2011 NBA Playoffs: What Oklahoma City Thunder Should Learn in Loss to Dallas
Even though the young and up and coming Thunder faded against the experienced Dallas Mavericks, it should be another stepping stone on their way to a championship.
At least that is what their mind set should be. This is the natural progression for young teams like them, provided that they, and management, learn from this and adjust accordingly.
Do wholesale changes need to be made? No. Could they use another player who can score from the post? Probably.
The Thunder look like they will be perennial playoff participants for quite a while, so they will have to tweak some things and change their approach a little so they can get over the hump.
The experiences of the last two years won't mean anything unless they don't repeat some of the same mistakes. Some of that will be on the coaching staff, and some will be on the players themselves.
This is nothing strange. Many teams that have won NBA championships go through this process. It's called growth and maturation. Oklahoma City needs it. The coaches need it. The players need it.
You know what the old adage says. If you don't learn from your mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them. Let's take a look in more detail.
Thunder Must Decide Whether James Harden Should Start
One of the main issues with Oklahoma City was their inability to find enough offense on a consistent basis at the end of the game.
Harden did have a couple of sub-par games in this series, but a lot of the time, he could not be guarded effectively when he ran the pick and roll.
The Thunder really have to think about starting him. Most of the times he makes good decisions with the ball, and when he is on the floor with Durant and Westbrook, they have three guys that can get it done from the perimeter.
Not only do they have to decide whether or not Harden will start, but what role he will play in the offense. If they have learned anything from these playoffs, it is that they need to get Harden more time on the floor with their other two young guns.
Are the Thunder Better with Russell Westbrook at the Point, or the Two Guard?
The way Oklahoma City deals with their second team all NBA point guard will be key for them if they are going to go farther in the playoffs next year.
What have they learned when it comes to Westbrook that they can use to further their cause? One thing is that there are times when he is in the game that he doesn't need to be the point guard.
When Harden was on the ball many times their offense ran smoother, as Harden made good decisions and even found a cutting Westbrook for a couple of baskets.
What I hope the Thunder have learned is that they have a very talented combo guard in Westbrook, and he is versatile enough to play the both positions.
There are times where the team will do better with him at the two. There will be times where he will need to play the point. They have to do what is better for the team as a whole.
What I saw was at various times in the playoffs, the Thunder looked better offensively with someone else at the point. They have to make a decision going forward as to how they are going to structure their offense and how Westbrook will fit.
When you can't finish playoff games where you have the lead at the end, you have to analyze it, figure out why you couldn't close and do something about it. If you have learned anything, then you know something has to change so you are more efficient at the end.
Oklahoma City Needs a Viable Inside Scoring Option
The Thunder were so perimeter oriented in the playoffs that they became easier to guard because of their lack of a front court player that can consistently score from the post.
Having a guy like David West would take the heat off of Westbrook and Durant to make all of the plays coming down the stretch.
Collison played great and was their best front court player in the Dallas series. Perkins and Ibaka are not good on offense with their backs to the basket.
If management doesn't do anything else, they have to add a player that can get it done from the post. That would open up the court more and create some lanes for their perimeter players to slash and make them more balanced as a team.
What they should have learned is that their offense looked disorganized at crucial times at the end of games and they can't function like that in the playoffs and expect to make a deep run.
A post player that they can go to when their perimeter game is being shut down would increase their chances of getting to the championship game.
There's a Part of Kevin Durant's Game That Needs to Be Taken to the Next Level
There is not much you can say negatively about Kevin Durant's game. He has the total package. He is dangerous from outside, and he can get to the basket and finish.
He is a clutch performer most of the time as well.
One thing Durant has to learn, and the coaching staff has to help him with this as well, is the fact that he has to be physical and find a way to get open on the offensive end at crucial points of the game.
As the star and finisher for his team, he can't let the defender prevent him from getting the ball. That happened too many times in these playoffs.
The LeBrons and Kobes find a way to get the ball when the game is on the line. Yes, it is the point guard's job to get them the ball, but they have to make themselves available and fight.
That is something that Durant has to learn and get better. This is something that can be practiced, so there is no excuse for not getting better at this. The coaching staff needs to help by putting together plays that make it a little easier for Durant to free himself.
When he does get free, the point guard can't be late with the ball or miss him.
Game Time Decisions and Adjustments by the Coaching Staff Have a Huge Impact
Basketball, especially in the playoffs, is a game of adjustments. Scott Brooks didn't do a bad job of making those adjustments, but the ones you don't make can be fatal.
Sticking with what is working pays dividends as well. For example, Brooks should have left Harden at the point and Westbrook at the two, since that was working and Dallas had no answer for that in game five.
Ibaka was very ineffective against Dirk, and Collison played him a lot better and contributed more on the offensive end than Ibaka did.
I would have liked to see Collison inserted in the starting line-up and let Ibaka come off the bench. I know it would have impacted the bench, but I would have liked to see Harden at least starting in the second half of these games.
That would have kept Dallas off balance. They had a difficult time defending the Thunder when Harden was at the point running pick and rolls.
Brooks also has to be careful how he handles his young starting point guard. It was one thing to bench him for making bad plays. It was another thing to keep him on the bench the rest of the game.
With the game on the line, they needed his defense to guard Berea and/or Terry. Send a message, yes, but don't hamstring the team in doing it.
It was good learning experience for the Thunder as a whole. I am sure they learned a lot. This experience should catapult them to higher heights if they work hard and make the proper adjustments.
Let us not forget that the trade for Perkins didn't do them any favors in this series either. I wonder if they had to do it over again would they keep Green. Only management knows the answer to that one.
We will find out next year if the Thunder have learned from their playoff experiences this year.