By Mike Sherman
Remember all the folks who told us Oklahoma City was delusional to think it was getting an NBA team? Remember those who laughed when we thought the Hornets might stay? Remember when we were told that Mr. Microsoft, Mr. Coffee and Slade Gorton and all those superior intellects, millionaires and “revealing emails” were going to force Clay Bennett’s group to sell the team?
None of that, none of those people, mattered on Wednesday night when Oklahoma City’s — that’s right, OKLAHOMA CITY’S — NBA team made its debut in Billings, Mont.
The Oklahoma City Thunder might not be scheduling any ring ceremonies or NBA championship parades in this decade. But this preseason game was no small thing. It marked the first time a major league team that belongs to and in this city — and this city alone — ever took the court.
Here’s what one life-long basketball lover — someone who has been following the NBA since he was a wee lad watching the Wes Unseld battle Willis Reed in the Baltimore Civic Center — thought about what I saw from the preseason game KSBI broadcast from Billings, Mont.
– Loved the road unis. LOVE THEM. The look like the New York Knicks’ roadies and that’s a good thing. The “Oklahoma City” on the front might be crowded, but hey, you’ve got to fly the flag. I heard some folks say the “OKC” would have looked better. I might have even been one of them. If I was, I was wrong.
Spelling it out is a political statement. This team is representing the city and the taxpayers who made its presence here possible. And the ownership group is broadcasting that to the world and every NBA city the Thunder visits by wearing “Oklahoma City” across the franchise’s chest. It’s a sign of appreciation, respect and gratitude. Good call, Clay.
– These guys won’t be the Phoenix Suns, but I’ve got a hunch that they’re more suited to a fast-paced, open-court style of play. 1) Westbrook looks born to play that way and playing fast could smooth out some of his rookie mistakes (6 turnovers). 2) The guy is a defensive force and can cut off passing lanes, which leads to steals, which lead lead to layups; 2) The Thunder has lots of young legs, and you need to play to your advantages; 3) There was a concern about Westbrook’s natural playmaking skills at point guard and those skills are less important in the open court; 4) The Thunder can develop low-post scoring, but currently lacks a consistent threat there, making half-court sets something of a struggle.
Of course, the goal of every team is to shoot layups. But the Thunder’s current best bet to get them is to force tempo and turnovers.
– I’m going to be accused of harping on the Russell Westbrook should start point, but this isn’t major league baseball where you worry about a rookie prospect’s confidence if you promote him too quickly through the system. This is the NBA and high draft picks play a lot and play soon in this league. If this team was trying to win an NBA title, starting the veteran makes sense, but it’s not.
Some of my colleagues at The Oklahoman say we should leave it up to the Thunder coaches and GM Sam Presti to decide who starts. Clay Bennett agrees with them because he hired those guys and not me, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t offer opinions and observations.
My eyes tell me that Westbrook has what it takes to be good in this league. How good? Why wait to find out? Start now.
– The Thunder roster is better than the one the Hornets brought to town in 2005. I’ll make my point in a more in-depth way in an upcoming blog, but our beat writer Darnell Mayberry advanced my cause tonight during our live chat during the game when, after Damien Wilkins hit a 3-pointer in the second half, I asked him who was better: Wilkins or Rasual Butler. Darnell said Wilkins because he’s more versatile. They’re in very similar roles with the opportunity to play similar minutes. It goes deeper than that, of course, and I’ll break it down in a future blog.
– Our NBA/Thunder writer Mike Baldwin is right: No need to overanalyze the preseason opener, but I left impressed by Nick Collison. He does a lot of things well. Unfortunately, if one of the three 7-footers doesn’t get healthy and start contributing, Nick is going to guard a lot of centers and that’s got a chance to wear him down. But he had a lot of nice passes and heady plays Wednesday night. Of course, Kansas fans knew all that, but his game has translated well — not tremendously, but well — to the NBA. I keep hearing folks in Oklahoma complain that Collinson has said he’d rather have stayed in Seattle and has made those feeling known. Give him a break. If you were from Iowa, went to college in Lawrence, Kan. and got a chance to live next to the Pacific Ocean for three or four years, you wouldn’t be too hepped up to head back to the Plains yourself.
– My interest in the NBA is, of course, greater than my expertise in it. But watching these games is a great way for all of us to learn. And no matter how complicated some try to make it, if we watch the game, and keep our mind and ears open, we all can learn a lot quickly. This is not the NFL or even college football, where you’ve got to watch game film with Bob Stoops or Mike Leach or Ron Jaworski to have any idea about what an offense or defense is really trying to do. The beat writers and broadcasters who are around the team every day are good guides, but so are your eyes.
My eyes tell me Russell Westbrook is going to be a ballplayer.