NBA Playoffs: What the OKC Thunder Need to Do to Improve in 2011-12

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IMay 26, 2011

NBA Playoffs: What the OKC Thunder Need to Do to Improve in 2011-12

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 23:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on in the third quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 23, 2011
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Oklahoma City Thunder had a great run in the 2011 playoffs.

    This year, they were exposed to the rigors of NBA postseason basketball.

    As much as these young Thunder players have lots of basketball talent, they are being forced to develop a toughness that only comes from facing adversity and playing deep into the playoffs.

    Looking to next season, OKC needs to make some good decisions in order to keep moving forward.

    Here are five issues that the Thunder need to address if they are going to improve in 2011-12: 

5. Move James Harden into the Starting Lineup

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    DALLAS, TX - MAY 25:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a layup against Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Cen
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Forget about "fearing the beard"....start the beard.

    James Harden proved during both the regular season and this postseason that he needs to be on the court as much as possible.

    He provides a third, dynamic offensive option for Scott Brooks to use.

    In 17 postseason games, Harden averaged 13 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 3.6 APG.

    While Thabo Sefolosha started all but three games this past season, Brooks needs to bring him off the bench and allow Durant, Westbrook and Harden to terrorize their opponents next year. 

4. Find More Minutes for Nick Collison

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    DALLAS, TX - MAY 25:  Nick Collison #4 of the Oklahoma City Thunder attempts to block the shot of Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines C
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Nick Collison needs more minutes.

    Collison stepped up his game and added to his numbers in the postseason, proving that he is a valuable piece to OKC's puzzle.

    He showed that he is a tenacious defender, solid rebounder (7.4 RPG) and a capable scorer (8.6 PPG) in the Dallas series.

    Don't know that Collison should replace Serge Ibaka in the starting lineup. In fact, playing Ibaka and Collison at the same time next season might be something for Scott Brooks to consider.

    Regardless, Collison should be on the floor for no less than 30 minutes per game.

3. Create More Ball Movement

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks to pass the ball while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 21, 2011 i
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The problem with teams that have an assortment of talented individual players is that they can play like a bunch of talented individual players.

    The Thunder need to work hard to establish a better offensive flow in order to take full advantage of the elite-level offensive firepower they have on their squad.

    And that begins with Russell Westbrook.

    Instead of just driving to the basket or looking for his shot, Westbrook needs to lead their offense that settled in the Dallas series for four players standing around watching whoever had the ball go one-on-one

    Among the 16 playoff teams, the Thunder were No. 10 in team assists.

    Maybe Westbrook should be moved to the SG and allow someone else (Harden, Maynor...Chris Paul) take over the point.

2. Discover Team Defense

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 21:  Shawn Marion #0 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots the ball over Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first quarter in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Ar
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    On an individual basis, the OKC Thunder players can defend whoever they are matched up against.

    But, when they get beat, there doesn't seem to be much thought of how the other four teammates are supposed to react and help.

    And this ultimately put the Thunder out of the playoffs.

    They couldn't get stops down the stretch against the Mavericks.

    Not only did Dirk Nowitzki have a huge series, players like Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Shawn Marion got into the lane or got open looks, especially in the fourth quarters of the Western Conference Finals.

    OKC was second to last in points allowed in this year's postseason. Only No-D Denver gave up more.

    Kendrick Perkins is a very capable interior defender, but an improved effort as a collective defensive unit is a must if the Thunder are going to get over the hump in the future.

1. Make Kevin Durant Your Batman

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 23:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots over Shawn Marion #0 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 23
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    There can only be one Batman, and OKC's is Kevin Durant.

    He is the player that can take them to the highest level in the league.

    He doesn't need to play a Co-Batman role to Westbrook.

    He needs to be the featured player.

    If there is any misunderstandings about that with Westbrook, Oklahoma City needs to think long and hard to see if they need to move him now while his value is very high.

    Durant is special and there should not be any wrestling matches for who is the primary option on this team.

    Idealists will say, "There doesn't have to be a distinction of who's Batman and who's Robin."

    To that, I say, there was Michael Jordan, and there was Scottie Pippen.

    That set-up seemed to work for the Bulls.

    The Thunder need to make things clear about who's No. 1 and who's not.