Thursday, December 3, 2009

I'd Like a Pet Durantula

Taking a casual look at the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers, on the surface it appears these are two fairly similar teams, at least in makeup. Both have very young rosters with some extremely intriguing pieces, and both are not yet near the point of competing toward a championship. They're young squads looking to build for the future. So then, why are the Thunder currently sitting at 10-8 on the season after last night's 117-106 victory over Philadelphia, tied with Houston for the 8th and final playoff spot at the moment in the loaded Western Conference, while the Sixers are a pathetic 5-14 and in sole possession of 13th place in the East? There are several reasons, sure, but the simplest explanation starts and ends with one Kevin Durant.

Durant is everything the Philadelphia 76ers wish Andre Iguodala could be, and then some. He was the second overall pick in the 2007 after earning player of the year status in his lone college season at Texas. Everyone knew he was destined for greatness, and the young, rail-thin superstar has done nothing to disappoint. Currently, he ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring at 27.7 points per game, trailing only some guys named Carmelo, Kobe and LeBron. Did I get those right? Never heard of any of them.

As impressive as that is, watching KD do his thing last night made it abundantly clear: the NBA needs more nationally televised Oklahoma City games right now. Durant is a joy to watch, and last night, he clearly stood out above everyone else. Early on, Andre Iguodala, who had a very fine game in his own right (28 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 8-15 from the field, 3-5 from three, 9-9 from the line), did a good job covering Durant and keeping him in check, but then Durant got him in foul trouble, smelled blood, and that was all she wrote. Every time he touched the ball, I felt like he was going to score or do something special to get his teammates a good look. For the most part, he pretty much did. And at one point during the game, Adam EatShit walked through the front door, sat down and asked, "What's up with Durant?" I turned to him and said, "Well, he's got the ball, and he's about to score." Then he did this:

I'm pretty sure that was Durant's way of letting Mr. EatShit know he's all sorts of good. Durant finished the game leading all scorers with 33 points on 10-21 from the field, 5-7 from three, 8-8 at the line, and chipped in with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and a block. He was the difference in the game, and he is the key difference between these franchises. Iguodala is very good player. Durant is a franchise player, a superstar. That's what the Sixers are lacking, and that's why they're struggling. Yes, help is on the way in the form of one Allen Iverson, but his tenure is coming to an end, while Durant's has only just begun. That's the kind of player these Sixers need. Thanks to overspending Eddie inking Iguodala to an insanely inflated deal and then crippling the team's cap space by making the worst signing of the 2000s in Elton Brand, they won't be getting that guy anytime soon. Maybe Mr. Stefanski isn't as smart as we all thought.

You see, there are many more differences between the Thunder and Sixers than just Durant, even though that's the key one. The Thunder are made up of exclusively young talent, all players with excellent potential, while also being a cast of players that fit very specific roles. And they're an unselfish bunch to boot. Durant is the headliner, the superstar that every team needs to really compete in the long run. He's 21 years old. Russell Westbrook is a hybrid point guard who's shown he can run a team in his young NBA career thus far, and his potential is limitless. He can jump out of the building, makes fairly sound decisions and gets his teammates involved. He's 21 years old. Thabo Sefolosha, once upon a time drafted by the Sixers, is a rangy, lanky player who fulfills the role of bothersome defender and energy guy. He's 25 years old. Nenad Krstic is European and 26, so yeah. Jeff Green is a versatile forward, able to play the three or four, and contains such an array of talents that he's a difficult matchup for anyone. And He's an insanely intelligent player. Last night, he scored 19 points, including 3 threes, and gave the Sixers fits. He's 24 years old. James Harden is a lot like Green. He's not flashy, doesn't look overly impressive, but he can do just about anything, be it pass, score, defend, or rebound. He was their first-round pick this year (third overall), and he's just 20 years old. Then there's Nick Collison, the elder statesman of the regular rotation, a true power forward who has plenty of talent, but has been limited in his career due to injury. If he can ever stay healthy, he can be a pretty big piece, as he was last night, scoring 18 points on 8-9 shooting and grabbing 7 boards off the bench. He's the old man at 29.

That's a core of young, talented players that should be able to grow and develop together, the way the Atlanta Hawks have the past few seasons. Compare that to the Sixers, who have 25-year-old Iguodala playing the poor man's version of Durant, 21-year-old Thaddeus Young showing his extreme potential along with youngsters Marreese Speights (22) and Louis Williams (23), and the Sixers have some nice pieces of their own. But beyond that? Not so much. Samuel Dalembert is a 28-year-old albatross of a contract that the Sixers are just waiting to get off the books. Elton Brand is old (relatively) at 30, broken down, doesn't fit the team's plans, sucks, went to Duke so he's an asshole, sucks, has an enormous contract that is weighing this team down from getting better and sucks. Jason Kapono can hit threes and nothing else. Great skill, but he should be a specialist on a team that can actually win something. Jason Smith is young (23) and a fine bench player, but nothing more. Royal Ivey is not good. Neither is Rodney Carney, but again, young. And Willie Green, well, Willie Green does not belong on this roster. At best, the 28-year-old should be the 10th man on a team, at best, yet here he is starting for the Sixers until Monday. Last night, he got 40 minutes and 46 seconds of playing time. The Sixers lost. This is not a coincidence. Willie Green does not belong anywhere near the court for anything beyond 15 minutes, maybe 20 when he's playing well. In the second half of last night's game, he made two terrible turnovers that really turned the tides of a close game into the Thunder's favor for good. Willie Green is terrible.

And that brings me to Eddie Jordan. I don't like this guy so far. Not one bit. I know he's trying to institute a new, confusing offense. I know he's just 21 games into his tenure and still trying to get a grip on his team, find the right rotations. But damn, this guy is jerking his players around. Jrue Holiday went from averaging less than 8 minutes a night to playing 35 minutes a night when Lou Will went down. Unsurprisingly, Holiday has struggling since moving in the starting role because he wasn't getting enough minutes to get fully adjusted to the NBA before Lou went down. Now he's cast in a role he's not ready for, at least until Monday. Though Jrue did play very well last night, scoring a career-high 15 points, playing suffocating defense on Westbrook to limit him to 1-11 from the field, and showing no fear.

Makes you wonder how much better he'd be right now if he was getting, oh I don't know, 15-20 minutes a game before Lou got hurt. But that's not all. Eddie has toyed with a struggling Brand, which certainly hasn't helped the underperforming forward. Some games he plays Jason Kapono more than 20 minutes, like last night. Other times he gets a DNP coach's decision. Ditto Rodney Carney. And the matchup really has nothing to do with it. Royal Ivey still gets minutes, and he goes out and does something as stupid as play Willie Green for 40 minutes against the Thunder. What I'm trying to say is I don't think Eddie Jordan has any idea what the hell he's doing with this roster. Just wait until Iverson gets here Monday.

This is all a long way of saying that while it appears that the Thunder and Sixers may be similar on paper, they are not. The Thunder have direction, a superstar and a coach who doesn't seem to be batshit crazy. The Sixers don't have any of that. And they don't even have someone as dynamic and fun to watch as Durantula. At least not until Monday.

Allen Iverson can't get out on that court soon enough as far as I'm concerned. I never thought I'd be so eager for a Monday to get here.

P.S. Someone please tell Ed Pinckney that Oklahoma City is not on the West Coast. Oklahoma is in the middle of the United States. Thank you.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

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