Well, it’s been quite the season for the prolific Sooner trio of Blake Griffin, Buddy Hield and Trae Young. It’s been fun bringing you updates on a (near) weekly basis through the latter half of the season. After a wild Wednesday night to wrap up the 2018-19 NBA season, here’s how it all shook out for the former Oklahoma Sooners stars.
Entering this season, Blake Griffin — considered one of the the marquee names in the league through much of this decade — seemed all but a forgotten star. The Clippers experience gave the former Oklahoma City product the best of times, along with some of the worst any player has experienced during that stretch (the Donald Sterling situation, multiple injury issues and an eventual trade to Detroit).
But any fan and follower of Blake’s career is apt to know that the one thing he does not lack is a work ethic. Whether he was hearing the noise or not, the Detroit Pistons do-it-all big man has re-established himself among the most productive — and now one of the most versatile — talents in the league. He’s now led the Pistons back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The All-Star forward’s remarkable comeback season has seen him transform his game into one of the most polished all-around talents in today’s NBA, and his game continues to grow.
Despite a late-season skid, stemming primarily from a knee injury to Griffin as well as some lingering chemistry issues, Detroit finished with a 41-41 record and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They are set to face MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs, beginning this Saturday, April 13.
Last week, I touched on the left knee soreness issue that has kept Griffin out for much of the late stretch of this season (including last night in New York), he did make a huge return as a game-time decision last Friday night in Oklahoma City. Giving the Thunder the business all night, Griffin put on a show in his hometown. Dropping 44 points on 11-of-15 shooting through three quarters, Blake was an all-out aerial assault on the OKC defense — starting out hitting his first eight three-point attempts and finishing the game with an eye-popping career-high 9-of-14 from beyond the arc.
Unfortunately for Blake and the Pistons, it was all Thunder late, and Griffin’s heroics weren’t enough to get the win in Oklahoma City. But damn, he was cookin’. It was a signature performance that perfectly displayed his incredibly revamped game in a crucial late-season contest against a playoff contender.
It was an incredible season for the former Oklahoma star and dunk god, and although it’s disheartening to see him entering this playoff season with lingering knee issues, they hopefully aren’t enough to derail him from a successful opening round. Either way, it’s been a truly welcomed and celebratory sight seeing the triumphant return to prominence for Blake Griffin, and Sooner Nation can (hopefully) continue watching him for at least a few more games in this season of transformation and redemption.
#Pistons Blake Griffin on his knee injury: "I wasn’t able to help us tonight ... we're going to take it day by day. I’m going to sit with our training staff tomorrow and figure it out."— Rod Beard (@detnewsRodBeard) April 10, 2019
The Breakout Season
Buddy Hield, similar to fellow Sooner Blake Griffin, enjoyed a comeback season in his own right. Considered a borderline-starter and a third option at best coming into the season, Buddy Buckets quickly stole the show and proved his hard work has indeed paid off.
Pairing with electric sophomore point guard De’Aaron Fox to form one of the NBA’s most exciting and prolific backcourts, Buddy’s season has him near the top of the discussion for the league’s Most Improved Player. He’ll have to contend with the likes of Nets guard pair of DeAngelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, along with Hawks forward John Collins and Raptors forward Pascal Siakim, but the Sooner Nation’s guy has a real chance at bringing home the hardware to validate an incredible comeback season of his own.
Just two weeks after overtaking Kings legend Peja Stojakovic for the franchise record in most three-pointers made in a season, Hield set an even more impressive record of most threes made in the first three seasons of an NBA career in last night’s loss in Portland. Here’s the record-breaking No. 600 from deep for the legendary Chavano Rainer Hield.
Not bad for a guy who was prematurely considered a bust just halfway through his rookie season following the trade from New Orleans.
“He won’t be able create his own shot.”— Sactown Crown (@SoCal_KingsFan) April 11, 2019
“He is undersized & will likely struggle defending SG’s.”
“As a GM, you have to wonder if he has already tapped his potential.”
Fast forward. @buddyhield has the most 3 pointers of any player in their first 3 season. #SacramentoProud pic.twitter.com/WXRjLMMo1v
On the night #Kings guard @buddyhield becomes the first player to make 600 3-pointers in his first three seasons, read about his remarkable journey from an impoverished upbringing in the Bahamas to the #NBA. https://t.co/6rE8862sFP— Jason Anderson (@JandersonSacBee) April 11, 2019
Buddy setting this record in Portland was truly a fitting place to do it considering whose name he overtook this time.
Though the Kings fell short of making their first postseason since 2006, it was truly a breakout season for Hield, Fox and rookie Marvin Bagley. Sacramento seems to have a worthy trio to build around for the future, and they’d better take care of our guy. But so far, franchise owner Vivek Ranadive’s gamble on trading DeMarcus Cousins for the Bahamian Bucket Machine (I’m copyrighting this nickname I’ve used once before) two seasons ago has worked out spectacularly.
Finishing the season with averages of 20.8 points per game on 45.8% shooting from the field, Buddy finished the season ranked fourth in the league in three-pointers made, behind only some of the league’s best in James Harden, Stephen Curry and Paul George. It’s safe to say Buddy Buckets is now a bonafide NBA scorer — something he looks like he was born to be.
Kobe Bryant was right — people gave up too quickly on one great talent. Now, he’s proving them wrong with near-Mamba-like ferocity. Here’s YouTube all-star NBA vid guy Mike Korzemba’s take on the potential greatness of Mr. Buckets.
I have a feeling Buddy will have a little bit more to show off in his game come next season, and you’re damn right I’ll be here for it.
The Rookie Sensation
Trae Young, the youngblood of the Sooner trio, had himself one hell of a rookie season. Making waves across the league early and often, the former Norman North star finished the season averaging 19.1 points per game and ranked fourth in the NBA in assists at eight per contest. He was also a highlight reel all season with a franchise made famous by The Human Highlight Film Dominique Wilkins, Trae-T-L has taken over Atlanta a few decades later.
And it’s been breathtaking. Here are highlights from last week’s 33-point, 12-assist performance against the Sixers.
On Wednesday night in a 135-134 loss against the Pacers, Trae concluded his rookie season with 23 points and 11 dimes.
As Rookie of the Year talk has heated up since the All-Star break behind Young’s spectacular play, it’ll be interesting to see how close the vote ends up. The award is probably still Luka’s to lose, but what an impressive run to make it a race by last season’s NCAA leader in scoring and assists.
Luka Doncic looked like the easy choice for NBA Rookie of the Year. Trae Young had something to say. https://t.co/wT39TY4Pnl— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) April 5, 2019
We know how Trae feels about his rookie season, and many around the league and the Sooner Nation agree. True greatness starts with great confidence.
With the rookie of the year race coming down to the wire @ATLHawks guard @TheTraeYoung tells @TheFrankIsola & @Scalabrine that he's "best rookie in the class" #truetoatlanta pic.twitter.com/5P1IzPkNpg— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) April 9, 2019
Earning honors from the league throughout this spectacular rookie season, Young was recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He’s erased all doubts and answered all questions raised (other than the ones regarding his defense) before last June’s draft, and it’s safe to say the league has yet another budding superstar at the point guard position waiting to break out. With the shooting prowess and range of established three-point assassins Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, Young’s unique skill set also includes the elite passing skills and gifted floor vision of the likes of Chris Paul, LeBron James and Steve Nash.
And Oklahoma is just a football school?
The Hawks, now firmly behind Trae as their leader and with multiple lottery picks likely on the horizon, could form a dynamic young tandem in the Trae-T-L to keep fans and the league watching for years to come. Exciting times, indeed.
Congrats to all three former Sooner stars on their outstanding seasons.
Final Season Stats:
Season Stats: 24.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 5.4 APG, 0.4 BPG, 46.2% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 75.3% FT
Playoff Schedule: Sun. at Milwaukee, Wed. at Milwaukee, Sat. at Detroit, Mon. at Detroit, *Wed. at Milwaukee, *Fri. at Detroit, *Sun. at Milwaukee (*if necessary)
Season Stats: 20.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.4 BPG, 45.8% FG, 42.6% 3FG, 88.6% FT
Season Stats: 19.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 8.0 APG, 0.9 SPG, 41.8% FG, 32.4% 3FG, 82.9% FT
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