One question that every playoff team will have to answer is what players will be on the court when it comes down to the end of an important playoff game. This issue should be a priority in particular for Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder have been criticized heavily over the past few years for the choices the coaching staff has made as far as which players play. It has not only been about the amount of minutes certain players are getting, but also the game-time situations during which they are playing.
The lineup they should be playing in these situations is not that hard to figure out. It should be a small, versatile group that combined athleticism with offensive ability.
Is there really any need to even bring this guy up? There is only one player who should more obviously be on the court in big situations, and he plays for the Miami Heat.
Kevin Durant is averaging 28.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Few perimeter players in history, let alone in the NBA today, have been able to put up such impressive numbers.
The reason Durant’s numbers seem less impressive is only because of that aforementioned member of the Miami Heat, whose statistical output has not been matched ever historically.
This is another player on the list who really does not need to have his case made for him. But just in case, here goes.
Russell Westbrook is probably the most athletic point guard to ever play the game when it comes to pound-for-pound athleticism. Derrick Rose would be a close competitor in that race if he were healthy, but even then I think Westbrook wins it outright.
Few players have his size and athletic ability when it comes to getting to the rim. He also has proven that he can use that athleticism to suck defenders off three-point shooters and make the right pass.
As the man who replaced James Harden this season, Kevin Martin should definitely be on the floor. Not only is he a savvy veteran who knows how to create offense, he is also a dead-eye three-point shooter (42 percent) who can space the floor and provide driving lanes for Durant and Westbrook.
That is incredibly valuable in late-game situations, when a three-point basket, or even the threat of one, can change the outcome of a game.
Martin’s ability to get to the free-throw line and make it count (89 percent this season) also makes him an ideal player for clutch situations.
This may be the choice that is most up for debate on this list, but Thabo Sefolosha really has earned his place among this group of clutch players.
Any time one discusses Sefolosha, his defense must also be discussed. Clutch defense is undervalued in the NBA, and Sefolsha provides the kind of defense necessary with his length at 6’7” that a team needs on perimeter shooters.
There is also the small fact that he, like Martin, provides driving space with a three-point shot that goes in enough (41 percent) to keep the defense honest.
This lineup is a small one, with Durant playing the four and this guy playing the five. Serge Ibaka is the best shot-blocker in the game and that is the primary reason he should be included here.
With the other players in this lineup, there are bound to be a few players who get loose headed to the rim. That is where Ibaka comes in, sending their shot attempts into the stands as opposed to into the hoop.
He also has a decent outside jumper for his size, which can provide even more space for the playmakers in this unit.
In this lineup, you have everything you could want in a clutch five. You have three players who shoot over 40 percent from three. All five shoot at least 75 percent or better from the charity strip and at least 43 percent from the floor. You also have two of the best offense creators in the league in Durant and Westbrook. And all of that is backed up with the NBA’s best shot-blocker protecting the rim.
This is the lineup the Thunder should be playing in the key moments of critical playoff matchups. It provides the versatility, speed and shooting that wins big in June.