The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the thick of the NBA title race, but they are far from a finished product. Even if they do manage to go on win the championship, the roster needs to be tweaked to find the best supporting cast for the duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
This is the deepest team OKC has ever fielded, with a role-player laden roster that goes 10 deep. But the Thunder are still missing the right type of players to ensure that the Durant-Westbrook pairing can operate to its maximum potential.
The superstars—particularly Westbrook—receive criticism for their shot selection but a large part of their tremendous burden is that they are the only true shot creators on the roster (with Reggie Jackson earning the status of a “Shot Creator Lite”).
As a result, the duo is taking on an inhuman load in basically every offensive category:
This issue doesn’t present itself defensively since Durant and Westbrook are the two worst defenders in the starting lineup. On offense, however, it gets ugly.
There are various reasons for this. The mentality of the superstars certainly plays a role since both of them are so competitive (and so good in isolation) that they want to “be” the offense when the stakes are high.
Some of the blame certainly has to go to the coaching staff for relying too much on isolation basketball as a whole and not finding more ways to generate ball movement and get everyone involved. At the end of the day, however, this is because of the limitations of this roster.
Reggie Jackson is the only player (outside of Durant and Westbrook of course) who can score or distribute of his own accord (i.e. without the help of the two stars)—and even he runs hot and cold. That’s not his fault since he’s still very young, but he’s not ready to be the third option on a championship team.
Serge Ibaka has been tremendous, but he is a spot-up shooter. He definitely needs to be more involved in the offense, but he won’t give you anything more than elite mid-range shooting and decent three-point shooting.
After those two, who else can you trust with the ball? Not even “with” the ball. Who can scare a defense from beyond the arc?
Not only do Durant or Westbrook have to initiate the offense, but they don’t even have the floor spacing they require to relentlessly attack the rim—forcing them both to tend towards contested jump shots.
Thabo Sefolosha’s perimeter jumper continues to elude him. Caron Butler still has flashes of the scoring ability from his earlier days, but he’s basically a passable shooter and smart passer at this point. Derek Fisher is connecting on 16.7 percent of his three-point attempts in the postseason—a number that really is as bad as it sounds.
With the bigs, Kendrick Perkins is offensively challenged, and Steven Adams and Nick Collison are almost exclusively surviving on dump-offs and dunks.
So who can general manager Sam Presti add? If this is the summer Presti amnesties or trades Perkins’ expiring contract, the Thunder could have the cap space to add a third player to generate offense.
Nick Young may be a headache, but “Swaggy P” is more than capable of putting up points and stretching the floor. Ray Allen is also an unrestricted free agent, and depending on how much longer he wants to play and what goes down in South Beach this summer, he could be a gun for hire.
Jodie Meeks and Alan Anderson are two other players that can knock down open threes and play a solid all-around game. Furthermore, perhaps Presti can take a chance on a reclamation project like Ben Gordon (who has fallen off the NBA landscape since leaving Chicago) or Jimmer Fredette (who was never on the NBA landscape) and bank on their tremendous upside, which can alter defensive game plans.
Additionally, Presti will have a crack at a very good player with two first-round draft picks (21st and 29th). The Thunder might have the chance to draft James Young, P.J. Hairston, C.J. Wilcox, Zach LaVine or Shabazz Napier if they so desire.
All have the talent to be a reliable third option, and Hairston, Young and Wilcox are all very good fits with the size and athleticism to capably defend NBA 2s and stroke it from downtown.
It’s strange to say that a team with Westbrook and Durant isn’t talented enough, but that seems to be the case when you look at the entire roster and how OKC scores its points. What’s truly frightening is that Durant and Westbrook are both so insanely good that the Thunder have a very legitimate chance of winning a championship as constructed.
But Presti would surely improve their chances of doing so by adding more talented offensive players who can space the floor and create their own shots.
After all, you never know when a title window can shut in the NBA. The Thunder have done a tremendous job of acquiring young (and therefore cheap) talent, but at some point you need to push all your chips to the middle of the table and try to win right now.
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