Early Predictions for OKC Thunder's Starting Lineup Next Season
The Oklahoma City Thunder have leaned on the same starting lineup for what seems like an eternity, but there is suddenly change in the air. That change isn’t occurring at point guard, small forward or power forward, thanks to the big three, but head coach Scott Brooks faces some tough decisions at the other two positions.
Thabo Sefolosha’s departure means that a new player will definitely start at the 2, but Coach Brooks needs to balance the need to start his best players against the need to strengthen his bench. Despite signing free-agent shooting guard Anthony Morrow, the starting spot will come down to Reggie Jackson vs. Jeremy Lamb.
Likewise, it’s a two-man competition at center. Steven Adams was a revelation in his rookie season, but is he ready to supplant Kendrick Perkins in the starting lineup?
More moves are possible, but this is an early prediction for how the Thunder lineup shakes out.
PG: Russell Westbrook
Through the ridiculous criticism and moronic claims about how OKC would be better off without him, Russell Westbrook is locked in as the starting point guard.
At full strength, having Westbrook back for the full season will be tremendously beneficial for the OKC, who had to deal with erratic play from the mercurial point guard, as he was knocking the rust off in his multiple comeback attempts.
He’s one of the most electrifying players in the league, a dynamic playmaker and a game-changing force in many aspects of the sport. Plus, he’s still only 25 years old!
SG: Jeremy Lamb
This is certainly not a lock, but it comes down to starting Reggie Jackson as an undersized 2-guard or starting the less talented Jeremy Lamb.
Jackson is definitely the better player, and the dearth of quality 2-guards means that the two-PG lineup could be extremely successful (much like the Phoenix Suns with their two-headed monster of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe last year).
Westbrook is big enough to check most shooting guards, and it would make OKC a downright terrifying offensive force, thanks to Jackson’s combination or perimeter shooting, driving ability and passing skills.
The biggest problem with starting Jackson, however, is that it takes away the primary option for the second unit. Jackson has thrived as the lead ball-handler of the bench mob, and there are no other creators riding the pine who would be able to keep OKC afloat when the starters catch their breath.
For this reason, I have Lamb starting at the 2-guard and Jackson retaining his role as the sixth man extraordinaire. Lamb certainly has the talent, athleticism, length and three-point stroke to make a smooth transition to the starting lineup, but consistency is key for the youngster.
SF: Kevin Durant
The reigning MVP is about as unsurprising a roster choice as there is in the NBA. Kevin Durant took his game to a new level last year, and it’s fair to wonder how much more he can grow—at least offensively.
Durant will once again be the energy source fueling the Thunder offense, but it will be fascinating to see if he can maintain that excellent level of all-around play this season.
PF: Serge Ibaka
He cannot create his own offense, but he’s one of the best mid-range shooters in the game with range that extends to the three-point arc. In a league where it’s difficult to find a big who can walk and chew gum, Ibaka’s ability to knock down shots, while providing elite rim protection, is extremely valuable.
C: Kendrick Perkins
This spot comes down to Steven Adams versus Kendrick Perkins, and I think the veteran wins out here. Adams was excellent, but he’s still raw and is best suited to come off the bench as an energy big. He definitely has starting potential, but it’s too early to hand him the reins just now.
Adams will still see as much playing time as Perkins since he is more athletic, but Perkins’ leadership, defense, toughness and screen-setting ability will allow him to keep his starting job—for at least one more year.
Perkins proved his value in the playoffs, doing a spectacular job of defending the likes of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Blake Griffin without needing help from his teammates. If only Coach Brooks would stop trying to make his bigs leap out to contain pick-and-rolls 30 feet from the basket, Perkins could be even more effective defensively.
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