The Oklahoma City Thunder are currently on an eight-game winning streak and have avenged all of their losses on the season. Much of the credit for the Thunder's success in the past two weeks goes to the usual suspects of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, but the exceptional play from Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb off the bench should be noted as well.
In the last five games, Jackson and Lamb have averaged a combined 26 points per game, and both are shooting better than 55 percent from the field.
The Thunder's bench was a big question mark at the start of the season. But now that the Jackson-Lamb duo is starting to contribute consistently, the Thunder are beginning to show that they can make an NBA Finals run for the first time since the James Harden trade to the Houston Rockets.
The Harden trade is a sensitive subject for Thunder nation, and it has certainly been beaten to the ground with debates and arguments concerning whether the Thunder will ever fill the void he left.
Most drew the conclusion that the Thunder made a huge mistake by letting Harden go, including Bill Simmons who said "The Oklahoma City Thunder will rue the day it traded James Harden," on Grantland.com.
So, was Simmons right? Can Oklahoma City ever fill the void that Harden left?
The problem with that question is that Thunder fans and followers look for the void to be filled by an individual player. If you're waiting for the next James Harden to come through Oklahoma City, you will be disappointed to find that it will probably never happen.
However, think outside the box and you will find that the Thunder do not need a Harden-esque player to be a title contender. The Thunder are already filling the void Harden left with the combined contributions of Jackson and Lamb.
Royce Young on DailyThunder.com compared the Jackson-Lamb duo to the Thunder's 2011-12 season duo of Harden and Eric Maynor, and also noted some eye-popping stats from both Jackson and Lamb this season:
In 2011-12, Harden and Maynor averaged 21.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists combined. So far this season, Jackson and Lamb are averaging 20.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists. And Jackson and Lamb are playing about 3.5 fewer minutes combined.
This past week, Jackson had games against the Wolves and Spurs where he scored 18 and 23 points on combined 18-25 shooting. The game he wasn’t as effective in, Lamb saw the big minutes down the stretch against the Warriors, playing a season-high 27 minutes which included all of overtime. Harden was always a lock to be on the floor for crunchtime, while right now it’s one or the other with Lamb and Jackson. That could be a great thing to have that kind of versatility and options in your crunchtime lineup, but it could also be something that causes inconsistency.
Also, here’s a Jackson stat: With him on the floor, OKC’s allowing 91.0 points per 100 and scoring 109.3. With him off, allowing 104.6 and scoring 99.7. That’s the biggest net rating on the team, by quite a lot.
Sure, it would be interesting to see how the Thunder would fare with the Bearded One still wearing the Thunder blue, but as far as contributions go, the Thunder are not suffering from Harden's departure.
Instead, the Thunder remain in good standing financially and they still have a roster capable of winning a title. Plus, the Thunder have a lot of youth on their bench. There's still a lot of time for these young players to develop, so it remains to be seen how the 2013-14 group stacks up against the 2011-12 Thunder squad which made it to the NBA Finals.
Regardless, the Harden trade will be talked about for a very long time.
However, Thunder fans should certainly feel better about their team, and with the emergence of players like Jackson and Lamb there's reason to believe this club can capture that elusive NBA title.
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