The Oklahoma City Thunder lost their last game Sunday night vs. the Toronto Raptors. It was the first home loss of the season and somewhat of a surprising one to many people.
But that’s life in the NBA. You have to show up to pretty much every game. The Raptors have been playing solid, the Thunder were on a back-to-back, and Kevin Durant missed a few more shots than he usually does. The result was a close loss, and certainly not a bad loss.
One interesting note from the game was Scott Brooks’ election to go with Perry Jones down the stretch to close out the game. Jones played 12 minutes, shot 3-of-4 from the field, scoring eight points to go with three rebounds and a blocked shot.
The idea behind using Jones late was clear: Brooks wanted a versatile defense out there that could switch everything and hopefully force the Raptors into more isolation scoring chances that one’s out of the pick-and-roll. It did work to a degree, but not quite enough as the Thunder were unable to muster up enough on the offensive end to pull out the win.
The Thunder were essentially sporting a lineup of Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Kevin Durant, Perry Jones and Serge Ibaka. It’s one of the most athletic lineups the Thunder could possibly ever have out on the floor. Furthermore, it may one day be the closing lineup that we are used to seeing from the Thunder.
Jones, the Thunder’s first round draft pick last season, hardly played any meaningful minutes last year. He spent most of his time in the D-League for the Tulsa 66ers and this season, along with Jeremy Lamb, feels like his rookie season.
At the time of the drafting of Jones, Thunder fans were rightfully excited about the prospects of getting PJ3. He is now listed at 6-foot-11 and 235 pounds, he was once projected as a top five pick, and his athleticism is off the charts. He is one of the fastest players on the Thunder and this season is blossoming into a defender that more important above all else, Scott Brooks trusts.
Gaining the trust of Brooks on the defensive end is how you unlock playing time with the Thunder. Even Kevin Martin last season, who is one of the most efficient players in the NBA, found himself on the bench late in games because of Brooks’ lack of trust in him on the defensive end. That’s also why we’ve seen Brooks take so long in committing to playing other youngsters like Lamb or Jackson in the past. You need to get there as a defender first before Brooks is going to play you.
Jones is well on his way to becoming that and in the process, giving the Thunder another very valuable weapon in their rotation. A player like Jones is one that the Thunder have somewhat been missing the past few seasons. They’ve had point guards, wings and bigs, but not many stretch four types. Durant will play that role when the Thunder go small, but many times that would mean the Thunder were going really small with only one big alongside KD and then three guards.
If the Thunder can rock a lineup with KD at the stretch four and another forward alongside him in Jones, that’ll give the Thunder essentially a completely new look they’ve never used before. The value in this look will be on the defensive end above all else. They’ll be more versatile and able to be more aggressive. It never hurts to always try and get your best athletes on the floor together, and Jones is certainly one of OKC’s five best athletes on the roster.
Looking through the landscape of the Western Conference, there will be some challengers in the playoffs that play a lot of small ball. This is where Jones’ value will come in. If the Thunder see a Golden State team using the likes of Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green at the three and four spots together, that will be an opportunity for the Thunder to unleash Jones. The Spurs can come out with lineups where using Jones will be attractive as well, and so can the Clippers.
More than anything, Jones may be one of the best options to use in defending LeBron James. I said this at the time he was drafted, knowing that I was getting a bit ahead of myself. But Jones’ length and athleticism is exactly what you would want trying to contain LeBron. Right now, the Thunder really only have two players who they can put on LeBron in KD and Sefolosha. Jones would be a third option and you are going to definitely want more than just KD and Thabo as options.
The Thunder and Brooks aren’t looking ahead to a potential Finals matchup with LeBron just yet. But planting the seed early in starting to hand out playing time to Jones is a very big move for the Thunder. We know the limitations of Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher. The future of the Thunder will be brighter without those two in the rotation. One of the young guys who will be taking over for them will be Jones. Starting to see that change happening is a very good sign for the Thunder.