But they need help.
Oklahoma City also has Serge Ibaka, a shot-blocking big with a quickly evolving offensive game. But other than those three, the Thunder are pretty limited.
The team took Mitch McGary at No. 21 and Josh Huestis with the 29th pick of the 2014 draft, but there are still moves to be made.
Mitch McGary and Josh Huestis both emphasized their focus on defense and being tough, "blue collar" players. #WelcomeToThunder— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) June 27, 2014
This summer, expect OKC to be aggressive in the free-agency and trade markets while still maintaining its core trio.
If general manager Sam Presti can’t haul in any real reinforcements or struggles to deal for valuable assets, the Thunder will be doomed to another playoff exit in 2014-15.
Surround KD, Westbrook with better shooting
Durant put up 32 points per game last season, while Westbrook, who was injured early in the year, was good for 21.8 a night.
As a team, the Thunder averaged 106.2 points. That means that KD and Westbrook accounted for over half of their team’s total points on a nightly basis.
And that’s ridiculous.
Thabo Sefolosha used to be that guy for the Thunder. From 2011 to 2013, the eight-year veteran hit 42.2 percent of his attempts from downtown, but that number dropped to a clip of 31.6 this past season.
To worsen Sefolosha's decline, Caron Butler, who was OKC’s most efficient long-range shooter in 2013-14, is set to hit free agency this summer.
The Spurs, who wound up hoisting the 2013-14 Larry O’Brien Trophy, were the best team in the NBA for a reason.
San Antonio had five different players who averaged 40 percent or better from the three-point stripe in the postseason.
Mills will be a free agent this offseason and would be wise to sign with another star-loaded squad if he opts to ditch Texas. The 6’0” Australian is great at what he does—he shoots and shoots and shoots. Despite his breakout postseason, he’s not a franchise point guard.
But that’s why he’d be a perfect fit in Oklahoma City.
Mills could line up alongside Westbrook or Reggie Jackson, or even run the show himself, all while stretching defenses with his lethal long-range jumper.
Durant and Westbrook are going to get their points. But if they can’t confidently kick the ball out to the perimeter when defenses collapse in the paint, what kind of chances does OKC have in the cutthroat Western Conference?
None. With better shooting next season, though, the Thunder will be in a position to contend.
Trade Nick Collison
On draft night, the Thunder basically drafted Sefolosha's and Nick Collison’s replacements.
Huestis, a lockdown defender out of Stanford with a limited offensive game, will replace Sefolosha, while McGary, a hard-nosed bulldozer in the paint, will replace Collison.
Presti on Josh Huestis: "Winning qualities, tremendous length, able to guard multiple positions, low mistake player on defensive end."— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) June 27, 2014
Sefolosha will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he is unlikely to re-sign with OKC after head coach Scott Brooks benched him for nearly all of the conference semifinals against the Spurs.
Per Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:
“I have no clue,” Sefolosha said when asked if he expected to be back. “I’m going to have to take some time to think about a lot of things.”
Asked if playing time and role would play a factor in his decision, Sefolosha said: “I like winning. I want to be in a good place with a chance to win something, and that’s definitely something that we have here. So definitely the system is a big part of it. You want to be happy and be able to play to your strengths. But at the same time, it’s going to be a lot of questions going on in the summer and (we’ll) see where it takes me.”
Translation: “Thabo out.”
But where does that leave Collison?
Sefolosha wasn’t lonely on the bench, as Collison, who totaled just 20 minutes in the series’ final four games, was riding the pine along with him.
Collison’s time in OKC has run its course. The younger, more promising Steven Adams had a decent rookie season for Oklahoma City, beating out his 13-year elder for playing time as the postseason unfolded.
Being that he’s an expiring contract, which is something of high value on the market nowadays, Collison could be turned into a future second-round pick if Presti plays his cards right.
One way or another, Collison has to go. OKC’s frontcourt is overpopulated right now, so it’d be a shrewd move to acquire draft stock for a player who won’t make much of an impact next season.
Improve overall coaching
The notion that Brooks should be fired is a bit ridiculous.
In his six years with the Thunder, the former journeyman point guard boasts a 63.3 win-loss percentage, 39 playoff wins, a Western Conference title and an NBA Coach of the Year award.
Does having two of the league’s best players help his cause? Sure does. But look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers—a team with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash barely made the playoffs. Coaching matters.
Presti voiced his support of Brooks after the Thunder were eliminated from the postseason, according to Royce Young of ESPN.com:
I understand, we all have a tendency to look at the last game, or the last series. I respect that. That's part of sports. I can't do that. I'm looking at a body of work. I'm looking at an understanding of what drives our success and the way in which we've gotten to this point.
You have to look at yourself critically every year and that starts with me, that starts with everyone in the program, and I think Scott will do the same and come back a little bit better.
Durant backed his coach, too. “That’s our guy,” he said, per Young. “I’m riding with him.”
While Brooks doesn’t deserve the boot, he does need to show improvement in his game-planning and execution.
Far too often, OKC runs no plays or sets whatsoever.
Here's a typical, late-game sequence: forced Westbrook jumper, contested shot from Durant, another tough shot by KD, a wild chuck of an attempt from Westbrook...and so on.
Some of those shots go in. Seriously, it's not all bad. But that style of play isn't reliable in big moments when defenses are legitimately engaged.
That one-on-one type of playground ball doomed the Thunder against the disciplined, well-coached Spurs.
There’s just not a lot of ball movement within Oklahoma City’s offense, resulting in an excess of isolation plays.
Bill Simmons on the Thunder: "I have real concerns about this team...(OKC)'s just one-on-one stuff. I don't like the way they're playing."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 7, 2013
In 6 games vs OKC, Spurs made 519 more passes in the half court than Thunder. Just about says it all.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 2, 2014
Granted, sometimes that’s the best thing that a coach can do—let some of the best athletes in the world take over and do their thing.
But late in games, Brooks needs to be better. And that starts in the offseason.
Brooks can follow the Miami Heat’s lead if he's looking for inspiration. The Heat are carried by stars, but the team also whips the ball around the perimeter better than most teams in the NBA.
Iso-ball in small quantities doesn’t hurt. But you can’t live and die with it. Next season, Brooks needs to institute a more stable offense with the Thunder.
The sum and substance
Oklahoma City doesn’t need to move heaven and earth in order to lift itself above the other contenders in the West.
But as the team currently stands, and as elite as Durant and Westbrook are, roster changes need to be made.
First and foremost, Presti needs to bring in a shooter. Or two. Or 10.
The Thunder need to line the perimeter with guys who can knock down open threes. Last season, the offense relied solely on how spectacular Durant and Westbrook were.
If that duo can get help along the lines of Mills, Miller, Allen or Fredette, the Spurs—and every other team in the West—are in trouble.
Can the Thunder win a title next season?
While offensive reinforcements should be coming in, Collison needs to hit the road.
Rather than letting him waste away on the bench, OKC might as well try to bring in something in return, likely a future second-round pick.
With Ibaka, Adams and McGary at power forward, the team no longer has any need for Collison. It’s been a nice 10-year run for the 33-year-old with the Seattle SuperSonics/Thunder, but it’s time for both sides to move on.
Working with what will likely be an improved roster this summer, Brooks is going to have to put a lot of work into his coaching.
Game-planning, executing, creating ball movement, getting his stars some easy looks—Brooks needs to be on top of his game next season. And the best way to do so is to become a better student and creative thinker this summer.
It’s tough to predict how next year will unfold, but don’t be surprised if the Thunder reclaim their spot at the top of the West and make a run at an NBA title.
All stats are accurate courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.