Tom Ziller of SB Nation on tanking and luck: “There are no accidental great teams. Building a contender takes skill. That applies whether you’re Sam Presti stripping a roster bare and rebuilding from scratch or whether you’re Larry Bird making constant tweaks, additions and subtractions as you stay afloat. But luck — or really, randomness — always has its say, too. Perhaps the tanking teams rely on it more than do the treadmill clubs, and perhaps that’s why they seem more likely than their counterparts to reach the highest levels more quickly. The perfect combination — the championship-winning formula — is top-notch GM skill and excellent luck. The perfect anti-combination — the formula of the Kings and Wolves from 2006 on — is a lack of GM skill and horrible luck. Everyone else tends to have some mixture in shades of gray. To neglect the role that either play is highly dangerous for team owners and problematic for those of us who write about the game.”
Anthony Slater on OKC’s bench: “With Westbrook in the lineup for the first two months, the Thunder’s second-unit was establishing itself as one of the best in the league, consistently outscoring and outplaying its counterparts. But with Westbrook down, Reggie Jackson has joined the starting lineup. And that promotion has sapped some life out of the emerging bench, leaving a clear ballhandling and playmaking void.”
Eddie Maisonet of SB Nation on missing Russ: “Watching OKC play sans Westbrook shows how volatile the team can be on any given night. This is partially to be expected, as a still-young team reliant on two phenomenal offensive talents is down one man. However, when Westbrook is substituted for Reggie Jackson, the law of diminishing returns sets in. At times, Jackson is capable of being a Westbrook clone, darting to the rim, penetrating and kicking and even being a sufficient spot-up shooter. But Jackson cannot replicate Westbrook’s chaos. Chaos is what makes the entire opposing team pay extra attention to the moves of Westbrook. All eyes are on him, so teammates can get open shots, even Durant. Jackson can’t go 1-on-3 like Westbrook can on a fast break, seemingly creating a momentum with a sliver of opportunity. This is Westbrook’s gift.”
Kevin Pelton of ESPN Inside ranks teams as if their players were in their prime: “The issue with using stats to answer the question is that they can’t look forward as easily as they can backward. More than any other team, the Thunder are hurt by this limitation. In time, Reggie Jackson (4.7) and Jeremy Lamb (4.0) will surely exceed their current production, but for now, Oklahoma City’s best “prime” player after the Kevin Durant (23.6) — Russell Westbrook (16.4) — Serge Ibaka (10.3) troika is Derek Fisher (5.5 WARP in 2005-06).”
Nobody wants Andrew Bynum, including the Thunder.