Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

Team balance: Grizzlies have had it, Thunder have not. It’s key to Game 4, series.

5 Comments

You don’t win an NBA title without at least one superstar player. Two or three is better. Go all the way back to 1979 and you find just one team that won a ring without one of the 10 best players in the game, usually a couple of them. (That exception is the 2004 Pistons, and they had Chauncey Billups playing at that level for a stretch, plus a superstar defense.)

But you also can’t win a title without a good supporting cast playing well around those superstars.

The latter issue is why the Thunder enter Saturday night’s Game 4 trailing the Grizzlies 2-1 and making this game almost must win. Team balance and alternate scoring options have been at the heart of this series — Memphis has had that, the Thunder have not.

With two of the game’s top 10 players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have the superstar players they need. The Grizzlies have countered with two very good perimeter defenders — Mike Conley and Tony Allen — plus a team defense led by Marc Gasol the Grizzlies can take away the first offensive option, they can make life difficult for Durant and Westbrook — in Game 3 Westbrook and Durant scored a combined 60 points but shot a combined 34 percent and were 4-of-21 from three.

In the last two games, Thunder players not names Westbrook or Durant have shot 39.4 percent and made a total of 28 shots. Serge Ibaka has been in double figures scoring both games (12 and 15) and he’s the only other one.

Without a reliable third option (remember late in games the year they went to the Finals the ball was often in James Harden’s hands and he created for everyone else) the Thunder offense has become a “you take a turn then I take a turn” trade off between Durant and Westbrook. They still put up numbers but the Thunder are not the same offensive juggernaut.

The Grizzlies on the other hand have balance.

Oklahoma City has rightfully focused on slowing Conley, Gasol and Zach Randolph on offense — but others have stepped up. Tony Allen had 16 points, Beno Udrih 12 and Courtney Lee 10 on Thursday night in Memphis. In Game 2 Lee and Udrih combined for 30 points.

The Grizzlies are disciplined and making the extra pass to the open man. They are moving the ball side-to-side well, which is allowing Randolph to seal his man and get the ball in deep for good looks.

The Grizzlies have balance and are using it well.

The Thunder has not had that balance. If they don’t have it they might still win Game 4 — Durant and Westbrook can carry a team a long way — but it is the playoff flaw that will ultimately doom them. Much earlier than they had planned.

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Associated Press
7 Comments

The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee to make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
5 Comments

JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
2 Comments

At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.