New And Improved Hasheem Thabeet Emerging?
New Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Martin has been observing something very interesting about Hasheem Thabeet’s behavior. Martin’s point of view is especially intriguing as the two were teammates together for the Houston Rockets during part of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
“I was with him in Houston. It’s like night and day when he was in Houston,” Martin told HOOPSWORLD about Thabeet. “He wants to be in every practice drill now. I can tell he gets to the gym earlier. He’s just excited.
“Whatever they did to him, it definitely worked in his favor,” he said, grinning, referring to the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise.
What exactly is the Thunder doing that is revealing a different Thabeet? And why, during his three-year tenure in the league, were three other teams (Memphis Grizzlies, Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers) unable to develop the 2009 number-two draft pick?
“When I first met him, I had a great conversation with him,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He really opened up about all the experiences he’s had in the past three years. We just felt that we have something that could be a really good player for us.”
When the surprise Thabeet acquisition was announced last July, both Brooks and Thunder executive vice-president and general manager Sam Presti quickly came to his defense amid the skeptics’ warnings. Obviously the word “bust” has been associated with the under-achieving Thabeet, but the two see something in him they can develop. They see a Thabeet that is focused and possesses the tools to grow into a meaningful role.
It helps that his attitude meshes with the Thunder’s hard-work-trumps-all mentality.
“I come in here and I’m going to work for my teammates, work for my coaches,” Thabeet told us. “Just do my job. [OKC has] a great group of young guys. We compete. We joke around, but when it comes to work, we go to work.”
“He’s an exceptional worker,” claims Brooks. “He covers a lot of distance with his size and length and he’s a pretty good athlete.”
Ah yes, his size. Hash, as everyone calls him, is presently the tallest player in the NBA at 7’3”, a fact that inevitably overshadows any discussions about the former UConn stand-out (13.6 ppg/10.8 rpg in his third and final year).
Indeed, it seems prudent to recall his college experience to understand why the new pairing may prove successful. As we know, this team is already locked down and loaded with impressive offensive weapons courtesy of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and now Martin, so if Thabeet’s contributions were limited to just the defensive side – especially his ability to change shots – he stands a good chance of thriving.
Oklahoma City has certainly opened the door to him. They signed him to a low-salaried, guaranteed contract and have watched him closely as he performed pretty well in the Summer League and in preseason games. His statement moment in the preseason was surely against the Chicago Bulls wherein he scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds in a five-minute span.
His role figures to expand with then-presumed second-string Cole Aldrich shipped out (he was included in the James Harden trade) and just-signed Daniel Orton on board. The Thunder now has three individuals manning the center position, starter Kendrick Perkins (who battles injuries with some frequency; but to be fair, he typically plays through it) and newbies Hash and Orton. Hash may be thrown in the fire with regularity sooner than we all think. Of course, the team can go small with Nick Collison or Serge Ibaka in the middle.
“He (Brooks) told me there’s no roles over here, as long as you go out there and play hard for your teammates,” Thabeet said. “That really matters.”
“I like what he does,” noted Brooks. “He’s only going to get confident. How we play I think can help him. He’s a guy that can improve as we improve as the season goes on. Some of the things that he needs to work on is catching around the basket. He knows that. We’re well aware of that, but I think even in the last six weeks, he’s shown some improvement.”
In keeping with the Thunder tradition, all the players are working with Thabeet, not just a select one or two.
“I think everybody has,” said Brooks, when we asked who specifically has taken him under his wing.
Further, there’s a collective effort when it comes to both praising and yelling at him. It sounds like Thabeet has been on the receiving end of considerable constructive criticism.
“You can tell (how all players mentor him) even in certain times in practice when he makes a good play,” Brooks said. “Not just one guy but the entire team. They get excited for it. And even when he messes up, not just one guy, but the entire team (says): ‘Hey Hash, come on, let’s go. Let’s get better. Let’s do it. Let’s do a better job next time.’ “
“Every time I hear them (his teammates) out there yelling ‘Go back on defense’, I have to,” said Thabeet. “They do stuff for me, so I’ve got to do extra for them. They trust me, pass me the ball, do all kinds of great stuff to help me get better as a player. So for me, I just go out there and work hard for them. That’s what keeps up my confidence.”
“He’s a great guy,” said Brooks about the 25-year-old Tanzanian player. “I just have a brief period to get to know him. We get along. We get along very well. I like how he works. If you work like the way he works, he’s going to get along with most coaches.”
“Hash has been doing real good,” added now-healthy Eric Maynor. “He’s picking up stuff fast. Once you’re new to something, it’s going to take you awhile, but he’s been doing a good job.”
Thabeet admits to traveling a “tough road” in the past three years in the NBA, and that’s about all he cares to say on the subject.
“I’m not really worried about my past; what I can control is now.”
He’s appeared in the first three games of the regular season, playing an average of 12.0 minutes, which nearly ties his rookie year average. His numbers thus far aren’t much to brag about (1.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 blocks), but he seems content to have landed with a team of his choosing in free agency and is unconcerned with floor time. From top to bottom, the team seems equally pleased to have him on board.
“I just come here, and I work,” Thabeet said. “And I let the coaches handle everything. It’s almost like a first step for me. It’s going to be a lot of hard work and I’m ready to pay the price.”
In the meantime, his former-turned-present teammate and others are ready to help as well.
“It’s definitely that time in my career where I’ve been through a lot, and I can always help guys coming in,” said Martin, who first donned a Thunder jersey about one week ago.
Said Ibaka on Thabeet: “It’s a process. Now it’s time for Hasheem to start to figure out how to get better. Me and Perk and the coaches try to teach him every time. (He) has the same problem I had in my first year like on defense. It’s normal. But we are here to help him.”
Now it’s up to Hash to turn this fourth chance into a successful run.