[John Wall weaves his way to the hoop and draws a foul versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.]
It is axiomatic that the NBA is a copycat League, especially given the incestuous nature of most coaching/front office jobs. This season, there is a stunning lack of parity: eight teams have a realistic chance of winning the title (and that’s being a bit generous). The other twenty-two are either a) borderline top-tier, b) making aggressively mediocre moves, c) rebuilding, or d) owned by Michael Jordan. For rebuilding teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the gold standard.
An NBA front office can only pitch a Rebuild to a fan base for so long. Most passionate fans will eventually get tired of seeing a middling product on the court — there has to be ‘A Plan.’ Today, the language of The Rebuild abounds. Organizations are increasingly looking to the Thunder as a model that must be emulated in order to resurrect their franchises. Indeed, Oklahoma City’s ‘blue print’ is the prototypical example of a successful NBA rebuild.
Last year, the Thunder were a Pau Gasol offensive rebound away from forcing Game 7 against the Lakers. This year, at the trading deadline, Thunder GM Sam Presti added Kendrick Perkins to an already formidable, athletic front-court, presumably giving Oklahoma City the size to match up with any playoff contender. Hailed by many to be a case of Presti-fleecing-Ainge, the Perkins acquisition represents the culmination of a four year rebuilding process by the Thunder. After extending Perkins’ contract, the pieces are in place for several years of relevance.
While the media heaps praise upon the current iteration of the Team From Seattle, many more are paying close attention as to how Oklahoma City reached their current perennial-playoff-contender status. Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is certainly a fan of Presti’s work. What transactions are Leonsis and (hopefully) GM Ernie Grunfeld learning from? In short, Presti dealt Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis (back when he was good, sorry Rashard), and took on Kurt Thomas’s expiring contract, all in the name of stockpiling draft picks and maintaining salary cap flexibility for the future. The Thunder also got lucky in the draft: Oklahoma City has three top-5 players. The Wizards are no strangers to lottery luck, but a draft haul like Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka in two years might be tough. Notwithstanding the draft, I’d settle for a front office that recognizes value when it is presented to them.
Now that I’m done performing hand-release on Sam Presti, I’ll boil this intro down to two questions, Wizards fans: 1) right now, which Wizards’ contracts could you live without? b) If the team is fortunate enough to have another top-5 pick this year, who should the team draft? (To be continually debated for an indeterminate amount of time.)
Oh, and the Wizards played a game last night.
- The Full JaVale McGee Experience was on tap in this game. I laughed, I cried, he bit on shot fakes, and threw up wild layups. It was beautiful. Minus the usual gripes about Vale’s defense and propensity to always go for the highlight reel block, I thought McGee was very active. He comported himself well around the rim and on the glass, to the tune of 14 points (6-10 FG), nine rebounds (five offensive) and five blocks.
- Trevor Booker played 41 minutes in this game, more than anyone else on the team. While watching the telecast, I thought: I might actually pay to watch this man rebound. Getting to see Booker bullying of post-defenders to score easy buckets would merely be an added bonus. He had a nice stroke at the free throw line (6-9 FT), and even showed a nice handle as he drove to the rim after stealing an errant Harden pass in the first quarter. In short, he needs to keep playing for this team. Booker finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds (seven offensive).
- Jordan Crawford was the primary backup for both Young and Wall, playing off-the-ball and running the offense a little bit. I like how the Wizards’ are trying to get a look at Crawford by giving him the green light to shoot at all times, but some of his shots in this game were questionable. I’ll reserve judgment until I see more, but given his athleticism and relatively low cost, Crawford could be a quality back-up guard option. He finished with 12 points (6-13 FG), three rebounds, and five assists.
- Nick Young had a poor shooting night, as Oklahoma’s Thabo Sefolosha was attached to his hip early, and he missed some open shots late when the game was out of hand. Oh well. On a team where spacing is virtually non-existent, Nick has shot well enough to earn a fair contract consideration from the Wizards this summer (“fair” being contingent on what the market sets once the Wizards extend him the qualifying offer, which is the current assumption). He had 11 points (4-16 FG), one rebound and one assist.
- Kevin Seraphin played well, tallying 12 points, three rebounds, and three steals in just 22 minutes of burn. He looks more comfortable in Flip Saunders’ system, and has been rewarded with more playing time: Seraphin has played 20 minutes or more in three straight games. Given the Wizards’ need to “see what they have” with the current roster, this is certainly a positive thing.
- During the third quarter, Phil Chenier noted how all of the Thunder players “perfectly complemented” one another. Indeed, Kevin Durant and friends put on a team basketball clinic, as they had 30 assists on 42 made buckets. Also, Chenier used the ‘perfectly complemented’ phrase right before talking about Trevor Booker, and how badly the Wiz need Booker’s strength in the post. Steve Buckhantz then added that Washington needs Seraphin for similar reasons.
- Another Hamady N’Diaye sighting — because of injuries, fouls and JaVale McGee stupidity, the big man played for six minutes, added four points, two rebounds, and two steals, and missed both his free throws after getting fouled by Cole Aldrich. During the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, N’Diaye was on the floor with Booker and Seraphin. This was good to see, as these guys need playing time where they can get it.
- John Wall had an interesting game, filling up the stat sheet with 14 points, five rebounds, seven assists and four steals, but also tallying six turnovers. Wall and Westbrook were going at each other for much of the game, with Westbrook winning a majority of the battles. But Wall’s effort should never be questioned — near the five minute mark of the second quarter, Durant stripped Wall on a huge crossover, drawing “ooooh’s” from the crowd. Wall promptly chased Durant down and stole the ball back, drawing the remaining “ahhhh’s.” Wall also scared the hell out of me with six minutes left in the third quarter, as it appeared he hurt his ankle after racing down the floor in transition, dishing to Yi, then hitting the floor hard. Turns out he was OK, so I was able to hold back the tears.
- No respite for the Wiz kids tonight, as they visit the Chicago Bulls at the United Center. Another tough match-up for Wall and the Wizards’ front-court, as Chicago is favored by a gaudy 16 points.
[Author of this post: Arish Narayen is currently a student at the University of Maryland Law School in Baltimore. He doesn't have "A Twitter," but you can read more about him here.]