When the 2013-14 NBA Season kicked off, it looked as though the Thunder might actually be one of the deepest teams in the league. They had Reggie Jackson coming off the bench and his development while filling in as the starter during the playoffs while Russell Westbrook was out had only helped the cause. Jeremy Lamb had a huge summer league after a very good D-League year and even rookie center Steven Adams looked a lot further along after Summer League than he did even on draft night.
Over the past month or so though – it really seems as though the bench play of the Thunder has been a cause for concern and the lovely surprises and additional output from the second unit has fallen by the wayside. Injuries to key defenders (and starters) Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins has meant that the reserves are seeing time in different roles and in different rotations and the results haven’t been overly inspiring.
Reggie Jackson has been the most consistent and with the time management that occurs with Westbrook, his role has largely been the same all season long – and that shows in his level of play. Jeremy Lamb was being used as an offensive spark off the bench, but he has struggled in the absence of Sefolosha and the inclusion of Caron Butler (who is playing major minutes) has curbed his influence.
Derek Fisher is seeing plenty of court time as well, although his numbers of late aren’t justifying it like they were a month ago, and Perry Jones III who did a terrific shut down job on LeBron James in their first meeting has found himself back on the bench, buried behind rookie Andre Roberson. Other than Steve Adams and Nick Collison – the signs are not overly positive.
Looking at the bright side of this situation though, Brooks has been able to get minutes into these guys. While the dividends are not paying off right now, it could be some valuable experience down the track. Hopefully the Thunder will welcome back their starters Perk and Thabo and things can get back to how they used to be. There is no doubt that the Thunder got better through the acquisition of Butler, but there has still been a “feeling out” process.
Heading in to the post season, the Thunder would love to have their traditional starting unit back together. They can go back to their usual strategies and rotations and hopefully see an uptick in performance from the bench again. Coupled with Caron Butler, it might be even more formidable than it was at the start of the season.
If the Thunder can get the best of both worlds again – they might indeed be the leagues deepest and most talented team. And they might just be able to make a return to the NBA Finals.
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