One thing Sam Presti likes is guys that can play multiple positions; guys that are diverse and athletic and that sometimes even defy the conventional norms for what a player should be built like for a given position on the court. Players he’s acquired in the last few years like Desmond Mason, Kyle Weaver and Thabo can all play the 2 and 3, and Weaver can also play the 1. James Harden can play the 2 for sure, but in college he handled the ball an awful lot leading me to think that he may see some minutes as a sort of combo guard. Kevin Durant has played the 2 and the 3 and the 3 seems to be his natural position now, but he may evolve into a great option at the 4 down the road with a game like Dirk Nowitzki. Jeff Green has the body of a 4 but the game of a 3 for the most part. Where does Serge Ibaka fit? Can he play the 5? Etan Thomas is a natural 4 but has spent a lot of minutes in his career at the 5. Oh the possibilities.
The problem with all this roster diversity is that it lends itself to logjams. On the Thunder the Shooting Guard, Small Forward and the Power Forward positions seem to be the most logjammed from my perspective.
Clearly Russ Westbrook is the unquestioned starter at Point Guard going into the season and he will command starter’s minutes. I would be shocked if Livingston didn’t get nearly all the remaining minutes at the Point Guard slot and Ollie will be left with mere occasional scraps. But last year Livingston got minutes at the 2 and 3 and I think those minutes will be much harder for Livingston to get with the logjams at those positions.
Thabo was last years ending starter at the 2 guard position but there is no guarantee he will start this year. Presti used a #3 pick on Harden and it wasn’t so that Ollie would have somebody to talk to on the bench. Both Harden and Thabo are going to want and deserve to see minutes as the 2, but the logjam is just as tight at the Small Forward spot making Thabo’s prospects of minutes at the 3 less than a sure thing.
Kevin Durant will obviously be the man at the 3, but it’s also probably Jeff Green’s best position as well. They are both players that deserve to be on the court for the Thunder this year.
The Power Forward spot is packed with options: Collison, D.J.White, Green, Serge Ibaka, Etan Thomas….
The Center spot is much like the Point Guard spot in that there seems to be a clear cut starter in Nenad Krstic with the scraps going to Collison, Thomas and maybe Lord Byron Mullins. Who knows what crazy rotations Coach Brooks will cook up. We probably won’t get our first real clue until later in the week when the team begins scrimmaging and Royce (the newest member of the credential carrying media) tells us who is in blue and who is in white.
I thought I would take a few minutes and hammer out my rotations and minutes that I would like to see as a starting point for the season if I were coach for a day. There is a little wiggle room in the final calculations and an injury throws the whole thing out the window but there is some logic behind what I lay out:
* Westbrook is the starter and I would like to see him at about 32 minutes per game, all of it at the point. Not that he’s not capable of playing some SG, just that it is already a logjam.
* Livingston opens up the season as the backup PG and getting about 12 minutes per game.
* In my world Harden opens up the season as the starting SG and gets about 28 minutes here.
* Thabo is the backup and gets about 18 minutes.
* Kevin Durant is obvious here as the starter and I would like to see him at around 36 minutes per night, which is down a bit from the 39 mpg he played last year, hopefully keeping him fresh for the deep playoff run :O)
* Jeff Green gets the remaining 12 or so minutes at the SF spot, the rest of Green’s minutes will come at the 4.
* Nick Collison is my starter at the PF spot. I would like to see him get about 20 minutes here.
* Green is the first PF off the bench and I would like to see him get about 20 here in addition to his SF minutes, equaling about 32 mpg.
* D.J. White gets the table scraps at the PF spot, just about 8 minutes.
* Nenad Krstic is the starter here and I would like him to get 30 minutes a night.
* Etan Thomas is his backup getting just 8-10 minutes per night.
* Collison slides over and gets a few scrap minutes at the 5, hopefully as much as 10 minutes here which would give him 30 minutes per night.
Again, there is wiggle room of about 4 minutes per night at the PG spot which can be filled in a number of ways. If Westbrook is having a great night and dominating his matchup you give the minutes to him. If he seems to be especially turnover prone or ice cold, give Ollie a shot. There is also about 4 minutes of room at the 2 guard spot, and I am sure coach will find some of those minutes for Kyle Weaver, but for now he is unfortunately the odd man out in this scenario.
The reason I went with the lineup like I did has more than a few angles to it. First I wanted to pair Collison and Krstic as the starting bigs. They were a +9 per 48 minutes as a player pair last season, and the team was 1.57 points per 48 better defensively with Collison in the game and 1.22 points better defensively with Krstic in the game.To me they are a natural pairing. Krstic has a finesse offensive game with a lot of outside shooting and Collison has a power game, mostly staying under the basket and getting himself open for easy baskets around the rim. Pairing Krstic with Green was -8 last season per 48 in 808 minutes, and then you would have two finesse offensive players side by side instead of a more balanced inside/outside finesse/power frontcourt with Collison and Krstic.
I also want to see Etan Thomas as the first Center backup because he also has a power game. He’s a banger and a position guy, which I think would balance out the frontcourt similarly when Green comes in for Collison at the PF spot. So you would have Krstic/Collison and they would be subbed by Thomas/Green. After a few minutes of that it will be time for Durant to get a breather whereby Green slides down to the SF spot; here is where D.J. White gets a few minutes at the PF spot until it is time for Collison to get back in.
Green’s PER is identical at the SF and PF position offensively, but he is much better defending the SF spot, which is where I want to see him get more than a third of his minutes.
Also contributing to my decision to bring Green off the bench in my ideal lineups is to have a bit less focus on the perimeter game. If Green was the starter and played most of his minutes with Durant, Westbrook and Harden, that would be four guys who like to shoot a lot of jumpers. But if you pair up Green off the bench with guys like Thabo, Livingston and Etan Thomas I think it could be more about working for good shots closer to the rim. Green can have a lot more shots paired with these guys than with the former.
And I chose Harden to start over Thabo because he can break down defenses with the dribble. In my scenario he would be with Durant, Westbrook, Krstic and Collison. That would give us two or three guys who can break down the defense (Harden, Westbrook and Durant), three guys who can shoot (Harden, Durant and Krstic) and a nice mix of acceptable defense.
It’s not perfect. There is no room to develop Ibaka or Mullins, Weaver is a casualty of being a combo wing man on a team full of them. But nearly the first words out of Brook’s mouth at media day were about improving the defense. The Krstic/Collison pairing would definitely be a defensive upgrade over Krstic/Green and it’s better offensively as well. More than one team has had one of their best players coming off the bench for matchup purposes; Ginobili comes to mind in San Antonio and J.R. Smith in Denver to name a couple. I think the start of the season would be a great opportunity for Brooks to call Green and Thabo into the office and tell them that they need to be a part of a great bench mob for the betterment of the team.