Unless you’ve been out of circulation for awhile you’ve definitely heard that the Thunder and Coach Brooks have brought Mo Cheeks on board as an assistant coach and likely lead assistant at that. Cheeks was a very steady hand at the Point Guard position back in the day and won a championship with the 76ers in ’83. That was the year I became a basketball fan so I have very fond memories of the finals that year. I was a Junior in high school in a Seattle suburb and my best friend Jeff was a huge Dr.J fan. I was nominally aware that Seattle had a team of it’s own (sort of a middling team during that era), and I hadn’t been following them, but I watched the first four complete playoff games that I can remember that year and it was the finals with Philly and the Lakers. Magic and Kareem against Dr. J and Moses Malone. I became a basketball fan after that. During that series my friend was constantly explaining the nuance of the game to me. He was showing me on the screen how Moses would body up on Kareem and push him so far off his spot that he couldn’t hit the “sky hook” with regularity. He was explaining the pick and roll. He told me what a “field goal” was. The Sixers swept the vaunted Lakers (who had won the NBA title the season before with former Thunder assistant Paul Westhead as the coach) and I was hooked on basketball.
I became a big Sonic homer after that, but I still remember some of the lesser known guys in that finals series, Kurt Rambis with the big birth control horned rimmed glasses, Andrew Toney with an amazingly sweet stroke, Bobby Jones doing the dirty work and Michael Cooper’s lock down defense. I also sort of remember the guy who facilitated the Philly offense: Mo Cheeks.
It always amazes me when I player or a coach who I’ve sort of been keeping tabs on for years winds up on my team. It’s happened more times than I can remember. Cheeks is one of those guys. Never flashy, just sort of a classy, a bit above average coach who has been bouncing around the league learning his craft. He’s two games shy of a career .500 record in parts of 8 NBA seasons which is nothing to sneeze at. He’s a guy that can only enrich the coaching ranks for the leagues youngest team with a rookie at the helm.
It’s been so long that I really can’t remember what Cheek’s game was like as a player. I know I watched him, and I remember him playing, but I can’t remember the stylings of his game. And now that we have a head coach who was a Point Guard, a lead assistant who was a Point Guard, an old hand veteran as our third PG in Kevin Ollie, a guy who was the 4th pick in the draft in ’08 learning to be our starting Point Guard, and a guy who is coming off the worst knee injury I’ve ever seen in basketball as our young backup Point Guard, I thought it might be entertaining to put them all up against each other statistically and see how they shake out as Point Guards. Who was the best pure PG? Who had the best Assist to Turn ratio? Who would win a game of “horse” or one on one?
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Clearly Mo Cheeks is the class of this group of point guards. Offensively he was a deadly efficient shooter from everywhere except from three. His first year in the league the Association didn’t even allow the three, but in his 2nd through 14th and final season, it wasn’t his strong suit. His 116 offensive rating, his 1.30 points per shot and his shooting percentages tell a story of great offensive efficiency otherwise. Scott Brooks also was a very efficient scorer. Brooks was especially accurate from three; during his final three seasons in the league he shot .403, .407 and .455 from deep respectively. Kevin Ollie’s shooting is sort of mediocre for his career, but it’s not horrible. It’s Westbrook and Livingston who are offensively below average. Livingston hasn’t attempted a three during his comeback from knee surgery, and he didn’t shoot it well beforehand either. Westbrook calls his own number more than any other on this list, but has the worst shooting numbers. His saving grace is the frequency with which he attacks the rim and gets to the line. In all fairness RW was a rookie and his numbers here are being compared to seasoned veteran’s career numbers. I expect Westbrook to make a big jump in efficiency in the upcoming season.
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This is where the comparisons begin to get a little tighter. Westbrook is in a class by himself with regards to rebounding. He rebounds like a small forward not a rookie point guard. Livingston’s height and long arms make him a very good rebounder from the PG position as well. Ollie also is a decent rebounder. The shortest two guys (Cheeks and Brooks) are obviously the least proficient on the boards. Cheeks was a good thief and well known as a ball hound in the passing lanes as he was top five in the league in steals in 7 of his seasons. He was All-Defensive first team 4 times. Interestingly Brooks takes second place on the list with his quick hands. Cheeks and Brooks were the best assist men per 36 minutes but Westbrook and Livingston have 2nd and 3rd place by assist percentage (which has a bit more to do with team style of play). Ollie and Brooks were/are the most sure handed of this group which bodes well for the future prospects of Russell Westbrook in a mentoring capacity; Russell unfortunately led the league in turnovers. I would have been very surprised if you would have told me that Scott Brooks led this group in Assist to Turnover ratio. I would have guessed Cheeks or Ollie. Westbrook and Livingston are still very young and have played on losing teams for the most part. Both guys should improve with more experience in the league.
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And finally, some random stuff thrown in there just for fun. The four time All-Star and NBA champ Mo Cheeks (it’s bound to help playing alongside Dr. J and Moses Malone) was the champion also in PER and Position Adjusted Win Score. Brooks rounded out as nearly average on PER and slightly above average on PAWS. Ollie and Livingston would be considered below average on both, and Westbrook is below average on PAWS as a PG, and a bit above average on PER (which doesn’t account for position played). Usage% tells us how often a player uses a possession himself (by shooting, turning the ball over, free throws and a little credit for assists). RW was far and away the leader; he in fact was second on the team to Kevin Durant and had 18% higher usage than the next highest player Jeff Green. Russell’s inner man is clearly at war with his shooting guard tendencies. Ollie shows a high tendency for pass first/shoot last play. Cheeks shows his defensive skill with a defensive rating of 105 points allowed per 100 possessions. Ollie and Brooks seem to be average defenders. Livingston’s Defensive rating was about 106 before the knee blew out, but tracked at 111 with the Thunder, the same as Westbrook. For reference the Thunder as a team allowed 109.4 points/100, so Livingston and Westbrook were below average on the team
The three guys currently in uniform for the Thunder (Ollie, Westbrook and Livingston) are the three largest specimens on the list, and undoubtedly Westbrook is the best athlete of the bunch. In a game of one on one I would take Westbrook over any of these guys right now as a rookie, but in a team setting Mo is the class of the group and second is Scott Brooks. I think Brooks or Cheeks would likely take the trophy among these five in a game of “horse”, probably even now.
I think Cheeks’ addition to the bench is a great asset for the Thunder in both a mentoring capacity for Westbrook and Livingston, but also as an experienced X’s and O’s guy for our rookie head coach. The Thunder were woeful offensively last season and Coach Cheeks with Portland and Philly had them in the top half of the league offensively 3 out of 7 seasons. I think the hire also shows great maturity and and a sincere desire to improve and succeed by Brooks. He’s not afraid of having a coach with a ton more experience than he has sitting next to him on the bench. How cool is that? The Thunder can’t help but to gain positive influence from having Cheeks on board, and Ollie too for that matter.