This is a punch to the gut of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Or more accurately, a sweep of the leg.
OKC’s starting power forward Serge Ibaka is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a calf injury sustained in the third quarter of Game 6 against the Clippers, the team announced. He left the court at the time and went to the locker room, not returning to the game in the Thunder’s eventual series-clinching win.
An MRI on Friday confirmed the injury was severe enough to end his season.
“We are obviously disappointed for Serge, as he is a tremendous competitor, and we know how badly he wants to be on the court with his teammates,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said in a released statement. “At this point it is important that our team directs its concentration and energy towards preparation and execution for our upcoming series. As with all teams, our group has confronted different challenges. It is our collective experience that we will call on to ensure that we play to our capabilities.”
Ibaka averaged 12.2 points on 61.6 percent shooting, plus having 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game these playoffs — but those numbers don’t even begin to tell the story. He is the athletic, shot-blocking anchor to their defense.
Against the Spurs in recent years the Thunder have had success because of their length and athleticism, particularly on defense. The Thunder tend to stay back and protect the paint on defense, but because of the length and quickness of guys like Ibaka, Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha they can still get out and contest. That will not happen as much now. Plus, Ibaka has often been the third leading scorer for the Thunder, a reliable option when the defense collapses on Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Expect to see Scott Brooks try some Kevin Durant at the four against the Spurs.
Also, in Game 6 against L.A., after Ibaka went down, the Thunder had real success with a Nick Collison and Steven Adams front line. Those two are going to get a real chance, too.
But it’s going to be hard for any of them to make up for Ibaka.
First in alphabetical introductions, DeAndre Ayton took center stage at a new pre-NBA draft ceremony with his parents. As he walked right down the middle of two rows of adoring children, Ayton extended his 7-foot-5 wingspan to high-five them on both sides. Then, he took his mother’s hand and helped her down the stairs.
Length and touch.
That – plus strength, shooting touch and hops – is why the Suns made him their first No. 1 overall pick in their 51-year history a few minutes later.
Ayton is the right pick, but hardly a surefire star. With his physical package and shooting ability, it’d be hard for him to fail completely in the NBA. But he is terrifyingly unprepared as a rim protector – a nearly essential skill for centers.
He’ll join a Phoenix team trying to end a franchise-high eight-year playoff drought, though Ayton won’t be starting from scratch. Devin Booker, implicitly and explicitly, screamed out for help. Ayton delivers it in a big way.
The Suns also have Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. It’d be nice if any of them pan out. But Phoenix also has all its own future first-round picks plus two extra first-rounders from the Heat.
This is a team on the rise, and the Suns will have other chances to add to their young talent base.
But they’ll probably never have a better opportunity than this.
It’s been a long time since there was this much uncertainty at the top of an NBA Draft. While the top pick is a lock, and even No. 2 may have fallen into place, things are wide open after that with plenty of talk about trades up and down — and teams looking to move into the lottery. The NBA rumor mill has been in high gear.
Now the floodgates of wild are about to be thrown open.
Right here is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.
We will constantly be updating this post throughout the evening — every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings. We’ll be on top of news, rumors, and anything else happening around the NBA tonight. Enough with the preamble…
It’s time to put the Phoenix Suns on the clock.
1. The Phoenix Suns: Deandre Aytnon, 7’0” center (Arizona). Physically, he has the potential to be one of the game’s dominant centers — he’s big and long (7’5” wingspan), he moves incredibly well, he can knock down threes, and he can run the court. Offensively he’s going to be put up numbers and be an impact player from Day 1. If he puts in the work when challenged on his defense he could be a force on both ends. He could be the franchise cornerstone the Suns need, the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside.
2. Sacramento Kings:
Michael Porter Jr. has long been the biggest gamble in the 2018 NBA Draft.
A year ago he was considered a lock top three pick in this draft. Now? Concerns about his back injury — a microdiscectomy that forced him to miss almost all of the college season — have given teams pause.
Those medical reports out of last week’s evaluation for teams in Chicago has Porter falling in the draft, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (while on Sportscenter). How far? Maybe all the way to the end of the lottery — the Clippers with picks 12 and 13, or even the Nuggets at 14.
People who saw the original medical reports told NBC Sports they were “fine.”
It’s a far cry from Sacramento legitimately considering him at No. 2 a couple of weeks ago.
When things get tight, GMs can become risk-averse (they like to keep their jobs). Taking Porter in the upper reaches of the lottery and missing is the kind of thing that could have a GM on the hot seat.
Also factoring into this, rumors of an insular, “diva” attitude from Porter who has always had things focused on him. How will he handle not being the man?
That said, Porter’s physical tools and potential has teams drooling — he’s big and can score inside and out. He has the potential to be a very dangerous stretch four because he’s a fantastic shooter and a high-level athlete.
Some team is going to reach the point in the process where the risk is worth the reward. That may be Cleveland at No. 8, but if not it’s going to be interesting to see which team rolls the dice.
Austin Rivers‘ three-year, $35,475,000 contract caused resentment within the Clippers when his father – Clippers coach and then-president Doc Rivers – gave it to the guard in 2016.
But don’t think for a moment that will bother Austin into bypassing $12.65 million next season.
Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
That high salary will put a target even more squarely on Rivers’ back, but he’s used to it.
He’ll be overpaid, but he can still help the Clippers. Maybe that’s as an expiring contract used to facilitate a larger trade. Maybe that’s on the court. L.A. will reportedly drop guard Milos Teodosic. The Clippers, with the Nos. 12 and 13 picks in tonight’s draft, could select another guard, but few rookie point guards are reliable.