After a depressing loss to the Spurs in the Western Conference finals, the Thunder have a lot to do in their offseason in order to win a championship in the next season. If the team does not implement any effective changes, then no matter what Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant do, they'll forever be on the cusp of winning but never succeeding to bring a championship for the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise.
Currently, the pressure is all on Westbrook and Durant offensively, and no matter how big numbers they put on the floor, the Thunder still struggle against the very best defenses. Those two dominant players are in need of a 3rd dynamic offensive force that would support them in scoring. The team involves a talented trio who are Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka. Serge Ibaka is continuously growing and improving, but he will likely never reach the offensive fluidity of a player like LaMarcus Aldridge.
Scott Brooks is facing a lot of criticism, and some people even put the majority of blame him for the failure of the Thunder in the Conference finals. Will he be replaced? And if not, what else can be done? Let us take a look at the things that the Thunder are highly recommended to do in their offseason if they want to win a championship.
1) Work more on the post - It is easily noticeable that the Thunder buckets are often made by either jump shots or driving into the paint. The Thunder scored 0.88 points per possessions in post up situations in the 2013-2014 season, a low number. In addition, 5.7% of the Thunder's points where via the post which ranks them as the 9th in that era, and Kevin Durant is their primary low post threat.
In many cases, when Westbrook and Durant struggle in their shooting, there is no plan B. The team should have a Plan B in scoring, and that second plan should be throughout the post. Unfortunately, Ibaka isn't a classic back-to-basket player yet. He needs to continue to develop offensively in the post, so that he can be that 3rd offensive element in the team. He may never look like Hakeem Olajuwon, but by simply being a threat down low, it would radically change the offensive flow.
In addition, Steven Adams looks like he will be a great pick and roll player, and will learn how to finish in the lane as he continues to grow.
2) Develop a dynamic scorer - Reggie Jackson is the emerging player in the Thunder, and he is a valuable scorer. He did a great job covering off Sefolosha's absence on the floor in the Conference finals, and proved to coach and the fan base that he could handle a shooting guard spot. However, in this system, he still serves best as the backup PG. The Thunder are in need of a shooting guard who can lift the team, help Durant in terms of scoring, and allow Westbrook to do his job as a point guard. Due to the lack of scoring in the team, Westbrook is forced to score and be more like a shooting guard on the team.
The Thunder must hunt for a shooting guard who can be a dependable scorer. We saw in the regular season when Westbrook was absent, the load on Durant was unbelievable, likely slowing him down in the playoffs. As we've seen, no player is impervious to injury; what if Durant gets injured? Do the Thunder have a backup plan? Creating a new scorer could be through many options. For example, the Thunder could hunt in the draft a scorer or sign a free agent who can help shoulder the load. Obtaining a standout scorer is one of the important priorities that the Thunder should look for in the offseason. They may never find another James Harden, but discount models may be available.
The Thunder's easiest option is Jeremy Lamb. He has a great talent, but in order to build it, Scott Brooks must take care of him like he did for Jackson. Jeremy Lamb averaged 21.4 points before getting drafted in to the NBA. In the summer league, he played very well but in the regular season Brooks took care of Jackson and focused of him and neglected Jeremy Lamb. Why? The development of Lamb is crucial, otherwise the Thunder are going to have to start spending additional assets to bolster their secondary offense.
3) Back up point-guard - The issue here is that, in case the Thunder doesn't get provided with a reliable scorer, Reggie Jackson is most likely to fill that role. That position could be filled in the draft. They can easily take advantage of that by the no. 29 pick in the Draft. Aiming for players such as Shabazz Napier or Denote Burton could be made a priority. Heading into the next season having Westbrook and no back up point guards is too risky if Jackson is expected to play a heavy role.
4) Take Advantage of the talents available on the team - all those players who do not have experience such as Lamb, Thabeet, Jones, Roberson, and Jarrett have something to offer. Developing these players will build up the bench of the team especially that the Thunder have one of the weakest benches in the league. As we saw against the Spurs, a weak bench can be the death nell.
5) Grab a new center - Is it time for Kendrick Perkins to leave? Since he got injured, his abilities are deteriorating, and the level of his athleticism was already low The Thunder need a proper center that would help the team defensively, and that would add the post presence in the team. Adams is a great option, but with Perkins in the final year of his contract, do they need another big man as well?
A championship seems far off; let us hope the Thunder start to build the bridge today.