The first season of Thunder basketball is a wrap and it would be a mistake to label it as anything other than a success. Sure, the 23-59 record was tough to watch unfolding, but people did. In an economic situation that witnessed something like 75% of the league’s franchise hemorrhage money and a half dozen teams require a bailout from the corporate office, the Thunder thrived.
Despite the atrocious record, the Thunder finished the season in the top-10 of attendance with 18,693 fans per game–including 18 (of 41) games sold out. That placed them ahead of nine playoff teams including the defending world champion Celtics. Most importantly, the team finished nine spots ahead of the former Ford Center tenant New Orleans Hornets–another playoff team. Not bad for a city that four years ago was scoffed at as even a temporary home for a major league sports franchise.
Of course, without a playoff bid to go with that support, it is now that time of year where we get to twiddle our thumbs until hearing the results of the lottery drawing. In the meantime, I’m handing out some awards in a retrospective of the first season.
Worst Kept Secret
For a basketball organization like the one that resides in Oklahoma City, there were a lot of secrets for them to keep. Fortunately for an organization like TheLostOgle.com, they were awful at keeping secrets. From the beginning, they fumbled at keeping it under lock and key that the team was purchased with the intention of moving out of Seattle. Once it was moved, they failed to hide the new team’s name, the new logo, and the look of the new uniform from us until they did their official release. Only when it came time to unveil the new mascot did they learn how to keep control. Of the three leaks, team name was the most blatant and biggest slip.
Most Valuable Player (not named Kevin Durant)
There is some question whether Kevin Durant actually deserves to be the de facto MVP of the team. Some would argue that I’ve already made the case that he isn’t. As Berry Trammel would say, “Bull feathers!” When a team game plans against the Thunder, there is only one player who keeps the opposing coach up the night before and that is K.D.
His best side kick this season was definitely Jeff Green, though. Drafted to be the Scottie Pippen to Durant’s Jordan, Green delivered. He improved over his rookie season across the board and was particularly helpful by becoming a three point shooting threat (39% on the season, after 27% before). He was also the guy who proved to be an excellent option with the game on the line hitting several shots at the buzzer to win or send the game into overtime.
Most Interesting Statistical Fact
In a league full of prima donnas, the technical foul is a common occurrence. The league hardly penalizes players or their teams for incurring them. One free throw is all the opposing team receives when a player or coach throws a tantrum and the players are docked $1,000 in pay (even for someone making league minimum that is only 1/5 of a single game’s pay). It’s as if the league is encouraging the players to berate the officials.
Knowing that, it is shocking that the Thunder have only been assessed 31 all season. That ranks them 29th (behind only the Spurs–who are the darlings of referees everywhere). To put that in perspective, the league leading Boston Celtics have 117. Eighteen players in the league have been T’d up double digit times. Rasheed Wallace, alone, has eighteen.
The Thunder play most likely to incur the wrath of the tech? Desmond Mason who was T’d up four times before his season ending knee injury.
Best Improvement in Game Production (implemented from Patrick’s suggestions)
Everybody Clap Your Hands
Prior to this post by Patrick, tipoff to the final buzzer of a Thunder game in the Ford Center was an endless loop of the “Everybody Clap Your Hands” break down of J.R. Smith’s cha-cha dance song. Within a couple of weeks, the team had geared it back and begun using it only when it fit with the flow of the game. Coincidence?
Most Improved Player
Based on how the Thunder pretty much ruined their hopes of snagging the coveted worst record in the league status thanks to the contributions of Thabo, it might surprise everyone that snagging Sefolosha for a late first round pick in a weak draft wasn’t necessarily a slam dunk deal at the time. Keep in mind that Sefolosha was mired on the bench for a Chicago Bulls team that appeared to be going nowhere. This was a case of the right player finding the right situation, and the future looks bright for Thabo as a member of the Thunder. He projects to be the Bruce Bowen-type lock down defender that Sam Presti covets in his Spurs-like blue print.
Most Improved Game Producer
In that article Patrick wrote with ways to improve the Thunder Game presentation, he had this to say:
This tool is Jim Miller. Jim Miller is the PA announcer for the Thunder. Somehow, he won the lottery and made the jump from announcing the Bertha Teague Classic to announcing NBA games. Only in Oklahoma, right?
Miller is an absolutely terrible arena announcer. For one, his voice isn’t natural. When he talks into the mic, it’s like he’s pretending to be an arena announcer. This works when he’s yelling “Kevin Durant,” but not when he has to speak in a normal voice, like “Earl Watson with the Foul.” He also talks way too much and tries too hard to get the fans in the game. Fans don’t need an announcer to tell them to “Stand up and cheer for your Thunder.” They need a team to do that.
Since then, he has learned quite a bit about being an arena announcer in the big leagues. He’s incorporated the wildly popular, “Whose ball is it?” ploy the Hornets used, and generally reduced his commentary during the game to announcements that the crowd needs. He won’t be replacing Detroit’s “Mason” anytime soon, but he gives hope that he will figure it out.
Least Valuable Player
I am baffled by why this guy is such a crowd favorite. Whenever he is inserted in the game, the crowd goes wild…well, at least wilder than you would expect a crowd watching a team down by twenty in the final minutes should get. I’d pawn it off as Jason Skurcinski-esque mock cheering except I constantly hear people saying, “if only he could stay healthy…” What? He’d wear a jersey more often?
In his career, Swift has logged more minutes on the tattoo bench than he has on the floor. And when he has been in the game he wanders around aimlessly until the coach subs him back out. Making it even better is that the game commentators rave about his basketball IQ whenever he’s on the screen. I’ve never seen a player waste this much of a team’s money and not get called on it.
Best In Season Roster Move
Johan Petro for Chucky Atkins and 1st Round Pick
The acquisition of Nenad Krstic or Thabo Sefoloshawere easily more directly successful. However, it was the little lauded trade of Johan Petro that really facilitated that Sefolosha trade. Without Denver’s first rounder, Presti probably would not have been shopping an extra pick that allowed him to take Sefolosha’s contract off the Bulls’ hands. And all it cost him was a seven footer who was providing nothing on the floor.
Play of the Year
Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic
In the final home game of the season, Charlotte mounted a furious comeback trying to keep their playoff hopes alive and dash the enjoyment of another sell out Ford Center crowd. After a missed free throw, Raymond Felton zipped to the basket and put up a floater that could have tied the game with two seconds remaining. Out of nowhere, Jeff Green swatted the shot while it was still on its way up. That alone made it a great play. Making it even better was that Nenad Krstic somehow managed to snag the ball, while laying on his back, to keep the Bobcats from getting a second opportunity.
Second place was the time that guy actually hit the backboard when shooting the half court shot for $20,000.
Hottest Thunder Girl
You know what, with Ogle Madness going on, you’re probably burned out voting. So, for now just enjoy the pictures above and we’ll figure this out later.