On 11/8 The SportsGuy Bill Simmons did his weekly podcast. He devoted a solid 10 minutes to discussion on The Thunder. He talked at length what he thinks is the major Achilles heel to the Thunder’s championship build.
The B.S. Report
the Thunder talk starts in around 57:30. I’ve excerpted Simmons’ comments and edited them for readability.
This is a stat that I think should be a stat…I’ve personally watched games where [the Thunder have] fallen behind by 20 points…it happened against the Celtics last night…it happened in the Clipper game…it happened the night before when they lost to Utah…and in that Portland game I think they were down like 15, 16…
When you fall behind by 15 or more in a basketball game, and it’s happening again and again, I don’t care if you come back or not, that’s the sign of a real issue. Because if you’re a really good team, you should be doing what the Lakers do, and just taking care of business every night. You shouldn’t be falling behind by 15, 20.
I think it goes deeper than [interior problems]. I think they had a lot of expectations, and it doesn’t seem to me, and I saw them in person on Wednesday (Clippers loss), it doesn’t seem like they’re playing with the same [happy go lucky]. Durant’s got the bulls-eye on him now, and he has a look on his face like he knows it. And I thought Westbrook, I thought the experience he got in the World Championships would be awesome for him, and it actually kind of gave him a little too much confidence. And now it almost seems like those two guys…you know, last year it was clear – Durant’s our guy…Now it’s like, Westbrook’s like, “you know what? I’m gonna do this.”
… I don’t know, it just seems like they’re a little off. I think it’s fixable.
…[Westbrook’s stat line] has been really good, but it makes them different from what they were last year. Last year, they had the natural hierarchy.
…I think, the one thing I don’t understand why they don’t do, is put Durant closer to the basket on defense. I like what I saw from him in the World Championships, and I thought he was good in Texas. He’s a good rebounder, he’s good at coming over and helping people, and I think it’s a waste to have him 20 feet from the basket. I would play him at power forward all the time. I would play him at center! I wrote this in August or September; I would go super small and play him at center in certain matchups. I think the Celtics would have had a real problem matching up with that last night [Sunday].
…Here’s what I think is the big issue. And this is something that hasn’t become a story yet, but I think it’s going to. They whiffed on that James Harden pick. He’s not good! He may be good at some point, but this is year two. You’re a rookie, last year, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt…transition, you’re getting paid…year two is when you’re supposed to start showing people that you’re good. And that’s why you see, especially in Fantasy [Basketball] you see the guys make the leap in year two, and you always want to look for those year two guys, and he went backwards. His shooting percentages are awful and he doesn’t look confident to me. I watched him in person on Wednesday night and I’m not sure what his skills are. He’s supposed to be this fantastic role player, who can play a couple positions, who can guard anybody, who drains the corner three, great athlete, fills in on the wing…I have a name in mind [who his comparison is] and…it’s not a good idea for James Harden’s future: Marvin Williams.
And listen – James Harden is 21, and this might be a funk, and he snap out of it. But I’m just talking about seeing the guy in person, and it was the same think I saw when I saw Marvin Williams the first couple times when I’m watching the guy thinking, “Why is this guy a top 3 pick again?” I feel like you have to have one skill that is just lights-out…if you’re gonna be a top 5 lottery pick…and Marvin Williams, I watch him, and I go, “I don’t know what this guy does well.” And so he’s a role player. And that’s what Marvin Williams is, is a role player and you don’t draft him ahead of Chris Paul.
…And with the James Harden thing, it was a chemistry pick, and it filled a void, and it was somebody they knew that was gonna be their third best player. But my thing is, if he’s your third best player, I’m not sure you’re winning anything. [And if he’s not] then who is their third best player? Don’t you draft him hoping he’s going to be better than Jeff Green? Harden went third.
Here’s the thing – I defended it then and I still kind of defend the logic now, but he went a spot ahead of Tyreke Evans. And this was the pick, and I’ve written about this, he went four spots ahead of Stephen Curry. And that is like the fork in the road what would have happened if they had taken Curry instead of this guy. I think Curry would have made them a ridiculous offensive team. And he’s also a good character guy. So it’s not like he didn’t fit into the whole Sam Presti blueprint. I think they just overrated Harden. And the other thing with him is that, [Harden’s] teams when he was at Arizona State, I don’t think his teams did well.
And again, [Harden] is only 21, he turned 21 last August. And it’s really freaking early with him. But, he’s 9-30 shooting this year
…I’m talking more of the big picture standpoint of Carmelo Anthony, Darko, and Detroit missed that one. And they had a chance to make their franchise, not just short term, but long term and they missed it. Let’s say you put Tyreke Evans on this team. And I’m not crazy about him, and I’m not sure, I think he’ll make a couple all-star teams but I’m not sure that’s somebody that’s going to be the first or second best guy on a 60 win team, ever. But, if you put him on this team? A lot tougher to defend.
So Harden in college, 2 years, 17.8 points his first year and 20.1 the second year, averaged 25.4 in the PAC-10 sophomore year. That’s pretty good…36% from three, 49% shooting. When they took Harden, people were a little perplexed. And Presti, because he’s been so great and he’s done such a great job has gotten a little bit of a free pass.
But here’s my question…right now, Oklahoma City offers James Harden and Mo Petersen’s expiring contract to Philly for Andre Iguodala. Who says no? [The 76ers] would save three million dollars this year, they would save 10 million next year, the difference between Harden and Iguodala, they’d go into the future with Evan Turner number two in 2010 and James Harden number three in 2009. Plus Lou Williams and Drew Holliday, that’s a pretty nice foundation.
Let’s say Philly does it. Does Oklahoma City do it? You’d HAVE to do it. Durant played with [Iguodala] in the World Championships. It’s not like he doesn’t know that Igu0dala was one of the best four guys on that team. It would reinvent his career.
You can patchwork their middle. To me, the bigger issue is, can you find yourself a third star to go with these two guys. I don’t think Jeff Green is a star.
…What about this – now you’re putting out Westbrook, Iguodala, and Durant. Which was basically three of the four best guys on the World Championship team, along with Odom. I’d feel a lot differently about that team. If I was Oklahoma City I’d even throw in one of the number one picks that I have. I would nip this in the bud now. At some point, you gotta give up something to get something. And Presti has been trying to patchwork this, and let the guys grow and all of that stuff, but…Maybe you’ve seen James Harden now for 15 months, and you’re maybe selling him a little higher than he’s actually worth.
It’s a tough one. Because he’s 21, and he might just be in a funk. But, I watched him last year, and I wasn’t totally impressed either, and…he had some moments. But if I could turn him into Iguodala right now? I would do it.