5 min read

Wednesday Bolts: 2.20.19

Matt Moore (Action Network) takes a deep dive on the Thunder defense: “The Thunder are communicating at every turn, and it’s the building block of everything defensively. Terrance Ferguson and Jerami Grant are negotiating switches. Paul George is calling out the open shooter in the corner. The Thunder are able to do this on the fly, because they spend so much time working on it during the in-between moments. “Steve-O’s very receptive with communication,” Paul George told The Action Network. “We talk a lot. Me, Steve-O, Russ, JG, Ferg, we talk out coverages, we talk out matchups. At every point within a possession, when we’re clicking, we’re making things happen, and we’re making teams do what we’re forcing them to do. And the game becomes so much easier.”

Frank Urbina (USA Today) on the Thunder having the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA: “One of the six best teams in basketball this year according to net rating, the Oklahoma City Thunder carry the distinction of having the toughest schedule remaining league-wide. Thankfully, they sit at 37-20 at the All-Star break, doing more than enough to position themselves comfortably among teams looking to host at least one playoff series. Of course, their goal is going to be to finish as close to the top of the West at year’s end as possible, so this final stretch is going to be important for them. As the current three seed out west, Oklahoma City has a three-game lead on the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, while sitting two games out of the second-seeded Nuggets, and four games behind the top-seeded Warriors. Catching up to Denver or Golden State won’t be easy, especially with a humdinger of a schedule still to go, but the Thunder have proven to be an elite team thus far this season, so they may just be up to the challenge.”

Tim Bontemps (ESPN) on the three-man race for MVP: “Over the past few weeks, Paul George has forced himself into the conversation with an incredible stretch of play. George might be the favorite to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the Thunder are a staggering 22 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the court than when he sits — easily the best mark in the league. This debate is destined to be the kind that is both endlessly entertaining and frustrating. All three players have compelling cases and, depending on one’s perspective, can be reasonably argued to finish in any order. That debate will rage for the next seven weeks — and likely the two months afterward until the NBA’s awards show in late June.”

Adam Fromal (B/R) makes Paul George’s case for MVP: “George might not boast the same level of top-tier name recognition touted by his primary MVP competition. He doesn’t have Harden’s scoring streak, Antetokounmpo’s ridiculous dunks or the team record necessary to push the Warriors for the West’s top seed. While his season-long per-game line is remarkable—28.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.3 steals and 0.5 blocks while slashing 45.3/40.6/83.7—it doesn’t jump out like Harden’s or Antetokounmpo’s. He just makes his team better. A lot better. The Thunder have a minus-11.2 net rating without George on the floor, but that mark climbs to plus-10.4 when he plays—a 21.6 point swing in the right direction. No other Thunder rotation member is in the same ballpark, with Steven Adams (13.6), Jerami Grant (12.0), Russell Westbrook (7.2) and Terrance Ferguson (2.8) rounding out the top five. Those numbers should make George’s case for him.”

John Schuhmann (NBA.com) has the Thunder fourth in his power rankings: “When Jerami Grant missed the last two games before the break with an ankle injury, Patrick Patterson replaced him in the starting lineup and shot 2-for-13 (including 0-for-8 from 3-point range). Defense was the bigger issue in their 1-2-3-Cancun loss in New Orleans on Thursday, but in 52 total minutes with Patterson in Grant’s place in the regular starting lineup, the Thunder have scored just 92 points per 100 possessions, 20 fewer than the regular starters have scored in their 602 minutes together. So yeah, the Thunder could use Markieff Morris (who they’ll reportedly add this week), even if he hasn’t shot as well as he did last season.”

Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on Raymond Felton’s friendship with Paul George and Russell Westbrook: “Felton, in his 14th season in the NBA, of course influences the younger players on the Thunder, but he also has a positive impact on the stars: George and Russell Westbrook. OKC signed Felton as a free agent in July 2017, but he knows Westbrook and George’s tendencies like he’s played with them for longer. “It’s something that’s beyond basketball,” Felton said. “We’ll still be friends when we all get in our 60s, we’re still going to be tight. So that’s the amazing part of it.” Felton knows that Westbrook stays zoned-in before games. George on the other hand, he and Felton began their ritual of walking out together this season. “You have little small little conversations,” Felton said. “It could be motivation. It could be taking about things to get your mind off before you get on the court: might be having problems at home or in your family or whatever. You have that little grace period to talk about it, get it out your mind, help each other.”

OddsShark on the long shot value of betting on OKC: “The Rockets are currently the +675 second choice (bet $100 to win $675) to become Western Conference champions followed by the Los Angeles Lakers (+900), Denver Nuggets (+1100) and Thunder (+1100). Of that group, Oklahoma City is the best bet because of the talent and depth that Houston no longer possesses. The Lakers are only listed because they have LeBron James, although they are not even among the top nine teams in the Western Conference standings right now. The biggest challenge the Thunder have until the end of the regular season is catching the Nuggets for the Northwest Division crown.”

Berry Tramel (Oklahoman) on what Markieff Morris brings to OKC: “In truth, Morris is likely to take Patterson’s minutes. Patterson has been OK in his two Thunder seasons but has not been the player the Thunder needed. Patterson’s 3-point shooting has been streaky, which is to be expected, but this season his percentage is .338, which is not good enough to keep him on the court if there are other options. Patterson’s defense has not been as good as advertised. Patterson went into both seasons figuring to start at power forward; last year, the Thunder traded for Carmelo Anthony on the eve of training camp, and this year, Donovan elevated Grant a week into the season. The former move didn’t work out so great. The latter move has been sensational. So we’ll see how Donovan uses Morris. This we know, Morris is a good ballplayer. He’s played 555 NBA games and made 330 career starts. He’s a mediocre 3-point shooter, .338, but a solid scorer, 11.8 points a game for his career. Most any team can always use a another good player, even if it’s not the kind of player you needed most.”

Around the League: Clint Capela will return soon for the Rockets…. Jodie Meeks is signing with the Raptors…. The Pelicans want the NBA to back off of their demand that Anthony Davis should play this season…. The Ringer’s 2019 NBA Draft Lottery big board…. Teams that should consider starting full rebuilds…. Jimmy Fallon had Steph Curry drop weird phrases into his All-Star interviews…. Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson open up about the coolest Clippers team there ever was…. The 3-point statistical revolution.