[Oklahoma City Backpack Model - photo: K. Weidie]
The young team everyone wants to be comes to the District this evening. Odds-makers are comfortable giving the Oklahoma City Thunder an 11-point cushion over the Washington Wizards; many optimists and pessimists alike expect the visitors’ final margin to be double that. But hey, there could be some excitement… there’s always a chance for excitement. For instance, it might be interesting to see how Wizards rookie Chris Singleton matches up against Kevin Durant, or if John Wall can build on his 38-point performance and perhaps force Russell Westbrook into some bad shots. The ages of Oklahoma City’s starting lineup go something like this: 23, 23, 27, 22, 27; Washington’s go like this: 21, 26, 22, 24, 24 — the difference is five years. If only age and youth were valid assessors of team capability. In any case, you know the 3-on-3 drill… Today’s guest is Royce Young from the banging TrueHoop Network OKC-affiliated blog Daily Thunder; he is joined by TAI’s John Converse Townsend and myself, Kyle Weidie. Three questions, three answers starts now…
#1) People speak of the much-ballyhooed “Oklahoma City Model” with many across the web finding various to dissect Sam Presti’s mind. For one, nobody will deny that Presti is one of the best, if not at the very top, of his profession. But in all seriousness, how much (perhaps in an unscientific percentage estimate) did having the opportunity to draft Kevin Durant affect the success of the OKC Model?
TOWNSEND: I will say a very unscientific 70 percent. Kevin Durant’s selection at No. 2 was no-brainer. In his lone season as the Texas star, scored the second-most points and grabbed the third-most rebounds by a freshman in NCAA history. But let’s be clear: While Kevin Durant is the keystone to Oklahoma City’s success, the building block that most catches your eye, it’s the way Presti has architected the Thunder’s supporting pieces that allows his model to bear weight.
WEIDIE: More than anything, the “Oklahoma City Model” gives scribes something to write about. It gives franchises and their fans something to fawn over, i.e., it’s a fallacy. Now, not to discredit the great work of Presti; every team in the league would gladly trade their GM of him. But, if the OKC model teaches non-top five markets that they can’t spend haphazardly, then duh—that idea was developing long before the Sonics moved to Oklahoma. Or, if the model is suppose to say, ‘Do it right, culturally.’ Again, a no-brainer—just as much as defense wins championships, stupid teams don’t. If the ultimate perspective that such a model bring is that you need a superstar to win, then good luck.
YOUNG: I think with any rebuilding, there’s a good amount of luck that plays into it. You do your homework, you scout and you try and manage the roster and cap well. But at a certain point, you have to turn it over to someone just being the right pick. Presti deserves the credit for not whiffing with a top five pick yet, but Durant certainly fell into his lap.
#2) Assuming Jeff Green is able to come back from his heart ailments—if guys like Ronny Turiaf can, why not?—and assuming the reported high interest in from the Wizards is legit, what would Green provide to a team like Washington? What might he be worth on the open market?
TOWNSEND: Jeff Green’s agent, David Falk, has reported that the fifth overall selection in the 2007 draft expects to be back to basketball next season after a successful heart surgery. Green would be a versatile, high-character addition to the Wizards roster, but he’s also due for a big-money payday, which depreciates his value in D.C. Remember, Blatche would have been a free agent after this season had Grunfeld not handed him an additional $35 million. Can the Wizards really afford to overpay for another rotation player? That’s a hard sell.
WEIDIE: I feel like there are a lot of ‘high character’ guys available to the NBA, it’s just that most don’t have talent—and NBA GMs, ironically, are often chasing after talented knuckleheads in hopes of reform. Oh the landscape of basketball. Point being, is Green really what the Wizards need? He’s undersized, a poor post defender, a below average shooter, and a limited athlete. I certainly wouldn’t make a stink if the Wizards found it in their heart to sign the hometown guy with heart problems, but Green is likely better suited coming off the bench… So why would the Wizards want to throw a bunch of money at an option like that? Oh, that’s right, because they are the Wizards.
YOUNG: Young maturity. There’s a reason everyone called him Uncle Jeff in OKC. He’s still got room to grow (he’s only 25) but he was always one of the more mature, grounded, professional leaders in OKC’s locker room. There’s something to be said for having a guy like Jeff Green that’s young and mature. Veteran leadership is good, but youthful maturity is even better.
#3) The Wizards are plagued with questionable shot selection. OKC has dealt with the same issues, albeit on a much smaller, less influential level. Is this still the greatest barrier holding OKC back from championship contention? And any idea how young, rebuilding franchises should best purge ill-advised offense?
TOWNSEND: To paraphrase Geto Boys, youth have a tendency to flex nuts, while most seasoned vets (the “gangstas”) know they got ‘em. It takes time for young studs to accept that their shot isn’t always the best shot, to learn to take ego out of the game and just put the ball in the hoop. However, it’s also an overstatement to say that shot selection is the one thing keeping the Thunder from winning a title. Russell Westbrook has been unfairly cast as the fall guy in Oklahoma City — the guard who can’t seem to remember Kevin Durant is on his team — but he’s probably won the Thunder more games than he’s lost, regularly picking up the superstar slack.
WEIDIE: At least with Russell Westbrook, when he does take a bad shot, he understands he’s the point guard; he’ll have to set his teammates up sooner or later, especially when he plays with the youngest NBA scoring champion ever. The Wizards have no M.V.P candidate to fall back on and their bad shot takers are not PGs, so they always think they can get it going with the next shot. Perhaps the best path to purging ill-advised offense would be for the Wizards to get someone who could actually score with some sort of efficiency.
YOUNG: I think you’re really just talking about one guy and his name starts with a W and ends with an estbrook. There was a fine line in OKC of letting the players flex and use all their talents but while also playing smart, disciplined basketball that fit within a system. It’s about role structure. The Thunder were able to understand how to play loose, but play smart at the same time. It’s not an easy thing to get.