A year ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder was considered one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NBA. Kevin Durant was on the cover of Sports Illustrated to start the season. The Thunder was the fourth seed in the playoff hunt. Every one had them listed as a team that just needed time to break through and challenge for an NBA title. People were comfortable with the idea of standing pat and letting the team develop. The motto was don’t mess with chemistry.
That was with a roster of Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.
Two months later, the Thunder pulled a trade-deadline move to give up two of that starting five in exchange for basically center Kendrick Perkins.
The Thunder went on to make a run to the Western Conference Finals, even though Perkins was largely a non-factor in the playoffs. Nick Collison came back, Serge Ibaka developed and newly-acquired Nazr Mohammed helped on the inside. Perkins was overweight and out of shape, contributing mostly vocal leadership and attitude. So the team shook up 2/5ths of the starting lineup midseason and went to the Western Conference Finals.
Now the Thunder is set with a lineup of Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka and Perkins. Once again, the team is considered a favorite in the Western Conference.
It might be time to look at what that trade did to the flow of the Thunder offense. That problem is largely blamed on Westbrook and has been since late last year. The problem more to do with a lineup that is now way out of balance offensively.
Before the trade, Sefolosha was the only starter with limited offensive abilities. Westbrook could run the show, have Durant as a first option, and also have Green and Krstic spreading the floor as offensive weapons. Defenses had to play everyone straight up, with some doubling off Sefolosha to help with Durant. That left the floor open for Westbrook’s drives and cuts and plenty of places to pass the ball when they needed a bucket.
Now, when Westbrook has the ball he only has Durant who can get his shot. Sefolosha can shoot in streaks, but not create offense. Ibaka has a decent jumper, but can’t create offensively like Green. Perkins is a zero on offense, where Krstic was a decent release valve. Suddenly, if Durant is doubled and can’t get a shot, Westbrook is the only player that can bail out the offense and create a shot. Hello Durant-Westbrook conflict.
Now is the time to do something about this lineup. Something has to give to get more offensive threats on the floor.
The obvious option is starting James Harden over Sefolosha. Then you at least have three scoring options, one on each side of the floor to open it up for Westbrook. The Thunder got a look at that last night in the loss to Portland. Harden was the saving grace for the starting five. With Durant and Westbrook both having rough nights offensively, Harden was the only reliable scoring option on the floor. Sure it was a loss, but consider how lopsided that game would have been if Sefolosha was getting those starter minutes. The Thunder would have had zero offensive options in the starting unit with Durant and Westbrook struggling. In the past, Green and Krstic were talented enough offensively to drop 20 points on those nights. Green had enough offensive talent to fill in stretches when Durant couldn’t play. If Durant is out now, Harden has to start out of position at the three.
The trade last year has left OKC with only three scorers on the team. Daequan Cook can help in spurts, but is limited. The Thunder have Durant (26.1 points a game), Westbrook (17.1) and Harden (17.0), then no one until Ibaka’s 7.4 scoring average. Starting Harden helps the starters, but leaves the bench short a scorer. It might be time for the Thunder to look for another trade or a free agent scorer to balance out the floor.
Topics: Around The NBA, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, Eric Maynor, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Lazar Hayward, Loud City, Nazr Mohammed, Nick Collison, OKC, OKC Thunder Blog, Oklahoma City Thunder, Reggie Jackson, Royal Ivey, Russell Westbrook, Ryan Reid, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, The 'Peake, The 'Peake Show, Thunder