In a close encounter – as we have come to expect from the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies, the need for a pure outside shooter to compliment Kevin Durant and the rest of the Thunder became pretty apparent. Game on the line, Kevin Durant made a super smart basketball play and hit Serge Ibaka in the corner for the three. It was a good look off a great possession but Ibaka was unable to make it count and after a few free throws, the Thunder found themselves on the wrong side of the 90 – 87 scoreline.
It hasn’t been just this game – it has been clear for a number of seasons now – the Thunder really could use someone who can consistently knock down open looks from deep. It has been highlighted even more so now that Russell Westbrook has been out through injury, because Durant is not on the end of these shots, but rather finding himself as the playmaker and relying on others to make shots – and it hasn’t been happening frequently enough.
The Thunder have dropped to 28-10 on the season, but more concerning, they are now 5-5 without Russ and have also been held below 90 points four times this season – all games in which Westbrook didn’t play. The OKC bench has been much improved this season and was even lauded for their first couple of months of the season. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb were producing well as part of the second unit, rookie Steve Adams was making the most of his minutes and Perry Jones and Nick Collison were bringing the hustle and defensive energy required. However, since Westbrook’s injury, Jackson has struggled in his role as a starter (seven turnovers tonight), Lamb has been honed in on a little more and Durant has been asked to do a lot more. It isn’t a great recipe for winning as their record shows.
Now it’s not panic stations for the Thunder at all, merely just a learning curve. Each period of time without their All Star point guard has allowed the Thunder to see just where the rest of the roster sits. Ideally Westbrook returns post All Star game break (although after seeing some of his pre-game warmup action, people are again questioning if he may be back sooner than his initial timetable and with the Thunder struggling without him – it may be on the cards) the ship rights itself and the Thunder move back to the top of the West and are ready for a playoff tilt. However, the Thunder also have room to make a move if they wish – and a spot up shooter might be on top of the list.
OKC have a couple of trade exceptions (Eric Maynor and Kevin Martin) and in a trade earlier this month, moved Ryan Gomes to alleviate some cap space. Could this point to the Thunder targeting another piece to help them make an NBA Finals run? If that is the case, tonight’s game and the past 10 games without Westbrook might force the Thunders hand. Kevin Durant is a superstar and arguably the league’s Most Valuable Player right now, but even he can’t do it all himself. When Westbrook returns he won’t have to, but you can’t have too many shooters. Putting an extra marksman out on the floor might just allow Durant and Westbrook the luxury of not seeing a double team every play and the continued confidence to make the right basketball play.
It may also result in winning these close games.