The Oklahoma City Thunder have played about as well as any team in the NBA this season. They are only a half game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the league and have the best offense in the league despite trading James Harden before the start of the season.
There aren’t many holes when you break down the Thunder roster. But for Thunder fans that still remember the 2012 NBA Finals, there is one thing still missing from this team.
The Thunder aren’t deep when it comes to matching up with LeBron James. Not many teams are if any but it really could be the Thunder’s Achilles heel in their matchup with the Miami Heat.
LeBron averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game against the Thunder in last year’s NBA Finals. He easily was the MVP of that series and the biggest reason why the Thunder weren’t able to beat the Heat.
The Heat went small in that series playing LeBron at the four which was a major mismatch for the Thunder and especially their starting five. Miami consistently got out to better starts in every one of those Finals games and the Thunder could not figure out what to do with the game’s best player.
For all of the Thunder’s growth as a team this season, they haven’t made any progression in this area. They still will have an incredibly tough time matching up with LeBron.
Right now, the best defender OKC has to put on LeBron is Kevin Durant. The Thunder would rather not put Durant in a situation where he has to guard LeBron and score 30-plus points on the other end.
Thabo Sefolosha is the only other solid option to guard LeBron. But LeBron has shown he can easily take Sefolosha into the post and make plays whether it be scoring or finding open shooters.
The Thunder really need another option for defending LeBron. In the Finals last year they got stuck putting Harden on him and that really put the Thunder at a huge disadvantage.
You’re always going to be at some kind of disadvantage defending LeBron but the Thunder can still become much better at matching up with him.
Look at the team that has done the best job defending LeBron since he came to Miami: the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. They were perfectly constructed to stop LeBron with Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler patrolling the paint.
With the trade deadline coming up Feb. 21, the Thunder really need to take a look at acquiring an athletic wing defender that they can at least throw on to LeBron for 10-12 minutes per game.
The Thunder aren’t looking to make a trade that will overhaul their roster right now so don’t expect anyone big to join the team this season. The best bet is finding someone who isn’t getting a lot of run at their current team that might be interested in one of the Thunder’s draft picks or a Jeremy Lamb or Eric Maynor.
Here’s a few potential players the Thunder could look at: DeShawn Stevenson, Atlanta Hawks; Damion James, Brooklyn Nets; Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls; Alonzo Gee, Cleveland Cavaliers; Dahntay Jones, Dallas Mavericks; P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns; Jared Jeffries, Portland Trail Blazers; James Johnson, Sacramento Kings; DeMarre Carroll, Utah Jazz; Martell Webster and Cartier Martin, Utah Jazz
As you can see, none of these players will be able to shut down LeBron. The goal would be just finding someone who is athletic and could slow him down. Someone who could use all of his energy in 10-12 minutes to make LeBron work harder than he would like to.
It would be nice if one of these guys could bring a little something on offense too like be able to make spot-up three-pointers or cut well off the ball.
The Thunder won’t necessarily be able to acquire any of these players for Maynor or Lamb straight up. They’d have to include one of their draft picks for sure. These would be valuable assets to give up simply to hopefully match up better with LeBron but it would be worth it for the Thunder.
The argument against a trade for one of these guys would be that the Thunder already have this type of player in DeAndre Liggins. Liggins will likely get a shot against LeBron if the Thunder play the Heat in the Finals but he really isn’t big enough to do much against him. LeBron would easily be able to take Liggins into the post where he is most effective in hurting the Thunder.
Jeffries, Johnson or Carroll are among the best athletes from this list and would likely cause LeBron to work more on the perimeter where the Thunder would have the best chance of slowing him down.
The Thunder have been quiet about any trade talks and there’s probably a better chance than any that they don’t make any moves at all. But don’t underestimate the importance of bringing in a player like this if the Thunder do pull the trigger on Feb. 21.