As someone who has been a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder since the hiring of Sam Presti and drafting of Kevin Durant, nothing makes me happier than seeing the Thunder’s stars reaching their potential, as they did last Sunday night. Between Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder had 51 points, 40 points and a triple double respectively, in an overtime defeat of the Nuggets. The game was arguably the most thrilling of the year, with lead changes and tight scores the entire way through. The Thunder managed to win despite James Harden’s 2-for-12 shooting night, and one field goal from Perkins, Cook, Ivey, Collison and Jackson combined. This night essentially proved that Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka can outperform the failures of the bench, if they appear.
The performance was a statement that essentially answered the criticisms of Russell Westbrook’s relationship with Kevin Durant, as Westbrook managed to have a fantastic night shooting (55 percent) while allowing Kevin Durant to have an even better night (68 percent) against a very solid Denver team. ESPN has been hyping up a conflict between the two, but in reality, especially since Westbrook got extended, the two have been playing great together. It really doesn’t make sense to say Westbrook is killing Durant’s offense when Durant is second in the league at 27.7 PPG and Westbrook is fifth with 23.4 PPG. Westbrook does need to get his turnovers down, particularly because the Thunder have the worst assist to turnover ratio in the NBA. However, their ranking is in large part due to special circumstances since Westbrook has to play as a second scoring option and backup point guard Eric Maynor is out for the year.
While this was a historic night for three of the best four players on the Thunder, it also brings up other worries that this team will need to address before the playoffs come around. Most notably, the fact that the team lacks a fourth reliable scoring option who can consistently keep the Thunder ahead of teams on par with the Nuggets. Although Serge Ibaka had his jump shot falling, Harden could not get it going. Westbrook and Durant are consistent, two of the top five scorers in the NBA, but the rest of the team never seems to click on the same night. James Harden is generally consistent, but his big nights rarely seem to coincide with the likes of Daequan Cook and Serge Ibaka. The reality is that unless the Thunder can get consistent scoring from Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka, it seems unlikely that they will be able to beat the Bulls and the Heat and their staunch defense. The Thunder need to make a move to add a reliable low post scorer in order to add another reliable threat capable of pouring in 10 or more points on a regular basis.
There are a surprisingly few low post threats on the market this year, but a few in particular come to mind that would fit the Thunder’s needs. The Thunder could add Carl Landry or Chris Kaman for pennies on the dollar. Neither of these players are necessarily world-beaters or are having particularly fantastic seasons this year, but they would be used solely to spell Perkins and Ibaka for just over 10 minutes a game to add a quick scoring burst. Hypothetical trades are annoying, but the point is that the Thunder will not be able to have two players combine for 91 points against top notch NBA defenses for four out of seven games in the NBA Playoffs.
While I loved every minute of the fantastic Thunder performance against the Nuggets, the lack of peripheral scoring and the fact that the game still went to overtime is actually seriously concerning. This game is proof that the Thunder have the talent and ability to be the most explosive team in the NBA, but it is also proof that the Thunder are missing one last scoring option to allow for playoff success.
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