Quick, guess the Oklahoma City Thunder’s biggest get in free agency this season that wasn’t a re-signing or a player that the team held the rights to? No, not Alex Abrines, as the team held his rights after drafting him in the second round in the 2013 NBA Draft. Same story for Semaj Christon, who was the Thunder’s 2014 2nd rounder. If you answered Ronnie Price, you are correct.
In a summer filled with extensive player movement, the Thunder got to their current roster state mainly through trades and internal signings. Their only foray into free agency was for a veteran third-string point guard who has played for 20% of the teams in the league in his 11 year career. It wasn’t completely surprising for the Thunder to be in the market for a third point guard. They always like to carry three point guards on their roster, and usually target a respected veteran for that role.
What was surprising was the fact that the Thunder signed Price to a fully guaranteed two year contract. With young point guards Cameron Payne and Semaj Christon waiting in the wings, the reason for guaranteeing Price for two seasons remains a bit of a mystery. The only plausible reason is the team is looking to move one of their young point guards within the next year and need a veteran back-up as insurance.
With that said, Price is a bit of an anomaly. He was an undrafted rookie in 2005, but got a chance with the Sacramento Kings that offseason, and hasn’t let go of a roster spot ever since. He’s found a niche as a defensive minded back-up point guard, and a positive locker-room presence. What’s a little strange about Price’s career is the fact that his last two seasons have been his best, statistically speaking, at the ages of 31 and 32. Now the statistics aren’t anything out of this world (going from 2.4 ppg in 2013-14 to 5.2 ppg the last two season), but it’s still a little different to see someone get statistically better as they get into their 30’s.2015-16 statistics
62 GP, 19.5 mins, 5.3 pts, 1.6 rebs, 2.4 asts, 1.2 stls, 38.4% FG, 34.7% 3pt FG, 75.6% FTBest-Case Scenario
For the Thunder, the best-case scenario for Price is for him to play his intended role: 3rd string point guard, defensive specialist from time to time, and great locker-room presence. If his role shifts to anything more prominent than that, then something is in play with the Thunder’s point guard situation. And that something likely isn’t good.
Let’s get one thing straight: Price’s statistical bump likely has more to do with getting more playing time then with him getting better. In the nine seasons prior to 2014-15, Price averaged 11.6 minutes. In the two seasons since, he has averaged 21.2 minutes per game for some pretty bad teams. The uptick in minutes, combined with the lack of consistent scoring/playmaking from two lottery bound teams meant Price’s production had to increase.
The Ronnie Price of the last two seasons is not the Ronnie Price they want on this team. They want the wise veteran version of Price. The one that can spell a struggling Payne or Christon from time to time, but also offer them advice as they watch Russell Westbrook operate with the starters or in late game situations. If that’s the Price the Thunder get, then the point guard situation never becomes a thing this season.Worst-Case Scenario
As mentioned above, if Price is getting upwards of 12-15 minutes per game, then something has happened to either Payne or Westbrook. With Payne coming off foot surgery and Westbrook’s high energy, “pedal to the metal” style of play, injuries to the point guard position are definitely a possibility with this team.Percentage that he will be traded sometime this season:
10% – Price’s guaranteed 2nd year will probably turn teams off from including him in any trades.Price’s Season Preview:
Price was a good find for the Thunder. He’s relatively cheap and has high value as a locker-room guy. If he’s forced to play extended minutes, he definitely has his limitations, especially on the offensive end. But defensively, he’ll likely be the Thunder’s most consistent defender from the point guard position (which is a bit scary considering we need Westbrook to be that guy). My feeling is that Price will be to Payne, what Mo Cheeks is to Westbrook.