|2012-2013 NBA Season
|October 24, 2012
|The American Telephone and Telegraph Center, San Antonio, Texas (Tickets)
|8:30 PM CDT
|Turner Network Television, WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1)
|Enemy Blogs: Pounding The Rock, Project Spurs, 48 Minutes of Hell
|Previous Meetings: None
With the Pre-Season finally (FINALLY!) over, it looked like the Thunder were heading into a fairly typical season opener as of a few days ago. The young team had rid itself of the few remaining veterans, and they were finally ready to conquer the NBA on their own. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden would lead the charge against other highly touted teams, like the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.
But, the Thunder's world has been turned upside down. After all of the pre-season training and talk of who would get minutes where, it seems that most of that training will have to be thrown out the window. The trade wasn't simply James Harden for Kevin Martin and a few fringe prospects. The entire feel of the bench has changed. Oh yeah, and the Lakers are 0-2.
You can hit up the link here for a full summary of the trade's parts, but here's how the Thunder's bench was affected in a nutshell. Obviously, Kevin Martin replaces James Harden's minutes at the backup shooting guard spot. However, even though Martin is a scorer similar in caliber to Harden, his handles aren't nearly as good. Because of this, he can't initiate the offense like Harden could. Thus, the Thunder will probably give minutes to pass-first point guard Eric Maynor rather than the energetic Reggie Jackson, who can be a poor decision maker at times.
Also, due to the trade of Cole Aldrich, the Thunder will have to rely on well-publicized draft bust Hasheem Thabeet as their backup center, or possibly even training camp invitee Daniel Orton. Aldrich was looking to be a promising scorer and rebounder, but the focus of Thabeet and Orton, should they get minutes, will be defense. There's also the possibility of Collison sliding up to the center spot to make way for more minutes for Perry Jones III, who was an extremely efficient scorer in the Pre-Season opener.
Lastly, due to the trade of Daequan Cook, there will likely be space for a 10th man to get spot minutes. Common opinion has it that Jeremy Lamb, the Rockets 12th pick out of UConn, will see those minutes. He is, however, a far different player than Cook. His long arms help him with steals and blocks, and he has an excellent mid to close range offensive game. However, there's also the possibility of DeAndre Liggins or even Reggie Jackson seeing those minutes, should Lamb not be up to NBA snuff just yet.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are back, and they're as intimidating as ever. Though Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan are not the players they used to be, they can still pack a punch, and they're backed up by a new generation of stars like Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Dejuan Blair. The Spurs hardly changed their roster at all, with their sole addition being French national team point guard and 25 year-old rookie, Nando De Colo. De Colo could be an NBA force someday, but as of now, he'll probably be stuck behind Tony Parker and Gary Neal.
The real question surrounding this game is whether the bench can really compete. We all know what to expect from the starting lineup, which has remained unchanged since early 2010. But is Kevin Martin going to be the injury-free scorer we all know him to be, or will he be the guy who takes way too many bad shots? Can Thabeet or a small lineup defend the post against Blair and Splitter? How will Perry Jones do in his NBA debut? Those issues, to me, will really determine how the Thunder will do. Westbrook has proven he can hold Parker, Durant is rarely bothered by Leonard or Jackson, and Perk and Ibaka keep the post on lockdown. And, of course, we won 4 straight games against the Spurs in last year's Western Conference Finals.
However, one thing should not be forgotten. James Harden was a gigantic reason that the Thunder won that series. And how Kevin Martin performs tonight will set the tone for whether he can replace Harden in Thunder fans' hearts. And if he can't, then the Thunder might be headed in the same direction the Pacers were once they replaced Reggie Miller with Stephen Jackson. Downhill.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, San Antonio Spurs 107