Oklahoma City Thunder Players Who Must Step Up in Second Half of the Season
The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit atop the NBA with the best record, look like a near-lock to make it to their second straight NBA Finals and employ the services of Kevin Durant, a legitimate MVP candidate for now, as well as the next decade.
All in all, things are looking good for OKC.
However, it is always dangerous to rest on your laurels, and while they may boast the best record, the Thunder's young guns still have room for improvement as they strive towards the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
A few of these might be a little nit-picky—which is kind of expected given how well the team is performing—but here are the players who must step up in the second half of the season for Oklahoma City.
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Reggie Jackson took the backup point guard position from Eric Maynor towards the end of December and hasn't looked back.
Granted, he has had his up-and-down moments, but you have to like what you see when the team's backup is putting up near double-doubles in 10-to-20 minutes of action.
The caution for Jackson, and the reason he needs to "step up", is because he does have his moments where he tries to do too much and makes rookie-like mistakes.
The reason Maynor was such an effective backup prior to his knee injury was due to his ability to effectively run an offense and set people up—particularly Nick Collison off the pick-and-roll—for easy buckets.
You can see the potential for Jackson to do the same kinds of things, but much like Russell Westbrook, he is a natural athlete who can get to the rim and finish.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing; however, Jackson needs to play at a more controlled pace, while continuing to grow as a defender if he wants to hold onto his backup spot.
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It almost gives you hope for Greg Oden, doesn't it?
In all seriousness, Thabeet gives the Thunder something they desperately need to make it back to the NBA Finals: quality size.
He is never going to make much of an impact on offense, but if he can continue to improve on the defensive side of the ball, he could become an X-factor for OKC late in the season.
It is unlikely that Thabeet gets the minutes to block two-plus shots per game, but if he can provide a solid inside presence and rebound the ball at a higher rate, the Thunder's frontcourt depth could become a strength.
At this point, the biggest thing for Thabeet is to continue to gain confidence.
As he does that, he is only going to become more and more of a contributor for Oklahoma City's defense.
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Unlike most articles you read about Russell Westbrook, this one isn't going to call for the All-Star to shoot less.
In fact, at times Westbrook could even shoot more because, let's be honest, Kendrick Perkins doesn't really need that many shots.
Sure, you'd like to see the young point guard defer to the best scorer in the world, but Kevin Durant has already proven that, unlike Kobe Bryant, he doesn't need to be a volume shooter to put up ridiculous numbers.
No, Westbrook can continue to shoot the ball 18 times a game, and the Thunder will continue to be effective.
However, if they want to take the next step and actually win the championship, Westbrook needs to take smarter shots.
Too often does he find himself thinking, "Hey Russ, you haven't shot in like four straight trips, let's jack up a three."
Now, it is hard to nit-pick a guy when he's having the best season of his career, but Westbrook's game isn't shooting the three-ball, and very rarely should he be taking long jump shots.
He is a career .301 shooter from behind the arc, but this year he has decided to take twice as many triples per game as his career average.
It is not a case of shooting less, it's shooting smarter.
Westbrook has matured a lot this year and has become a much better player for it. But he'll take the next step, if he becomes a little more selective and intelligent with his shots.
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Obviously, with a team as talented and deep as the Thunder, it is going to be hard for rookies to find minutes.
Heck, in the long run, it might be better for these guys to play in the D-League because it gives them time to develop in practice, something there isn't much time for during a full NBA season.
However, as the season wears on, Oklahoma City is going to need their young bucks to spell the starters as they get ready for the playoffs. Hopefully they can provide a spark that only a wide-eyed rookie can bring.
It is hard to say which one is going to step up for coach Scott Brooks, because both young men have impressed at various times this season, but someone's going to need to.
My money is on PJ3.
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Here's a fun fact: Kendrick Perkins currently makes roughly $15,000 per rebound.
For those of you still scoring at home—that is not good.
Granted, Perkins' rebounding numbers have been trending upwards, and he is averaging 7.5 boards per game for the month of January.
That being said, he needs to make that his season average from now on if he is going to earn that kind of money.