What does Oklahoma City look like without James Harden?

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Getting hit with the cold truth hurts. Getting hit with it 37 times? Ask a Thunder fan how that feels. Here’s the truth, and it has been evident long before last night’s coming out party: James Harden is a star in this league.

And no matter how you try to rationalize trading Harden while competing for a championship, Oklahoma City is worse off for it – at least for this season. That has less to do with skill than it does with fit, because Kevin Martin has long been one of the most underrated and efficient scorers in the league. Things will just look very different. Here’s how.

16-23 Feet: Getting Crowded

Don’t cry for the “lost art of the mid-range game.” It’s the worst shot in basketball, and teams that rely heavily on it typically don’t have much offensive success. To that point, the Charlotte Bobcats, offensive juggernaut they were, led the league in shot attempts from 16-23 feet last season.

Oklahoma City took the 7th least attempts from 16-23 feet last year, but all that’s about to change. Kevin Martin may be ultra-efficient, but he still likes to create space and fire off his jumper from this distance on the floor. Martin typically averages nearly 5 attempts per game from 16-23 feet. Compare that to James Harden, a guy who rarely pulled up for long-twos, as he shot exactly one per game last year.

With Westbrook and Ibaka firing from this distance more and more as the years get on, the Thunder offense could be a little streakier than it has been in the past. The Thunder did shoot the league’s best percentage from here last year (42.6%), but buyer beware. There was better stuff on the menu when Harden was creating options that no other player on the current roster is capable of replicating.

Nick Collison loses his dance partner

Part of the reason Harden was able to have so much success in the pick-and-roll was because of the chemistry he enjoyed with Nick Collison. Apart from being a great screener, Collison knew exactly when to slip, or re-set, or simply leave Harden to his own devices. It would be a shock if Martin enjoyed the same success with Collison, as he looks almost solely to free himself, rarely feeding the roll man with a clever bounce pass.

And that hurts. Like an offensive lineman in football that gets sick of pass protection and just wants to run the ball a few times, big men in basketball setting screens want to roll hard to the rim and get rewarded with the ball every now and then. Collison has routinely been one of the league leaders in plus/minus, but without being so closely attached to Harden, his effectiveness should dwindle a bit.

Pin-down screens for all

Ultimately, it’s Scott Brooks who faces the biggest task of replacing Harden with Martin, simply because Harden was such a good “freelance” player. Even though Martin is actually a very good isolation scorer, he’s by no means a primary ballhandler. While Harden could get you in your stuff and out of it when it got bad, Martin can only finish the equation.

What’s that mean? More Eric Maynor handling the ball with the second unit, and a whole handful of the “Kevin Durant package” plays, which are basically pin-down screens, designed for Martin. Although he’s still far from a creative offensive mind, Brooks has gotten better at getting Durant the ball closer to the basket. Doing the same with Martin is a good idea, as he’s led the NBA three of the last four years in free throw attempts per 36 minutes.

Stagnant offense

This should be the big fear for the Thunder – the offense becoming too stagnant. Oklahoma City sometimes has a tendency to take turns, which can really leave them without any flow. Usually, Westbrook or Durant are so good and so unstoppable that it doesn’t matter, and that will be the case again this year. But once playoff time rolls around, the Thunder will miss the ability of Harden to break down the defense as a primary ballhandler.

Softer defense

Harden doesn’t measure out as a great defender, but the raw goods were there. Martin, meanwhile, doesn’t offer much resistance at all, as he’s not laterally quick or nearly strong enough to deny anyone spots on the floor. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, but at least Harden had the physical ability to hang with a Dwyane Wade type – Martin just doesn’t.

A little more frail

Okay, this is the actual biggest fear – Kevin Martin missing significant time. Martin missed 26 games last year, 36 three years ago, 31 the year before that, and 21 the year before that. Harden, meanwhile, has only missed 10 games over his first three seasons.

Although stylistically they’ll go through changes, it’s important to remember that Oklahoma City was bold enough to draft Harden where they did in the first place. If they are so willing to hit the reset button over a few million dollars every year, it seems almost likely that there’s something underneath the surface that we can’t quite see. Until that reason surfaces, however, take the Thunder for what they are — a less varied, less durable, less likely championship contender.

Kemba Walker on his future: ‘I just can’t see myself in a Knicks jersey’

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When Mitch Kupchak came in as GM in Charlotte it led to a lot of speculation — and a lot of other GMs calling in to check — were the Hornets going to blow it up, trade Kemba Walker, and start to rebuild?

No. Walker is still there, Tony Parker is now backing him up, and new coach James Borrego is talking about upping the pace, getting the Hornets on the run. Walker, heading into the last year of his contract, has consistently said he does not want to leave Charlotte.

That has never stopped fans from his native New York from begging him to come home and lead the Knicks. Walker, talking to Don Amore of the Hartford Courant, reiterated he does not want to leave Charlotte.

“I’ve been hearing it for years,” Walker said Thursday, after working with youngsters at the National Basketball Players Association summer camp. “Every time I come home, ‘When are you going to come home and play for the Knicks?’ I know it’s a special place, I was a Knicks fan growing up, always rooted for the home team. But I just can’t see myself in a Knicks jersey, only because I’ve only been in one jersey.”

“I just want to do something special in Charlotte,” Walker said. “I’ve been there eight years now, and we haven’t really been consistent as far as winning. I just want to try to establish that culture at some point. That’s what I want to do, I just want to make it a winning organization.”

This season, the Hornets are going to try to win, be a playoff team and a threat once there. In a smaller market (one that took owner Michael Jordan a long time to rebuild after what the previous owner had done there), rebuilding can be hard on the bottom line, and the competitive MJ does not want to go there. He wants to keep Walker and build a steady playoff team, and Kupchak has said the same thing.

However, if that doesn’t happen this year, the calculations for the organization and Walker could be different next summer. Could.

For now, Walker just does not see himself if blue and orange.

Stephen Curry entertained by Draymond Green, Steve Kerr arguments

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Steve Kerr and Draymond Green have had their come-to-Jesus meeting (or, meetings) and have found their way to a place of mutual respect.

That doesn’t mean they don’t still argue. Plenty.

All this amuses Stephen Curry, who talked about it on The Bill Simmons Podcast when asked about his favorite Draymond story. (Hat tip Bleacher Report.)

“Probably the times him and Coach Kerr get into it,” Curry said. “And you’re inside of practice and you don’t know whose side to take. Just like, “I guess they’re both right, but they’re both wrong….

“They argue about a play call or maybe something Coach Kerr has been thinking about for a couple games. … And [Draymond’s] like, ‘Don’t over-coach. We know what we doing.’ And coach is like, ‘Well, I know you know what you’re doing, but let me just help you as I’m supposed to do. That’s what my job is, to point out things that could be important for us to win a championship.’

“But they have a real—the respect level between those two is at an all-time high, but they have their moments and it’s just amazing entertainment to watch in practice.”

It’s a long grind of a season, you’ve got to take your entertainment where you can find it.

Green’s passion is a challenge for Kerr, but he can’t snuff out that flame because Green would not be the same player without it. It’s about managing it, showing Green the coach has his back, and Green maturing (something he said happened more quickly after his 2016 Finals suspension). It’s worked the past two years and led to two more rings.

Kevin Love on LeBron James: ‘He’s playing chess and everyone else is playing checkers’

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Kevin Love is the man in Cleveland now, with LeBron James having gone to Hollywood.

But it’s not going to be the same, and Love knows it. The best player of his generation is gone, and Love had nothing but praise for LeBron and his willingness to take on a challenge in a sit-down interview with ESPN.

Love is right, LeBron loves a challenge, but the one with the Lakers is unlike anything else in his career. Expectations are through the roof for a team that has undergone a roster upheaval, and while those kinds of teams can take a little bit to come together, if that happens and the Lakers get off to a slow start in the West it will be a lot harder to dig out of it than it was after the Cavs’ annual mid-season slump in the East. LeBron is on a team with young players and a lot of stop-gap one-year contracts set up to help them get another star (at the trade deadline or next summer). That makes they dynamics of this season different for LeBron (although he would never admit to it, saying winning was the goal from the start).

Love has got his own challenges. He may not be able to lead the Cavaliers to the playoffs this season. However, he could be a sneaky good fantasy pickup now that he’s going to get a lot more touches.

 

Rumor: Timberwolves bypassed Stephen Curry in draft because Minnesota is too cold for year-round golf

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Timberwolves general manager David Kahn infamously drafted two point guards – Ricky Rubio No. 5 and Jonny Flynn No. 6 – before the Warriors took Stephen Curry No. 7 in the 2009 draft.

Curry, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“My guy David Kahn. I don’t know where he’s at right now,” Curry said on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “I don’t know if that ever came out — there’s a story. Everybody knows how much I love golf — play it in my spare time and what not.

“I think the word on the street was that he didn’t draft me because in Minnesota it’s cold and I wouldn’t be able to play as much golf so I would have been miserable.”

A shocked Simmons asked Curry: “Is that true?”

“I hope it’s true because that’s hilarious (laughter),” Curry said. “That’s hilarious.”

If this is why Minnesota passed on Curry, it was a huge mistake. Better to take the best prospect available and hope for the best. Curry probably would have learned to appreciate Minnesota. There’s plenty of room to golf elsewhere in the offseason. Remember, Golden State was seen as a low-rung destination just a few years ago. Curry helped transform the franchise’s perception.

Mostly, though, I’m with Curry. This would be a hilarious story if true.

But that doesn’t mean we should just assume it’s accurate. Plenty of teams underestimated Curry, who looked like an undersized score-first guard when he entered the NBA. He just beat the odds and made everyone who passed on him look silly.