I know when Sam Presti signed Nenad Krstic, I was one of many that were pretty excited about it. At the time, the team was 3-and-freaking-29 and things weren’t looking good. Help was needed everywhere and Krstic seemed like a start.
It’s probably more coincidental than anything else, but since Krstic offically became a Thunder-er Dec. 31, the team is 13-16 (though he didn’t actually play a game until Jan. 7 against Minnesota in a huge blowout loss). He averaged 8.8 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game in about 22 minutes a game in January. In February, his minutes went up to 26 a game and he averaged 8.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg. But so far in March (two games albeit), he’s averaging 22 points and 5.0 rebounds a game and has led the Thunder in scoring the last two.
I think more than anything, the change is in his confidence. With Kevin Durant and Jeff Green both out for the Dallas game, somebody had to elevate their game. And Krispy was the man. But it even started last Friday against Dallas when Durant first went out. Krstic was 5-11 from the field for 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Then against Memphis he was 5-8 from the field for 10 points. He took up the cause and stepped up in big spots for the team.
And from what I can tell, he’s not doing anything that much different. He’s still taking a majority of jump shots, but now he’s making a really high percentage of them. Against Washington last night he showed off a couple of nice post moves including a sweet baseline spin that resulted in the game’s first bucket. But really he’s just getting the same solid looks he was getting before but now he’s very decisive in his shot with no hesitation. He catches, sets and shoots. No thinking and no second guessing. Just swish.
And these last two, what he and Russell Westbrook have been doing with the pick-and-pop at the top of the key really reminds me of what Chris Paul and David West would torture opponents with. Krstic’s guy has to come off and help because Westbrook is so quick that he’ll get to the rim unimpeded if he doesn’t. So instead of rolling, Krispy pops and drops (take that Matt Pinto) an 18-footer. Just like West, it almost seems automatic right now. And in situations where the called set didn’t work and the 24 is running down, Westbrook can re-group, call for Krstic to screen and run the pick-and-pop for high percentage results. It’s a great weapon to have in your back pocket.
Look at Krstic’s hot spots the last five:
He’s shooting about 53 percent his last five and half of his shots have been that 12-20 foot jumper. And he’s hit 15 of 30 on it (50 percent). He’s 5-7 from the David West straighaway 18-footer (7-11 over the last 10) and if I remember right, he might have hit the rim maybe once on those. That’s pretty solid shooting.
I don’t think we should get used to 20-point nights from Krstic, but he’s really settling in and is a candidate to put up solid offensive numbers every night. Like I mentioned a month back, he never got a training camp with the team and had only a handful of practices before he was shoved onto the court. Everything was new and he was still coming off a major injury. Now he’s really starting to gain confidence and feel comfortable within the offense. He’s not going to be the Tyson Chandler enforcer in the paint and block shots and change games on the inside. That’s not his game. We still definitely need that, but he’s a more than competent defender with good footwork and long arms and a potentially deadly offensive weapon.
And for just $5 million a year, I think Presti worked some magic again with this guy. Maybe it’s a coincidence that the Thunder’s playing better with Krstic in a Thunder uniform and maybe it’s not. Regardless of that, the team got much stronger with him and the future got brigher. He’s just 25 (though his Jon Gosslin bald spot makes him look a lot older – what, nobody else watches Jon & Kate Plus 8?) and he’s part of a formidable foundation that Presti’s got going.
Maybe I was a little overly excited when Presti inked him and maybe stretching at the time when I saw him as a start to something good, but if the past couple weeks are any indication, he may be just that.