You remember how you felt back in late April? Oh man, the NBA doesn’t come back for like 50 months now. Even in August when Kevin Durant was torching the world in Turkey, the actual NBA season felt forever away.
Well I have some news for you. Training camp starts in like, five days. I can count that on one hand. And once camp starts, we’ll be seeing preseason games before you know it and then actual, meaningful basketball games. Joy, joy.
What do basketball players do at basketball training camp? Train, I suppose. But it’s also a time to figure out some stuff, like player rotations, lineup combinations, learn the new guys’ names and just get back into the swing.
So what kind of issues are the Thunder looking at heading into camp? Here are 10 of many:
1. With Nenad Krstic’s injury, what’s the center situation look like?
This was probably actually a competition before Krstic injured his finger. There’s always been the chance that someone could potentially beat Krstic out for the starting spot and Krispy would move to a backup role. But now, the door’s wide open.
More than likely, Scott Brooks starts with the same lineup he used in almost all 82 games last year. He’s a sucker for continuity like that. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some good battling for who plays behind Krstic and if someone impresses, maybe they move into the starting spot. That’s unlikely, but it could maybe give them a head start to take Krstic’s spot by December or even potentially make Krstic expendable.
2. Scott Brooks is pretty adamant about a nine-man rotation. So how does Cole Aldrich work into that or does he at all this year?
It’s probably the most interesting question: Where does the Thunder rookie get minutes, if he does at all? All offseason we heard how OKC needed help inside with a big man that can block shots, defend the post and rebound. And by statistical measures, the Thunder got the best guy in the draft to do those things. But ironically, there might not be a spot for him on the floor.
As it stands now, Brooks prefers to play nine men and on the inside that would be Jeff Green and Krstic, with Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka playing behind them. But here’s where Aldrich could fit: Neither Ibaka nor Collison are really “centers” though Brooks hasn’t really shown a desire to adhere to specific positional limitations. But technically, Aldrich could be Krstic’s backup, while Ibaka and Collison shared minutes and rotated in and out. I don’t think that’s the way it happens, but that’s a possibility.
More than likely, Aldrich finds some spot minutes for players in foul trouble or that are injured and waits until the roster gets another shake with either Collison or Krstic moving along. And oh yeah, don’t forget about Byron Mullens who fits in here somewhere as well.
3. Can James Harden push Thabo Sefolosha for the starting spot?
Short answer: Yes. He can. But will he take it? Probably not.
Of course Harden can make that push. He wasn’t drafted to come off the bench, though he played that role extremely well. As soon as his defense is passable enough to balance Sefolosha’s defensive prowess, he’ll have his shot. He makes too much of an impact offensively while Sefolosha does not. At all.
But I don’t think the Thunder’s ready to make that transition. Especially because Harden hasn’t appeared bothered by his role off the bench. I would bet Harden gets a lot more than 24 minutes a game this year, but he can do that as a sixth man. Having a capable scorer off the bench is a valuable thing and depending on matchups, Harden may play the whole night whole Thabo sits. Or vice versa. It’s easy to get hung up on who’s starting and who’s not, but it doesn’t matter a ton in this case. Both have value to the club and both will get their minutes.
4. Is it at all possible for Jeff Green to be assigned a new role?
I’m sure heading into camp, Scott Brooks is going to keep a close eye on Jeff Green. With Ibaka coming along at the speed of sound, plus the potential logjam situations on the inside, Green’s fit might be in question.
Not in question to the point of where does he fit on the team, but where he fits positionally. More than likely, it’s right where he’s at. And it’s doubtful Green would be removed from the starting lineup. Moving James Harden into the starting five or maybe Nenad Krstic to the bench isn’t a huge deal. But sending Jeff Green to the bench before the season starts is a pretty massive move and one that I’m sure Scott Brooks fears would upset chemistry.
Green has a ton to prove this year in terms of not just his looming contract extension, but also where he fits in with this Thunder squad. Training camp is big for him to set a tone early for the season and prove he still deserves his spot.
5. With Ron Adams gone to Chicago, can Oklahoma City keep up its high-level defense?
It’s underrated, but Adams’ departure is a slightly terrifying one. There’s no denying the turnaround OKC saw on the defensive end as soon as Adams came on board. Literally, the results were almost instantaneous.
And after a full season with Adams, the Thunder evolved into one of the best defensive teams in the league. They were swarming, they were aggressive and despite being undersized, they led the league in blocked shots. But how much of that was Adams? Can OKC sustain that type of output on the defensive end without its architect. I say yes because it’s not like you forget the principles you learned. But Kevin Durant always talked about how brutally honest Adams was with them about poor defensive play. He didn’t accept anything halfway or anything average. Losing him could potentially be something big and reinstating that defensive mindset is key during camp.
6. How does OKC improves its offense?
I don’t know. That’s for Scott Brooks to figure out. During training camp would be a good time to start.
7. Who’s the shooter: Daequan Cook or Morris Peterson?
Morris Peterson was seemingly a throw-in to the Cole Aldrich draft day deal, but Peterson can still play. And more importantly, he can still shoot. Cook was part of a trade where Miami was dumping everything for nothing to clear room for the SuperFriends.
But who is OKC’s defined “shooter”? Everyone talked about the Thunder getting someone reliable to stretch defenses. Now they have two guys. And there’s not a lot of room for two guys to play a specialist role. Peterson really is more than just a shooter, but if he’s to get time on this team, that’s going to have to be a role he embraces. So Cook or Peterson? Who’s got the better touch?
8. Is Serge Ibaka playing center or power forward?
I touched on this above in trying to figure out the rotations and Cole Aldrich situation. But what is Ibaka? In a traditional sense, he’s a power forward, though I don’t necessarily buy into positional arrangements. But if we placing him somewhere, he’s a 4.
Meaning to me, he’ll play behind Jeff Green and match up with opposing power forwards. Ibaka is at his best when he’s free to roam a bit and play free safety. He’s better when he doesn’t have to sit on a post man and push around on the block. Let him pull off his man and swat shots. Some want to say he should start at center, and while he’d probably do fine, he’s better off coming off the bench and playing a “position” more natural to his skillset. (If you read that last sentence out of context, you might think I was talking about Jeff Green. But let’s not go there.)
9. Is the Ford Center going to have a name soon?
I sure hope so. I’m not a fan of “Oklahoma City Arena” or “The OKC Center.” That’s borrrrring. Someone needs to step up and buy the naming rights. I totally would, though I’m lacking in the millions of dollars area. If I bought it, I’d probably name it “The Fart Center,” because I’m five years old like that. (And it kind of sounds like “Ford Center.” Get it? I’m so hilarious and clever.)
Oklahoma’s got a bunch of rich people. Surely someone wants their company name plastered across an arena. Think how many times your businesses’ name will get said and said on national TV! But only as long as it’s something cool. I don’t want to hear Mike Breen saying, “Welcome to the Bed, Bath and Beyond Center where we have a major showdown between the Thunder and the Lakers!” I hate corporate naming rights more than every show on TLC, but I can accept it as long as it sounds good.
10. Will Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have tired legs?
This is something everyone is wondering about. And it’s hard to really know, but two weeks off from anything is a good long rest. And I can guarantee you it’s not like Kevin Durant hasn’t picked up a basketball in these last 14 days. Basketball is his life. That’s like me not picking up a TV remote in 14 days. Just not happening.
Could they be affected come February? Potentially. I don’t think they’ll notice a major difference in the way they feel so much as they will in have they are mentally. Playing that much without much break can wear you out in the brain. It can exhaust you. More than likely, they’ll be completely fine. It’s not like they played that much during the World Championships. After the playoffs, they had about three months off before training camp started in late July, then about two and half weeks of games. At 21 (almost 22) years old, they should be able to handle it.