The Oklahoma City Thunder have had no production from their bench lately.
In last night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder won by a startling 35 points. Yet no player from the regular bench rotation was able to secure a positive plus/minus. This hasn't been an isolated incident, either. In Monday night's contest with the Clippers, Coach Donovan played KD with the bench during the second half. It was the first time that KD had played with the bench unit all season. But, more importantly, it showed Coach Donovan's huge lack of confidence in his second unit.
The ploy worked, as Kevin Durant's bench led unit kept the Clippers within striking distance. But the solution isn't tenable. KD played 38 minutes in that Clipper game, which is at his career average. But Donovan made a commitment to keeping KD's minutes down this season, and it's hard to separate KD and Westbrook from the starting lineup.
So, are there any remaining solutions for OKC's second team? Before we get to solutions, let's break down the problems, player by player.
PG- D.J. Augustin
Who he is ideally: Game manager. He's great at making your half-court offense work, and moving the ball efficiently. He's also a great off the dribble shooter, making him somewhat of a threat in the pick and roll.
Who he's being used as: Off-ball shooter. This doesn't work because Augustin is a better shooter off the dribble, and the ball doesn't move well enough to get Augustin open looks. Plus, it takes away the only thing from D.J.'s game that he does well.
Why he still won't work: Defense. Augustin must be surrounded by a strong back court, as he was in Detroit and Chicago. But right now, Augustin is next to Dion "lost my man" Waiters and Anthony "too small" Morrow. It's hard enough to fit two of them into the same backcourt, but three is just a mess. As Augustin is the weakest defender of the three, he's easily OKC's biggest problem.
SG- Anthony Morrow
Who he is ideally: Pure outside shooter. Morrow can nail almost any three point shot you give him, either off the dribble or off the catch. Loves to work in transition. Can also do limited work around the pick and roll, decent stop and pop mid-range shot.
Who he's being used as: A shooter who doesn't shoot enough. Morrow was getting 13.1 shots per 36 minutes with the Pelicans in 13-14. But this year, Morrow is getting 11.5 shots per 36 minutes. And he's only averaging 15 minutes a game.
Why he still won't work: He can't move the ball. Dion Waiters needs to play next to at least two players that can move the ball and get it to him in position. But Morrow doesn't have exceptional shot creating ability or court vision.
SF- Dion Waiters
Who he is ideally: Complimentary scorer. Waiters is great in transition and whenever he can get a head of steam rolling to the basket. Waiters is also acceptably good at scoring in one on one situations and making catch and shoot shots. In other words, it's no secret that Waiters' best minutes this season have been with Westbrook and KD.
Who he's being used as: Second-unit leader. I'm not saying that Waiters couldn't succeed as the second unit's top scorer. But as it is, Waiters is a black hole of offensive possessions. When the second unit is on, Waiters dominates the ball and very rarely passes. Waiters will use picks sometimes, but he's just not working within any consistent offensive scheme. Most of the time, it boils down to Dion taking a bunch of long twos and tough shots in traffic.
Why he still won't work: He's too weak defensively to start at shooting guard. Basically, it boils down to the fact that KD and Westbrook are 60-70% of their team's offense. So they can't focus on defense for most of the game. It's why Andre Roberson, a defense-only player, starts. But Waiters isn't focused enough defensively to be consistently effective in that role. So Waiters will always have to come off the bench, and simply play with the starters intermittently.
PF- Nick Collison
Who he is ideally: Physical defender with a high basketball IQ. Collison knows where to be on the floor at all times, and has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. Pretty much everything he does is out of a basketball textbook, and would be considered a good decision by a coach.
Who he's being used as: A passer and decision maker. Mostly because no one else is there to do it. But really, the ball doesn't need to pass through his hands much.
Why he still won't work: He can't shoot. Collison makes up for it in other areas, but the team needs to surround Collison with good shooters to make up for the deficiency.
C- Enes Kanter
Who he is ideally: A 15 point, 8 rebound a game big. Somebody who can be a serious scoring X-Factor off the bench, and a consistently elite rebounder.
Who he's being used as: A post-up scorer. Kanter's post up game is terrible. If Kanter can't physically move his man out of the way or get balanced for a fadeaway, he's not going to score. Kanter just doesn't have the amount of moves needed. However, Kanter is extremely skilled at scoring on the pick and roll, on offensive rebounds, and when he gets the ball close to the basket. As such, Kanter requires a team heavy in ball movement in order to succeed.
Why he still won't work: Kanter's defense has gone from abysmal to mediocre. That still means Kanter gets burned sometimes. He needs a strong defensive back court to succeed, but none of the back court is strong.
When you look to the end of the bench, no answers are immediately forthcoming. Kyle Singler would seem to provide defense and shooting on the surface, but in practice he's been a complete disaster. Cameron Payne could be a long-term solution, but it remains to be seen whether he can produce on an NBA level. Mitch McGary introduces a world of defensive problems. And Josh Huestis and Steve Novak are about as far from active duty as you can get.
A major shake up doesn't seem easy to do, either. Kanter is locked down on a big deal, while Waiters has no value to other teams. The Thunder are out of draft picks, and would be hesitant to give up on Singler or Payne.
Honestly, the only solution from my perspective is a Rick Carlisle-style substitution pattern. On the Mavericks, the starters never leave the floor completely, and players will come in and out of the game frequently. It allows the team to form unique lineups that are suited to specific situations within the game. It makes sense, because the Mavs only have one star and a ton of role players with a lot of quirks. The Thunder only have two stars, but they need to play together, and they definitely have a lot of quirky role players.
This might mean experimenting with lineups we've never seen. Adams, Ibaka, and Roberson will have to spend time with the bench. Morrow, Collison, and Kanter will have to spend time with the starters. But there are combinations within those players that can work. We simply haven't tried them yet.
In any case, it's clear to me that continuing to play this current bench lineup is akin to banging one's head against the wall. Something must change.
Do you have any thoughts on OKC's bench woes? Drop a comment and let us know!