Someone — anyone — who can provide a little rest for Russell Westbrook (and keep the offense afloat while he’s sitting) is needed in Oklahoma City.
Enter Cameron Payne. The second-year point guard was good enough as a rookie to take the backup job from veteran D.J. Augustine, but he has missed all of this season following a fractured foot (not the first time for this injury with him). Now it looks like the Thunder could get him back in the coming weeks. Via Chris Haynes of ESPN.
OKC could use Payne back on the court. He averaged five points a game last season, but his game seemed to develop this summer where he was impressive in the Orlando Summer League this year averaging 18.8 and four assists per game.
When Westbrook is on the court, Oklahoma City has an offensive rating of 106.3 points per 100 possessions, which would be ninth in the NBA this season. When he is off the court, that falls to 92.9 per 100, which would be the worst in the NBA by a large margin. That load is starting to wear on Westbrook, he’s shooting 39.7 percent in his last 10 games. And there has been frustration. Payne getting healthy and improving the offense while Westbrook rests would be huge for the Thunder.
The Portland Trail Blazers have the worst defense in the NBA. Bar none. They are allowing 110.4 points per 100 possessions this season.
So it shouldn’t be a shock that when the Portland defense ran into the powerful Golden State offense (114 points scored per 100 this season), the result was a blowout Warriors win, 135-90. Golden State went on a 9-0 run midway through the first quarter and never looked back, while the Portland offense (as it has done too much this season) devolved into guys pounding the ball and everyone else standing around and watching.
After the game, Damian Lillard called out himself and his teammates (via Chris Haynes of ESPN).
“Man, it’s OK to turn the ball over, it’s OK to make mistakes, but we have to play with some damn heart and compete out there,” he said of his teammates…
“This isn’t about what the coaches are doing, this is on us,” Lillard said to ESPN in retelling what he stated to his teammates. “We have to take responsibility for what’s going on. This s— is ridiculous. We’ve got the talent; we’ve just got to put it together consistently.”
He wasn’t alone.
“This is unacceptable, no matter who you’re playing against, champions or not,” C.J. McCollum told ESPN. “You have to be ready to play and perform and compete, and I don’t think we did any of those things today.”
Portland’s defensive slide is a little surprising. It’s not shocking because team struggled defensively last season (20th in the NBA) but they had most of the same players back in the same system. The problems with the Blazers defense is not about scheme, it’s personnel — with Lillard and McCollum they have undersized guards, and their big men are not the most mobile, so off the pick-and-roll they need to hang back to try to protect the rim. The result is the opposition having too much room to operate, and they have options on how to attack.
Portland’s defensive woes haven’t impacted the offensive end too much, but on the nights that the frustration boils over the losses can get ugly. And the Warriors frustrate a lot of teams.
That is sick.
Poor Tyler Ulis didn’t know what hit him when Russell Westbrook broke out the Shammgod crossover on his way into the paint, just before dishing off to Steven Adams for the dunk. That was Westbrook’s 22nd assist of the night, part of another triple-double that helped get the Thunder a win on the road.
The move is named after God Shammgod, the former Providence star (who had a brief NBA career) who had handles as good as anyone who played the game. Shammgod is now a player development specialist with the Mavericks. And you know he smiled when he saw that move.
DeMarcus Cousins is the best traditional center in the game today. Coming off an Olympic Gold this summer in Rio, he is averaging 28.1 points and 10.9 rebounds a game this season. He is a game-changing beast in the paint, without question.
He’s also a guy with a reputation for being a handful in the locker room, the latest sign of that being a profanity-filled outburst at a Sacramento Bee columnist last week. While Cousins didn’t like his brother being mentioned in a story (for context on a bar fight) and this columnist has long been critical of the Kings’ big man, how Cousins handled it left people around the league shaking their heads.
Every armchair GM in the NBA is devising a way for their team to trade for Cousins. The actual GMs…
Two thoughts here.
First, a lot of GMs may be hesitant, and a few would stay out of the sweepstakes, but if Cousins were actually put on the trade block a bunch of the guys who say “no” now would step forward with massive — though not equal value — offers. The idea that culture trumps talent sounds great until you don’t have as much talent as the other guy. Talent wins basketball games. Cousins is immensely talented. It’s understandable for GMs of teams with talent to be hesitant, but teams scrambling to get enough to compete? There would be big offers.
Second, Cousins is not available for a trade right now. Cousins himself doesn’t expect a trade this season, and for all their flaws the 10-16 Kings are just 1.5 games back of the Blazers for the eighth playoff spot in the West. The postseason dream is not dead in Sacramento. Also, we know that owner Vivek Ranadive is Cousins’ biggest backer in the organization. Combine that with what we know of the new CBA and the fact the Kings know if they deal him they start a multi-year rebuilding process, and it’s hard to imagine the Kings making any move here before the draft next June at the earliest.
Here’s a scenario worth thinking about: After the season, the Kings go to Cousins and his agent and say, we want to offer you the new designated veteran extension — five years, starting at $35 million a year, totaling about $207 million. (Cousins will meet the criteria needed to get that offer.) Cousins can say no, but if the Kings call his bluff as a free agent in 2018 the most other teams could offer would be four years, in the $140 million guaranteed range (depending upon that cap that year). Does Cousins want out of Sacramento bad enough to risk that financial hit? If he’s willing to turn down the extension, then the Kings have to deal, but I’d be shocked if anything happens until the season ends and something like this plays out. It’s not happening in February.
Minnesota had Saturday night’s game in hand, ahead of Houston 93-81 with 2:10 left in the contest.
But as you can see for yourself above, the Rockets went on a late 14-2 run to tie the game and force overtime against a scrambling Timberwolves defense. Eventually, the Rockets went on to win their 10th straight game in the extra period, 111-109. The real key to the Rockets double-digit win streak? They are allowing 98.4 points per 100 possessions on defense, second best in the NBA in that stretch. They are up to 14th in the NBA overall and have played fairly well on that end since the return of Patrick Beverley.
James Harden had 28 points, 13 assists, and nine rebounds, while Ryan Anderson led the way for the Rockets with 29.