That March 15th deadline is coming. And there’s a question that has to be asked by every team at this time: Are we good enough now, or do we need to make an adjustment? The Thunder certainly are in better shape than most with a solid 10-man rotation, filled with a deep veteran bench.
But as Sam Presti would tell you, if there’s something to improve the team, the Thunder will explore that option. And there are some mild questions about that Oklahoma City bench.
1. True or false: The Thunder need to a better answer at backup point guard.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: True. Let me put it this way: Western Conference Finals, the Thunder have a five-point lead entering the fourth quarter. Reggie Jackson checks in for Russell Westbrook to give him a four-minute rest for the stretch run. Do you trust the rookie? Do you feel like the Thunder will survive those four minutes? Now, by “better answer,” I still think Jackson could be that answer. I’m not saying to give up on him at all. He just has to play better. There have been flashes and while it’s not at all fair to compare him to Eric Maynor, who was probably the best alternate point man in the league, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: False. I feel like at least half the reason why Thunder fans are scouring the list of available free agent point guards and trade machine scenarios in search of someone better than Reggie Jackson is because they were spoiled by Eric Maynor. You do not replace one of the best, maybe even THE best, backup point guards in the league. Jackson is a rookie who may not be a catalyst to winning games like Maynor, but he’s not losing them all by himself, either. And besides, who is to say Royal Ivey won’t be getting those minutes once Thabo Sefolosha comes back? Maybe Jackson started playing because Maynor was injured, but continues to play only because Sefolosha is injured.
Clark Matthews, The Lost Ogle: True. Reggie Jackson could develop into a great point guard. In fact, I suspect he will. The problem is that developing him should not be a priority of the post season. This team is ready to win now, and their best hope is to have a guy who can play steadily during the moments where Westbrook needs a breather.
2. True or false: Cole Aldrich should be OKC’s backup big man.
Royce Young: True. The second unit needs a spark and Aldrich can provide one. Energy, effort and some decent skill. One thing that’s underrated about Aldrich is that you truly can dump the ball into the post and feel good about getting two points. He’s long, sets terrific screens and is active all over the floor. Nazr Mohammed is the crafty veteran big, but behind Perk, OKC needs a shot of life.
Patrick James: True. At least for now. It’s time he’s given a look. Nazr Mohammed is a pro and isn’t going to become a locker room cancer if his minutes get taken away, and he’ll be right there ready to provide what he can if Aldrich gets a shot and doesn’t work out. But the Thunder clearly invested in Aldrich with the idea he can be a rotation-quality NBA big man. Now is the time to see if he can do it before the playoffs start. He needs experience, and his teammates need experience playing with him in games. He needs at least a month to show what he can do, and if he’s capable of giving the team a little bit more than Mohammed, the game reps will pay off in the playoffs.
Clark Matthews: False. I feel comfortable with Cole as the back up, but I see no need for him to be the primary back up right now. While he brings great energy, I actually prefer Nazr’s steadiness, especially since Reggie Jackson (who is bringing unfocused energy) is usually at point during his minutes.
3. True or false: The Thunder should make a move at the deadline.
Royce Young: False. How do I reconcile that with saying OKC needs a better answer at backup point than Jackson? Because I think that better answer could be on the team. Again, it could be an improving Jackson, or it could be Royal Ivey. When Thabo Sefolosha returns, Daequan Cook will head back to the bench and Ivey likely back by the Gatorade jug. But I think he’s proven worthy of minutes. If Jackson still hasn’t shown the necessary progression, Ivey would be a fine alternative to step up. He’s a pros pro, a veteran leader and someone that would likely handle that role well.
Patrick James: False. But I reserve the right to change my answer if Sam Presti makes a trade, because if he does, I have no doubt the trade will make the team better. Still, I haven’t seen a trade idea out there that’s both realistic and an improvement over the current roster in the present and the future. Just because the ESPN.com trade machine says a swap will work doesn’t mean the other team is going to say yes — what does the Thunder realistically have to offer that the team would be willing to part with that would bring in a true impact player? Presti might surprise me, as he’s done time and again. But this isn’t a roster crying out for a trade, and there’s no cap room to help facilitate the kind of trades (Maynor for absolutely nothing, anyone?) Presti got his reputation from.
Clark Matthews: False. A deal now would be riskier than helpful. Why mess with the fantastic situation in the locker room by forcing the players to give interviews where they say things like, “I just have to remember that this IS a business.” They can shore up the point guard situation by signing a buy out candidate.