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Looking at the Thunder's potential lineups for next season

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With Kevin Durant out, which five-man units might the Thunder roll out?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Now that it has started to settle in that Kevin Durant is actually gone, it's time to start looking out how the Thunder can prepare for next season. Durant was an integral part of everything this team did; the roster had been built around his strengths, and as a result, his leaving has left the team with a need to restructure the roster and scheme.

For the sake of this article, I will assume that what we have right now is what we will end up with. Most of the appealing free agents had already committed to teams by the time KD made his announcement, so it's highly unlikely OKC picks up anything but filler. Trades are possible, but without being able to see into the inner workings of the team, speculation of that sort is likely to be inaccurate. That leaves Dion as the lone uncertainty for next season; for the sake of this article, I will assume he does not re-sign with the Thunder.

That leaves us with the following roster:

  • PG: Russell Westbrook, Cameron Payne
  • SG: Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Anthony Morrow
  • SF: Kyle Singler, Josh Huestis
  • PF: Ersan Ilyasova, Domantas Sabonis, Nick Collison, Mitch McGary
  • C: Enes Kanter, Steven Adams

It's from this young core that OKC will have to develop a strategy from winning. So let's explore those potential strategies.

The All-Offense Team

One option for OKC is to commit to running and gunning, trying to put up insane point totals on the offensive end. This is an incredibly young roster, and many of the players are extremely athletic, too. They could employ a Billy Tubbs style, and worry less about the quality of shots, focusing instead on the quantity.

A potential starting or feature lineup for this strategy might be:

  • PG: Russell Westbrook
  • SG: Victor Oladipo
  • SF: Anthony Morrow
  • PF: Enes Kanter
  • C: Steven Adams

Pros: This lineup is stout offensively both inside and outside. Morrow is one of the greatest shooters in the league, and with both Oladipo and Westbrook driving the basket, defenses would either be forced to continually play behind the ball-handler, or give up open looks from one of the fastest shooters ever. Inside, Kanter and Adams would benefit from dump-offs from the guards, and as one of the best offensive rebounding pairs in the league, get plenty of put back opportunities when their defenders sacrifice position for help defense.

On defense, two very good defenders in Oladipo and Adams could attempt to hold down the fort. Morrow is an intelligent defender, though very slow footed. Westbrook is instinctive, but a river boat gambler.

Cons: This lineup's success is contingent on the opponent having no offensively skilled forwards. Defensively, Morrow and Kanter are simply too slow to handle many of the more athletic forwards. In the case of a stretch 4, Adams could slide over and leave Kanter on the slower center, but that would leave the rim protection up to Kanter, which isn't an intelligent plan. Russ has a tendency to rely on the help defense from bigs and has spent his entire OKC tenure with 3 elite defenders in the starting lineup to cover for his gambling. Having him on the floor with Kanter and Morrow against other team's starting lineups is risky.

On offense, efficiency could easily drop as players get out of control. Outside shooting is somewhat limited, though Kanter could potentially step out to space the floor.

My opinion: As someone who believes that defense is much more important than offense, I don't like this choice. It could be effective when points are desperately needed, but I think the lack of defense from the forward position could result in the lineup being completely ineffective.

The All-Defense Team

Remember those Memphis teams that OKC used to face annually in the playoffs? This lineup could grit and grind in a similar way, perhaps even better than those teams. With Collison and Adams, OKC would have intelligence on both ends with two different styles that could bother opponents. The offensive scheme would shift to a much slower, big-facilitated offense, with Nick passing out of the high post and Adams working the low post. Point totals would go down, but opponents would also struggle to score.

  • PG: Russell Westbrook
  • SG: Victor Oladipo
  • SF: Andre Roberson
  • PF: Nick Collison
  • C: Steven Adams

Pros: Offensively, this group is extremely athletic. Russ and Dipo can draw lots of attention off the bounce, giving Roberson good options for cuts. Adams and Nick set brutal screens and make intelligent choices both with the ball and off the ball. This team could use all 24 seconds on the shot clock every time to get good looks at the rim, based primarily on their movement. Additionally, the defense would give them lots of fast break opportunities.

On defense, this lineup has it all. Russ is the hyperactive gambler who can turn lazy passes into dunks in mere seconds. Dipo is extremely athletic and has shown his capabilities on the defensive end. Roberson is one of the best defenders on the wing. Collison is never in the wrong place and still slides well to draw charges or contest shots. Adams is one of the best defensive bigs in the league. It would be extremely difficult to score on this lineups, and it's likely that turnovers would abound. Perimeter and Pick and Roll defense would both be fantastic.

Cons: This group has no outside shooting. Oladipo shot only 35% from deep, and Roberson is the second highest in that lineup at 31%. Teams could play off of guys to pack the paint, and this group probably couldn't make them pay for it. This assumes that Roberson and Oladipo don't improve, but even marginal improvement wouldn't be enough to solve that problem.

On defense, teams with athletic stretch-4s could potentially give Nick issues as he is older. However, the help defense in this group is elite, helping to alleviate that issue.

My opinion: I personally love this group, but I'm a sucker for intelligent and tenacious defense. There are obvious limitations here that make this highly unlikely to be a featured lineup. However, if everything is falling apart, it could be worth a try.

The Ultra-Small Lineup

Want a size matchup against Golden State's new Ultra-Death lineup? This is the lineup to use! I don't foresee this ever actually seeing the floor, but it could potentially work on the defensive end.

  • PG: Russell Westbrook
  • SG: Victor Oladipo
  • SF: Anthony Morrow
  • PF: Andre Roberson
  • C: Josh Huestis

Against Golden State, you can put Westbrook on Curry, Oladipo on Klay, Morrow on Iguodala, Roberson on Durant, and Huestis on Draymond. OKC has equal size at every spot except PF, but Roberson is long enough to negate that. Honestly, the Roberson-Durant matchup could be one of the best; Andre is strong, quick, and long enough to really irritate KD, and he knows his game. Huestis has the size to contest Draymond, and Russ and Dipo are athletic enough to wear out their guards.

Pros: Athleticism + length is elite. Morrow is the only guy who isn't an elite and long athlete. Fastbreak points would abound. On picks, the team could switch anything and not give up much. Morrow provides some shooting, as does Oladipo. OKC could run teams into the ground with this group.

Cons: The offensive skill is pretty weak with this group. Rebounding could potentially suffer, though several of these guys are elite for their size. The rim protection wouldn't be nearly as strong without Adams.

My opinion: While I don't expect to see much of this lineup, it could be fun. However, it has some serious issues that would limit its usage.

Blatantly Tanking Lineup

Does OKC want to start rebuilding? Be the 76ers of this season? This is the lineup to go with!

  • PG: Anthony Morrow
  • SG: Josh Huestis
  • SF: Kyle Singler
  • PF: Ersan Ilyasova
  • C: Domantas Sabonis

Pros: You will likely set the new record for least wins ever. There is some solid diversity. It features the best-looking player on the team at shooting guard.

Cons: That hair. This might be the all-bad hair lineup in the league.

All Young Bench Lineup

If we want to begin developing for the future, this is where the potential lies. These players are all young, with Oladipo providing a "veteran" presence. This just shows you how stocked OKC is with youth, considering that Roberson, Adams, and Kanter are all excluded.

  • PG: Cameron Payne
  • SG: Victor Oladipo
  • SF: Josh Huestis
  • PF: Mitch McGary
  • C: Domantas Sabonis

Pros: This lineup is pretty balanced. Oladipo and Payne can handle decently well. All 5 guys have potential for being decent outside shooting. Defensively, they are all active.

Cons: Youth means inexperience, which is especially apparent on defense. Talent is there, but there would be a lot of mistakes made.

Likely Big Lineup

What can we realistically expect to see? If OKC goes big, this would be the expected lineup for me.

  • PG: Russell Westbrook
  • SG: Victor Oladipo
  • SF: Andre Roberson
  • PF: Enes Kanter
  • C: Steven Adams

This group has OKC's three best players in Westbrook, Adams, and Oladipo. Kanter and Roberson are the two experience Thunder players who slide into the open roles. I would not be surprised if, assuming OKC goes big, this is the lineup that OKC starts on day 1.

Pros: This lineup is pretty balanced defensively. Two great perimeter defenders in Oladipo and Roberson, with the rim protection coming from Steven Adams. Good length and athleticism mean that they could be very disruptive.

Offensively, there is a lot of motion here. Smart cuts and off the ball motion could really discombobulate teams. Every player can bring something different to the table.

Cons: The outside shooting isn't great. However, this is partially offset by having great offensive rebounders. The paint could get pretty crowded.

Defensively, it all comes down to hiding Kanter. Everyone else is capable of playing defense well. If Russ gets too lazy, there is help on the back end with Roberson and Adams.

My opinion: This is my predicted starting lineup. While I'm concerned about starting Kanter at PF (he is really a center) I do think this lineup could hang with a lot of teams. I think the talent is balanced well, and everyone brings something to the table.

Likely Small Lineup

If OKC decides to go small, this could be the lineup that shows up.

  • PG: Russell Westbrook
  • SG: Victor Oladipo
  • SF: Anthony Morrow
  • PF: Andre Roberson
  • C: Steven Adams

While this is technically a small lineup, the length here is actually not that bad. Roberson, at 6'7" is short for the Power Forward spot, but his length makes up for it. Every other spot is close to league average in height.

Pros: On offense, this team puts everyone in their position to succeed. Morrow can space the floor, Westbrook and Oladipo can trade off on handling versus working off the ball. Roberson becomes a stretch 4, setting picks in addition to cutting and shooting outside. Adams plays the same role as before, with hopefully more post possessions. I think this lineup could score at an above average rate.

On defense, this team is also set. Having Roberson at the 4 allows OKC to switch everything. Morrow can be hidden pretty easily. Both Adams and Roberson are capable of protecting the rim, and all 5 guys can defend at some level on the perimeter. The biggest concern is teams taking advantage of the lack of size, but few teams have the players to do so. This lineup is also stacked with very good rebounders, making up for size with length and athleticism.

Cons: The size is the biggest concern. Will Morrow and Roberson wear down from playing against bigger guys? Can OKC rebound consistently? There are definite risks with having your second biggest guy at 6'7".

My opinion: This will be OKC's best, frequently used lineup. It is solid on both ends of the floor. Donovan will likely take the safe route of starting big, but if he is willing to take risks, this one would be worth it.