For the Oklahoma City Thunder to win a championship, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook need to be brilliant. That’s a given. But they also need some of their supporting cast to step up in the big moments if a title run is truly in the cards. When thinking of X-factors for this Thunder team, team players jump out: Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler.
All three players are X-factors for different reasons, but they all will play big minutes at various points in this playoff stretch as head coach Scott Brooks will call their number in critical situations.
Some Thunder fans will groan at the mere mention of Derek Fisher, and I can’t blame you. He just won’t go away, but OKC is very grateful that he chose to stick around another year because he’s actually giving them very good minutes.
His value increases exponentially in the playoffs, where you just KNOW he’s going to make a clutch three at some point.
But he needs to do more than deliver in one crucial moment if the Thunder are going to win it all. Coach Brooks will continue to play him due to his experience and calm demeanor under pressure, and Fisher needs to do more than tread water if he’s going to be on the court for 15-20 minutes in a postseason game.
Primarily, he needs to continue knocking down three-pointers like he has been doing all year (38 percent from downtown on the season) because…well…somebody has to.
OKC has been a middle-of-the-road three-point shooting team this season (14th in threes made and percentage), but it needs to be better than that in the playoffs to give Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the space they need to attack the paint.
Fisher will be a big part of that perimeter shooting effort since he is one of the few perimeter players who is in a groove from downtown at the moment.
Since Coach Brooks inexplicably insists on trotting out lineups with neither Durant nor Westbrook on the floor, Reggie Jackson needs to deliver as the leader of the second unit and be the supplemental scorer when he shares the floor with Durant and/or Westbrook.
While it is no easy feat, we’ve already seen the Memphis Grizzlies make life difficult for both OKC superstars. They’ve been able to do so mainly because they can afford to pay zero defensive attention to Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins.
The Thunder still lack a reliable third scorer. Serge Ibaka is an excellent shooter, but he can’t create any offense on his own. Jackson, on the other hand, can put pressure on defenses, and he’ll need to be a playmaker on offense to throw a wrench in the works of defensive game plans.
He doesn’t need to go crazy and start dropping 20 points per night, but he will need to break defenses down and make the correct plays from time to time to keep defenses honest.
If he can do that, the Thunder offense will be infinitely more difficult to contain.
Saving the best for last, Thabo Sefolosha is OKC’s biggest X-factor, and he only needs to do one thing to propel the Thunder to a championship: hit open threes.
It should be an easy job for an NBA player, but Sefolosha has struggled terribly and is shooting only 32 percent from downtown this season.
Thabo Sefolosha finally hits a three. Had missed 12 straight, dating back to the regular season. That was a big one.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 22, 2014
That’s a far cry from his percentages from the last two seasons (44 and 42 percent, respectively), and it’s a big problem for the Thunder.
Because he’s just so good defensively. You have to play him because he’s such a game-wrecker defensively, but then your offense suffers immensely because defenses can load up against Durant and Westbrook.
If Sefolosha can start hitting open threes with any kind of consistency, that’s a huge problem for OKC opponents. Any offensive contributions make him a giant net positive when he’s on the floor because his defense is so phenomenal.
For that reason, Sefolosha is the biggest X-factor on the roster.