Barons Look To The Uncertain, Ready To Face The Unknown
- By Lex Gartman, Day 1, 2023
OKLAHOMA CITY -
When new GM Homer Simpson took over the reins in Oklahoma City, he expressed optimism with his plan on getting the new franchise moving in the right direction. Privately, insiders have said Simpson is "drinking from a fire hose". Still, they say, he is intent on molding the franchise in his image.
"The facts of the matter are that this team wasn't very good last season," Simpson said at his introductory press conference. "But having said that, there are pieces here that we can work with. I'm hopeful that a more practical approach to the game will allow us to be more competitive. And quickly."
OKC finished 2022 with a mere 18 wins. Running a fast-paced offense, the team was not as efficient as it would have liked, exhibited by its 15 turnovers per game (29th in the JBL). Defensively, it was even worse. The 115.3 PPG allowed was worst in the league, and the worst totals the JBL has seen since the scoring barrages of 2013. Rebounding was also a source of pain in 2022, ranking 29th in the league.
Simpson vowed improving a porous defense and becoming better on the glass would be his top priorities going forward.
"As we've proven, it's hard to win games when you don't stop opposing offenses or do a better job on the glass," Simpson observed. "We plan on putting our guys in a better position to do both."
Free agent PF Roy Ellington was the team's prized offseason acquisition and he should help shore up those problems this season. A part-time starter at Atlanta his first 4 seasons, the Michigan State-ex will step into the 4 in Oklahoma, eager to recapture the productivity that won him Sixth Man of the Year in 2021. He'll also be asked to step into a leadership role to help mentor and accelerate the plethora of young Barons on the roster.
Still, this version of the Barons will only go as far as veteran PG Jamar Strickland and rising superstar guard Idris Berkley take them.
Strickland, a former All-JBL 2nd Teamer, re-signed with OKC for a cool $23M after averaging almost 20 points a season ago, to go along with 7.4 assists per game. While the Baltimore native may not be the JBL's most popular player, the 11th year vet's scrappiness is something that GM Simpson has already pointed to as a positive in turning the franchise's fortunes around.
While Strickland may be entering the twilight of his career, Berkley, on the other hand, appears to be on the cusp of greatness. Coming off a sophomore year that saw him average 22.3 PPG, the ex-Tar Heel has the offensive skill set to take over games by himself. If he can cut down on the turnovers while becoming more efficient with his shot, Berkley will be a star in this league for years to come.
So what should we expect from Oklahoma City in 2023? It's truly hard to predict. If the team can transition from an uptempo offense to a more measured approach, that should do wonders for what ailed the team last season. But if the players fail to grasp the nuanced changes being made or simply revolt because of them, it could be another long season in Oklahoma.