OKLAHOMA CITY – It was nice to see Ronnie Brewer get some minutes on Wednesday night.
Pretty sure he was thinking the same thing. Pretty sure he’s also wondering if he’ll ever play when it matters.
Acquired right before the trade deadline last month, Brewer came to the Thunder from New York where he had fallen out of the rotation. In Oklahoma City, he’s never been part of it.
“It’s tough, because you never know,” Brewer said about whether he would see time. “To me, the whole game is a learning process. Whenever my name is called, just try and stay loose and be ready. Put the work in, so you can stay ready.”
The conventional wisdom was that the Thunder got Brewer because of his defense (and maybe his ability to guard LeBron James, Manu Ginobili?) but on closer inspection, there’s just not a lot of minutes to go around and it doesn’t sound like things will change as we get closer to the playoffs. Teams typically play fewer players, not more, in the postseason, so if we don’t see Brewer get some room soon, we may not see him at all.
“It’s hard to play a lot of guys in an NBA season,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We have good players who don’t play. That’s what happens. I’m probably not going to go down to eight, but nine is a good number.”
Brewer, known as a defensive specialist with Utah and Chicago before coming to New York at the beginning of the season, has played in just five of 11 games. The most minutes Brewer has played was 12 in a rout of New Orleans. He hasn’t played a meaningful possession with the Thunder.
The Thunder have very little wiggle room for improvement. The only thing they can do is win the title, or else folks will be disappointed. Every move they make has a connection to whether it will help the team beat the Spurs or the Heat, so acquiring Brewer makes sense, especially when you consider the Thunder are just 1-4 against the two teams this season.
Oklahoma City has Thabo Sefolosha, known as one of the premier perimeter defensive players in the league. Brewer is of the same make, and not quite as skilled as Sefolosha, so there’s no reason to think Brewer will just start playing more.
Brewer came to the Thunder after a stretch of games where Oklahoma City was struggling defensively – giving up 110 points to the Heat, 122 to Houston and then 111 to Minnesota. Oddly enough, despite Brewer not playing, the Thunder are now playing their best defensive basketball of the season. They held Chicago to 72 points and less than 30 percent shooting. New Orleans managed just 74 points. Boston scored 79 and Utah got 87.
Maybe Brewer is making an impact without playing.
“As a guy who takes pride in defense, you want to get in there and help the team in any way you can,” he said. “We’re paying a lot of attention to detail. It takes more of a conscious effort to play at a high level on defense. To beat teams, you have to do more than outscore them. You have to stop the other team.”
Kendrick Perkins. Don’t go to the box score, though, because what you’ll see is zero points and three rebounds against Utah. Six points against San Antonio. Six points against Boston. You’ve heard it before, but Perkins’ value come off the court, more than on the court. He definitely sets a tone. Al Jefferson was just 4-of-13. Paul Milsap scored only seven points. “If you had to give a game ball, you’d give it to him,” coach Scott Brooks said after the Utah game.
Hasheem Thabeet. While the center position is kind of being eliminated from basketball, Thabeet is nearly invisible. Maybe it’s a matchup issue. Maybe it’s a skill issue, but Thabeet is a non-issue. He played one minute against the Spurs and no minutes against Boston. In blowout wins over Utah and Charlotte, Thabeet got his minutes, but he’s not someone the Thunder have put any faith into. Three Thoughts
1. Maybe Kevin Martin just needs to shoot more. He was 5 of 10 against Utah for 15 points in what was really his best game in awhile. Martin’s shot lately has seemed forced. He looks like he’s struggling. He has shot better than 50 percent from the field just twice in eight games in March, going 3 for 12 twice and 4 for 12 once. No one is suggesting the Thunder run their offense through Martin, but maybe if he looks for his shot more, he can snap out of this funk. Martin is a career 44-percent shooter, and he’s shooting 44 percent this year, but his role is different, coming off the bench for the first time.
2. The bench has to be more consistent. Yeah, seems obvious, I know. Against the Spurs, the bench was minus-83. Against Utah, the bench was plus-29. “You can’t play good basketball every quarter, every minute,” Brook said. “You just have to do your best and it wasn’t good enough to win on their floor (at San Antonio).” Brooks was then asked whether he wanted the bench to concentrate on defense or offense. Of course, he said both, and that’s true, but really the bench needs scoring beyond just Martin. It didn’t happen against San Antonio, but against Utah, the bench chipped in 51 points.
3. There were two physical episodes Wednesday night against Utah, likely stemming from a hard fall Durant issued last month when these teams met in Salt Lake City. Durant got shoved pretty good in the second half by DeMarre Carroll, but nothing really came of it, aside from Utah’s Enes Kanter pushing back a bit. Neither Durant nor Brooks thought much of the situation. What was interesting was the urgency the Thunder players had to protect each other. “You always have to protect your teammates,” Brooks said. “We don’t go into the game thinking we’re going to get into a fight. You don’t want to fight. No one fights in this league, you can’t anymore. You get fined.” Numbers game:
23.8: The average margin of victory in the past six Thunder home games – all wins.
35: Percent the Celtics shot in a 91-79 loss to Oklahoma City Sunday
52: Percent the Spurs shot in a win Monday over the Thunder
1: Number of games left this season against the Spurs, as well as the number of games back Oklahoma City is of San Antonio.
“The turnovers probably got him down in the first half. He’s prideful. He doesn’t want to turn the ball over six times.”
– Scott Brooks on Kevin Durant’s first half Wednesday against Utah.
Pretty entertaining week for the Thunder. After Friday’s home game against the Magic, the Thunder will be at Dallas on Sunday, followed by home games against Denver on Tuesday and Memphis on Wednesday. Dallas lost at San Antonio on Thursday, but the Mavs have played better of late. Denver beat the Thunder last month and the Grizzlies and Thunder have a great rivalry stemming from two seasons ago when the teams went seven games in the Western Conference semifinals.
Tower of Power?
The Thunder have blown out the bad teams but are just 1-4 against Miami and San Antonio combined this season, including last Monday’s loss to the Spurs. Sure, the Thunder beat up on Utah, but when it comes to competing with the best, Oklahoma City isn’t quite there.