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Thursday Bolts: 4.5.18

Fred Katz on Steven Adams and creative screening that frees up Russell Westbrook: “The concept is simple: Adams acts like he’s running up top to go into a pick-and-roll with Westbrook but he stops before ever getting there and lays a screen on whichever big is getting ready to guard the back end of the play. Westbrook, arguably the NBA’s fastest player, takes off simultaneously and often has a clear lane to the rim with a big unable to help. “His speed, able to turn the corner and just go downhill from there, makes it ideal,” Adams said. “Not saying that it won’t work with any other guard. I do it in practice a couple times with the other dudes, like [Paul George] and stuff. It’s all dependent on the big man, what he’s doing. That’s the where the main advantage comes from.”

Ben Golliver (SI) has Paul George on his list of players that will be heavily scrutinized in the playoffs: “Remember, Westbrook’s gunning got worse in the 2017 postseason, not better. After posting a record 41.7 usage rate last season, he topped out at a 47 usage in the playoffs. The presence of George and Anthony should prevent a repeat of that laughably hopeless one-man approach. Still, George can expect postseason scrutiny in two distinct ways: 1) if Westbrook trusts him and he fails to deliver, and 2) if he is left watching with little say in the late-game action. Will Westbrook and the Thunder find a way to strike a more appropriate late-game balance, one that produces wins in close games and manages to satisfy their All-Star small forward? If not, will George’s podium grumbles return before his career-shaping decision in July?”

Kevin Pelton (ESPN) picked Andre Roberson for First Team All-Defense: “Limited to 39 games by a ruptured patella suffered in late January, Roberson was so valuable defensively while on the court that he merits first team recognition anyway. His plus-4.6 defensive RPM was tops among guards by a mile, and while Roberson has benefited from hot opponent 3-point shooting with him on the bench (38.0 percent, as compared to 33.9 percent when he played), his massive contributions to the Oklahoma City defense go beyond that. Roberson was one of five players in the league — and the only guard — to average at least 2.0 steals per 100 plays and block at least 3.0 percent of opponent 2-point attempts. The Thunder have sorely missed Roberson’s ability to defend elite scorers one-on-one, which freed Paul George to roam the passing lanes.”

Patrick Redford (Deadspin) on the Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony problem: “It’s not all Carmelo Anthony’s fault, of course. He’s not playing like the all-star he was last season and to expect him to would be to miss the point that his role on the Thunder is far different than it was on the Knicks. New York was a toilet carnival and he had carte blanche to shoot a million times. He came to OKC to win, which required him to acquiesce to Paul George and Westbrook and not serve as his team’s first option for the first time in his career. The problem with Anthony is that he’s floundered in his diminished role, and perhaps because he’s only ever been the first option on every single other team he’s played on, his efficiency has dried up as he’s gotten fewer touches. Melo has essentially been reduced to a stand-and-fire three-point specialist, which is really not what he’s good at, and he looks uncomfortable and adrift.”

Zach Lowe (ESPN) put Raymond Felton on his list of journeymen/role players thriving in unexpected ways: “The Penguin has become a classic traveling backup point guard, well-liked in every stop: low maintenance, executes every play after going through it once, hits the open man, defends hard. His pull-up is a decent last resort for bench units that can’t manufacture anything better. He hits enough 3s to keep defenses semi-honest and play as a spot-up guy alongside Russell Westbrook; Oklahoma City has outscored opponents by six points per 100 possessions — double their overall margin — in 369 minutes the two have shared the floor, per NBA.com. He has injected the Thunder with some old-man style and swagger. He can’t blow by defenders, so he tricks them with hesitation dribbles and full-body spasm fakes.”

Berry Tramel on FiveThirtyEight projecting OKC to finish as the four-seed: “Fivethirtyeight.com projects Oklahoma City to finish as… The No. 4 seed in the West. I am not making this up. The latest fivethirtyeight.com projections show Houston finishing 66-16, Golden State 59-23 and Portland 50-32. So that’s 1-2-3 in the West. After that, a dogfight royale. The website projects the Thunder, Spurs and Jazz to each finish 47-35, with the Timberwolves and Pelicans tying for seventh at 46-36. If the Thunder ties San Antonio and Utah, Oklahoma City wins the tiebreaker. Head-to-head is the first tiebreak. OKC went 3-1 vs. Utah and 2-2 vs. San Antonio. The Jazz went 3-1 vs. the Spurs. That means the Thunder is 5-3 in that triangle, Utah is 4-4 and San Antonio is 3-5.”

Bryan Kalbrosky (HoopsHype) on Paul George’s struggles from mid-range: “He has made just 0.8 long midrange shots per game for Oklahoma City. He has averaged 0.65 points per possession on midrange attempts, the worst in the league among those with at least 100 opportunities. Last year, he ranked No. 3 overall (1.01 PPP) when looking at the same qualifications. The wing is now shooting 60-of-189 (31.7 percent) on shots taken between 16 feet and 24 feet of the basket. This ranks as the third-worst in the league among those with at least 100 field goal attempts from this area. George is 18-for-67 (26.9 percent) overall from midrange since the All-Star break. It’s the second-worst in the NBA among those who have had 50 field goal attempts from midrange during this span.”

Adam Fromal (B/R) makes a championship argument for every team projected to be in the playoffs: “If the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff picture has one player with takeover ability who can simply will his team to a series of victories—really, multiple series, if you catch my drift—it’s the dynamic point guard who remains a triple-double matchine. All it takes is the jumper heating up and rendering the pull-ups in transition as assets rather than liabilities, and defenses will be at a loss for how to slow him down in any situation.  Of course, the Thunder are more than a one-man team. Carmelo Anthony, despite his season-long struggles, has plenty of experience getting buckets in key spots. Paul George remains an unabashed superstar. Steven Adams is a defensive stalwart who understands his job description on the offensive end. Those men alone make OKC dangerous, and a red-hot Westbrook pushes it over the top.”

Around the League: The Warriors are working on a new deal for Quinn Cook…. The Hornets are close to naming Mitch Kupchak as their new GM…. The Indiana Pacers have noticed that no one is talking about them…. The Raptors are closing in on the East’s number one seed…. Ty Lue will return to the Cavs’ sidelines tonight…. 2018 NBA Mock Draft.