Before you go on and criticize this article, keep in mind that these are my opinions. You can agree with them if you like or you can completely disagree. It is your choice.
Let's be honest. 2014 was not ultimately a successful year for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were running a two man show toward the end and they eventually learned the hard way that basketball is a team sport. That is how the San Antonio Spurs won their fifth title this season, through team basketball. If OKC keeps on taking the same approach, going into the following season looking like the same roster as the previous year, they are going regress, especially now that every other team has seen how good the Spurs are by playing team basketball. Now that the Thunder have added two new names to their roster in Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis, it is time to target some players who can take the team to the next level. I mean...it's about time.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook run the show down in Oklahoma, we all know that. They will be the two main guys for a long, long time. So we've got our point guard and small forwards down. Serge Ibaka is not going anywhere either and is a crucial role in the Thunder's defense. Those three guys (Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka) are players capable of bringing home a title. They are immovable. Thabo Sefolosha is a free agent this season, and after his fallout in the lineup toward the end of the season, it seems like he is out the door. Even though his perimeter defense makes him so attractive, his negative offense out weighs his D. Kendrick Perkins could be amnestied, but no one truly knows. The optimistic fans loved the way he played against Zach Randolph and other big men in the playoffs. But the smart fans know that his price tag of 9 million dollars is a bigger ripoff than stadium food. The Thunder are better off starting Steven Adams than keeping Perkins and coming close to paying luxury tax. At shooting guard, the vacancy leads to many questions.
Can Reggie Jackson fill the spot?
Yes and no. Reggie Jackson has started before. In Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, Jackson started in place of Thabo, scored 15 points in a Thunder win. He also started Games 4-6 of that series, though, and was far more inconsistent in those outings. He has the scorers mentality to play shooting guard. He can shoot, he can drive, he puts his effort before his height. But where there is a positive, there is always a negative. Jackson is just 6'3'', and for a shooting guard, he would be tremendously out sized. On defense, losing Thabo would force Durant to guard the other team's best wing, which would tire him out. I am not saying Reggie Jackson is a bad defender, but his height is a problem.
Can Russell Westbrook be moved to shooting guard and Jackson to point?
That can work. I can't name any other point guard who shows more greed to score than Russell Westbrook. He can shoot, drive and has an arsenal of offensive moves to unleash. His problem this season was his inability to move the ball and get it in KD's hands. This led to many contested chucks and ball hogging. It seems like Westbrook is more of a shooting guard than a point, and Jackson fits more of a point guard mold. They both share approximately the same AST% (Westbrook with 22.5 and Jackson with 22.2). Westbrook has a higher turnover percentage and has a 1.80 assist per turnover ratio to Jackson's 1.97. I can't see the change being made, but I can see it potentially working. Moving Reggie to the starting lineup would also help his chances of returning to the team when he becomes a free agent. I cannot see Westbrook being moved but I can envision a system where they switch off taking the ball up the court.
Should the Thunder go with a young shooting guard to start?
Jeremy Lamb has been a fan favorite for a while now. After his minutes were stolen as a result of the Caron Butler signing, fans began to promote his return to the lineup. Lamb has his weaknesses but has proven that he can be beneficial to the lineup. I can't see such a young and underdeveloped guy be put in the starting lineup, but it is an option.
Is Perk still the guy at the center position?
At center, if the Thunder choose to keep Kendrick Perkins for one more season, the starting lineup is set. However, with free agency coming up, I think the smart choice is to dump that 9 million dollar contract and invest in another piece. There have been rumors sprouting on Pau Gasol's possible signing with the Thunder, but as Ali wrote in his article, it is highly unlikely. OKC is better off developing Steven Adams into a consistent defensive threat than keeping Kendrick. Adams had a solid rookie season and transcended his pre-season expectations. His offensive potential may be limited but his defensive upside is what makes him such an interesting investment.
|Russell Westbrook/Reggie Jackson||$15,719,062/$2,325,680|
|Reggie Jackson/Russell Westbrook||$2,325,680/$15,719,062|
With my rearranging, this is what the starting lineup would look like. This new group would cost less money and would thrive talent wise.
2. The bench
The Thunder bench went from being a big part of their early success to the potential reason that they fell apart. Toward the end of the season, the Thunder proved that not having bench presence is a huge form of gravity to a high flying team. This was the same case with the Miami Heat in the Finals. OKC has some valuable players who make up a great bench, but some players are deadweight and others that are just plain old awful.
Taking Reggie Jackson and Steven Adams off the bench means that we have a lot of catching up to do. Jackson was one of the league's best 6th-men and has big shoes to fill. The core of the bench now lies in Nick Collison, Jeremy Lamb and Caron Butler (if he stays). The status of the pine also rides on whether our young guys (Andre Roberson and Perry Jones III) pan out and develop nicely. Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis will also be solid backups if they are incorporated in the team. I am sure Huestis will see some time down in Tulsa before making a big league impact. This bench lineup may seem pretty decent, but there is still a ton of work to do. Players like Josh McRoberts, Jodie Meeks and PJ Tucker should be prime targets in free agency to upgrade their bench talent. My ideal bench lineup would look like this.
|Perry Jones III|
With this lineup, the bench can maintain the energy that an impactful bench needs.
I feel that the Thunder can truly take the next step in 2015. It all depends on how they are managed. Personally, the team listed above is completely eligible for a Finals run. Free agency starts soon so we will see how this works out for OKC.