Semaj Christon

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Report: Thunder, Raymond Felton agree to one-year deal

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We all know the numbers from last season in Oklahoma City: When Russell Westbrook was on the court the Thunder outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions, when he sat they were outscored by 8.9. The Thunder did keep the best players on with Westbrook to help him chase the triple-double mark and an MVP, but this team was not deep.

This summer the Thunder have addressed that concern. Paul George is obviously a big help (you can stagger him and Westbrook at times), but also they have added depth.

To that point, they are adding veteran Raymond Felton to the point guard mix, a story broken by Chris Haynes of ESPN.

While no price is given, it would have to be for the veteran minimum.

Felton has issues at age 33, including his three-point shot and a career of conditioning concerns, but he’s an upgrade over Norris Cole and Semaj Christon. Felton can get some points off the drive, is a solid floor general, and is physically strong enough to defend larger guards. The Clippers needed 21 minutes a game out of him last season, but if the Thunder can cut that closer to 15-17 most nights, that should work and give them decent minutes behind Westbrook.

Report: Thunder signing Andre Roberson to three-year, $30 million contract

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Andre Roberson entered restricted free agency with a confounding profile – arguably the NBA’s best defensive guard, but an atrocious shooter (especially on free throws) for a wing.

What’s the price point on a player like that?

It appears the Thunder found it.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Oklahoma City is now over the luxury-tax line, though the tax is assessed on the last day of the regular season. There’s plenty of time to duck it, though dumping players like Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler could require significant sweeteners.

Maybe the Thunder, with Russell Westbrook extension eligible and headed toward 2018 free agency otherwise, are actually willing to pay the tax.

No matter what comes next, this is a nice signing for Oklahoma City, which is already having a fantastic offseason by trading for Paul George and signing Patrick Patterson. The 25-year-old Roberson should maintain his defensive excellence over the next three years, and he and George will make a heck of a defensive tandem on the wing. George will also alleviate pressure on Roberson offensively, maybe even allowing Roberson to spend more time as a small-ball four.

The Thunder still badly need an upgrade at backup point guard, and this signing precludes using the bi-annual exception or more of the mid-level exception than allocated to Patterson, either of which would trigger a hard cap. A backup point guard will now come via minimum signing, trade or – gulp – once again relying on Semaj Christon.

Russell Westbrook changes conversation in win over Rockets

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The Great Russell Westbrook Debate can shift topics. “Is he clutch enough” is the new “Is he too selfish?”

Westbrook went 3-of-6 on free throws down the stretch, and the Thunder blew a 10-point lead in the final minutes. But James Harden missed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer, allowing Oklahoma City to escape with a 115-113 Game 3 win over the Rockets on Friday.

“I’ve got to make a free throw,” Westbrook grumbled to begin his on-court interview before seemingly realizing stewing was a bad look and expressed pleasure his team trimmed the series deficit to 2-1.

And, yes, Westbrook clearly cares how he looks, no matter what pretenses he puts up.

His cartoonish fourth quarter of Game 2 – shooting 4-for-18 while his teammates shot 3-for-11 – invited deep criticism of his ball-hogging. Westbrook showed a different approach from the jump tonight, making a concerted effort to find his teammates. He had eight assists in the first half and 11 through three quarters.

Even though Westbrook added no assists in the fourth quarter, he kept looking for his teammates – sometimes to a fault. They just didn’t connect.

Houston cut the margin during an excruciating few minutes Westbrook began the final period during the bench. Even as the Rockets went on a late 15-5 to tie it, Westbrook sought floor balance.

His teammates reveled in his faith in them. They made 9-of-18 3-pointers, and Westbrook — who was 5-for-22 from beyond the arc in the first two games — attempted only one. Steven Adams tipped in a Westbrook miss with 35 seconds left to put Oklahoma City up good, though Westbrook’s dicey free-throw shooting kept it tense.

Like every game in this series, it will be seen as a referendum in the already-decided, not-yet-revealed MVP race. The final lines:

  • Westbrook: 32 points on 24 shots and 10-of-14 free throw shooting, 13 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals, five turnovers, W
  • Harden: 44 points 21 shots and 18-of-18 free throw shooting, six rebounds, six assists, seven turnovers, L

Both players will insist the final letter is most important, but Harden can bank on a couple of those Ws from Games 1 and 2. The Thunder still have their back against the wall.

This felt like a team energized by its first home playoff game of the year, though Billy Donovan made some smart adjustments – mainly tightening his rotation, including deactivating second-string point guard Semaj Christon.

The Thunder will go as far as Westbrook takes them, and tonight, that was to their first playoff win without Kevin Durant since moving to Oklahoma City.

Now, it’s Harden’s turn to answer.

Watch Russell Westbrook pass Oscar Robertson to get triple-double No. 42

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Russell Westbrook is now the sole owner of one of the NBA’s most prestigious statistical records. On Sunday, the Oklahoma City Thunder star grabbed his 42nd triple-double of 2016-17 NBA, pulling him out of his tie with Oscar Robertson for most triple-doubles by a player in a single season.

The play came late in the fourth quarter in Colorado as the Thunder took on the Denver Nuggets. Westbrook drove and kicked to Semaj Christon for a corner 3-pointer.

Westbrook had 32 points to go along with 13 rebounds at the time, and was aching for one final assist to get him to double digits.

Here’s what the play looked like on the floor:

Westbrook stands atop the triple-double throne for a single year. Will his feat ever be matched? And will history be enough to catapult him over Houston Rockets star James Harden for MVP this season?

Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Westbrook ended Denver’s playoff hopes with an amazing 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer in the fourth quarter to give Oklahoma City the victory, 106-105.

How Rockets, Thunder, Cavaliers, Spurs play with and without their MVP candidates

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The Rockets play like a 58-win team with James Harden on the court, and the Thunder play like a 52-win team with Russell Westbrook on the court.

A clear advantage for Harden in the MVP race?

Not quite.

Houston still plays like a 51-win team when Harden sits, and Oklahoma City drops to an 18-win pace without Westbrook. How much should each factor – the level a team reaches with a player, how far it falls without him – matter?

And what about about LeBron James? The Cavaliers play like a 61-win team with him and a 19-win team without him. Don’t forget about Kawhi Leonard, either. The Spurs reach a 63-win pace – better than the other three main MVP candidates’ teams hit with them on the court – when Leonard plays.

In the NBA’s most fascinating MVP race in years, the on-off win pace for the four major candidates adds perspective. To calculate win pace, I used Pythagorean win percentage multiplied by 82, the number of games in a standard NBA schedule.

Here’s the Rockets’, Thunder’s, Cavaliers’ and Spurs’ win paces with their MVP candidate off (below the bar) and on (above the bar) and the difference (in the bar):

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These are rounded to the nearest win. Hence, Leonard’s seemingly off, but not actually off, marks.

This is meant to be only one piece of a complex picture. Other things to consider:

Should backups matter? Should rotations matter? Should luck matter?

These are not easy questions, but MVP voters must reconcile them.

I see win pace as a useful reference point when comparing these players with elite individual production. Then, it’s about placing the win paces into the appropriate contexts – and going back to individual production, then back to on/off-court impact, then adding adding more context, then…

There’s no easy answer here.

There’s also no easy choice for fifth on the MVP ballot, but I made a similar chart for the main candidates:

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