Trailing by 11 entering the fourth quarter of their last game vs. the Detroit Pistons, the Oklahoma City Thunder played five guys the entire final 12 minutes to come back and win the game.
Those five guys look like the new crunch time lineup for OKC: Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Durant.
It’s a small lineup and the Thunder are at their best with those five on the floor together. Through eight games this season, the Thunder have an offensive rating of 103.4. With this lineup in the game, that rating shoots up to 125.6.
Defensively, the Thunder have been better with this lineup out there as well improving their defensive rating from 94.7 all the way down to 80.6.
It’s still early in the year and we only have a small sample size (24 minutes) with this core playing together but it was very clear two nights ago that this will be the new closing lineup in OKC.
Just compare the numbers to the starting lineup for OKC that has always been a problem getting the Thunder to slow starts in games. The starts for the Thunder are worse than their opponents in 134 minutes this season with an offensive rating of 89.8 and defensive rating of 93.8.
The production of the starting five was a problem for the Thunder last year and it looks like it will be again this season. Remember in the NBA Finals when the Thunder kept getting out to slow starts?
Another lineup similar to the starting one that we will see a lot of this season consists of Martin in for Sefolosha and the rest of the starters the same. It’s better than the starters in 49 minutes this season but still not great, with an offensive rating of 112.1 and defensive rating of 109.1.
The key to this new closing lineup is going small with Durant at the four and Martin’s presence as an added scorer and spot-up shooter. There’s another lineup that’s doing just as well for the Thunder that is very similar. Swap Nick Collison in for Ibaka at the five and that Thunder lineup has an offensive rating of 127.3 and defensive rating of 89.4.
Durant is a matchup nightmare for just about any team when playing the four. One of the drawbacks by going small is supposed to be more vulnerability to offensive rebounds but these Thunder lineups have actually improved their defensive rebounding with these smaller lineups.
Durant needs to get a lot of credit here. He’s averaging a career-high 10.4 rebounds per game so far this season. His total rebound percentage is a career-high at 15.7 and his defensive rebound percentage is even more impressive at 25.8.
These smaller lineups for the Thunder are more versatile and active than Thunder lineups that have Kendrick Perkins in at the five and either Ibaka or Collison at power forward. They are the kind of lineups the Thunder will need to use if they want to get past a San Antonio or Miami come playoff time.
It’s early in the season and the sample sizes are small but the numbers are just confirming what the eyes see. The Thunder are better small, way better. Perkins will always continue to start at center but his minutes should be lessened for the Thunder to be at their best.
It’s a good sign though that Scott Brooks likes going small and is doing it a lot early on this season.