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A Changing Of The Guard Begins For The Thunder Bigs

Throughout the Thunder’s time in Oklahoma City, they’ve found the 1 through 3 spots the easiest to fill. With Kevin Durant, the 3 spot is pretty much taken up by him for the vast majority of any given game. Not only that, but they’ve released an All-Star caliber guard in James Harden after their 2012 NBA Finals appearance, because they already had their starting guard positions filled by Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha (who was picked up by the Hawks out of this year’s free agent pool). Plus, guys like Eric Maynor, Nate Robinson, and Shaun Livingston have all come and gone, as the Thunder only have a limited number of roster spots for guards. Guys like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb can point to their spots on the team alone as proof of their NBA worth.

The 4 and 5 positions, on the other hand, don’t seem to have the abundance of talent that the others do. The perfect combination of size and athletic ability to be able to consistently dominate in the paint at the NBA level is simply a worldwide rarity. Nick Collison was the one consistent big coming down from Seattle, as we all could tell that Nenad Krstic’s time would be limited.

When Serge Ibaka made his debut at the starting 4 in the team’s second season in OKC, the paint and low-post defense became stronger for the Thunder as a whole. Once the deal was made for Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder felt as though they had found their starter at the 5 for the foreseeable future, despite his lack of offensive talent. The pest that he makes himself to his opponents on the court (even to this day) is what earned him the role. The trio of Ibaka, Perkins, and Collison became such a staple in the paint for the Thunder over the next 4 years that a 7’3″ center, Hasheem Thabeet, found himself unable to earn much floor time at all during games.

As far as Ibaka goes, the Thunder knew they had to give him the nod over Harden when it came to contract offerings. Ibaka was a rare find at the 4, as he truly is one of the NBA’s premier defenders. I’m sure the Thunder will do anything they have to do to make sure he stays in their starting 4 spot until he just can’t play anymore. This year he finds himself in unfamiliar territory, as his two running buddies of the past 4 years look to be gearing up for one last run in their Thunder jerseys.

Nick Collison will hit 34 this NBA season, and his rough style of play finally caught up to him during last season, as a recent offseason knee surgery shed some light on his limited effectiveness. Collison even said he knew his time in the league was running out during his last NBA exit interview. As much as many of us hate to see him go, he knows this is probably his last chance at an NBA Championship.

Even Perkins will hit 30 before the calendar year ends. Despite working to cut weight and increase his athleticism and coordination over his tenure with the Thunder, multiple and repeated knee issues have limited his vertical leap, thereby limiting his effectiveness in the paint on offense. Despite having a stout frame and tremendous weight to keep opposing players out of the paint as a defender, his broken-down knee keeps him from finishing at the rim with any real explosiveness when he leaves the floor. I just don’t see this being something he can get around, as he will be on the wrong side of 30 when his contract runs out at the end of the season.

This is the reason everybody is so high on Steven Adams, and anyone who doesn’t know about Mitch McGary is learning his value to the team very quickly. While Adams is still very raw, he has physical tools (a 7’5″ wingspan, for example) that simply can’t be taught, and actual athleticism that is quite rare for a man his size. And McGary’s speed, for his 255 lb. frame, astonishes anyone who has seen it in action. These guys aren’t just big, they have a coordination and athleticism that is tough to find not just in the US, but anywhere in the known world. When you run across guys like these, you do any and everything in your power to keep them around. If you ask me, the development of these two is the final piece of the Thunder’s championship puzzle.

Perkins, Collison, and even Thabeet know that this is their last chance at the crown in a Thunder uniform, and probably the last chance at the crown altogether as it pertains to Collison. This could be Thabeet’s last run as well, as he knows how lucky he is to be on the team at all thanks to the Thunder’s handling of Josh Huestis. I’m sure these three are ready to show Adams and McGary the ropes in an attempt to win one for everyone involved. I doubt they care about the possibility of unemployment next season, as free agency is always easier to deal with when you have championship rings on your fingers to admire. Plus, I’m sure Collison would like at least 1 for all of the work he’s put in over his 10 years with the squad.

Heck, if anything, that’s all of the motivation the Thunder should need right there. Collison has shed blood, sweat, and tears on the NBA hardwood for a decade now. The Thunder need a banner to hang over their locker room door, and it should read:

Let’s win one for Collison!

Tags: Oklahoma City Thunder

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