Like most teams, the Thunder have used the preseason to do a fair amount of tinkering in their lineups during their first two games (both losses). OKC is naturally concerned about a few issues, the biggest three of which are:
- Do they have a reliable backup at center?
- Who is going to be the backup point guard, Eric Maynor or Reggie Jackson?
- How will the team utilize rookie Perry Jones III?
The first point is arguably the most important, especially when you examine it in light of the ongoing James Harden negotiations. If OKC can find a reliable (and cheap) center for the future, Kendrick Perkins becomes more expendable. In sort, after you get past the Thunder's starting trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, there are quite a few movable parts that raise all sorts of questions as to what the rotation is going to look like in a month.
As Darnell Mayberry notes today at the Oklahoman, even the starters have played together sparingly:
Kendrick Perkins has a bum wrist, which is expected to keep him sidelined through the remainder of these dress rehearsals. Thabo Sefolosha has been slowed by a troublesome quadriceps muscle and has yet to suit up. Serge Ibaka missed the opener with a quad injury. Russell Westbrook got a rare rest at Utah.Thunder coach Scott Brooks already has said Kevin Durant will sit a game, maybe even two, and Westbrook at some point will get another night off.Suddenly, chemistry is a concern for a team that returned largely intact following its trek to the NBA Finals.
Not only is it critical for starters to be playing with other starters in order to get elements like timing down pat, but it is also important for starters to learn how to blend in with the subs as well, since Scott Brooks rarely makes entire wholesale lineup shifts during games. Yes, Cole Aldrich may be getting more comfortable playing along side Eric Maynor, but how is he learning to compliment the hyper-aggressive style of Westbrook? In another vein, PJIII might be able to form a deadly combination playing along side Westbrook, Harden, Durant, and Ibaka at the 5-spot, but how will the team really know if they can never get that lineup on the court together before November 1st? (Keep in mind too that opening night is against the Spurs, who will be looking for some payback)
Mayberry asserts that the regular season may not matter anymore aside from simply getting all the working parts in order and keeping everyone healthy. Sam Presti, a Spurs acolyte, certainly understands that. However, I think there is something to be said for a team that understands its mission. A team that falls short of its ultimate goal cannot simply take the preliminary steps for granted, because those steps have yet to actually result in the victory we all desire.
We may not learn as much as we'd like in this preseason, but given the shifty lineups so far, there might be reason for concern when the ball goes up for real in a few weeks.
What do you think?