The Quiet Storm
The Oklahoma City Thunder were the runner ups in the NBA last season. With that in mind, I’m sure to them that last defeat makes them feel like the equivalent of the Bobcats. After a strong game one victory against the Miami Heat, it seemed like the Thunder would be able to run through them. At least maybe give them a fight. The series then hit a lull in the next game for the Thunder, as they couldn’t counter the Heat’s small ball line-ups that we went over in the previous iteration of WLOTF’s season previews.
Since then, the Thunder have gone quiet on and off of the floor. Most of the players haven’t really been tweeting at their usual pace, aside from a few here and there from Kevin Durant and James Harden. They give very few quotes in interviews that aren’t about basketball. The most flamboyant thing that they’ve done has been this. Other than that, they’ve been relatively quiet for a team who just made the Finals–especially with an incredibly marketable, young nucleus.
In the front office, they’ve been the same type of quiet. The Thunder haven’t really added on any pieces that would wow you during the off-season. They’ve continued to follow the young and cheap route that they used to build their team from the ground up back in 2007. Its proven to be an effective route for them, as they haven’t really needed a productive, veteran presence to catapult their team to the next level. They’ve got all they need in that young nucleus.
Instead of bringing back Derek Fisher to fill the important position of back up point guard, the Thunder feel that they have all that they need in Eric Maynor upon his returning, and Reggie Jackson who showed some promise during certain stretches of last season. This was an all-important move for them as they need to save as much cap so they can extend James Harden in the near future.
Speaking of James Harden, the best move that the Oklahoma City made this offseason was resigning Serge Ibaka to a multi-year deal throughout the next five years with a $49 dollar deal. This is something that came to the disdain of a hefty amount of bloggers and NBA aficionados around the internet and on the television. It was said that the Thunder would have trouble signing James Harden now because of the deal that they gave Ibaka.
Ibaka’s deal was a correct one, maybe even discounted if you go by a market where Brook Lopez and Javale McGee are worth more than him. James Harden’s deal should be no more difficult than Ibaka’s deal was simply because of the willingness to get the deal done on both sides. Harden will have bird rights available to him just as Ibaka did. The Thunder will not have a problem going over the salary cap to keep a key cog on their team.
Just because they’ve been frugal in the past when it came to making decisions for players who weren’t as productive as Harden. This is a player who is truly worth the amount of money that he’s going to get–it shouldn’t be an issue to get him to ink the paper. To add onto that, Harden has an unquestioned willingness to come back and try to battle the likes of the Miami Heat for the next decade, even if it comes at a slightly discounted rate. I doubt that he’d even have to take a large pay cut, but a small one should not be a problem for them to work out.
New Path to The Storm
As mentioned before, the Thunder chose to stay on the young and cheap route rather than attacking the free agent market as their counterparts in Miami have done in recent year’s that have gone by. The Thunder choose to retain their young core, and attack through the draft. That’s exactly what they did this offseason as well.
The Thunder have seen many blessings come their way as an organization, but this season they managed to snag what could’ve been a top five pick over a year ago with the 28th pick in the draft. The Thunder took Perry Jones, III out of Baylor after he was passed on 27 other times because of a meniscus injury report that surfaced not too long before the draft. There were reports that also said that he’d only be able to play up to three to five years in the league, a` la Brandon Roy.
I think if that is the worst case scenario for the Thunder, other than his career ending in a two years or less, they could have a selected a gem. Given a productive three years at best from Jones could be all that the Thunder need. If Jones could manage to put up about 13 ppg, it could prove to be useful to that Thunder bench. Especially with the versatility and talent that Jones has on the basketball court.
Jones is a player who could bring aid to the Thunder who need a way to figure out how to play against small-ball. The Thunder are by no means a traditional team. Most of their points come from a core group of three players. No one else on that roster is even remotely able to effectively create their own shot and make it. Jones is a player who has shown the ability to do that for himself and others at an efficient rate at Baylor.
If Oklahoma City can boast a line-up with him at the power forward position and stretch the floor with that, it could cause problems for the opposing teams. On the defensive end, the floor would be stretched with Ibaka’s ability to hit jumpers from 15-18 feet out and Jones’ ability to do the same thing as well. That was a problem that they faced extensively throughout the NBA Finals vs Miami. The Heat weren’t guarding any of their players in the front court excluding Kevin Durant. They didn’t have a presence in the post, which means that playing the perimeter would be easy because of the players that were helping in the paint. Jones will have an offensive presence that will command that he be guarded.
That could definitely cure most of the problems that the Thunder faced on the offensive end. With a team who’s defensive strength is on the perimeter, you don’t want to have to rely on perimeter shooting to win you games. You must be able to work through the paint somehow. That’s how Dallas beat Miami the season before, along with multiple variations of zone defense and zone principles. The Thunder were using double teams more often than not against the Heat. When the ball is in LeBron James’ hands, even with his back to the basket, you cannot double team him. He’ll find the open man every time.
The minutes for the Thunder go relatively deep into the rotation. The bench is the perfect compliment to what the starting unit brings on the floor. Right now, the Thunder have 16 men on their roster. Now, I’m expecting them to cut at least three of them, if not four. NBA rotations are very rarely through twelve men. With that being said, I think that Hollis Thompson, Daniel Orton, and Lazar Hayward will be sent down to the team’s D-League affiliate. That leaves thirteen slots for the Thunder to fill. Here are what I think that the minute allocations will look like.
Kevin Durant- 36.8
Russell Westbrook- 35.9
Thabo Sefalosha- 23.6
Serge Ibaka- 31.4
Kendrick Perkins- 20.1
Perry Jones, III- 25.6
Eric Maynor- 21.1
Reggie Jackson- 15.5
Daequan Cook – 17.1
Cole Aldrich – 10.4
Hasheem Thabeet- 11.3
Nick Collison- 22.5
I think that the return of Eric Maynor will be a huge addition to what the Thunder were missing during the playoffs last season. Maynor and Harden as a tandem in the backcourt have so much chemistry. Maynor was also an excellent set-up man for many of the Thuder players coming off of the bench. He knew how to create for others well enough for him to make a difference in game.
Maynor was a productive piece for them, and with him back Westbrook won’t play nearly as many minutes as he had. His negative plays where he feels the need to score because of the second unit’s lack of ability outside of Harden will decrease. They’ll see a jump in what was already one of the most productive benches in the NBA. Though bench play doesn’t win championships all the time, it could prove to be important during stretches where they’ll need extra offense.
The Thunder are a team that is searching for answers on both ends of the floor right now. They had everything going for them last season and had it all snatched away in what was seemingly the blink of an eye. They’ll look to improve upon what they did last season this year and come back with a
little bit huge chip on their shoulder.
They’ll no doubt be fun to watch, once again. Stay tuned as the Eastern Conference previews will start tomorrow. The first team up: Philadelphia 76ers.