Oklahoma City Thunder: A Look at the Second Unit


Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com dropped an interesting piece of information before the Thunder’s scrimmage on Sunday afternoon:

While this could simply be Billy Donovan trying out different lineups, it certainly seems like the four players in blue along with Steven Adams have the upper hand on the starting lineup with less than a month to go before the first game. 

This lineup isn’t new as it was the same group of starters in the first game of last season but it does leave interesting questions for the second unit. Assuming all players are healthy, the best guess for the second lineup to start the season is D.J. Augustin, Anthony Morrow, Kyle Singler, Nick Collison and Enes Kanter. The lineup has many advantages, mostly on the offensive end.

Augustin is a backup point guard on a contending team at this point in his career, and he’s shown that he can do it at an above average level. With a career assist to turnover ratio of 2.6-to-1, a three-point percentage slightly above 37 percent and enough speed and dribbling ability to create shots off the dribble, Augustin can thrive in a lineup that gives him enough room to work. Morrow is more than capable of providing that space.

Despite only shooting 38 percent in November and 28 percent in January, Morrow finished the season with a 43 percent 3-point percentage, which was good enough for sixth in the league. Morrow’s shot chart reveals no new information – he was fantastic from 3-point range. Morrow shot 50 percent from the corners, and Donovan will hopefully implement a system that allows him to shoot more of them this season. Morrow also improved his shots inside the arc making just under 50 percent of his two-point attempts.

Singler will do the dirty work on the perimeter this season for the second unit. His job will be to set screens, keep the ball moving and make open shots when he gets them.

Collison and Kanter aren’t the typical big men considering the stretch fours that come with second units on most teams, and it’s possible that Collison will be played out of a few games due to his lack of mobility on the perimeter. But the two will be a formidable duo offensively as Collison is a fantastic passer and Kanter is excellent around the rim.

These five players have the potential to not only thrive individually, but three of the five players are good outside shooters, two of the players have reputations of being very good passers and none are negatives on the offensive end. This lineup has the potential to be one of the better second units in the league offensively, but there are problems on the other end of the court.

Augustin and Morrow have been above-average to good on offense for the majority of their respective careers, but neither come with a stellar reputation on defense. Augustin’s size limits his ability to impact opposing guard’s shots and affecting passing lanes. Morrow faces similar limitations when guarding the wing but also lacks the foot speed to stay in front of most wings.

Singler is a good help defender, but much like Morrow, has trouble staying in front of quicker players. Unlike the other guards, Singler has suitable length for the position.

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Collison is nearing the end of his NBA career, but he’s made a living of excellent pick-and-roll defense and communication. He won’t provide excellent rim protection numbers and won’t shut the opposition down in the post, but if the second unit is able to avoid a terrible defensive rating, it will be because of Collison.

Kanter’s defensive woes have been beaten to death over the summer, so there’s no need to rehash those issues. However, Kanter needs to become either an average pick-and-roll defender or an average rim protector. Teams will continue to pick on Kanter in one of these two areas until he proves to be adequate in some area of defense.

Former Golden State Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson was notorious for having a platoon rotation with his team. The first unit would play the majority of their minutes together and the second unit would do the same. Scott Brooks did most of the same during his time in Oklahoma City much to the chagrin of most fans. Donovan has the option to platoon at times with arguably the best starting lineup in the league and a more than capable backup unit. However, unlike Brooks, Donovan could adapt his lineups depending on what the team needs that specific night.   

Westbrook’s statement is one of many that have been spoken about the new coach. Donovan has a long road to impress after the success the Thunder have had the past few seasons. Installing lineups for the team that sets the team up for success late in June could go a long way for the new coach.

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