, straight up.

What do you do?

First instinct says to do it, right? Chris Paul with Kevin Durant and a supporting cast of James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison sounds like an incredible roster. It sounds like it because it is.

But that's why you're not Sam Presti. He wouldn't do it. Because it's not what's best for his roster in the present, nor in the future. Westbrook's younger, hasn't had a major injury and probably hasn't actually found his ceiling yet. But it's not just about age, it's also about fit.

Consider this: Via NBA.com, the Thunder's offense actually improved more when Westbrook usage went up. Think about that. The more Westbrook inserted himself into the offense, the better OKC scored. And we're talking about a top five offense in both points per game and offensive efficiency.

Look at the numbers: Westbrook assisted Durant on more field goals made than any other player in the league (279, next closest is CP3 and David West with 212). The Thunder’s offense finished the season in the top five in both points per game and offensive efficiency, and was a top three unit the last couple weeks.

What made the Thunder turn the page offensively after Jeff Green was traded was three-fold: 1) Green and his horribly inefficient offensive ways were gone, 2) James Harden had a much bigger role and 3) Westbrook had a bit more leash.

The issue was never about Westbrook and Durant working together. It was about the structure and how things changed in a 7-game postseason series against a veteran team and good coach. Don’t you think Rick Carlisle had a gameplan prepared to stop the Thunder? And with seven games to figure it out, he was going to have something. The Mavs did their best to take away Durant and put all the pressure on Westbrook to make plays. Westbrook had to score. It was the only way the Thunder would crack 90.

What hurt Oklahoma City there was the fact that Westbrook often tried to do too much instead of taking a deep breath and that Durant had difficulty getting free of Shawn Marion for Westbrook to pass him the ball. In the series against the Mavs, OKC’s offensive rating dropped all the way to 78.2, which is horrible. But that was more about what the Mavericks did right, than the Thunder did wrong.

Dallas was prepared for that. Oklahoma City, all the way down to its coaching staff, was not. It’s something to learn from. And despite that, the Thunder were a couple blown fourth quarter leads away from having that series 3-2 in their favor and coming back to OKC. They weren't that far off, not by any stretch. 

Westbrook needs to improve in some areas. He knows it. Good thing he’s just, you know, 23 years old. At the rate he’s improved and transformed his game from year one to year three has been kind of incredible. He’s added a solid jumper, sees the floor much better, is under control more, passes the ball more authoritatively, actually understands offense and is capable of running one. Don’t forget: The Thunder won 55 games, the Northwest Division and was two fourth quarters away from playing for an NBA title. All with a team that features its top four players under the age of 25. The Thunder got to the Western Finals more because of Russell Westbrook, not in spite of him. People seem to forget that when they start playing with the Trade Machine.

The Thunder aren't just fine with Westbrook. They're actually better off with more of him.

Posted on: December 2, 2011 9:39 am
 

Report: Final Christmas game to be Magic-Thunder



By Matt Moore
  

Well, if Dwight Howard gets traded before the season opener, it's going to be quite the coal in Magic fans' stockings, and it'll be on display for all the world. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the fifth and final Christmas Day opening game of the season after Heat-Mavericks, Knicks-Celtics, Bulls-Lakers, and yesterday's report of Clippers-Warriors will be the Magic visiting the Thunder in Oklahoma City. 

It makes a lot of sense for the league. With another open spot, it's only natural that the Thunder, one of the league's most popular and up-and-still-coming teams make the debut. This means that the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies are the only teams to make the second round who will not play on opening day. Oklahoma City is also the only true "small market" team to play on Christmas Day, though Miami is by the technical definition. 

If Howard is still in Orlando, it should be a competitive game, with Howard matched up against his old nemesis Kendrick Perkins, and the Thunder's perimeter attack faced up against a formidable backcourt when hot in Orlando. Kevin Durant had an "unspectacularly spectacular" season last year, and the shortened season with a team of tight-knit young guys may allow him to have a career year. He'll get his shot to open up right away. Christmas in Oklahoma. What could be better? 

 
Posted on: November 25, 2011 4:57 pm
Edited on: November 25, 2011 4:58 pm
 

Byron Mullens went to prison for some hoops

Posted by Royce Young



Byron Mullens is known for a lot of things, most not all that positive. First, most don't even know who "Byron" Mullens is, because the majority of people know him as B.J. And that's the guy that's known as a pretty solid bust in the NBA after coming in to Ohio State as maybe the top freshman in the country in 2008. Or the guy graded as the worst in NBA 2K12.

Mullens has yet to find a way to see any meaningul court time in the NBA, as he's been relegated to nasty title of "project" in Oklahoma City. He's insanely gifted though. About 7-1 and can run the floor and jump like a power forward. Lots of ability, but he hasn't realized it yet.

But forget all that for now. Because Mullens has spent this lockout doing something pretty unique. He went to prison. To run some ball. Via an excellent piece from ESPN.com:

Mullens was born in Canal Winchester, Ohio, and grew up playing basketball around Columbus. He lived off and on with his mother and five siblings until high school before moving into his own apartment, paying his expenses by working after school and on weekends as a plumber. During his junior and senior years of high school, Mullens lived with the family of one of his best friends. In his first year there, he and the friend visited a juvenile detention center to teach basketball clinics and talk to troubled teens about making better choices — and also to play pickup games.

[...]

“I played ball at some places for juvenile kids when I was in high school and I kinda wanted to get back into it,” Mullens said.

By mid-July, he played in his first pickup game at Ross, which houses mostly level 2 and 3 prisoners — medium and “close” security, respectively….

“They play some really good basketball up here,” Mullens said.

It's easy to judge players like Mullens for what they've done, or maybe more appropriately, what they haven't done, but this is something very cool. While his teammate Kevin Durant has increased his already sterling reputation for playing pretty much anywhere and everywhere, Mullens has gone one place Durant hasn't -- behind bars.

But it's not just a "giving back" scenario for Mullens. He's there to work.
Mullens has yet to sustain any injuries -- except perhaps to his pride.

Inmates trash talk and yell at him on every possession to "dunk the ball," and the taunts only increase when Mullens steps behind the arc. But Mullens says he's not there to dominate the boards. Instead, he sees these pickup games as an opportunity to work on his outside shooting and ballhandling. Since the tallest inmate Mullens has faced is 6-8 and most hover around 6-foot, the majority of his shots are uncontested. The inmates try to counter with speed and 3-point shooting.

Like most pickup ball, defense is not the focus of these games, which consist of three 20-minute periods. And even though inmates who have taken referee tests are paid 75 cents per game to serve as officials, fouls, traveling and three-second calls are hard to come by.

"The refs aren't very good," Janes said. "You'll get the calls you get."

But what the game doesn't lack is good competition.

"Honestly, what surprised me most coming in here was how good these guys are," Mullens said.

It's funny that Mullens says he's working most on his outside shot while there, because that's always been a complaint about his style. Instead of using his 7-1 from to dominate inside, Mullens has always preferred to float around the perimeter and basically blend in as if he were just a 6-7 forward. Having a big man with touch is a wonderful thing, but you also want your big man to get after it in the paint.

However, prison might not be the best place in the world to get physical though. Good call, Byron. Keep it outside.

Posted on: November 23, 2011 9:35 pm
 

Jeff Green: 'I can really (expletive) play'

Posted by Royce Young



It's been a weird turn for Jeff Green. He was an All-American at Georgetown, the fifth pick in 2007 and seen as a future cornerstone for a bright and blossoming franchise.

But he never quite realized his potential. Or maybe it wasn't even that. Maybe he never quite figured out how or where to fit.

That's how he sees it, it appears. Green told the Boston Heraldthat he thinks Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sort of overshadowed him and therefore didn't allow the world to see his full cupboard of talent. And even added an (expletive) for emphasis.

“Yeah, man, you know a lot of people don’t know what I can really do,” he said. “In Oklahoma, I was kind of overshadowed by Kevin (Durant) and the way Russell (Westbrook) picked up, but, excuse my language, I can really (expletive) play. I can really play this game, man.”

So let's evaluate these comments. Can Jeff Green really (expletive) play? If we're talking about professional basketball, then I think he might need to take a step back.

Look, Jeff Green's a really good basketball player. Versatile, skilled, athletic, smart -- he's got a ton of tools. He's just perpetually caught in between positions. So much that it might put his success and career in the NBA in jeopardy. It's one thing to be a really good player, but if you don't have a place on the floor and therefore a role, what value do you have to a team? You have to be able to fill a need and spot. You have to produce. And while that has everything to do with your ability to really (expletive) play, it also kind of has nothing to do with, if you know what I mean.

Green was clearly overshadowed in OKC because of Durant and Westbrook and I always thought that was one of his strongest qualities. He had no issue in playing his role and quietly doing his job. He never stepped out of character to try and gather a little attention and spotlight for himself. The way he handled himself and his business in Oklahoma City was admirable. And Jeff Green will forever be one of my favorite players ever because of it.

But he just didn't have the capabilities to do his job to the level the Thunder needed. He couldn't rebound as a 4. Couldn't defend that position. Couldn't stretch the floor with a consistent outside jumper. Never really took advantage of other power forwards with his athleticism. Despite possessing some solid post skill, he never used much of it. Green was always just kind of there. A night of 15 points, five rebounds and three assists was the usual for Uncle Jeff. Good, but not good in the right ways.

He's clearly frustrated with his lot right now because he didn't find himself in a role he could flourish in Boston. While he was out of position in OKC, he was very much in the right one (as much as he can be) with the Celtics, but was forced to try and milk everything he could out of 20 minutes a night behind Paul Pierce. That's difficult for anyone.

It's a contract year for Green as he's a restricted free agent and he's understandably upset with how last season went. He knows he can play. He's a really good basketball player. But he has yet to find that spot, that place he can succeed. And really, it's hard to say if he ever will.

 
 
 
 
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