When watching the Thunder two things stick out in my mind. The first is how much isolation basketball they play, and the second is how successful they are at doing it. In general you don’t want to see a basketball team just hand a player the ball and say “take this guy”. Normally it just does not work very well. However, most teams also do not have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at their disposal. These guys are so good with the basketball in their hands that it makes it alright to play one-on-one basketball. At times it seems that the Thunder can get through a whole game just by setting Durant on the high post or Westbrook at the top of the key. Durant is a mismatch for pretty much anybody in the league, even the one guy that seems to have a shot at guarding him, Lebron James, still allowed over 30 points to KD in the finals last season. The same type of thing applies to Westbrook. While he does not present the amount of problems as Durant does, Russell is a mismatch for pretty much any point guard that tries to guard him in the NBA. The combination of his athleticism and his ability to pull up in the mid range game is extremely deadly.
With this being said, when these two guys check out of the game the Thunder bench comes on the floor and, at times, really struggles. There is nobody on the second unit that can win the one-on-one match-ups as consistently as KD or Westbrook can. Kevin Martin is a superb player, but he is not on Durant’s or Westbrook’s level in terms of making his own shots. The one guy that may have a possibility of breaking down his defender one-on-one is Reggie Jackson. I really likeJacksonas a player, and I think if Westbrook weren’t on the squadJacksonwould definitely be starting for OKC. However, Jackson is a young guy and really is just beginning to realize his talent.
In my opinion the Thunder bench has to do one thing and one thing only to improve their production when they are on the floor. Pass the basketball. It is as simple as that. Because they lack the individual talent that KD and Westbrook have, they will need to rely on each other to score the basketball. They have the capability of doing it as well. As I said before, Reggie Jackson is a great young player that can get to the basket, and he has shown that he has the presence of mind to kick it out to Martin for a jumper. Of course you have to mention Nick Collison when talking about non selfish basketball. Collison is the epitome of playing for teammates as he demonstrates that every game with his willingness to pass and take charges. Overall, we have seen the Thunder bench do great things this year, but not nearly as consistent as they did it last year. Obviously that has to do with the departure of James Harden, but if the Thunder hope to get back to the finals and maybe defeatMiami, then they will need their bench to produce.
I am not saying that the Thunder bench has to all of a sudden turn into the best bench in the league. All I am saying is that they need to hold their own while KD, Westbrook, Ibaka, and the rest of the starters get their rest. When they go up against a team like the Spurs, who have a ton of depth on their team, KD and Westbrook can’t carry them for the whole game. The Spurs can just keep rolling out new fresh guys that know how to score the basketball while the Thunder keep relying on Durant and Westbrook. If the Thunder’s second unit can move the basketball and create open baskets for teammates, then I think they can take out the Spurs in 5 games or less.