Image courtesy of NBA.com
This three-part article series titled “Thunder Free Agent Watch” covers the 2018 free agents that the Oklahoma City Thunder may target after July 1st. These articles focus solely on players that could realistically be signed by Oklahoma City using either a Veteran Minimum salary or the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (roughly $5.2 Million).
When pondering upon some of the best players in the NBA, there is a common theme most share: their position. The elite players tend to be either forwards or point guards. Now, the past couple seasons have somewhat disputed this with the emergence of stretch centers such as Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Joel Embiid, but when looking at the best teams in the league, they all have an elite play maker running their offense.
Point guards are the leaders and the facilitators. They are the quarterback of a basketball team, calling plays and directing teammates. With point guard play in the NBA being as good as it has ever been, it is more important than ever for teams to excel at the position to win games.
Fortunately for the Thunder, they have one of the most elite point guards in the league in Russell Westbrook. Westbrook brings unmatched energy and ferocity on every possession, allowing him to use his incredible athletic ability to break down defenses and opposing guards.
However, when Westbrook sits the Thunder has often struggled in past seasons. That makes it imperative to have a backup facilitator that can still carry the team when Westbrook needs a rare breather. The Thunder may be able to find that in free agency this summer. Here are five such players the Thunder could target:
6-6, 190 pounds
Michael Carter-Williams (or MCW, as many fans call him) is a long, athletic point guard entering his seventh season in the NBA. Last year for The Charlotte Hornets he average 4.6 points, 2.2 assists, and 2.7 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game. He only shot 33.2% from the field last season, but is a career 40.2% shooter who has seen both his Points Per Game and his true shooting percentage drop as his minutes have dropped the past couple seasons. He still has upside and should be relatively cheap coming off a lackluster season.
6-0, 180 pounds
Yogi Ferrell is an interesting rags-to-riches NBA story. After originally going undrafted in 2016, Ferrell spent the 2016-17 season playing for the Brooklyn G-League affiliate - the Long Island Nets. He signed a 10-day contract in January of 2017 with the Dallas Mavericks, and took full advantage of the opportunity, helping the Mavericks take down the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first two games with the team. He then proceeded to score 32 points against the Blazers in February, leading the Mavericks to sign him to a multi-year deal. Ferrell proved his first season was not a fluke with a solid statistic line of 10.2 points, 2.5 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game in 27.8 minutes played this past season.
6-3, 175 pound
New Orleans Pelicans
After signing with the New Orleans Pelicans last offseason, Ian Clark saw an increased role compared to his time with the Golden State Warriors the year before. He is technically listed as a shooting guard, but can handle the ball and often found himself playing point guard behind Stephen Curry in his season with the Warriors. This past season with the Pelicans, Clark shot 44.8% from the field, averaging 7.4 points, 1.5 assists, and 1.7 rebounds per game. He saw increased playing time with the Pelicans after the Demarcus Cousins injury. An underrated aspect of Clark’s game is his defense. This past season, he often found himself matched up against elite players such as Chris Paul and James Harden in crunch time.
6-3, 203 pound
Shelvin Mack is a 28-year old NBA veteran with seven years experience. He has played for the 76ers, Hawks, Jazz, and the Magic, who recently released him from his contract allowing him to become a free agent this summer. Mack played in 69 games for Orlando this season, averaging 6.9 points, 3.9 assists, and 2.4 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. The vet was owed $6 million for the 2018-2019 season, and was waived to free up salary-cap flexibility for the Magic. Mack has a significant amount of experience at the back up point guard role, and should be available this offseason for around the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (if not cheaper).
6-1, 205 pound
Oklahoma City Thunder
A player Thunder fans should be very familiar with, Raymond Felton averaged 6.9 points, 2.5 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 16.6 minutes per game for the Thunder. Felton was a significant upgrade at the backup point guard position from the previous season. He also found himself in some closing minutes with the starting lineup after the Thunder struggled to find a replacement for the injured Andre Roberson mid-season. At 34 years old - and 13 years in the NBA - the issue with Felton becomes his age. However, if the Thunder fail to find a better replacement, “Uncle RayRay” showed no signs of slowing down this past season.
In this day and age of the NBA, it is critical to have a play maker who can properly facilitate a team’s offense. With so many elite point guards and ball handlers in the league, it is of the utmost importance to have a player on the floor at all times who can not only facilitate on the offensive end, but also one who can compete on defense. Expect the Thunder to target a player this summer of the likes of those mentioned above to backup Russell Westbrook for this coming season.