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Did the Thunder bench improve enough?

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Part of 3 of my preview series takes a look at the OKC bench mob.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of Carmelo Anthony, the biggest knock on the Oklahoma City Thunder last season was the strength of the bench, or lack thereof. Acquiring Dennis Schroder from the Atlanta Hawks will be a big boost to the bench, as Schroder was the former starter in Atlanta. The former Hawk has been compared to Russell Westbrook because of his ability to run the pick-and-roll effectively as well as finish in the lane.

OKC also added former Mavericks big man Nerlens Noel to the end of the bench to provide some depth behind Steven Adams. This will be the first time Noel will be a part of a competitive team providing Nerlens some space to come in and adjust to his new teammates without being responsible for too much. The hope is for Nerlens to improve and show us all why he was picked 6th overall out of Kentucky. The Thunder need Nerlens to be a formidable backup by the time the playoffs role around. Steven Adams may look like the New Zealand version of the Hulk, but he does wear down, especially over the course of the full season.

Ideally, the Thunder would be able to rest Russell Westbrook and Paul George at the same time and not get killed. The additions to the bench over the offseason were nice, but the younger guys from last seasons squad need to take a step forward this year as well. Right now, it isn’t 100% clear who will start between Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson. For this post, I’ll assume Patterson is on the bench, though I think both guys will get their opportunity to start.

Part I: The Backcourt

Part II: The Frontcourt


What the Thunder bench does well

Dennis Schroder will provide the most flexibility off the bench for the Thunder, capable of running the pick and roll. Like I mentioned above, Schroder’s offensive game is similar to Westbrook’s. He will be able to help get guys like Paul George or Patrick Patterson open looks by attacking the basket, much like Westbrook does. The real question is, which players will he be running the PnR with? Adams? Patterson? Grant?

Having Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines coming off the bench will be a huge boost for the Thunder. After only averaging 15 minutes a night last season, Patterson should see an expanded role this season, helping him get in a better rhythm. These two guys will be helpful in spacing the floor on offense, which helps create lanes to the basket for the guards to drive and finish or dish the rock to the corner.

Noel has the potential to become one of the better players off the bench for OKC, while also having the opportunity to turn his career around on a competitive squad. The most important thing for Noel will be to keep his head up and keep improving every day. He can’t get too high or too low this season. Noel could have a great year depending on how he accepts and fits into his role, and his attitude will play a big part in that. It will be easy for him to get down on himself and it will be up to the veterans to lift him up. The big man could potentially be a force down low for the Thunder, as well as a solid rim protector.

What the Thunder bench needs to work on

Consistency and productivity will be key for the Thunder bench this season. This group doesn’t need to be great, however, they just need to be productive enough for Billy Donovan to rest his starters an adequate amount during games to keep them all healthy for the playoffs. The team will be just fine in the regular season with or without good performances from the bench.

Schroder will need to be able to effectively run the offense in order for the Thunder bench to get into a rhythm. It would also be nice if we saw his 3-point percentage rise a little, but with Abrines and Patterson coming off the bench it isn’t a necessity. It will also be important for Nerlens Noel to put thing together and have a productive year on both ends of the floor. Nerlens is a bit of a wild card because he hasn’t played meaningful minutes in such a long time.

Alex Abrines will need to have another good year from beyond the arc and Patrick Patterson will need to be able to space the floor as well. For this group to get into a good rhythm, it’ll be important for Billy Donovan to find out which lineups play the best together quickly, something that Donovan never really figured out last season.

Does having a good 6th man equate to having a good bench?

Instead of comparing the OKC bench to the best in the NBA, we’re going to take a look at 6th man voting from last year and see if there’s a correlation between having a good 6th man and having a good bench. Let’s take a look.

Lou Williams: Los Angeles Clippers

Lou Will won 6th man of the year (again) in a landslide. But how did the Clippers bench fare this season? According to an article from Bleacher Report, they weren’t among the top 10 early on in the season. The biggest problem with the Clippers bench, and really their team as a whole, was consistency. Injuries and trades shuffled the bench around and pushed some, including Lou Williams, into starting roles.

There’s no question that Lou Will made this bench exponentially better, however, it has to be more than just one guy. The Clippers were young and had guys coming in and out of roles. Who knows how good this bench could have been if Danilo Gallinari doesn’t go down with a season ending injury, or if the Clippers had held onto “Clipper for life” Blake Griffin. The Clippers bench wouldn’t have been among the elite even in a best case scenario, but they aren’t the best measuring stick for this exercise because of their inconsistency.

Eric Gordon: Houston Rockets

The Rockets had one of the better benches in the NBA last season. This isn’t entirely because of Eric Gordon though. Gordon would be a quality starter on most other NBA teams, but he makes the Houston Rockets exponentially better in his 6th man role. The Rockets bench was deeper and has more experience than the Clippers bench. They were great both offensively and defensively last season, but does that have direct ties to Eric Gordon?

The way Mike D’Antoni utilized his bench last year maximized their potential. He rarely used lineups with 4 or 5 bench players, often mixing his bench players with Chris Paul, James Harden or Clint Capela. This made life much easier for the backups because their floor spacing was excellent and they were playing with players fit for their game. Eric Gordon certainly helped maximize this groups potential, but he wasn’t the main reason for it.

Fred VanVleet: Toronto Raptors

The leader of the bench mob placed third in 6th man of the year voting. The Toronto Raptors had one of the best net ratings from their bench last season, and VanVleet is the guy who brings it all together. While he isn’t the best shooter, he is an excellent distributor who knows how, when and where to get certain teammates the ball. Without the rest of the bench mob, VanVleet would struggle to be effective. He had two big man capable of running the pick and roll coupled with several shooters who can knock down shots from beyond the arc at a consistent clip.

Our last two teams mixed in with starters for most of their minutes played, however, the Toronto Raptors have one of the more put together second units in the league. While the reserves mix in with the starters occasionally, former Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey had the luxury of playing all bench lineups without being rendered totally ineffective. Once again though, this is a group effort. These guys, except for maybe CJ Miles, wouldn’t be as effective without one another.

Everyone knows basketball is a team game and it takes more than one guy. That’s day one stuff right there. While none of these benches would be as good without their 6th man of the year candidate, the candidates need their starters as much as the bench needs their 6th man. Just having a good 6th man isn’t enough, it takes a depth on the bench and health in the starting lineup for a bench to maximize it’s potential.


Will the Thunder bench be one of the top three 2nd units next season?

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