Six Pack: The Beginning of an OKC Dynasty?
HOOPSWORLD’s Senior NBA Analyst Tommy Beer takes you through his weekly musings on the National Basketball Association in his latest installment of The NBA Six Pack…
1. OKC Set to Dominate Today and Tomorrow
The Thunder are sitting pretty.
After Kevin Durant sparked a remarkable come-from-behind victory on Wednesday night, propelling OKC past Denver and into the second round, the Thunder are now preparing for either Memphis or San Antonio. The Spurs are the top seed out West, but limped into the playoffs and have looked old at times against the scrappy Grizzlies. The eighth-seeded Grizz had the Spurs on the ropes in Game 5, but a miracle three-pointer by Gary Neal extended the series. Whichever one of these two talented, yet flawed, squads advance to face OKC, the Thunder will be installed as favorites to advance to the Western Conference Finals. That is a pretty remarkable statement, considering most analysts believed this young Thunder team was a year or two away from making serious noise and being considered legit contenders. However, here we are.
The Thunder are the real deal. With Durant dominating offensively (he scored 41 in Game 5 to become the second-youngest player in NBA history to score 40+ points in a series-clinching victory), and Serge Ibaka, a defensive demon protecting the paint who averaged 4.8 blocks versus Denver, OKC’s well-rounded roster presents problems all over the court, on both ends of the floor. Superstars Durant and Russell Westbrook get most of the national attention, but it’s not just the headliners that power this team. Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks draws from an incredibly balanced roster, as deep as it is talented. Brooks has received significant contributions not only from his starters, but also his impressive bench unit. Add it all up, you see why OKC fans are excitedly envisioning a showdown/rematch with the Lakers in the Conference Finals.
What’s worse news for the rest of the teams out West is this may just be the beginning of an extended run in OKC.
Not only are nearly all of the Thunder’s key contributors under contract next season and beyond, many of them are still bound by their (cheap) rookie contracts, or locked into inexpensive long-term deals.
Consider this: Russell Westbrook, Nick Collision, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, Eric Maynor, and Serge Ibaka will all earn $5 million or less next season. All six of those players combined will make approximately $19 million COMBINED next year. That’s less some individual’s (i.e. Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas) 2011-2012 salary.
Yes, eventually Sam Presti and company will soon have to pony up and pay Westbrook major money, but they already have many of their other key pieces locked in for the long term. Collison is will earn less than $3 million annually through 2015. Thabo will make roughly $3.6 million per year over the next three seasons. Harden, Maynor, and Ibaka are bound to their rookie contracts for at least two more seasons. In fact, it could be argued that Ibaka has one the most desirable contracts in the entire league. Serge will make just $1.3 million next season, and then $2.2 million in 2012-2013, with a qualifying offer of $3.3 million in ’12-’13. This is a guy who not only averaged nearly 5 blocks against the Nuggets in Round 1, he also shot 85% from the free-throw stripe (17-20). Frightening…
So we have spent a few paragraphs detailing how well Oklahoma City is positioned going forward, and I haven’t even yet mentioned that Kevin Durant recently signed a five-year extension that will keep him in OKC through 2016.
Western Conference competitors should be extra-motivated to knock the Thunder off now, because it may not get any easier, any time soon…
2. A Lockout Could Be Crippling…
Go ahead and pick the most exciting moment/play/game from the first round thus far. Or at least try to narrow it down to one or two. Was it Gary Neal’s impossible buzzer-beater, right after Ginobili’s "Remember the Manu-Toe" shot from the corner? Was it CP3′s performance in L.A.? Melo’s epic effort in Game 2 versus Boston (42 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 1 turnover)? Or do you prefer the aforementioned Thunder’s theatrics in late game situations in Games 1 and 5? Clearly there are many more moments to choose from, as these are just a small sampling. The point here is that many fans eagerly anticipated the 2011 NBA playoffs, and this postseason has lived up to (and largely exceeded) the hype. And we haven’t even started the second round.
The ratings reflect this excitement. Per Darren Rovell, CNBC’s sports business reporter, NBA playoff games on TNT are averaging 4.25 million total viewers, up 33% from last year. 18-34 year old viewership is up 39%. And Tuesday night’s Spurs-Grizz Game 5 was the most watched game in the NBA TV network’s history (835K total viewers).
The NBA is on the rise right now. With the NFL embroiled in their own lockout, and MLB attendance dwindling, the NBA has a real opportunity to make a dent and carve out some space for itself. (The ratings for the first round of the NFL Draft were down 15.6% compared with last year.)
David Stern and company have a terrific product to promote, as the NBA is incredibly rich with talent right now. Great teams and great players abound. This is why it would truly be a shame if the players and owners can’t get on the same page and fans are forced to endure a lockout this summer.
The NBA has a golden opportunity to make some inroads into the public consciousness right now, both gaining new fans and invigorating existing ones. Will they build on this momentum, or allow it to come to a screeching halt. We shall see – stay tuned…
3. Dunks of the Week:
This is just unfair – DHoward jumps over Jrue Holiday
Kobe Bean on Okafor’s bean:
And then an encore with aleft-handed sledgehammer over Carl Landy:
You knew Derrick Rose was gonna appear here somewhere:
4. Quote of the Week:
"At this point, if you’re not motivated you need to go home and get a Bud Light or something and let the good times roll…"-Delonte West
5. Tweets of the Week:
@jeskeets: With apologies to Roy’s 4Q, CP3, Kobe’s dunk, Noah’s sis + more … THIS is still the highlight of the NBA playoffs http://bit.ly/iLBEeI
@KingJames: This is hilarious, the interviewer’s face is priceless http://bit.ly/hDB0l8 shout out to @takeasheet.
@netw3rk: Thank god we got this birth certificate nonsense out of the way & can concentrate on rich people getting married in England
@YouTube: What were the 10 most-viewed plays of the 2010-2011 @nba season? http://goo.gl/2BN76
@Complex_Sports: Jason Williams retired this week, these are his most badass moments: http://bit.ly/e1Q6GN
6. Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Week:
* The Hawks advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals by downing the Magic, 84-81, to take the series in six games and negate one of the great individual series in NBA playoff history. Dwight Howard averaged 27 points and 15.5 rebounds per game, while making 63 percent of his field-goal attempts. Over the last 30 years, only one other NBA player had a playoff series in which he averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds per game, while making at least 60 percent of his field-goal attempts. That was Shaquille O’Neal (38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 61.1 percent) for the Lakers against the Pacers in the 2000 Finals, en route to his first NBA title… In earlier playoffs, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reached those levels in four series, and Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Lanier each did it once.
* Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James each scored at least 15 points and pulled down 10 or more rebounds in the Heat’s series-clinching victory over the 76ers. It was the first NBA playoff game in six seasons in which three teammates each registered a 15/10 (points/rebounds). That had last been done by Phoenix’s Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Shawn Marion in the 2005 Western Conference Semi-Finals against Dallas.* Joel Anthony, who made two key free throws with 17 seconds remaining in the Heat’s win against the 76ers, played 38 minutes, 59 seconds during the game with no field-goal attempts. Anthony set an NBA playoff record for most minutes played in a game without a field-goal attempt.
* The Bulls advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 116-89 victory over the Pacers in which Chicago outscored Indiana by 34 points in Joakim Noah’s 32 minutes of playing time. (Do the math and you’ll notice that the Pacers topped the Bulls by seven points with Noah on the bench.) It was the first time that the Bulls outscored their opponent by at least one point per minute of playing time by any of its starters in a playoff game since – you guessed it – Michael Jordan was plus-37 in a 36-minute performance against Indiana in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals.
* The Celtics, who completed a first-round sweep of the Knicks on Sunday, became only the second team in NBA history to win a playoff series 4-0 and have a different player lead the team outright in scoring in every game. Ray Allen (24 points) was the Celtics’ top scorer in Game 1, followed by Rajon Rondo (30), Paul Pierce (38) and Kevin Garnett (26)… The other team to fashion a four-game sweep of that kind was the Pistons, who won all four games against the Bucks in the 1989 Eastern Conference Semi Finals, with Bill Laimbeer, John Salley, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars each taking a turn as their leading scorer.
* Serge Ibaka registered 22 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots to help lead the Thunder to a 97-94 win over Denver in Game 3 of their first-round series. At the age of 21 years, 217 days old, Ibaka became the youngest player to record at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots in a postseason game. Prior to Saturday, the youngest player to do that in a playoff game was Shaquille O’Neal, who had 24 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots at age 22 years and 53 days old against the Pacers on April 28, 1994.
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