Three games in, and already the season feels like a rollercoaster. From a disappointing win — if there is such a thing — against the Jazz, to the nightmare against the Wolves, to the return of Russell Westbrook, it was an eventful first week for the Thunder.
But it all is starting to feel a little normal again. With Westbrook back, the rotation can finally start to take shape, and within that, Reggie Jackson can assume his apparent role as sixth man. Though Scott Brooks said Tuesday at practice that he’s not really into labels.
“I’m not going down that road that he’s the sixth man, because last game I threw Jeremy in as the sixth guy,” Brooks said. “But our bench is good and it’s going to continue to improve as the season goes along as they become more and more accustomed to the things we do… whether [Jackson’s] the sixth man, I don’t know if that’s what we’re going to call him, but I do know he’s going to have a big impact with that second unit.”
There’s a common theme with the Thunder’s bench though. It includes the numbers 20, 22, 23 and 21. That’s Steven Adams, Perry Jones III, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb’s ages. Brooks developed a bit of a weird reputation the last couple years of not trusting his young players, but looking at who he’s played so far, he’s relying on youth, and showing a lot more flexibility. He’s not cornering himself with a hard rotation, but is open to moving his pieces around based on the situation.
“It just goes game to game. Depends on who’s in foul trouble, who they have on the floor,” Brooks said. “But it’s really just a feel thing, it’s nothing that’s going to be etched in stone. … I’m more consistent with nine, sometimes 10 guys, but the minutes, you can’t be as consistent as people make it out to be.”
That definitely wasn’t the case for the Thunder in the past. You could almost script out their first half rotation. Harden/Martin checked in for Thabo around the six-minute mark, then Maynor/Jackson in for Westbrook around the two-minute mark. Durant checked out around the 10-minute mark in the second quarter and so on. But Brooks seems to be opening up a bit more to it. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t feel like he can dictate the game and just roll that second unit out there, or maybe it’s because he’s focusing a little more on matchups. Or it’s the other thing: He doesn’t entirely trust the youth he’s got in the second unit.
Still, there have been positives signs from all of them. Adams has looked extremely solid, Lamb made a few nice buckets against Phoenix, Jones actually did something in a game and Jackson seems very comfortable running the second unit.
“Those guys need opportunities to figure out what it is they can do to affect the game,” said Nick Collison. “The minutes are good, they’ve worked hard, they’ve earned it. I think the young guys have done a really good job. We’ve had some struggles this year but I don’t buy into the narrative that it’s because we have a lot of new guys. I think we have some other things, basic things, that we’re not doing real well right now. But those guys have done their job. They’ve done their job so I’ve been impressed with our young players.”
SCOTT BROOKS 11/5
On giving guys big minutes early in a season helping later: “It’s not something I pay a lot of attention to. I look at quality minutes. I want guys that play their minutes with quality in mind. Quantity? Some games, guys might get 15, 20 minutes, other games they might get 30 or 40 minutes. You just have to focus on playing your minutes well.”
On Westbrook: “He’s fine. He’s still obviously doing all the correctives that we have Russell and all our guys to do. But he’s feeling good and he had another good practice today. We didn’t do a whole lot but did enough for guys to break a sweat, but I think he’s doing fine.”
NICK COLLISON 11/5
On Jackson as the sixth man: “That’ll be good. Reggie will give us a guy that can break some people down in that second group and hopefully create some shots from everybody else. We’ll have to learn how to execute a little better with him in there, he hasn’t been there much this year. But it’s definitely good to have Russell with the first group and have Reggie to work with us.”
On rookie hazing in the NBA: “It’s not really a huge deal. It’s more for fun I think. At least in the NBA, at least with he team’s I’ve been around. I think there is some of that feeling that you need to earn your way a little bit. But most of it, at least around our team, has been in good fun. I know it’s different other places, mostly it’s just a fun, stupid thing we do.”