How Does This Oklahoma City Thunder Team Avoid Disaster?

How Does This Oklahoma City Thunder Team Avoid Disaster?

Through tumultuous, the Thunder still have a chance to make this season -- and beyond -- a success.
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The NBA has a fleeting definition of success. For some teams, making the playoffs is the ultimate goal. For others, simply filling the stadium and having an entertaining team is cause for joy. Further still, anything short of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June for competitive teams would be considered a massive failure. Only one team can win while the other 29 teams will go home empty-handed.

One quick glance at the Thunder’s roster and you see plenty of star power: 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook. 10-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony. Two-way dynamo Paul George. A deeper dive, however, reveals a lot of cracks in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s overall composition.

When building a modern NBA team, three-point shooting is more important than ever. Take one look at the best teams in the league, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets (a combined 115-34 through Wednesday, March 28th per ESPN Stats and Info) and it's easy to see the effect great three-pointing shooting has: both teams are in the top ten in the league in three-pointers made per game. To the disdain of basketball purists that yearn for the ugly, clanky mid-range driven basketball league of yesteryear, three points is worth more than two points.

Proficient long-range shooting entirely opens up an NBA offense, allowing for driving lanes and passing possibilities to become clear. Thus, the root of the Thunder’s problem: accurate three-point shooters.

Paul George has evolved himself into a corner-shooting specialist: he’s hit just shy of 40 percent of his threes this season (league average sits at 36.3 percent, per Basketball-Reference). However, the rest of the roster is littered with inefficient or one-dimensional scorers. To make matters worse, starters Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook largely operate in the same air space, the paint. With Westbrook being a poor three-point shooter (29.5 percent, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info) and Adams not yet possessing any long-distance range, the lane gets squeezed and Westbrook has struggled to get to the rim as a result -- the attribute that makes the former MVP so great.

The strength of the Western Conference puts the Thunder in a pickle. The conference’s middle class is anything but middling, with every team three through eight looking like it could pull an upset. Houston and Golden State have been dominant and look destined for a clash in the Western Conference Finals. However, if any team is built to matchup with the two aforementioned powerhouses, it’s the team that plays its games in Chesapeake Arena.

The Thunder, for all their flaws, like to zig (isolation basketball) while other teams have been zagging (pace-and-space). Luckily, isolation basketball has historically worked better throughout the playoffs. Possessions typically slow to a crawl during the postseason, and rotations shorten. Being able to take your man one-on-one and get to the basket becomes more integral, and Westbrook’s ability to do just that is second to none.

So what exactly would make this up-and-down Thunder season successful? I believe it ultimately hinges on the wooing of upcoming flight-risk Paul George. The chemistry of this Thunder team has appeared solid based off player comments, but the basketball synergy has been lacking. This is understandable, given the roster turnover with key rotation pieces Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Peterson, and Raymond Felton all arriving through free agency or trades. An extra season with some simple but strategic transactions sprinkled in could be exactly what this team needs to take the leap from also-rans to title contenders.

In order to convince Paul George of this team’s competitiveness, I believe they will need to shock a higher seed and make the Western Conference Finals. It is widely accepted that George, who went to college at Fresno State, has an affinity for the Lakers in this upcoming free agency period, but a tantalizing basketball situation could be too good to pass up for the bright lights of Hollywood. This baseline was tested last year with free agent Demar Derozan. Derozan, a California native himself, spurned the glitz and glamor of south California following a stretch of successful playoff runs with the Toronto Raptors. The Thunder, much like the Raptors, are very much in prove-it mode.

There will be some tough choices ahead for Thunder general manager Sam Presti, but it all relies on what Paul George decides this summer. His seamless transition to second banana in Oklahoma City has allowed the Thunder to take another step over last year’s Kevin Durantless squad. With how this team has performed despite learning about themselves on the fly, it should be worth giving it a second go to George. The Thunder do not need to win a title to make George stay. However, anything short of a deep playoff run likely will spell another bleak retooling period for this small market Midwestern team.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Why An Athlete Is Not Defined By Their Level

Pressure can drive athletes crazy.
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With tryout season among us, it is so important that this be addressed before the teams for this upcoming year are formed.

So many athletes that tryout, don't make the team they want and either quit to "take a year off" or jump ship to a gym that promises them to place the athlete on a higher level. I know that every athlete wants to be on level 5 team, the division is the most prestigious of all of them, especially because going to worlds is the end game for most athletes.

The problem these days in the cheerleading world is that our athletes are trying to level up at a rate that is just not quite realistic. If an athlete is on a level 1 team, the chances of her being on level 4 next year are slim. It is necessary for athletes to experience each level for at least a year to learn all of the fundamentals of the level and build on them for their foundation as an athlete to be more concrete. This produces the best athlete possible.

A lot of athletes think that all that they need to jump levels is tumbling and that is just not the case. When teams are formed, coaches take a look at many different things, these qualities include but are not limited to: mental toughness, dedication, tumbling, stunting abilities, pace of learning, dance and attitude.

Contrary to popular belief, there are so many factors that go into forming a team. This team not only has to be suitable for individual athletes but putting a team together is like a puzzle and as coaches we have to put a team together that will work well and have all the necessary percentages of skills to be competitive in their division.

We are concerned about building well-rounded athletes, not an athlete that is only capable in one facet of cheerleading. Some athletes are great level-4 tumblers but have level-2 stunt ability and those two will not equal a level 4 athlete until we boost the stunting ability of said athlete.

Putting an athlete on a team to just tumble is doing a disservice to not just the team, but also the athletes themselves. If this athlete joins a level 4 team to just tumble all year, when their tumbling progresses to that of a level 5 athlete, they will still have level 2 stunting skills and won't be put to good use when they are level 5 eligible. A well-rounded athlete is the kind of athlete that wins Worlds.

SEE ALSO: To The Coach That Took My Confidence Away

When athletes take their time and learn their level, they are not just learning completely new skills each year, but building on them. If done correctly, each year an athlete should improve on all points of cheerleading and not just one. The rules in each level lead to progressions for the level that it directly follows, so that athletes can safely learn skills by going up the ladder one step at a time.

What most don't realize is that skipping steps is such an unnecessary practice. If Susie stays on level 2 for an extra year, she is not "learning nothing", she is improving on the skills that she didn't quite execute completely the year before, this will perfect her performance in this level and give a more solid foundation for her to build on when she is on a level 3 team.

Pressure can drive athletes crazy. Parents, your athletes have so many years ahead of them to be on a level 5 team and go to worlds, so pushing for a 10-year-old, that is just not ready, to be on a level 4 team is unreasonable. Let your 10-year-old learn maturity and mental toughness at a level that is more appropriate, when your athlete is pushing herself too hard it takes the fun out of the tryout process and creates unnecessary stress on the athletes.

Lastly, please be sure to support whatever decision your coaches make for your athlete's placement, they know your child and they are not trying to hurt their pride, but build them up so they can accomplish all of their goals as an athlete. Know that the level your kid makes this year doesn't define him or her as an athlete, but helps them grow into the cheerleader they have the ability to become!

Cover Image Credit: National Cheerleaders Association

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The Excitement Of The NBA Playoffs Without Lebron James

The NBA playoffs are among us and it is my favorite time of the year. The time for the NBA to shine is the playoffs, but this year's rating has seen a bit of decline.

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The NBA playoffs are a very exciting time for the typical NBA fan and I sure love nothing more than to kick back and watch the action. The excitement and the number of games on are unreal and they start one after another so every game can be watched without another one interfering with the other. The games have so much more than typical basketball and people are disappointed this year because Lebron James missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The last 14 years he has been dominating the NBA playoffs and this year was different so the ratings are plummeting.

The series are a best of 7 making it a long fun series of games with so much on the line. I have watched many of the games and highlights and have truly appreciated the greatness I am watching. The lower seeded teams have been doing well against the best teams and are giving them a run for the money. We have had a few fun blowout games that are interesting because you are seeing a team dominate the entire game and hit many great shots and make big plays. The good teams are still winning most of the games, but at least we have some close games that come down to the buzzer to make for great competition.

We then have young stars like Damian Lillard and Ben Simmons who have been giving us some amazing stat lines and leading their team to big first-round wins and both making huge highlights so far. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and James Harden have been the big stars having great games and contributing heavily to both their teams and the ratings to make the playoffs fun. Even without Lebron, these guys are still showing us how fun basketball is to watch and play.

The style of team basketball many of these guys are playing with is amazing to watch. I am all about teamwork and there is a new player doing something spectacular and having a standout game every night with the help of their team. The Los Angeles Clippers rallied for the biggest playoff comeback in NBA history by coming back from 31 down against the defending champions the Golden State Warriors. It is nice to see teams like the Clippers, Magic, and Pacers who do not have a standout star play great team basketball. These teams are losing most of their games, but they do not have the talent these other teams have. They are going out and playing well as a team every single night and working to make sure everyone is contributing on offense and defense to have a chance to win.

Damian Lillard even hit a buzzer beater to win the series over the Thunder the other night and it shows us how much of an impact one player can have on the whole game. The excitement of the upcoming free agency period is vastly hyped, but the current teams are so well set up for success that the next 2 rounds of the playoffs will be the ultimate tests for all teams to see who will play each other for the championship.

Everyone thinks the Warriors will once again host the NBA Larry O'Brien Trophy and be the top team in the league for the next year, but there are a few teams that have been quite impressive all season and have the momentum in their favor just as much as the defending champions. There will be plenty of big games to come and I am positive the players will put on a huge showing to make these playoffs memorable for all true NBA fans. Lebron is my favorite player of all time and I love watching him play especially in the finals for the title, but the ratings should still be high due to the great competitive game of basketball and the amazing moments we get to enjoy all throughout the playoffs. I encourage any basketball fan to tune in for these games and I promise you will not be disappointed with any of the games.

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