In 53 total minutes together this season in 16 games, the lineup of Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant and [insert big man] has an offensive rating of 130.2. And a defensive rating of 95.0. For a net rating of +35.2.
When Nick Collison is the big (41 minutes this season), it has an offensive rating of 140.8, a defensive rating of 99.5 and a net rating of +41.3. When it’s Serge Ibaka (20 minutes), it’s 119.3, 81.5 and +37.8.
Hold on one second.
(Screaming into a pillow.)
So… the Thunder might have a little something going on there.
Especially in crunchtime, where it seems like that group of three guards and KD could be a secret weapon lineup.
What that lineup seems to have is an offensive versatility that’s sometimes missing. There’s an attacking nature to it, but with balance. I’m going to plagiarize myself from last night: The Thunder can interchange ball-handlers between Westbrook, Durant and Jackson, while using Martin to space the floor for any kind of kickout after a drive, with Ibaka in the pick-and-roll/pop with any of the three ball-handlers. I’ve said this before, but it’s not all that different than the type of crunchtime lineup the Thunder used all of last season. Westbrook, Harden and Durant as the three offensive handlers, with either two bigs or Thabo. Obviously Jackson isn’t Harden, but the point is, I think OKC’s offense looks a little more comfortable with that guard-oriented dynamic out there. At least it’s more familiar.
Point is, as long as the lineup can matchup and guard, it should provide OKC plenty of offensive firepower. Jackson and Westbrook are both big, strong, athletic guards. And if you’re uncomfortable with Martin in a matchup, you can replace him with Thabo (or gasp, Ronnie Brewer). There’s a lot of potential here, largely because it’s obvious that Jackson can really play. He’s emerging as a legit offensive threat and as his confidence builds, he’s just going to continue to blossom.
More than likely though, the usage of this lineup going forward is going to be about trust. In that, how much does Scott Brooks trust Reggie Jackson?
“I think he’s improving, there’s no question,” Brooks said Sunday of Jackson. “He’s going to get better, but he’s not going to get a lot of time right now. I think what he’s done with his time is he’s made the most of it and is going to continue to improve. Just playing behind Russell is there’s no a whole lot of minutes.”
Which is the question: Should Jackson actually be playing behind Westbrook, or with him?
The Thunder often become painfully two-dimensional, or a lot of times, one-dimensional, on the offensive end in close games. That’s been their story the past four seasons, even with Harden. But there were glimpses last season of what a diversified crunchtime lineup looked like and it worked wonderfully, especially in the postseason. Against Memphis, the Thunder had things working in the fourth quarter because the Grizzlies were forced to match up and had a lot of defensive pressure put on them. Then for some reason in overtime, OKC got all conventional again with two bigs, Thabo, Westbrook and Durant.
I get trying to make your backbone defense. But when you have a lineup that opens your world up offensively, and still can maintain and even excel on the defensive end, shouldn’t you be using it, especially late in close games? Like Memphis, it flourished against the Blazers on Sunday. There could be something there with that group. Just gotta trust it.
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
50-40-90 Watch: He’s at 50.3 percent from the field, 40.6 percent from 3 and 90.6 percent from the line. Durant’s started to waver a bit over the last month which should show you something: Pulling off 50-40-90 when you’re taking close to 20 shots a game is effing hard.
KD has looked much more comfortable shooting the ball the past couple games though. Even against the Grizzlies where he missed seven of his final eight shots, he was letting it fly without hesitation. I don’t know if 50-40-90 is in his head (he’s obviously aware of it), but there was a little bit of stuttering when it came to Durant shooting the ball. Like he was focused on trying to go 10-16 every night.
His past two games, Durant went 17-31 (54.8) from the floor and 4-6 from 3. A little more confidence there. Something Durant said Sunday is the biggest factor in shooting the ball. You’ve got to feel good about it when you let it fly.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
In losses this season, Westbrook is averaging 7.3 assists per game. In wins, 7.6. I honestly assumed the gap would be wider in that department.
Where there is a noticeable distinction is in Westbrook’s shot attempts and percentage. In wins, he takes 18.1 shots and shoots 46.2 percent from the field. In losses, he takes 20.2 and hits just 37.8 percent. (His scoring average is virtually the same in both.) Now, one reason the attempts are down in wins is because in many of them, Westbrook has only played three quarters. But still, it’s clear that when games are tight, Westbrook often forces the issue a bit.
For example, in the two losses last week, Westbrook took 21 shots against Denver, hitting 10, and 25 against Memphis, hitting seven. His relentless style is often a blessing for the Thunder in those type of games because he shoulders the load of keeping them in it, but sometimes, he needs to find that on/off switch.
Also, based on instinct, I had a theory that Westbrook shot more poorly from the free throw line at home than on the road, mostly because of that lady that screams, “COME ON RUSSSS-ELLLLLL!!!!!” while he’s shooting. But alas, my theory was busted by the fact Westbrook shoots 80.6 percent at home to 79.3 on the road.
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
For Ibaka, it’s about showing up in big games. He dominated against the Magic, the Blazers and the Mavericks. But was a complete no-show against the Nuggets and Grizzlies. It’s that Ibaka isn’t a big game player, because he’s proven it in the playoffs, but just lately he seems to become a non-factor when the games get tense. I feel like that has more to do with Westbrook and Durant and the issue of trust than anything else.
Because the Thunder have to have Ibaka to win an NBA title, or really, just to get to the Western Conference finals.
4. Nick Collison (Last week: 7)
Here’s a thought: Nick Collison should make an All-Defense team. His lock down of Zach Randolph is all the evidence you should need to see how incredible a low post defender Collison is, but here are some numbers to back it all up:
Per Synergy Sports, Collison ranks 22nd in the league in points per play allowed in the post (0.66), holding opposing players to just 31.7 percent from the field in those situations. Statistically, his pick-and-roll defense isn’t as good as you might think (allowing 1.12 points per play, 98th in the league), but that’s often the nature of being a big man defending it. You help, you hedge, you recover and you have to rely on your teammates to rotate and save you sometimes.
When Collison is on the floor, OKC’s defensive rating is 99.6, which is pretty darn good. When he’s off the floor, it’s 103.1.
Obviously Collison’s lack of minutes and exposure kind of limit him from enhancing his reputation as one of the league’s best defenders, but in terms of what he does, it’s up there. He’s not swatting shots or altering them or grabbing a bunch of rebounds. He’s just playing sound defense.
5. Kevin Martin (Last week: 5)
Martin is starting to restore a little confidence. He quietly performed wonderfully last week scoring in double figures four consecutive games. He was very good sparking the bench against Memphis and shot the ball well in Orlando. He seems to have sorted out that little shooting slump, hitting 8-16 last week from 3.
Now, there’s another question of Martin’s minutes, which are getting trimmed down for fairly inexplicable reasons, but he seems to be regaining confidence in himself, and restoring it for everyone else.
6. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 6)
Allow me to expand a little more on Jackson and positionality: He’s a point guard, for sure, but pigeonholing him as “Westbrook’s backup” is so shortsighted. You’ve got to think outside the box a bit, especially in terms of positions. Scott Brooks actually said a few weeks ago that he doesn’t really think too much in positions, but he loves talking about them and who plays where. Brooks sometimes floats out lineups that doesn’t really have traditional positioning, but most of the time he rotates his players based on where they play.
For Jackson, I think you’re limiting him. Because Brooks is right — Russell Westbrook’s backup should only see 12-15 minutes a game. You want Westbrook playing the bulk of it, obviously.
7. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 4)
Perk had his best rebounding game of the season against the Grizzlies, made a big block against the Magic late and was very good defending LaMarcus Aldridge. Other than that, I’m taking a timeout in partaking in the round and round Perk discussion.
8. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 8)
Thabo hasn’t hit a 3 in three games, and shot just 2-10 from 3 last week.
He had that really big offensive month in February with a career-high 28 and four games in double figures. In March, he’s only scored in double-digits once.
9. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 10)
Thabeet busted out a new #KOOLIN hairdo, going with this high-fade fro thing. His hair is becoming the most interesting thing about him.
10. Derek Fisher (Last week: 11)
OK, so I asked Scott Brooks pregame Sunday why Derek Fisher is playing so much. And I phrased it specifically as, “He’s played pretty much only at shooting guard, so outside of intangible things like leadership and toughness, what do you like about him at that position over younger guys like Liggins and Lamb?”
Brooks: “Experience. You can’t get that unless you have it. It’s not something you get going to the store. ‘I’m going to buy five championships and 17 years in the league.’ He gives us experience. He just knows where to be and how to do it, and do it on the fly. He has a good working relationship with the guys on the court and they have a lot of respect for him. He has a lot of intangibles. He hasn’t shot the ball as well as he would like or as well as we would like but when you only shoot the ball three or four times a game, you can have one or two games where you don’t make a shot and it’ll hurt your percentage. You don’t have a lot of shots. I don’t judge players that play 12 minutes or under because you go 1-for-3, you’re at 33 percent shooting. Just because I was a lot of 1-for-3s, and I was pissed off because everybody thought I shouldn’t be shooting … It’s just the intangibles.”
So, I said other than the intangibles, but whatever. I don’t know if Brooks was intentionally trying to dodge the question, if he didn’t answer it by accident (because he pretty much always does that even with softballs) or the third, scariest option: He doesn’t know. Could it be that he really doesn’t have a reason to have Fisher on the floor other than “he’s experienced”? Because that’s terrifying, if so.
Also, I wonder how Scotty judges shooting percentages for guys that play zero minutes or under.
Also, also, I find it ironic that Brooks values experience so much seeing as he’s coached one of the youngest successful teams in NBA history. If anyone were to understand that age is just a number, it should be Brooks.
Also, also, also, facepalm.
11. DeAndre Liggins (Last week: N/A)
12. Perry Jones III (Last week: 9)
13. Ronnie Brewer (Last week: 12)
Ranked behind Derek Fisher just to keep things consistent. If Scott Brooks does it, I figure we should all fall in line. Solidarity, y’know?
Inactives: Daniel Orton, Jeremy Lamb
Lineup data via NBA.com/stats