If you’re anything like me you must feel like it’s been a very very long offseason waiting for some NBA action. Royce has done an exceptional job keeping fresh content up on Daily Thunder on a…well, “daily” basis. Me, I’ve tried to keep myself busy doing other things this Summer but I’ve always come back to wishing there was a Thunder game on in the evenings; something to write about and discuss on the site. In the absence of fresh games I’ve spent some time re-watching some of the Thunder games I found interesting which I saved on the DVR. I only had room to save about 20 or so, so I didn’t bother to save any of the serious butt kickings we took a few times, mostly I saved wins and games and where we were very competitive right till the end; I know it’s probably not an objective sample, but such is life. I would highly recommend Thunder fans saving some games this season if it’s at all possible.
It’s one thing to “know” that Russell Westbrook is a truly explosive athlete, but it’s really special to be reminded of it visually. Or to watch the effortless shooting stroke Durant possesses, the smooth overall game of Jeff Green, the disruptive defense of Thabo and Kyle Weaver. It’s just great to watch these special athletes perform their craft.
And since we are now just a week away from Media day (the day before training camp actually opens) for the Thunder, I thought I would take a few (ok, several) paragraphs and highlight one of the guys we don’t talk about as much, and a guy who repeatedly catches my eye when re-viewing some of these Thunder games: Nenad Krstic. Krstic’s contribution to the Thunder in ’08-’09 wasn’t flashy or sexy, but I think he was solid defensively and a nice option offensively. He didn’t suit up until January 7th, and he didn’t become the regular starter until February 20th, but as his minutes creeped up, so did his production. Keep in mind Krstic blew out his left ACL a few days before Christmas in 2006 playing for the Nets.
Krstic appears to be fully healed and ready to make a much bigger impact with the Thunder this season for several reasons: He’ll have the benefit of a training camp under the same coach last season ended with, he is very likely the undisputed starter at the 5 spot, and he’s our only veteran 7 footer. Also watching these games again and not simply following the ball and live game action you get a chance to really see a player’s game for what it is without regard for the score or the game flow. And I have to say, Krstic is pretty good option for us at Center. I doubt he’s ever going to be the force inside that we all crave, but absent Dwight Howard magically appearing on our roster I think Krstic can help us win games.
If you grew up on the NBA like I did, it didn’t take you long to realize that Krstic isn’t the smooth offensive wizard that was Hakeem Olajuwon, or the brute power of Howard or Shaq, but I’ve been watching these games and scouring Youtube and I can tell you that Krstic has some decent post moves. It might not be his strongest suit, and the system that Coach Brooks’ used last year didn’t feed him in the post, but he can score in the paint:
And again here:
Brooks used him almost exclusively in pick and pop situations with a little bit of pick and roll or basket cuts. He was also used in spot up situations from time to time. With the Thunder 68% of his offense came in the form of outside shots (95% assisted). That’s a lot for a Center. What’s amazing to me is that in his time with the Nets, only about 40% of his shots came from outside. I asked the cool guys at Netsarescorching.com (Mark and Sebastian) how coach Frank used him back in the day and they told me that Krstic was used quite a bit in the pick and roll game, but also that Krstic really benefitted from being on the court with at least three guys all the time (Vince Carter, Jefferson and J. Kidd) who could break down the defense with the dribble, which left Krstic with a ton of easy passes under the rim when the defense rotated. This is another reason why I think Krstic will have a bigger impact for the Thunder this year in that we added James Harden to the fold. Harden can get to the line and finish, he is a great facilitator, and he plays like a second point guard. That plus the expected improvement from Russell Westbrook at the point and Kevin Durant on the wing means Krstic should get more easy passes under the basket and hopefully fewer deep 2 point jumpshots.
It’s easy to forget that Krstic just turned 26, and that he has only 5 NBA seasons under his belt. Due to his injury he’s only actually played in 272 games, or about 3.3 NBA season’s worth of games. He’s one of only 6 NBA Centers who are in their first 5 seasons, played at least 1100 minutes, and averaged 14 points and 8 boards/36 minutes. In March, when he got the most minutes and starts in his partial season with the Thunder he was also in some very nice company. According to 82games.com Krstic registered a PER per 48 of 15.4 at the Center position for the Thunder and defended it with a PER of 15.1. He seems to be really stroking it and getting his mojo in the European championships. He averaged 14 points and 5 rebs in just 24 minutes per game on 55% shooting. Just so you know, that works out to an offensive rating of 152.4, and a PER of 28.8. We are still talking about a young guy with upside.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of merely talking about a players offensive prowess and failing to mention his defense (If I had a dollar for every article I’ve read this summer about how Kevin Durant is a top 5 player in the NBA-based only on his offensive skill!!). Krstic was our best defender at the Center position last season. The Thunder were 1.2 points better (per 100 possessions) defensively with Krstic in the game at Center. Krstic does enough of the little things on defense to help the team on that side of the ball. He’s pretty decent at help defense and he’s quick enough to offer resistance in the pick and roll. Krstic isn’t an aggressive rebounder but he’s not horrible, and he’s the best shot blocker on the roster (1.5 blocks per 36).
Check out some Youtube chops I made up showing Krstic on D:
Here he is guarding Gasol but Odom gets the pass and heads for the basket. Nads blocks Odoms shot at the rim and then gets a hand up and defends the second attempt. Odom still scored, but it was very good team/help defense without fouling.
Some more good help/team defense. Here Krstic’s man Duncan goes out to set or pretend to set a screen on Westbrook for Parker. Parker takes off and blows by Westbrook. Krstic sees this and retreats into the paint to help cutoff Parker’s drive. Parker passes out to the wing to Finley for a corner three and so Krstic, knowing Duncan is behind him does the proper thing and puts a body on him to box him out of the rebound. Had the shot not gone in there were 4 Thunder players (including Krstic of course) in position for the defensive board, and no Spurs players.
And here, just a few seconds later on the last possession of the same Spurs game, Krstic is up in Duncan’s grill forcing him to get rid of the ball:
I think Krstic is in for a great season with the Thunder. If he gets a few more shots closer to the basket as I expect with Harden on board and the continued evolution of Westbrook, I think his shooting percentages will be up like they were in ’2006 (.526 from the field) and he will really help the team flow offensively. Defensively I already think he is solid and as the team improves, he will also. Oh, and just so you know, there really is no clear cut shoe-in All Star at Center in the West. If Krstic gets something close to 32-36 minutes I think we could reasonably see 14 and 7 or so from Krstic. I think that gets him into the discussion in the West. Even more so if he cuts that little bit of long fuzz on his dome and goes for the mean and nasty look like Gortat or the big Z.