In case you haven't heard, here's the lowdown on the Thunder's injury situation. Mitch McGary is out 6 weeks with a broken metatarsal in his foot, and should return in late November. Kevin Durant is out 4-6 weeks with a Jones fracture in his foot, and should return in early to mid December. Lastly, Anthony Morrow is out 4-6 weeks with a MCL spain, though he could return earlier.
This means that the Thunder will be hitting the court on opening night without three likely rotation players. In a season with more roster turnover than most, that leaves a lot of uncertainty about just who will be filling the minutes, and how well.
To determine who gets the new minutes, we've got to see how much time is available. Here's the average minutes per game of each Thunder rotation player from last season:
In total, that's 143.1 minutes. The Thunder have 240 minutes to use for the duration of the game. That leaves 96.9 minutes to distribute.
Right away, you can already tell that you're going to have to add some minutes to the players from last year. Westbrook will see at least a 5 minutes jump, as will Reggie Jackson and Steven Adams. Westbrook will be at full health, while the latter two are seeing vast improvements to their games. For the sake of argument, I'm going to add 15 minutes to last year's minute total.
That leaves the Thunder with 158.1 minutes used and 81.9 minutes to use. To help us figure out the rest, we're going to have to break it down by position. Numbers with ~ next to them are guesses, while numbers with decimals are based on last year's stats.
|Jones III, Perry||~0|
This position is probably the least affected by the injuries. Knocking out McGary certainly limits the Thunder's options, but it's not like he's primarily a center anyway. More than likely, Adams and Perkins will take up the lion's share of minutes at this position at around 40. That only leaves about 8 minutes a game for small lineups, since the Thunder have no other center on the roster. In that case, Scott Brooks would turn to Serge Ibaka or Nick Collison. This rotation is pretty well-established, so it's doubtful that Jones or Jerrett could find their way in.
|Jones III, Perry||~7|
This is where things start to get tricky. There's only about 7 minutes available for anyone behind Collison or Ibaka, but these will likely be very crucial minutes of the game. Roberson is the most post-oriented out of anyone available, but the Thunder have normally slotted him at guard. Thus, OKC will likely be stuck with 7 minutes of the perimeter-oriented Jones. PJIII can definitely find use if his floaters are going down, but he'll get eaten alive down low by some of the league's more aggressive forwards. Still, Jones' competition in the 2nd and 3rd quarters likely won't be so fierce, so there's not too much to worry about. Also, anything to keep Jones as somebody who scores off the ball is better in my opinion. Second year player Grant Jerrett is also an option here, but he's younger than PJIII and hasn't seen any pre-season action.
|Jones III, Perry||~10|
At this point, you start to see the holes emerge. With so many forwards gone, this is who's left that's eligible to play small forward. The only player who's ever even seen a regular NBA role before is Lamb, and he lost that job last season. In any case, expect to see a healthy mix of Roberson, Jones, and Jerrett. Andre Roberson will likely also see time at shooting guard, so I'm expecting him to get about 15 minutes here. Jones already has about 7 minutes at power forward, so I'm expecting around an additional 10. Lamb will soak up the remainder of the minutes. In the end, this position will be manned the most by Jeremy Lamb in terms of longevity. But during crunch time lineups, I'm expecting Roberson and Jones to grab the minutes for defensive purposes. Again, Jerrett will likely find himself the odd man out.
You might think this would be a bit more complicated. But Morrow's absence really makes things a lot more simple. Unless the Thunder are planning on giving major minutes to Lamb or Roberson, they're going to need to play Reggie Jackson at shooting guard. Brooks has done this several times before during in-game lineups, but has generally been hesitant to make the change to his starting lineup. It's still a point of debate whether Jackson is going to get minutes at point guard or not. But I'm going to go ahead and say that he won't. The Thunder have rolled with a 9 man rotation before, but I don't know how comfortable Brooks would be with giving over 30 minutes a game to Jones, Lamb, or Roberson. Furthermore, the Thunder desperately need a third ball handler, and Telfair could easily slot into Derek Fisher's old role.
As I explained above, Telfair gets the nod here. Bassy is a shaky play, but has proven himself to be a capable backup point guard at more than one previous NBA stop. Still, his game is flawed in more way than one, and his slower pass-first style will be a definite change of pace.
Final Predicted Minute Totals:
|Jones III, Perry||~17|
So that's one potential scenario for how things could play out on opening night. Obviously, this lineup won't stick around for long, if it's even correct. More than likely, this lineup will fluctuate from night to night. I could see Collison, Jones, or Telfair going in and out of the rotation. All of them seem to have more legitimate reasons for playing them rather than benching them though, so I'm doubting any of them stay out for too long.
Of course, this lineup won't last. One of the three injured players is liable to return and immediately grab minutes. This could send any number of players out of the rotation. There's no hard and fast rule for who replaces whom, but how each player performs early on will be a good indicator. If you're looking for the new guy most likely to grab a huge amount of minutes, I'd put my money on Andre Roberson. He's been favored a lot by management in the past, and had a strong pre-season. Nevertheless, it was obviously Lamb who most greatly benefited from Morrow's injury. He basically soaks up Morrow's minutes after a very weak Pre-Season.
How does this team do? Well there have been serious questions raised about this group's ability to space the floor and shoot threes. Truth is, virtually everyone on this roster can shoot a three, ideally. So the attempts are still going to go up. However, whether they can find success without Durant and Morrow anchoring the category is a much more pressing question. Also of concern is ballhandling. Jackson and Westbrook will have to carry the team on their own if Telfair doesn't get minutes. Lamb hasn't been able to do much out of the pick and roll, and no other player can really be trusted to dribble more than once.
Defensively, this team is going to be a bit dicey on the perimeter. Westbrook and Jackson aren't exactly the best about covering their men, so adding the undersized Sebastian Telfair to the mix doesn't exactly help matters. The Thunder will likely struggle to cover the weak side of the floor more than ever before. Still, the additions of Jones, Roberson, and Lamb will definitely add size to the middle of the lineup. All in all, the Thunder should at least be able to control the post.
All in all, there are still enough pieces here for the Thunder to have a winning record. They're just going to have to be flexible with who they put in, and realize which player might be a weakness on any given night. The Thunder have a lot of men with unique skill sets, and they need to make sure to utilize them properly. As long as that's done and the Thunder can find some sort of scoring factor off of the bench every night, they should be good. More often than not, Ibaka, Jackson, and Westbrook will do their jobs.
How do you see this new team shaking out? Let us know in the comments!