The way ESPN.com’s Summer Forecast predicted the West recently had the Thunder first, Clippers second, Spurs third, Rockets fourth and Grizzlies fifth.
David Thorpe doesn’t like that order. At all.
On TrueHoop TV, Thorpe revised it. His: Clippers, Grizzlies, Spurs. And then the Thunder.
“I don’t think Oklahoma City should be the favorite,” Thorpe says. “I think Jeremy Lamb isn’t close to being ready to be that guy off the bench that Kevin Martin was last year.”
To recap: Martin last season, replacing James Harden as OKC’s sixth man, averaged 14.0 points and shot 42.6 percent from 3 with a PER of 16.1. Not overwhelming, irreplaceable numbers by any means. But consider this: The best three man lineup in the league last season per 48 minutes? Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin. The second best? Kevin Durant, Nick Collison and Kevin Martin. The fourth best? Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin. The sixth best? Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and… Kevin Martin. See a trend here?
With Martin on the floor last season, the Thunder had an offensive efficiency of 112.7 compared to 107.2 with him off. His numbers weren’t eye-popping by any stretch and he certainly didn’t produce like James Harden, but Martin was a serious offensive threat that drew attention, making life a little easier for Durant and Westbrook.
So, between Lamb and likely sixth man Reggie Jackson, can the Thunder find that same kind of production? Not just in the raw statistics, but can the second unit and different lineup groupings produce offensively? Or will teams shade Westbrook and Durant more than ever?
It’s a legit area for concern, and a big reason there was so much disappointment in missing out on players like Dorell Wright and Mike Miller this summer. They weren’t going to be overall offensive players like Martin was, but they could space the floor and prevent teams from overhelping on Durant and Westbrook.
Still: The Thunder have Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka, all another year improved. Plus Jackson, who seems poised for a breakout season. And who knows with Lamb. The guy has incredible offensive ability — it’s just about it translating to a live NBA game. There’s still a lot to like about this Thunder team.
“They certainly could be a great team and win the West,” Thorpe says. “I just don’t think they’re more likely to do it than they were a year ago.”
Maybe not. It does seem like it’ll be a little more difficult. But that was going to be the Thunder’s situation the second Presti pushed the Harden trade button. For the 2012 Finals, my buddy Ben Golliver stayed at my house for a night before checking into his hotel. And he made the statement, “Can I go ahead and reserve your couch for this week for the next five years?” Things changed, and last season making a return trip appeared a lot more challenging. The Thunder won 60 and finished atop the West.
Things look even tougher this season. Question is, do they take a step back like Thorpe says, or do they elevate themselves once again?