Throw it down, big man. (AP)
To be clear, I'm not saying that the clip below is the first known existing Hasheem Thabeet NBA highlight; there are a number of YouTube clips of the Tanzanian center making nice individual plays, like him finishing this Nicolas Batum alley-oop during his brief stint with the Portland Trail Blazers or slipping a pass through Matt Bonner's legs back at the beginning of November. They've been kind of canceled out by stuff like him getting rim-checked despite being 7-foot-3 and tripping over his own feet while on a "fast" break, or more generally drowned out by his consistent inability to live up to his No. 2-overall-pick-in-the-2009-NBA-draft status, but over the course of his four-year NBA career, Thabeet has made some highlight-worthy plays.
But he's never really had an actual NBA game in which he's produced multiple good plays that were worth noting in the form of a highlight package. Or, at least, he hadn't until Monday night, when the Oklahoma City Thunder so summarily destroyed the Charlotte Bobcats that their fourth big man could get significant burn ... and, shock of shocks, he actually did something with it. Enough of something, in fact, for YouTube user DownToBuck to grab it, chop it and upload it. Behold: The best 94-second collection of Hasheem Thabeet's NBA career:
Thabeet finished with a career-high 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, his best performance on the boards in more than 2 1/2 years, in the Thunder's 114-69 destruction of the Bobcats on Monday night. The 13-and-10 outing gave Thabeet his first career double-double in his 148th NBA game.
While those numbers came largely in extended mop-up duty after the starting units for Oklahoma City and Charlotte joined forces to turn this one into a rout early — the Thunder led by 40 at halftime and by 54 in the third quarter — they're also due to what appears to be some actual, honest-to-goodness development in the 25-year-old center's game. Thunder sixth man Kevin Martin, who played with Thabeet during the big man's brief stint with the Houston Rockets, told HOOPSWORLD's Susan Bible that he's seen an entirely different player during their shared time in Oklahoma City:
"I was with him in Houston. It's like night and day when he was in Houston," Martin told HOOPSWORLD [...] "He wants to be in every practice drill now. I can tell he gets to the gym earlier. He's just excited.
"Whatever they did to him, it definitely worked in his favor," he said, grinning.
After spending his first three NBA seasons flailing due in part to a sashimi-raw offensive game, a lack of defensive understanding that led him to foul like crazy and ever-present pressure to do more, be more and be better right now! to live up to his lofty draft position, Thabeet is now in a place where hardly anything's expected of him — as a spot-minutes big on a short-money deal, a confirmed bust whose prior failures have actually freed him to start his career's second act. (Well, if you count those stints in Houston and Portland, technically this is his fourth act. But let's not quibble.)
That freedom from franchise-changing responsibility has dovetailed with Oklahoma City's famously supportive and positive culture to help Thabeet begin to blossom a bit, according to Thunder coach Scott Brooks. More from Bible:
[...] there's a collective effort when it comes to both praising and yelling at him. It sounds like Thabeet has been on the receiving end of considerable constructive criticism.
"You can tell [how all players mentor him] even in certain times in practice when he makes a good play," Brooks said. "Not just one guy, but the entire team. They get excited for it. And even when he messes up, not just one guy, but the entire team [says]: 'Hey Hash, come on, let's go. Let's get better. Let's do it. Let's do a better job next time.'"
"Every time I hear them out there yelling, 'Go back on defense,' I have to," said Thabeet. "They do stuff for me, so I've got to do extra for them. They trust me, pass me the ball, do all kinds of great stuff to help me get better as a player. So for me, I just go out there and work hard for them. That's what keeps up my confidence."
It's not like that support and confidence has translated into mammoth production or anything — even after Monday's career night, Thabeet's averaging 3.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game on the season, and he's still fouling at a staggering rate (eight personals per 36 minutes of playing time) — but it does seem to have him moving in the right direction. With precious few minutes on his frame, an increasing comfort with what his body can do on a basketball court and the chance to develop at his own pace rather than in accordance with an organization's growth plan, there still exists some hope that Thabeet might be the kind of late bloomer who winds up with a lengthy NBA career.
And if that never happens, well, at least now he'll always be able to go to YouTube and remember the night when all that promise finally panned out.
Hat-tip to Royce Young of Daily Thunder.