How Should OKC Thunder Manage Minutes in the Season's Final Weeks?

Ricky FrechCorrespondent IApril 3, 2013

How Should OKC Thunder Manage Minutes in the Season's Final Weeks?

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    As the NBA regular season nears its end, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves just one game behind the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the Western Conference's top spot.

    This makes the final eight games interesting for OKC, as they'll want to try to overtake the Spurs and win home-court advantage, but they also have to think about resting their starters before the grueling playoffs begin.

    Because of that, the Thunder's rotation could be a little weird at times while they try to get that balance just right. 

    Read on to see a rough estimate of what Oklahoma City's rotation should look like for these last few games.

Derek Fisher, Jeremy Lamb, Daniel Orton

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    We're lumping these three together because, while all three players have varying skills to offer the team, they don't fill important enough needs to warrant minutes during the playoffs.

    Obviously, Daniel Orton is out. He gives the Oklahoma City Thunder a big body, but his game isn't anywhere near reliable enough to be trusted in the NBA's second season.

    In addition, the Derek Fisher experiment isn't working, which seems to be obvious to everyone except for Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. Here's hoping Brooks realizes that Fisher does basically nothing, especially against the new breed of point guards that dominates the League.

    Jeremy Lamb is the hardest player to leave off because he has a really impressive game.

    Unfortunately, he also does almost the exact same thing as Kevin Martin, which means that he doesn't really add anything to OKC's playoff roster.

    That said, if the Thunder do clinch the Western Conference's top seed, it'd be nice to see Lamb get some playing time to show the coaching staff what he can do on a bigger stage than the D-League.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 0

Kevin Durant

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    Until the Oklahoma City Thunder win the Western Conference, they can't really sit Kevin Durant much.

    Luckily, the reigning scoring champion is only 23, so his body can handle a few extra minutes heading into the playoffs.

    However, it'd be nice to see his minutes come down ever so slightly over the last eight games. It doesn't have to be a big reduction, but a few more rests here or there could do wonders for the Thunder star.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 32-36

Russell Westbrook

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    Russell Westbrook's situation is almost exactly the same as Kevin Durant's.

    Westbrook has youth on his side, which means he should be able to continue playing the same amount of minutes as he is now and not see any adverse side effects.

    Obviously, if the Oklahoma City Thunder can sit him for longer periods, they probably will. However, with such a young team, you don't want to sit them too often and risk them losing some of their edge during the most important time of the year.

    Either way, Westbrook and Durant need to continue to play quite a bit, they just shouldn't log many 38-plus minute games.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 32-36

Serge Ibaka

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    Serge Ibaka is the Oklahoma City Thunder's third-best player behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, which means he'll likely play 32 or more minutes per game until they clinch the Western Conference.

    That shouldn't hurt his young body much, but it's worth noting that, because Ibaka plays in the post, he's going to get banged up a lot once the playoffs start.

    It might be a good move to rest him more than Durant or Westbrook during the playoff push.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 28-32

Kendrick Perkins

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    We're finally down to some veteran players.

    Guys like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are still in their early 20s and don't really need much rest to be ready to go during the playoffs.

    But, 28-year-olds like Kendrick Perkins, on the other hand, need a little more time to get their bodies ready.

    Perkins is a force on the defensive end, but the Oklahoma City Thunder can afford to scale back his minutes quite a bit now that we only have eight games left.

    Look for Perkins to rest a lot more than usual, while guys like Hasheem Thabeet pick up the slack. 

    Average Minutes Per Game: 18-22

Thabo Sefolosha

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    Thabo Sefolosha is another older player whose minutes could easily be reduced in favor of getting some other players much-needed minutes late in the season.

    Listen, we already know what we have in guys like Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, which means, unless the Oklahoma City Thunder drastically need a win, it would be smart to get those guys rest.

    Plus, if Sefolosha plays bench-warmer for the last eight games, we can get a better idea of what someone like DeAndre Liggins could bring to the team.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 18-22

Kevin Martin

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    Kevin Martin's made life after James Harden much easier for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    His play this season should be highly praised by OKC fans, but he could do with some time off before the playoffs start.

    Unless the Thunder find themselves in a hole they can't get out of, don't expect Martin to play much over these last few weeks.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 18-22

Nick Collison

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    Nick Collison doesn't really need extra minutes, but he's going to have to play some to provide an opportunity for Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins to get some rest.

    Collison, who always seems to make a positive impact when he's on the court, is the Oklahoma City Thunder's steadying presence on the second unit.

    Look for him to be the backbone of the team for the next few weeks, while the starters ride the pine more than usual.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 20-24

Reggie Jackson

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    Unfortunately for Reggie Jackson and his development, the Oklahoma City Thunder signed Derek Fisher.

    Fisher has been stealing time away from more deserving players since he arrived, and that's forced Jackson to play in weird lineups that try to incorporate both point guards at the same time.

    Jackson needs more minutes before the playoffs, but more importantly, he needs to play without Derek Fisher. 

    Average Minutes Per Game: 16-20

Hasheem Thabeet

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    Hasheem Thabeet should get an increase in minutes for two big reasons.

    The obvious one is that, with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins sitting more often, the Oklahoma City Thunder's other post players have to step up.

    However, the more important reason is to build up Thabeet's confidence heading into the playoffs.

    The NBA game slows down in the second season, becoming more physical and putting a bigger importance on rebounding the ball and playing defense.

    If Thabeet can give the Thunder another defensive presence in the frontcourt, OKC will greatly increase their chances of getting back to the NBA Finals.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 18-22

DeAndre Liggins

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    DeAndre Liggins has a high basketball IQ and plays solid perimeter defense.

    It's unlikely that he makes a major impact for the Oklahoma City Thunder during the playoffs, but he gives them another body to throw at the NBA's elite perimeter players.

    He won't slow down guys like Kobe Bryant as effectively as Thabo Sefolosha does; however, he might be a more than adequate speed bump.

    Because of that, he should get a few extra minutes tossed his way during the stretch run. 

    Average Minutes Per Game: 14-18

Ronnie Brewer

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    Ronnie Brewer kind of falls into the same category as DeAndre Liggins.

    He's not a game-changer, but his defensive pedigree is pretty impressive. He learned how to play from legendary head coach Jerry Sloan and continued that work as a part of the Chicago Bull's "Bench Mob."

    However, he hasn't been able to find any playing time with the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

    Look for that to change heading into the playoffs. You can never have enough good defenders during this part of the season, and, if nothing else, Brewer is another body to throw at star players like LeBron James or James Harden.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 12-16

Perry Jones III

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    Perry Jones III likely won't see any playing time during the playoffs, but he gets the last roster spot because of his size and athletic ability.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder's young forward might be the best athlete on the team and stands at a lean 6'11". That's another big body who can use use his six fouls against someone like the Utah Jazz and their star-studded frontcourt.

    Giving Jones some extra minutes over the next few games will help build his confidence and maybe make him more comfortable if his name is called during the playoffs.

    Average Minutes Per Game: 10-14