3 Best Pairings for the Oklahoma City Thunder This Year
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been enjoying a great start to their season and are on track for another dominant playoff run.
Even after parting with their star sixth man James Harden, Oklahoma City has been thriving on team chemistry with star players Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continuing to polish their games.
Besides seeing their two main guys clicking, the Thunder have other valuable players who have been stepping up this season, like starting forward Serge Ibaka and the new sixth man to replace Harden, guard Kevin Martin.
With all of the success thus far this season, there's a lot of good things happening in OKC so let's take a look at the roster and see which three tandems have contributed the most to the team this year.
Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison
While I am part of the decreasing number of people who believe Kendrick Perkins belongs as the starting center in OKC, I also believe that Ibaka and Collison have proven to be one of the most effective frontcourt options for the Thunder this season.
Ibaka has really improved his jump-shooting range this offseason and it has given him a lot of options offensively. Because of this, he can space the floor or post up in the paint, making it more difficult to keep track of him. This is where Nick Collison comes in.
Even as a player who doesn't show up a whole lot in the box score, Collison is one of the most important aspects to the Thunder due to his hustle plays, great screens, and solid rebounding. With Ibaka on the floor with Collison, it gives the latter freedom to set up pick-and-rolls for Durant or Westbrook, who can do a lot of damage when given even the slightest amount of daylight in the lane.
Ibaka and Collison have been playing together for several years, and they both really know each others' games. Collison's offense is generated through easy buckets, usually when he is left unattended under the basket, or even in the mid-range, where he's developed a respectable jumper.
Having two players who understand each other this well has paid dividends for the Thunder, who are still deciding how to approach the oft-injured and somewhat unproductive presence of Kendrick Perkins.
Kevin Martin and Russell Westbrook
Though the instant offense of James Harden is tough to replace for the Thunder, OKC may have found something close to it when they dealt for Kevin Martin.
Martin has developed a reputation as a pretty reliable scoring option in his eight NBA seasons, and not much has changed in his time so far with Oklahoma City. He's averaging 15 points per game for the Thunder off the bench, providing a similar scoring spark to Harden.
What makes Martin a little different, however, and what makes him such a great tandem with Russell Westbrook, is that Martin's offense relies a lot more heavily on spot-up shooting rather than driving and creating like Harden.
Westbrook is a very aggressive player and will often slash to the basket, looking to finish at the rim. When Harden was in OKC, he would often move a lot more frequently without the ball, making it less likely that Westbrook could kick it out to him for a shot if he wasn't having any luck driving inside.
Kevin Martin, however, tends to hang around in his comfort zone right around the perimeter, waiting for a catch-and-shoot opportunity. This is also something that's newer for Martin, who was relied upon more for scoring in Houston.
With Durant and Westbrook, however, Martin can become a spot-up guy, which has really helped to increase his shooting averages. From long range, Martin is shooting a career-high 43 percent and is making 2.2 three-pointers per game.
With Martin hovering around the arc, anticipating a pass, Westbrook can have more freedom to drive the lane or pull up on his own, knowing that his new favorite shooter will be there to bail him out if the paint gets clogged. One prime example is in this video below, right around the :50 second mark.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant
There is obviously no tandem on the team, and possibly even the NBA, who have been as great as Westbrook and Durant this season.
The departure of James Harden seems to have given these two stars a bit more room to work with their offensive games, and the improvements by both have been apparent this year. Durant is scoring very efficiently (shooting 52 percent from the field, 42 percent from three, and 91 percent at the line) and Westbrook is fifth in the NBA with assists per game (8.1) and fourth in total assists (350).
Besides just the amazing lob plays and the spectacular chemistry on fast breaks, these two guys really do a great job of deferring to the hot hand at the time, an idea that took Westbrook a little extra time to warm up to.
If and when Durant is feeling it in the fourth quarter of any given game, Westbrook has done a nice job of toning down the hero ball he usually plays and feeds the ball to KD accordingly. The same has been seen vice versa, with Durant finding Westbrook when he really gets it going.
Having two guys who play with pretty high emotion makes for two very expressive personalities, so getting players like them to work together this well on a consistent basis is no easy task. Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks seems to have found a way to do just that, making these two All-Stars highly dangerous threats when on the court together.
Should KD and Westbrook continue to evolve and adapt to each other's games and tendencies, they could lead their team to the upper echelon of NBA success, cementing their names as one of the best NBA tandems in recent memory.
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