3 Areas the Oklahoma City Thunder Must Upgrade This Offseason

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3 Areas the Oklahoma City Thunder Must Upgrade This Offseason
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
What kind of help do the Thunder need to give Durant and Westbrook this summer?

It's hard to call the Oklahoma City Thunder's season a disappointment (they did make the Western Conference Finals after all), but it didn't really feel like a success either.

Falling just short is always tough for a team with title aspirations, and for the first time in years, it feels as though the Thunder are going to have to make some real improvements if they're to stay at the top of the league.

There are three areas in particular that the Thunder should look to upgrade this offseason, starting with...

 

Wing Play

Thabo Sefolosha, Caron Butler and Derek Fisher have likely all played their final games in OKC, meaning the Thunder are going to have to reload at the wings this summer.

Filling Sefolosha's (assumed to be open) starter position has to be the team's top priority, but that could prove to be difficult.

Reggie Jackson terrorized opponents alongside Russell Westbrook this season, but he's OKC's only real source of shot creation off the bench, and inserting him into the starting lineup would force Scott Brooks to stagger his rotation in some really wacky ways.

Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Andre Roberson all have potential, but one of them would have to take a huge step forward to be worthy of a starting spot.

Given OKC's track record when it comes to developing young players, that's obviously not out of the question, but filling Sefolosha's shoes through free agency or a trade seems just as likely at this point.

As DailyThunder.com's Royce Young recently broke down, the Thunder could use their full mid-level exception and still likely dodge the tax, which opens up some intriguing options for them in free agency.

The best fit for OKC is probably C.J. Miles, who should be right in its price range and who fills a serious need with his shooting. Miles hit over 39 percent from deep this year for the Cleveland Cavaliers, including a scorching 48 percent from the corners—a spot the Thunder really struggled from.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Adding Miles could do wonders for OKC's offensive spacing.

Miles doesn't do much else offensively, but he is a plus defender. He may not be as good as Sefolosha—who, for all his offensive flaws, was a wonderful wing stopper—but he's strong and can hold his own against most 2s or 3s.

There are a couple of other potential free-agent fits for OKC, guys who could step in and play 15 to 20 minutes in a specialized role (think Anthony Morrow, P.J. Tucker, etc.), but no one who would be quite so good as Miles.

OKC could also find help through the $6.5 million trade exception that it acquired when it dealt Kevin Martin to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team tried to snag Iman Shumpert at this season's trade deadline, and it could go after him or others over the summer (though there are admittedly not a lot of great wings being paid under $6.5 million).

And again, it's impossible to rule out internal improvement when it comes to the Thunder. Lamb's inconsistent outside shooting and inability to get to the line hurt him a lot last season, but if he shores up either problem, he could absolutely be a quality starter.

Jones is a super versatile athlete who played the 2 through 4 for OKC and shot a surprising 36 percent from deep. He also flashed some serious on-ball defense at times, most notably when he forced LeBron James into shots like this in a January meeting:

Courtesy of Instagiffer

Regardless of which direction the Thunder go, they need to have more stable wing play to have a legitimate shot at the title next season.

 

Backup Bigs

This isn't quite so big a deal for the Thunder, as Steven Adams appears set to take on an increased role next season and Durant soaks up a lot of minutes at the 4.

Still, Nick Collison will be 34 years old in October, and while he was terrific in the regular season, his play dropped off in the postseason.

Unfortunately, it's hard to get a real grasp on what the Thunder will do to improve their stable of backup bigs, because it's completely intertwined with their wings situation.

If they break the bank (spend basically any money whatsoever) on a Sefolosha replacement, then they'll almost be forced to rely on the draft to snag a big and vice versa.

The most likely outcome is that OKC uses one of its two first-round draft picks on a backup 4, or perhaps even packages the two to move up in the draft if the right player falls to them.

Collison is still a solid player, and Jones could provide the team steady minutes at the 4 in a pinch, so the Thunder can afford the luxury of drafting a player and developing him slowly.

Pickings are slim in the free-agency department when it comes to cheap backup bigs, but there are a few potential diamonds in the rough to be had. Ekpe Udoh and Patrick Patterson could both fit nicely in OKC (though Patterson may be a bit too pricey), and even adding a veteran like Elton Brand could go a long way.

Ron Turenne/Getty Images
He'd have to take a discount, but Patterson would thrive in OKC.

 

Offensive Sets

OKC's offense works, and it will always work so long as it employs Durant and Westbrook. Those two are simply too good not to carry a top five or so offense every season.

Still, it would be a mistake for Brooks and the rest of the Thunder coaching staff to take an “if it's not broken, don't fix it” approach to the team's offense. Especially after that offense was exposed by the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs in the postseason, both of whom held OKC to well below its usual scoring efficiency.

The Thunder's offense primarily consists of two actions: a top-of-the-key pick-and-roll run by Durant or Westbrook or a pindown screen designed to get Durant with the ball around the elbow.

Obviously that's far from a full breakdown, and there are a few secondary actions and misdirections that play into those. But that makes up a hefty portion of what the Thunder do on that end, and it's simply not good enough.

Both the Grizzlies and Spurs smothered Durant and Westbrook (or did their best to) and lived with anyone else shooting. It almost worked for the Grizz and did for the Spurs because OKC's lack of off-ball movement often lends itself to tough contested jumpers when anyone but Durant or Westbrook is shooting.

No matter how much talent they have, elite teams can't be predictable on the offensive end. It may work in the regular season, but not in the playoffs, when the best defenses in the league have an entire series to scheme around stopping their opponents.

Part of the reason the Thunder were so good this season when Collison was on the floor is because he brought some much-needed offensive variety. Collison is a terrific passer and cutter, and OKC often has him facilitate or run a two-man game from the high post.

Courtesy of Instagiffer

Stuff like that adds an unpredictability that OKC doesn't ordinarily have, and at times, it genuinely flusters defenses. But the Thunder shouldn't need Collison for that—with a little scripted misdirection or more off-ball movement, they could have that effect on teams much, much more often.

The system doesn't have to be totally overhauled, but a few changes wouldn't hurt.

 

Conclusion

Seemingly for the first time in a while, the Thunder have a good bit of work to do over the offseason.

They're still one of the very best teams in the league and have as good a chance as anyone of taking home the 2014-15 championship trophy. But the right moves this summer could make that goal a whole lot easier to reach.

 

All statistics accurate as of 6/6/2014 and courtesy of NBA.com unless specifically stated otherwise.

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