So far this offseason there has been a lot of negativity among Oklahoma City Thunder fans with the perceived lack of development of their team.
While they did win 60 games last season, a lot of contenders in the Western Conference have made big-time moves. The Houston Rockets added Dwight Howard, the Golden State Warriors picked up Andre Iguodala and the Los Angeles Clippers added J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, two great perimeter shooters.
All of these moves will improve those teams to at least nearly-elite teams, and all of those teams are legitimate championship contenders in the next few seasons. The Thunder have appeared, at least on the surface, to have gotten worse this offseason. However, if you look a little deeper, those fans would probably find that the team has indeed gotten better.
The primary reason for this is because of their young talent. The big three of Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are all still young enough to be on the upswing of their career and are all likely to be better this season than last.
Ibaka should be better offensively with an offseason knowing he is the team's third scoring option. Westbrook should continue his improvement as a point guard, and improvement has been happening since his rookie year.
Durant will look to channel his playoff self that was a legitimate point forward. He may also have considered working on his low-post game to take advantage of his shooting touch and length, although there have been no reports of this.
However, the linear development of their established stars is not the thing that will accommodate for the loss of Martin. It is instead the hopefully exponential leap taken by the Thunder's trio of young talents: Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III.
First is Jackson. He played only 14.2 minutes per game in the 2012-13 regular season, but this was bumped up to 33.5 in the playoffs once Westbrook went down.
However, with Westbrook sure to be back for the start of the upcoming season, Jackson will instead replace Martin as Oklahoma City's first man off the pine.
This could fit Jackson's game very well. He is 6'3", but he has very long arms and the strength and quickness to play some backup point guard and shooting guard.
While he is not a very good long-range shooter, his handles and athleticism make him a great finisher at the rim who also has the ability to get there.
With this being said, Jackson will not be a better offensive threat than Martin coming off the bench. Martin was one of the best three-point shooters in the Association last season, and his ability to stretch the defense was hugely valuable.
However, Martin really only had a one-dimensional offensive game, and his inability to defend at an even below-average level took away some of his value.
In contrast, Jackson was a good defender last season, and he should be better with another year of top-flight coaching. He is also a much better passer and rebounder than Martin, and his ability to run the offense when playing with the bench should help recapture some of what James Harden brought as a sixth man.
For anyone wondering about Jackson's impact, they only have to look at his dominating play at the NBA Summer League to see his potential impact on the 2013-14 season.
Despite the benefits of playing Jackson for big minutes, I will admit that replacing Martin with just him would not help the team. However, another young gun for the Thunder, Jeremy Lamb, is also in line to receive bigger minutes off the new-look bench.
Lamb, a shooting guard through and through like Martin, has been compared by many to KMart. This comes from their thin physiques and shooting prowess, but at least at this stage of his career Lamb, like Jackson, offers much more to a team.
He is not the marksman that Martin is (at least at this point of his career), but his extra athleticism makes him a solid defender and better rebounder.
Also, Lamb has shown the ability to put the ball on the ground, and while he will never be confused for a ball-handler, he can beat his man off the dribble to get to the rim on occasion.
Lamb is also a good three-point shooter and should keep defenses honest like Martin did. His ability to draw his defender out of the paint should make life much easier for Westbrook and Durant.
While his limited minutes at the NBA level make projection much less accurate than for Jackson, his D-League career indicates that he has real potential as an all-around player.
His full statistical record can be found here, but the key takeaway from these is that when he was the man as an inexperienced rookie, Lamb showed the ability to control a game, score with will and set up his teammates. While this was against a much lower level of competition, this can serve as the ceiling for what Lamb can offer his team in his prime.
While Jackson and Lamb are likely to replace the lion's share of Martin's 2012-13 minutes, there is another young gun for the Thunder who is a bit of a wild card for next season.
Despite being projected as a top-five pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Jones fell in 2012 because of his supposed lack of drive and injury concerns. However, he has elite physical tools and the ability to cover the small forward and power forward position.
He can rebound and pass fairly well and has the ability to stretch out to the three-point line. While it remains to be seen if he will receive any significant minutes this season, he could step up and become a great backup to Durant and Ibaka.
Jones' emergence would undoubtedly give the Thunder the best bench unit in the league, and teams would have nowhere to hide against a loaded Thunder roster.
Even better, unlike with Jackson and Lamb, who are replacing the minutes of great-to-good veterans like Martin, Derek Fisher and Eric Maynor, any production from Jones would be a bonus compared to the 2012-13 season.
The majority of minutes not played by Durant at small forward were filled by Martin, who was a defensive turnstile at small forward, DeAndre Liggins (a poor man's Thabo Sefolosha) and Ronnie Brewer.
They did not produce that much, and therefore if Perry can produce there it would give next season's iteration an advantage over the 2013 squad. His ability to create offensive value would also be a big change from the defense-first (but still very valuable) Nick Collison at power forward.
As well as Jackson, Jones and Lamb, the new crop of Thunder rookies should be able to help the team more than last year's did.
Steven Adams, while raw, has the athleticism and defensive ability to help the team off the bench much more than Hasheem Thabeet did.
The Thunder's other first-round pick, Andre Roberson, has shown in the summer league that he is indeed a good defender and rebounder who should be able to help the team out in spot minutes at the forward spots.
Even Daniel Orton has looked dangerous so far in Orlando, and while limited defensively and cursed with terrible conditioning, his ability to score inside might give him a role in the Oklahoma City rotation.
In short, the Thunder are sure to be better next season if no one regresses from last year. Superstars Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka should all get better, and the bench should be leaps and bounds better with the arrival of Jackson, Lamb, Adams and potentially Jones to bigger roles.
While the Thunder's sluggish free agency may have fans worried, when the season actually comes, we will once again be treated to an elite basketball team and a deep championship run.
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