OKC Thunder Positions That Must Be Upgraded Before 2013 Season
Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder are in full-blown offseason mode, it's time to start making the necessary tweaks and changes to get ready for another campaign in the fall.
Though a team that just won 61 games this past season may not seem to have too much to change on the surface, there are still a few places where the Thunder could really use an upgrade.
Oklahoma City's possible adjustments are far from a major overhaul, but it could be these more minor changes that end up making all of the difference next season.
First Position: Starting Center
Though there was initial excitement and encouragement when the Thunder first brought Kendrick Perkins in via trade, that has all worn off and the fans have formed a mob with pitchforks and torches in hand.
In all fairness, Perk has had to deal with some lingering injuries during his tenure in Oklahoma City. This includes last postseason when he played three of the Thunder's four series with a partially torn groin.
However, he staved off any major ailments for the Thunder's latest season and missed only four regular-season games.
Perkins' production was far from healthy, though. In 2012-2013, he had meager averages of just 4.2 points and 4.6 rebounds with a career-low 45 field-goal percentage.
Amongst all centers in the league, Perkins had the lowest scoring average for any center who played in at least 78 games and the second-lowest rebounding average for any center who played at least 25 minutes (only behind Robin Lopez).
In short, Perk's performance isn't exactly what you would want from a starting NBA center. To put some visual evidence behind this, let's look at some recent visual evidence as to why maybe Perkins isn't the guy to be starting anymore. (The Perkins footage is from about 45 seconds to the 2:26 mark.)
As you can see, one of Perkins' main roles to fill as an elite big-man stopper wasn't going so hot against arguably one of the best centers in the league. Marc Gasol is a tough matchup, but one that Perkins was expected to neutralize to some degree.
If Perkins isn't pitching in on either end of the ball, maybe it'd be better for the Thunder to look elsewhere for a more productive player.
Fortunately for OKC, they possess the 12th overall selection in the upcoming NBA draft with a plethora of talented big men in the player pool.
Guys like Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Steven Adams, Alex Len, Mason Plumlee or Rudy Gobert would all be good potential picks for the Thunder (based on availability of course). Particularly, I think Zeller may be the best fit due to his ability to play both the power forward and center positions and his solid offensive capabilities.
Besides the draft, OKC could upgrade through free agency to find a more seasoned player who could be installed a bit faster. However, if the Thunder wanted to land someone like J.J. Hickson or Al Jefferson, it would likely mean a decently sized payday for that player, which would be tough with OKC still dishing out the $8.47 million that Perk is due next season.
While it seems just about any (and I mean any) human being taller than 6'10" would be a better fit in the starting lineup, it is important for Oklahoma City to find the right guy.
Contending teams with such established chemistry like the Thunder can often be a little fragile, so if they bring in someone who's really talented, but doesn't fit in with the main pieces (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka), the team is destined to fail.
Second Position: Backup Power Forward/Center
Look, I am hugely supportive of Nick Collison, and I recognize all he does on the court for the Thunder, aside from the normal, recordable statistics. However, I do also believe that OKC needs to find someone who has a bit more to offer on the offensive end.
Collison's contributions tend to originate more on the defensive side of the ball, so having a guy who can put some points on the board more often with the second unit could be a big boost for Oklahoma City.
Similarly to the Perkins problem, this is an area of need that the Thunder could address either through the upcoming draft or during the free-agency period.
In terms of potential rookie talent, Cody Zeller is probably the only realistic option at No. 12 overall who could play both positions while pitching in with scoring. However, the Thunder also have the option of trading down in the draft or out of the lottery and, in the process, acquiring the man they want in the process.
A more plausible solution could be coming from free agency, where there are some intriguing names to consider.
The best possible signing for the Thunder, in this case, could be the slightly undervalued Carl Landry. In his six years of service in the NBA, Landry has averaged double-digit points in four of them. In addition to that, Landry has mostly played in a role off the bench in recent seasons, so having him come in as more of a role player wouldn't be unfamiliar to him.
Landry has a respectable shooting range and some decent post moves that allow him to be a good offensive threat. Also, he shoots the ball efficiently (54 percent field-goal percentage last season) and rebounds fairly well (7.8 per game average during his career).
For the sake of cap room, Landry most likely wouldn't command a whole lot of money, but the Thunder may have to pay him a little bit more than he's worth if they want to draw him away from re-signing with a pretty exciting opportunity in Golden State.
Third Position: Backup Small Forward
One sort of unique thing about the Oklahoma City Thunder's roster is that they really only have one true small forward on the roster: Kevin Durant.
Though Durant stands alone at his position, there are other players who are capable of shifting over when needed (Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha and DeAndre Liggins to name a few). However, I think it'd be beneficial for OKC to find another true small forward who can play comfortably in a supporting, but lesser role.
Why is it so important to have another small forward? It's because when players have to play different positions, sometimes matchups can become unfavorable for that player, and that could lead to even worse things and confusion on the court.
However, if there's a guy who plays just one position, he can be called upon specifically for his role. The easy solution exists for the Thunder, and it's with someone who's already on the roster.
One player whom I didn't name earlier who is capable of playing small forward is Perry Jones III, the Thunder's first-round pick just a year ago.
Jones has some really good size and length with his 6'11", 235-pound frame. He didn't get much burn at all this past season, playing just 280 minutes in 38 total games. But I think that if the coaching staff really works with him this offseason, he can become the ideal backup to Durant.
While he is capable of playing up to power forward, I believe Jones' game is more suitable for that of a small forward. He has more finesse than power, and his size would give him great advantages over other small forwards.
If the Thunder can shape Jones into a pure wing player, then he could really find his niche into Scott Brooks' consistent rotation.
For the team as a whole, having Jones play more could help out the other guys too. Though he's not particularly good at creating his own shots in isolation situations, Jones could use that to his advantage to facilitate teammates and be active with setting screens.
Additionally, Jones has plenty of time this offseason to work on his somewhat lackluster jump shot to really open up his offensive game.
Overall, it would be a very minor tweak that would probably make only the slightest difference in the long haul for the Thunder, but it's all of these minor differences adding up that make it that much more possible to win an NBA championship to bring back to OKC.
Stats courtesy of HoopsHype, Yahoo!Sports and BasketballReference.com unless noted otherwise.
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