Though many (including myself) lamented James Harden's departure, the Oklahoma City Thunder don't seem worse for wear right now. Martin has been fantastic in his new role, most recently grinding out 20 points on 10 shots in an overtime win against the ascendent Los Angeles Clippers.
Oklahoma City has stayed at the top of the Western Conference heap, with their besting of Los Angeles serving as a reminder to the league of who the reigning Western champs are. The great news for Thunder fans: This team could stand to get much better, if only Scott Brooks alters his lineups some.
ESPN stat guru John Hollinger wrote up OKC's lineup inefficiency for his Wednesday column, in a piece entitled, "Oklahoma City Thunder Starting Unit Not Producing":
"Oklahoma City's starting lineup has a pathetic 97.4 offensive efficiency this season, according to NBA.com, in 181 minutes of combined duty. That would rank them 26th in the league, right between Cleveland and Philadelphia."
The Thunder still manage to be a top offensive team because of all their other high powered lineups. But Hollinger's right: This unit has to go. Perhaps the final straw will be this poor lady getting hit in the face by an errant pass, possibly due to meager spacing:
Hollinger was specifically skewering the lineup that combined Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, and Kendrick Perkins, but I'll tweak the general complaint: Kendrick Perkins should probably see less floor time, if this team is to truly take off as prohibitive Western Conference favorites.
Against the Clippers, Perkins, in somewhat typical Kendrick fashion, played 33 minutes and only took one shot. He missed that single attempt and finished with 0 points. When I tweeted that stat line out, Royce Young (of the magnificent Daily Thunder blog) shot back a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder:
@sherwoodstrauss Yeah, but what was his Toughness Rating and Veteran Leadership Efficiency?— Royce Young (@dailythunder) November 22, 2012
At this point, the only leg to stand on in defending the Perkins' 4-on-5 situation is the intangible limb. The veteran center can be useful in spot minutes against certain post players, but a team that features a four-point, four-rebound per game starter is probably a team that needs a new starter.
Fortunately for Oklahoma City, they have other options. Serge Ibaka is not large for a center, but he can compensate with superior jumping and shot-blocking ability. In addition, he has developed a nice pick-and-pop jumper that can space the floor for KD's drives. Hey, he's even added the backboard buzzer beater heave to his arsenal:
I'm kidding in citing that desperation shot, but in making it, Ibaka outscored his frontcourt partner. The question of course is: If Serge moves to the 5-spot, where does that leave Durant? Well, fortunately, KD is power forward height, and possesses the ability to torch plodding, opposing big men behind the arc and in transition. Just shift Durant to the 4-spot more often, and get more minutes from Kevin Martin at the small forward position.
Or, if Perkins continues his downward trajectory, Oklahoma City can make use of the newly competent Hasheem Thabeet:
The Thunder are lucky in that they have options to solve their problems. In fact, their secret weapon going forward could well just be the cessation of self-inflicted wounds.