A spot in the Oklahoma City Thunder rotation seems to be up for grabs right now. The Thunder usually go with a 10-man rotation and will play five bench players for stretches of the game as James Harden leads that squad.
Last year, that 5-man bench unit consisted of Harden, Reggie Jackson/Derek Fisher, Daequan Cook, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed. They came in and out of the game like clockwork until the playoffs started when head coach Scott Brooks shortened his rotation.
Harden and Collison will continue their role as one of the best two-headed monster pick-and-roll tandems next season but there will be some new faces out there with them. Fisher and Mohammed are no longer with the team so Eric Maynor and Cole Aldrich are likely to fill those voids.
Then there’s the backup three spot behind Kevin Durant. Cook was that guy last season playing the role of 3-point specialist. It was a down year for Cook though who averaged 5.5 points per game but shot just 36.8 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from three. The season before, Cook shot 42.2 percent from three.
There are murmurs around training camp now that rookie Perry Jones III could take over Cook’s spot in the rotation. Jones III has really impressed everyone in camp with his athleticism and versatility. Harden called Jones III the most athletic player on the team, Brooks has been impressed with the consistency of his midrange shot and Durant has taken the rookie under his wing playing the role of personal mentor. Jones III can play both the three and four positions for OKC and would bring them a type of player they did not have a season ago.
“It’s too early right now, but definitely D.C. had a role last year and I thought he did a pretty good job,” Brooks told The Oklahoman. “But there’s games where he’s not going to play many minutes. There’s games he’s only going to play in the first half. You just have to be ready. But we have three or four guys that can play that role and we just have to see which one starts off.”
Cook was said to show a shift in his mood when asked if he would continue playing the role he did last season, perhaps sensing that the rookie would inevitably take over for him some time soon.
“It’s different for everybody,” Cook said. “I mean, it’s different looks for every (practice) team. I’m not really concerned about that right now. I’m more focused on just preparing myself for the season and helping the younger guys out right now.”
The Thunder had the second most efficient offense last season and the main points of emphasis coming into camp and the preseason have been on defense and rebounding. Cook embodies that mindset less than Jones III does.
The sooner Jones III can crack the rotation, the better for the Thunder. They could really use a player like how he is described to become a key contributor on the team. The time is now for the Thunder to win a title and Jones III can help them in that journey. If Jones III can get a lot of minutes earlier in the season then he won’t be considered a “rookie” as much by the time the playoffs come around.
The Thunder already have one of the most athletic teams in the league. Jones III is 6-foot-11 and can run the floor as well as anyone on the team. Imagine a lineup closing out games of Westbrook, Harden, Durant, PJ3 and Ibaka, switching everything on defense, running after every rebound and just relentlessly attacking the mismatch on offense. It’s a dream right now for the Thunder but might be a reality sooner than later.