I’m sure if you ask most of the people in Oklahoma City, or any Thunder fan for that matter, to give you their thoughts on Thabo Sefolosha, their responses are likely to be perfect mirror images of my own: a mixed bag of uncertainty.
Seeing as Sefolosha has held down the starting 2 position for all but 3.5 months of the Thunder’s entire run in Oklahoma City to this point, it can be rather difficult to imagine someone else in the position. Even as recently as 3 months ago, a calf injury sustained by Sefolosha proved his defensive value along the perimeter, as opposing teams’ point totals took a very sharp upward turn, partly due to opposing teams’ improved 3-point percentages. But after reviewing the totality of Sefolosha’s contributions in the 2014 Western Conference Finals (see Part 1 of this series), it has become apparent that a defensive specialist in the 2 spot won’t be enough to get us over the hump.
Part 1 of this series went into the likelihood of Sefolosha’s return, as well as what the future possibly holds for Caron Butler. Part 2 went into the possibility of trading either 1st round pick for the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert, and why I didn’t think it was a wise move. This edition will look into what I believe, at this point, is the most likely outcome in manning the starting 2 position.
When you look at the totality of the Thunder’s roster, you can easily see that the guard positions are obviously their deepest. Ever since the Sonics became the Thunder, they’ve amassed an impressive collection of guards. How impressive? You can tell just how high the level of play is at the guard position for the Thunder simply by examining the level of talent in the guards that they’ve let go (impending departure of Derek Fisher not included). Here is my list of the top 3 guards the Thunder ever released, and the player impact estimates (PIEs) they posted this past season.
All-Time Top 3 Guards Released By The Thunder:
- James Harden (PIE: 15.6%)
- Nate Robinson (PIE: 10.7%)
- Shaun Livingston (PIE: 9.9%)
A lot of Thunder fans tend to forget that Shaun Livingston was on the OKC roster at one point. Although if you remember the time he was on their roster, you’ll probably remember why they decided not to take a chance on him. At the time, he was battling persistent ligament injuries in his left knee that were threatening to completely derail his NBA career altogether. They let him go with the thinking that he didn’t have much time left anyway, so there was simply no tangible reason to retain him. But if you put today’s Shaun Livingston on the OKC roster, I think he has an immediate impact at the offensive end, as he would be the type of player who could alleviate pressure from Durant or Westbrook as they go cold with his “smooth-as-silk” shooting stroke. But I’m beginning to digress, so back to the topic at hand.
With a roster of guards so deep that they didn’t have spots for guys like Harden, the obvious answer for manning the 2 spot, and the one most likely to occur, is promotion from within.
Last year’s 6th man, Reggie Jackson, averaged 13.1 points per game. That was his average coming off of the bench. With per game averages of 3.9 for rebounds, and 4.1 for assists, Jackson has a knack for posting impressive numbers in limited minutes. And his PIE? A very impressive 11.5%. His PIE alone suggests that he should have been getting the start over Sefolosha this entire time. Thus promoting Jackson to a starting position is simply the right thing to do. He’s earned the position outright with his level of play to this point. This leaves us with one problem, what happens to the 6th man position that Jackson leaves behind?
The obvious solution? Jeremy Lamb.
His per game averages of 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists won’t impress many, but you need to keep in mind that his minutes are quite sporadic. And once you take the sporadic nature of his minutes into account, it makes that 8.3 points per game average pop out at you in a “take-notice-because-I-am-significant” way that you may not recognize initially.
Although the most important stat of his stands out in such a way, that you cannot help but take notice. His PIE despite his sporadic minutes? An out-of-your-mind 9.4%. So what does that mean?
It means that this particular series of articles in regards to the starting 2 spot look like they are coming to a close. I had a Part 4 on tap that was to examine the impact of bringing in Aaron Afflalo. As the Magic’s leading scorer last year, he had a point per game average of 18.2. The problem is that his 10.6 % PIE indicates that we already have a better player for the position currently on our roster in Jackson. And that’s the situation before they ever even make a move in either free agency or the draft. With Afflalo being the Magic’s leading scorer, it easily leads one to believe that the Magic will simply ask too much of the Thunder to make any trade for him worth it in the long haul.
So it looks as though, at the end of the day, we were worried over nothing. The OKC Thunder already have all of the guards they’ll require for a run at a championship for the next two to three years at least. So, in conclusion, any guard position for the Thunder is one for which they already have an answer. The 1 and 2 positions for the Thunder will be the least of their worries. Their backcourt is pretty much set. The real need the Thunder have is in regard to the post positions.
The missing pieces to their championship puzzle lie in the 4 and 5 positions, so that’s where the Thunder are almost sure to place the bulk of their focus this offseason. The starting 2 spot is actually, and quite honestly, the last thing they should be worried about.