For a few years, Thabo Sefolosha and the Oklahoma City Thunder were sitting pretty atop the Western Conference. The starting five of Sefolosha, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins was practically one set in stone. Westbrook added the edge and hustle to the lineup. Durant was the go-to scorer. Ibaka was the rim protector. Perkins was the big man who clogged the lane on defense.
And Sefolosha was the marksman from three who provided airtight perimeter defense on the other end. Things were working out for the Thunder, until Thabo Sefolosha lost his shooting touch. It was as if the Monstars from Space Jam took it out of his body, dropping his three point percentage from 41.9% in 2012-13 to 31.6% in 2013-14. Then the Thunder were left with no consistent shooting threat that relieved the pressure from Durant and Westbrook.
That leads us to today. Free agency is in full swing after LeBron James made his decision, and everything is falling into place now. Thabo Sefolosha is finished in Oklahoma City, now on a 12 million dollar contract with the Atlanta Hawks. It was a tough goodbye, but the team had to move on.
With Sefolosha and his inconsistent shooting out of the door, the Thunder were in search of a specialist. They landed Anthony Morrow. He is cheap and all he does is hit his shots... at a prolific rate. All the Thunder needed was someone to space the floor for KD and Westbrook and they could not have found the better fit than Morrow. Just imagine that small ball lineup of Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Morrow, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka. All are legitimate long bomb threats. That floor will be as open as a fireworks store on the 4th of July. (Stupid analogy, back to my point.)
Now with a vacancy at shooting guard and a list of young, developing guards, the race for who will start is tight as hell. All candidates bring forth their pros and cons.
Jeremy Lamb has proved value in his minutes. He can shoot (inconsistently), dribble the ball well and is creative with his shot. His defense isn't exactly top notch, though. What the Thunder got out of Sefolosha's defense was pressure off Durant. KD wasn't forced to guard the opposing team's best wing, and he could just focus on offense. Lamb would fill the offensive need in the lineup, but represent a downgrade defensively.
We've all been waiting on Lamb's growth in that department. When I got around to chatting with the young guy in Orlando, he said, "The coaches haven't said anything about me starting. I am focused on getting better right now." He had no juicy information for me to elaborate on.
Right now, I can't see Lamb getting the starting job. He was very inconsistent with his shot in the Orlando Summer League, and not only that, but he doesn't fill the defensive approach that Sam Presti wants out of the shooting guard spot.
Probability: slim to none
Here is a guy who is ready to start. Reggie Jackson had no problem filling in for Russell Westbrook in the midst of his injury. Jackson has developed quickly in his short career as a NBA player. He can shoot, he can pass, he can drive. Defensively... eh. Jackson is way too short to be a shooting guard.
The only possible solution I can see happening is to have Westbrook and Jackson be interchangeable in the role of taking up the ball. The team defense would be at stake here. This would be a short backcourt combination. I am all for starting Jackson because I think he's the best offensive option we've got, but his defense represents a step back for the Thunder. Leaving him on the bench may be a better choice, leaving Lamb and him as plug-ins off the pine. Jackson has stated that he wants to start. It's all up to Scott Brooks.
Now here is the true question. Does Scott Brooks go and start the team's fancy offseason signing in Anthony Morrow? Morrow has showed that with consistent playing time, he can score around 12-15 points per game. Or, does Brooks realize that starting Morrow would be a downgrade for the defense as a whole?
Morrow is a win/lose type of player. You get his outstanding shooting abilities which space the floor and draw defenders out of the paint. But then you get countless defensive errors and poorly contested shots. I cannot see Morrow starting more than 10 games this season, if that at all. What I see Morrow as is a Derek Fisher type of player who can come off the bench and provide his bread and butter for 20-plus minutes a game. Is Anthony Morrow the gamble Presti and Brooks need to take?
Probability: not likely but you never know
This is a legitimate option. Roberson has started before and has been helpful, the stats read. What Roberson brings is the defensive abilities that Sefolosha had. He is still young and already capable of shutting down the opposing wing. The Thunder can check that off the list of criteria.
Roberson's offense? He has none. His shot is extremely inconsistent and he does not have such great ball handling skills. He moves without the ball relatively well, but has trouble putting the ball in the basket. That is his only setback. But then again, there is lots of room for improvement. Roberson can easily fix his shot with the right coach and practice.
If he fixes his offense, Roberson can be an even better Sefolosha. Moving him up also keeps Lamb and Jackson on the bench, leaving that unit stable. Since Roberson is such a fantastic rebounder, having the Russ/Roberson combo would get the Thunder more rebounding production out of the backcourt than most of the rest of the league can claim. Roberson seems like the most reasonable solution.
Probability: the most likely situation
The bottom line
There really is no perfect match. Each candidate has their set backs whether it's on offense or on defense. Someone proposed a solution that is to see who the upcoming team is. If they have great scorers, play a defensive minded guy. If not, put in the scorers. The only concern is that it would screw up team chemistry. Free agency is far from over. We will see how this shooting guard problem pans out over the offseason and in preseason.