6 min read

Friday Bolts: 2.22.19

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz: “Returning from the All-Star Break, the Thunder hopes that it is much closer to the alleged “halfway point” of its own season than what the remaining regular season schedule suggests. There’s just 25 games left on the Thunder’s home-and-away slate, but if a deep playoff run is in its cards, this past week could be the last big gasp of breath for this team before wading back into the water for a battle that dips into June. Those postseason tests can be worried about on a later date, however, because the most important fixture on the calendar comes with each passing day. The next one up is the division rival Utah Jazz, the same one that knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs last season yet the Thunder has beaten twice so far this year. In order to take care of business, and to set a tone for the remainder of the year, the Thunder must approach this one the right way.”

The Markieff Morris era is officially underway in OKC:

Clay Horning (Norman Transcript) on Morris appearing happy to have a fresh start with the Thunder: “I’m willing to do whatever,” he said. “If we need to switch, if we need to play up high, we have the same calls that I did in Washington, so I’m very familiar with the defense. But whatever makes the team better.” Morris, a 6-foot-10 forward, played three seasons at Kansas with twin brother Marcus — now a Boston Celtic — and did not become a full-time starter until his junior season, when he averaged 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. After being the 13th pick in the 2011 draft following that junior season, he was traded in the middle of his fifth NBA season from Phoenix to Washington. He’s played in 555 NBA games, starting 330. “He’s a guy that prides himself on really being able to do a lot of different things,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said. “Defending, rebounding, passing, posting up, shooting. I think he wants to do whatever he can do to try to improve our team.” Donovan stopped short of saying Morris would definitely see court time against Utah tonight — “We’ll have to see,” he said, “I don’t want to answer that right now” — but made it clear Morris was fully active in two Wednesday practices and again on Thursday. “I don’t think there’s going to be a transition. I think it’s going to be normal,” Morris said of eventually playing for his new team.”

Markieff’s full media session from yesterday: via Michael Kinney

Brett Dawson (Athletic) on if we aren’t making enough fuss about the greatness of Russ: “In a league that is hyper-analyzed, where every play is parsed and each star player picked apart, Westbrook’s is perhaps the most polarizing presence. Are all those triple-doubles representative of a wide-ranging impact on winning, or are they stat-padding for personal glory? Does he elevate teammates with his play, or does his ball-dominant style push them away? And in this, Westbrook’s most confounding great season yet, a debate rages: Are all those shots he takes—and misses—offsetting the undeniable good he does for a team he’s helped lead to third place in the Western Conference? They are mostly fair points to debate. But Westbrook’s teammates will tell you that the product of this over-analysis is that their point guard has become under-appreciated. “One hundred percent,” rookie Hamidou Diallo said. “People take it for granted, what he’s doing.”

Zach Harper (Athletic) on the MVP race: “Over the last month, George has thrown himself from a minor inclusion into the MVP conversation to people wondering if he should outright win the award. He was really good before this stretch and he was garnering Defensive Player of the Year attention. But the last 13 games have seen an absurd run by PG13. During the last 13 games (11-2 record), George has averaged 35.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.3 steals while putting up 48.1/45.8/85.8 shooting splits. Not only is he shooting 45.8 percent from deep during this stretch but he’s taking over 11 per game. And he’s doing all of that while playing insane defense… George still has quite a bit to overcome in terms of overtaking James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he’s headed in the right direction. This hot streak he’s on has been unreal and the fact that you can also call him the DPOY brings another element to his candidacy. I still don’t think he’s quite there for the full season to break into the top 2 but he’s closing in on that.”

Jared Dubin (FanSided) on the newfound balance between Russ & PG: “Among the 113 players averaging at least five drives per game, Westbrook’s 52 percent pass rate ranks 12th. That’s up from 40th out of 120 last year, 21st out of 99 the year before, and 53rd out of 100 during Durant’s final season. And he’s passing even more often (53.5 percent of his drives) since George’s early-December explosion against the Nets, while averaging a league-high 2.9 drive-and-pass assists per game during that time. Crucially, all of this is carrying over into clutch time, where Westbrook has ceded control to George like never before. Comparing Westbrook’s and Durant’s and George’s clutch usage rates over the past few years makes that clear as day. (And yes, the 2016-17 number below is real. I swear.) The ceding of responsibility has had the twin benefits of unleashing the best possible version of George, and giving Westbrook room to attack the glass with all the ferocity he usually brings, create plays for George and everyone else, and even give a bit more effort on defense than we’re used to seeing from him over the past few years. Add it all up and, despite his horrific shooting, Westbrook has been an incredibly valuable player this season even while taking a back seat to his co-star and giving up the ball more often, which until very recently was thought would neuter his effectiveness. Instead, it’s enhanced the play of his most important teammate and has the Thunder looking great heading into the season’s second half.”

Zach Buckley (B/R) on why Dennis Schroder could be the x-factor in the Thunder’s stretch run: “Granted, he’s a massive upgrade over what OKC previously put behind Westbrook, and if Sixth Man of the Year voters continue their infatuation with counting stats, Schroder could be a contender for the hardware. There aren’t many second-teamers giving their clubs 15 points and four assists a night. But Schroder is also having one of his worst seasons as a shooter, connecting on only 42.6 percent of his field goals. That’s the 12th-worst rate among the 46 guards who’ve logged at least 1,500 minutes. And he’s 79th out of 100 qualified passers with only 1.76 assists per turnover. OKC’s margin for error is slim at the offensive end, putting a premium on Schroder’s effectiveness. He’s one of only five Thunder players averaging more than seven points, and two of them are arguably most important for their defensive contributions (Adams and Grant). Schroder has tallied 16.7 points on 46.3 percent shooting (39.9 from three) in Thunder wins and only 14.1 on 35.7 (30.0) in their losses. Getting him going consistently could be OKC’s key in becoming the best non-Bay Area-based team in the West.”

Royce Young (ESPN) on Paul George calling Nike about Zion Williamson’s shoe malfunction: “Paul George said Thursday that he reached out to Nike to find out “what went wrong” with his PG 2.5 signature shoe that Zion Williamson was wearing when he injured his knee on Wednesday. “First, I want to wish him all the best,” George said. “I don’t know the severity of the injury right now. We just wish him all the best through the recovery, if it is something severe. And honestly, I’m just here for him through that time of being hurt. But outside of that I don’t necessarily know what happened, how it happened,” George said. “I talked to Nike to see what went wrong, what happened with the shoe and I take pride in that. My shoes have been a successful shoe not only in college but in the NBA. A lot of people have been in them, a lot of people have been wearing them. So I don’t necessarily know, but it’s never happened to my knowledge before. So that’s tough.”

Chris Bengel (CBS Sports) spoke with Hamidou Diallo about his Slam Dunk Contest victory and more: “Reiter: Did Shaq know you were going to use him in the dunk contest?Diallo: Yes, but we never had practiced it before. He knew i was going to bring him out, but I had never practiced jumping over him, I never have jumped over someone that big before. Reiter: What is the biggest surprise to NBA life? Diallo: The amount of downtime I have. (Then when asked what he does with downtime). Play a lot of 2K yeah. I like using myself a lot. Besides myself I like using the Houston Rockets.”

Around the League: LeBron led a 19-point comeback to beat the Rockets…. James Harden is going to get fined for his comments about the officials…. Recapping last night’s NBA action…. Storylines you need to be following as play resumes…. The NBA formally proposed changing its age limit back to 18…. Marcus Smart just wants everyone to be more physical…. Predicting this summer’s superstar free agent/trade moves…. Is there reason for concern in regard to the NBA’s TV ratings?