2008-09 OKC Thunder roster evaluation and player breakdown. Part 1

xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxCorrespondent IOctober 22, 2008

This is the first installment of the 2008-09 OKC Thunder roster evaluation and player breakdown. In each of it's ten parts I will break down the position as it was played for the team last year, how it should play out this year, and dissect the player's strengths and weaknesses.

Point Guard:
Presti did a good job clearing out the logjam here a bit. A few weeks ago he moved Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin in the multiplayer deal that brought back Desmond Mason and Joe Smith. As I’ve written before, I love Luke; I am sorry to see him go, but after 4 coaches in 5 years, he needed a new start. That leaves Earl Watson as the veteran incumbent starter and #4 rookie Russell Westbrook; both UCLA alums, and reportedly they are friends. It should be noted that Coach P.J. gave Delonte West a shot at being the backup PG this last season while Luke was hurt. Luke was essentially the backup for the rest of the season after coming back, and exclusively when Delonte was moved to Cleveland prior to the all star break. Luke never really was given a shot as the starter in ‘07-’08.

Point guard play has been inconsistent since Gary Payton was traded.

Luke was drafted the offseason after Payton was moved. You all know the story. In Luke's second year (the 52 win season), Luke split time with Antonio Daniels and the two complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses well. AD took the money in Washington and later the following year he was missed so bad that Earl was brought in at the All star break trading deadline. In theory, Watson has most of the game that Antonio has. In reality, he doesn’t. After two plus seasons of Earl and Luke, all fans know it wasn’t working at all. Hence, Presti unloaded Luke and drafted Westbrook.

In analyzing our play at the PG position it’s valuable to see how that position compares statistically with other team’s PG play.

Our PG’s
FGA     EFG%     FTA     IFG%     REB     AST.
15.6     .475         3.4     24%     4.7     10.4

T/O     BLK.     PF     PTS.     PER
3.8     .4         3.6     17.4     15.3

Opponent PG’s
FGA     EFG%     FTA     IFG%     REB     AST.
16.8     .495         3.9     22%      4.6     9.3

T/O     BLK.     PF     PTS.     PER
3.0        .2     3.1     19.7      17.7

note: Efg% is effective field goal percentage adjusted for three pointers. IFG% is the percentage of shots made inside or close to the basket. PER is John Hollingers Player efficiency rating-the average being a base number of 15.

A quick glance at the numbers tell the tale. Our PG’s (Mostly Earl, but Luke as backup and a bit of Delonte West) shoot an inferior FG% against opposing teams PG’s. We finish a bit better when we get close to the rim (see comments about Earl’s strenghts below) and we rebound adequately. We assist our shooters decently but our turnovers by PG’s is high. Our PG’s Assist/Turnover ratio is 2.7; nothing to get excited about. We foul more and we score less. Our PER for PG’s is just about the baseline statistical average for the statistic while our opponents average is 17.7. Our starter Earl Watson had a PER of 14.5. Just for reference, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Gary Payton and the like all have/had PER’s in the 20’s. Earl never has. Neither has Luke. We are a ways away from having dominating PG play.

Basically the best way to interpret this table is to say that we lose the matchup of Point Guards against our opponents more often than not.

Earl Watson-Earl does some good things on the court…sometimes. Firstly, he always sticks his nose in there and plays tough defense. He may not be a classic “great defender”, but he works very hard at it and is fearless. He’s repeatedly gotten his teeth knocked out and still shows up ready to play the next day. He’s an old school worker. The Allen Iversons of the world can still get around Earl, his feet don’t move terribly fast, but Earl fights through screens well and takes his job seriously. He hates to lose.

On offense, Earl has spells where he falls in love with the three point shot. I cringe when he shoots those. He is streaky as hell, but in all fairness, he cut down his 3PA’s big time last year as compared to the previous season. He attempted 132 last year as opposed to 281, in fewer starts and minutes the previous season. Thank goodness. Essentially Earl had a career year last year. He started a career high 73 games, and played career minutes. Statistically he played 29.1 minutes/game; he shot .45% from the field, 37% from behind the line, 76.6% FT’s, 11 pts, 7 assists (rounded up out of courtesy to Earl), and 2.2 turnovers. His slightly above 3-1 Assist/turnover ratio is very respectable. Again, a career year, and really very nice numbers for a backup. The problem was that he was the starter, and we only won ¼ of the games we played. Not all his fault, but certainly a contributing factor.

Earl is not a classic, pass first Point guard. He can get the guy the ball, but he doesn’t have that special court vision that the really good point guards have. And he isn’t always interested in giving up the rock. I wouldn’t say he was a ball hog or shot happy, but he leans that way a bit. 55% of his shots come in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. (I suspect that some of this is a result of the Paul Westhead offense. I would guess that he has been told if he catches the defense not set up, to take the shot….well, Steve Nash he aint) He over dribbles, and looks confused frequently in half court sets (PJ’s offense confuses me too), and runs down the clock too often. When Earl takes a step inside the line to shoot, his accuracy really increases. When he drives to the hoop he is fearless and a very good finisher.

If Earl would drive to the hoop more, and shoot less in first 10 seconds of the shot clock, his numbers would be nicer and the team would have more success. He needs to get the ball to the right place early in the offense, avoid the over dribbling and keep up the good work on Defense. Again, Earl is a very nice backup PG; he just shouldn’t be the starter.