There may be no better duo than that of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the NBA, however, year after year they are met with expectations of a championship — only to fall short. Considering their failure once again this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder may need drastic changes if they are to win it all.
Blaming the loss of the Thunder in the playoffs on its principle players, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, is flat out wrong. Sure, there are games where Durant and Westbrook, particularly in the series against the Spurs, played lackluster compared to their usual flair. However, when they are expected to do everything, their numbers are bound to dip eventually, which leads one to believe that the biggest problem is utilizing depth on the team.
Utilizing depth on the team is separate than having quality players on the squad. Sure, there are players on the team who may not be up to par, but by no means is the bench weak. Instead, coach Scott Brooks needs to find ways to implement the other talent on the team. The box score, for instance, during the last game of the conference finals speaks volumes. Between Durant and Westbrook, 48 shots were taken. The rest of the team attempted 35 shots, with 16 of those being from Reggie Jackson and 10 from Serge Ibaka. That is way too big of a differential. It is the problem not of the top two being too selfish, but Brooks who is not trying to utilize the reserves or even other starters on the team.
The bench is the real problem on the squad. In that final game, Derek Fisher made five points. The rest of the bench? Not a single point. One has to think that when players like Fisher, Steven Adams and Nick Collison are in, they are in essentially to give the key players rest. Instead, there needs to be more strategy involved with the secondary players. Make them believe they are part of the team and can shoot — not just wait for Durant and Westbrook to shoot.
Brooks did do one thing right though during the last game. Instead of having Reggie Jackson back up Westbrook, he started him as point guard, while moving Westbrook over to shooting guard. For a while now, it has been argued in the sports world to do to Westbrook what the Sixers did to Allen Iverson, which is to make him a shooting guard. Sure, Westbrook is 6’3″ and he he averages 6.9 apg, but he is not a true point guard. True point guards do not average 17.2 shots per game, they try to get everyone involved. By giving Reggie Jackson the reigns as point guard, Westbrook can do what he does best, which is score the basketball.
There is no guarantee that Brooks will do this lineup next season. There also is a lot more he needs to do in order to get the rest of the team involved. Brooks has been the head coach since 2008-2009 season. During those seasons, the Thunder have essentially finished with a better record. They have continued to make the playoffs and make good showings, but they have failed when playing teams with more depth. Additionally, in the past two years the Thunder have been hit hard with injuries to Westbrook and Ibaka during the playoffs. When both of these players have been out, the Thunder lose, which leads one to believe that the Thunder need a backup plan.
it is one thing for a team to be able to file win after win during the regular season with a powerful duo such as Westbrook and Durant. However, the postseason is another story. A team cannot simply beat a team like the Spurs, which has a full two squads of quality players, with a one-two punch.
It may sound controversial, but Brooks is not the right fit for this team. He has had his chance, and through six seasons with two of the best 10 players in the league, a championship should have been brought home to Oklahoma City by now. As such, Thunder brass need to go with someone else. Free agent coaches like Lionel Hollins, George Karl and Nate McMillan are all coaches that teach good team ball and know how to utilize a bench.
Brooks is not the sole person to blame on the Thunder though. While they have players who are not being utilized as they should, like Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson, they need more help. First and foremost, the Thunder need a true, consistent center. Kendrick Perkins simply is not cutting it. He does not get enough rebounds, score and is not even a good defender anymore. The only thing he does is rough up players on the inside, and even then it does not accomplish much. Steven Adams is a good backup center, but he is not much of a replacement either.
Most importantly though, the Thunder desperately need a more well-rounded bench. With Jackson as a starting point guard, they need a backup since Derek Fisher will most likely be retiring. They also need a suitable backup for essentially all of their starters. More than anything though, they need a guy that is a spark off the bench. In other words, a reliable scorer that serves as a leader of the second unit. Without a sixth man candidate, the Thunder may not be able to get to that championship.
The Thunder have a solid core of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Jackson, but in order for them to legitimately compete, they need a coach who will allow the squad to work as a team. Additionally, the Oklahoma City Thunder need changes to its bench if they are to compete against loaded rosters on the Spurs and Clippers. Whether this happens or not will be a mystery, but if something is not done soon, the Thunder will be trapped as a regular season team.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey