Kevin Durant is injured and Thunder fans worldwide are in complete panic mode. Whether it be the curse of Basegod or just the way things work in the world of sports, Durant will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks. How do the Thunder attack this?
Do they start one of their developing young guys like Lamb, Jones, or Roberson? Do they give the newly acquired Anthony Morrow the nod? All options appear viable, however, many people believe starting Reggie Jackson is the best option. How would starting Reggie work out?
Throughout the summer and preseason, it seems as though Scott Brooks has been leaning towards Andre Roberson to start at shooting guard in order to preserve the team's defense-first mentality. If Jackson starts, Roberson would bump up to small forward while Jackson moves in at SG.
On average, Kevin Durant contributes well over 50 points to the offense when you take points, assists, rebounds, and ball movement into account. His contributions are the reason why he now holds the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Luckily, Russell Westbrook can step in and be the number one scorer--and a dynamic one at that. But outside of Westbrook, Reggie Jackson is the only consistent back-court scorer remaining. Starting him would at least make up for a small percentage of KD's contributions.
To add a positive perspective on all of this, I think starting Jackson can be a great experience for both Reggie and the young players. Scott Brooks will get to see how Reggie responds to starting at shooting guard entering his 4th season, and the young guys would get an opportunity to record more playing time.
Starting Jackson would add that extra flare to the offense right from the get-go. He is a point guard by nature so he can bring up the ball interchangeably with Westbrook (who played shooting guard in college). It would give Westbrook a lighter load to carry on offense as well.
What made the 2012 Thunder so dangerous was the presence of a bench. James Harden was electric as a 6th man, which made the bench as lethal as the starting 5 and minimized offensive downturns during games. Since 2012, Reggie Jackson has been the James Harden of today's Thunder. He brings the bench to life. With Kevin Durant injured, OKC needs depth now more than ever. Is taking Jackson off the bench too detrimental to OKC's depth?
Let's look back to the Western Conference Finals versus the Spurs.
Due to Serge Ibaka's injury and the absence of interior defense, OKC dropped their first two games to the Spurs. This left Scott Brooks with a tough predicament. Should he stick with the lineup he had cultivated over the previous 3 seasons, or should he start Reggie Jackson with offense in mind? Brooks went with the latter. With Ibaka returning in Game 3, the next two games went smoothly as OKC pulled out two wins of their own to tie the series at 2-2. The final two games did not go as planned. OKC's depth and bench weaknesses began to show as San Antonio's bench flourished. San Antonio crushed OKC in game 5 by 28 and then pulled out a series ending OT win in game 6. There was no spark plug outside of the starting lineup, as only 5 Thunder players scored in that game 6.
If Reggie starts at SG this season in order to replace KD's offensive contributions, the bench would certainly weaken. Jeremy Lamb cannot yet be trusted to lead a whole lineup and he is the only other bench player who can come in and contribute in bunches. Sophomore Steven Adams has shown offensive promise, but it looks more and more likely that he will be the starting center when the season starts. Nick Collison is willing if his body is able, but needs other offensive players to work with. Lastly, rookie Mitch McGary has showcased early his offensive skillset and might have helped during this stretch, but he too is out with a broken foot injury.
If starting Reggie means a drastically weakened bench, then Scott Brooks should avoid that scenario at all costs.
Other Lineup Ideas
Everyone on OKC is one year older, and considering most are young players, a year's development should show up on the court. If Scott Brooks decided Jackson's bench contributions are too much to risk losing, then he can go with one of the following starting lineups.
Westbrook, Morrow, Roberson, Ibaka, Perkins (when available)
I'm all in for Andre Roberson starting because it is always good to alleviate Durant's defensive responsibilities. Morrow would fit nicely next to Westbrook because he spaces the floor with his 3 point shooting. This lineup is incredibly diverse, being that Roberson cannot shoot a BB into an ocean and Morrow can shoot one into a straw from 100 yards away.
Westbrook, Roberson, Jones, Ibaka, Perkins
The thing with this lineup is that finding offense will be a problem. Jones has shown promise in his shooting, but he is no Lamb or Morrow. This lineup brings size, being that Perry Jones is nearly 7 feet tall, and with it comes potentially good defense. However, I feel like there are much better options available.
Westbrook, Lamb, Roberson, Ibaka, Perkins
Jeremy Lamb is one of the best young scorers on this team and has the potential to be one of the better "create your own shot" kind of players in the NBA. However, this Westbrook-Lamb tandem terrifies me. You've got two players who need to learn that not every shot is a good shot. Westbrook gets away with it more than Lamb because he can score over 20 points in a game, but we all saw Lamb at Summer League....and it was not pretty.
Any of the other previous lineups + Steven Adams
Steven Adams has been fantastic in preseason with his points average of 17. It seems as though his offense is catching up with his defense. It will be up to Brooks to decide if he is going to bench a veteran leader on the team.
If you have any other lineup ideas in mind...let us know in the comments!