With Russell Westbrook's return to action on Friday, the Thunder neared ever-closer to the full roster that's eluded them for the entire season. As it stands, only Kevin Durant, Perry Jones, and Mitch McGary remain out. All of them will probably see a return in the next couple of weeks, which means that the Thunder should be playing with a full roster some time in December.
But who's going to be in the rotation? There's been lots of turnover since last season, and players have seen their roles shift significantly as the season has gone on. Aside from guaranteed minutes for the Thunder's four big stars, everything is completely up in the air.
I thought I'd try my hand at tackling what the Thunder's rotation might look like once the roster is complete. To do that, I'm going to use the two statistical weapons at my disposal: Individual player stats, and 2-3 man lineup combinations.
Who's played well?
Here's the Thunder's 2014-15 season stats, as of Nov 29th.
- Jackson, Morrow, and Lamb are all on the borderline of being effective at shooting. They all average right around 41%, when you ideally want your scorers to be 43% or higher.
- Jackson is considered the best of the trio because he can get to the line more often.
- Serge Ibaka is a statistical rock. His blocks are down, but he's now playing with Steven Adams and Andre Roberson.
- Lance Thomas is well below the line of being effective offensively, shooting only 35% from the floor. His tangible statistical defensive numbers aren't good enough to make up for this, so he'd have to be a heck of a man-to-man defender to justify including him in the final lineups. He is forced to take more shots than Roberson, though....
- Perry Jones' five game stat line is an unrealistic dream. But he'll benefit from not having played, as his play definitely warrants putting him above Lamb and Morrow in the rotation.
- Kendrick Perkins is in the midst of one of his most efficient Thunder seasons ever. He's definitely benefited from taking on the NBA's much weaker bench bigs.
- On the other hand, Nick Collison is in his worst season ever. Things have never seemed to work out for him as a jump shooter, and he only gets garbage points inside.
- Three players with a negative assist to turnover ratio: Jones, Adams, Perkins.
- Telfair was extremely unique in that he brought an assist to turnover ratio closer to 3, while Jackson and Westbrook generally hover around 2. Telfair's poor shooting percentage and defensive liabilities would counteract that, however.
Who's played well together? (stats courtesy nba.com, minimum 75 minutes)
- Anthony Morrow really works well with people who can set him up for shots. Reggie Jackson is the team's top assist man, Ibaka attracts a lot of attention, and Perkins and Collison are notorious for setting really hard screens. It's easy to see why Morrow might struggle more with other players who don't do much to move the offense.
- Long arms work with long arms. Roberson does well in tandems with Jones, Adams, and Ibaka because they're all such ridiculously wingspanned players. It would be incredibly hard to get around that lineup in the paint. So if you replaced Jones with KD, I'm liking how things fit together.
- Lance Thomas works horribly with players who don't produce any offense themselves. He's better served playing with an offensively-focused lineup that has a lot of players who can attract attention. This would allow Thomas to make his signature baseline cuts and one-step jumpers in the defensive seams. Basically, he's a Roberson replacement.
- Steven Adams and Reggie Jackson work horribly together. Don't let the commercials fool you! Westbrook is tons better at working with Adams in the pick and roll. We've only seen two games of it so far, but I'm confident in saying that. Jackson's jumper was simply too inconsistent for him to be a threat with Adams.
- Adams and Collison don't work well together, but I can't really piece together why.
- Roberson, Thomas, and Collison should be kept apart at all costs. The Thunder can only afford one offensive black hole in their lineup. Perk would normally be here too, but he's been better this season, as noted above.
Setting the Lineups
- Obviously, the biggest shift from last year is having Adams start. At this point, it's an inevitability.
- Ibaka will eat into Perk's minutes when the Thunder are playing a up-tempo team, but I can see him playing center in some regular situations as well. Ibaka works well with both Collison and Durant.
- Collison will see some DNP-CDs this year, and his role could be deleted entirely during the playoffs. He's just someone you plug in when you need size, at this point.
- PJIII won't see minutes at PF every game, but there will be a few games where he sees extended stints. Likely the games where Perk and Collison don't play very much.
- At small forward, KD eats up the majority of the minutes. Jones plays the role of his primary backup, and will occasionally slot in while KD is playing power forward. Morrow only plays that position when the Thunder are going really small.
- At shooting guard, Roberson starts. He plays well in three man lineups with Adams and Ibaka, and playing next to Durant and Westbrook will mitigate his lack of offensive talent.
- Jackson's the backup primary shooting guard, but will get all of the point guard duty that Westbrook doesn't take.
- When Jackson's at point, Morrow slots in as shooting guard for scoring help. Having hard screen setters Collison and Perkins on the floor will really help Morrow's game, as will the presence of shot creator PJIII.
- Lamb and Thomas are out of the rotation entirely. Lamb can basically fill Morrow's role, but I felt Morrow worked better with existing personnel. Thomas is essentially a poor man's Andre Roberson, and would slot into his role nicely were Roberson ever hurt. But you just can't justify including him beyond that.
- I forgot about Ish Smith. I honestly haven't seen enough of him yet to judge much, but he might be a nice flex play if the Thunder ever get nagged by a Barea-type speedster.
Who do you think should be in the Thunder's rotation? Drop a comment and let us know!