Thunder coach Scott Brooks has not talked about playing time.
Not to his players. Not to the media.
Therefore, no one really knows how the coach will run his rotation.
But this much is clear. The distribution of minutes could be more significant in this season than in any other we've seen.
Because of the NBA lockout, the league was forced to shrink the schedule and compress 66 games into 124 days for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The schedule will include 18 back-to-backs — one more than OKC had last year — and an abnormal stretch of five games in six nights, which will test the Thunder's legs with a potentially grueling test of three games on consecutive nights.
“Everybody's bench is going to be relied upon more,” said veteran guard Royal Ivey. “That's just the nature of the business right now. With a shortened season and guys coming into training camp, they might be out of shape or guys might get hurt. You never know so you've just got to prepare yourself for anything.”
In addition to his usual responsibility of trotting out the most effective lineups, Brooks now has to guard against fatigue and the possibility of injuries this season. It's a tough task considering that Brooks must also play his regulars enough to win games and allow them to gain their rhythm before gearing up for the playoffs.
“Everybody's going to have to be ready,” said Ivey. “You never know what can happen. Guys can go down so guys got to be ready to play, from Reggie Jackson to myself.”
Brooks settled on a nine-man rotation throughout much of last season. Only toward the end of the year did Brooks expand the rotation to 10 players. An 11-man rotation sounds impossible, but it's not something anyone should count out given the circumstances and the amount of talent in OKC.
“It just depends on how the guys feel,” said guard Daequan Cook, last year's 10th man. “I'm not going to sit here and say I know who (Brooks) is going to play and how he's going to play them. It just depends on how the guys feel and how people's bodies are and how guys on the bench are producing, not just in practice but also in the games.”
For a coach who constantly counts on consistency — right down to preserving the same substitution pattern for nearly every game — this shortened season could test Brooks in ways he's never experienced.
Kevin Durant played 38.9 minutes last season, and Russell Westbrook averaged 34.7 minutes. Brooks must first figure out how to handle those two All-Stars, juggling what's in the team's best interest versus their disgust for sitting. While Westbrook's playing time might remain the same, Durant's definitely could see a reduction.
Returning starters Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, however, averaged just 27 and 25.2 minutes, respectively. Ibaka's minutes are likely to increase now that he's the full-time starter. Perkins, though, has never averaged more than 29.6 minutes so Brooks might be in the clear with his starting big men.
James Harden, meanwhile, averaged 26.7 minutes last year and appears to be in line for the biggest bump this season. He played 28.3 minutes per game after the All-Star break a year ago and proved himself worthy of an even larger role this year.
Others such as Cook, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed, Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens also could be looked to more, as well as Jackson and newcomer Lazar Hayward.
The positive thing in all of it is the Thunder has a roster filled with capable players. They all just have to stay ready.
“It's going to go by quick,” said Mohammed. “You've got to get your rest and you've got to be prepared to go deep into your bench because it's going to be some injuries because of so many games. It goes hand-in-hand.”
THE THUNDER BENCH
45 — COLE ALDRICH
2010-11 stats: 1.0 ppg; 1.9 rpg; 7.9 mpg; .533 FG; .000 3FG; .500 FT; 0.2 apg; 0.3 spg; 0.4 bpg
Niche: Defense. Aldrich will get on the court to block shots, rebounds and draw charges. He's a physical defender who doesn't mind contact. If all else fails, Aldrich will make good use of his six fouls. On offense, Aldrich has an adequate hook shot and not much else.
Opportunity: Aldrich might not be ready to leapfrog Nazr Mohammed as the full-time backup to starting center Kendrick Perkins. But he could see more spot minutes. It depends on how much Aldrich learned in a year. If he's not ready, he could see time once again in Tulsa for the D-League's 66ers.
14 — DAEQUAN COOK
Position: Shooting guard
2010-11 stats: 5.6 ppg; 1.7 rpg; 13.9 mpg; .436 FG; .422 3FG; .800 FT; 0.5 apg; 0.3 spg;
Niche: The team's lone 3-point specialist. Cook was brought back solely to stroke it off the bench. He shot a career-high 42.2 percent from that range last season. Of his 181 field goal attempts last season, only 27 were 2-pointers.
Opportunity: After an early-season stint stuck on the bench, Cook finally proved himself worth of cracking the rotation. Cook's shooting was largely responsible for forcing Thunder coach Scott Brooks to expand his rotation from nine to 10 players. When defenses key on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, look for Cook to get the call and keep them honest.
11 — LAZAR HAYWARD
2010-11 stats: 3.8 ppg; 1.7 rpg; 10.0 mpg; .357 FG; .283 3FG; .786 FT; 0.7 apg; 0.3 spg; 0.2 bpg (with Minnesota)
Niche: His impressive 7-foot-1 wingspan will come in handy at the wing position. Tremendous attitude, hard worker, aggressive defender. Might be used in certain defensive situations. Good basketball IQ. Puts the team first.
Opportunity: Though there won't be much practice time because of the condensed schedule, Hayward will be up close and personal with Kevin Durant, doing all he can to challenge the two-time scoring champ. Hayward and rookie Reggie Jackson are the only two players not familiar with the Thunder playbook. Opportunities figure to be limited.
7 - ROYAL IVEY
Position: Point guard
2010-11 stats: 1.6 ppg; 0.6 rpg; 6.2 mpg; .421FG; .438 3FG; 1.000 FT; 0.3 apg; 0.2 spg; .04 bpg
Niche: Veteran leader who brings great locker room presence. Expected to play in emergency situations in the event of injuries or foul trouble. Won't make mistakes. Defensive mindset, limited offensively.
Opportunity: Ivey proved last year that he can have an impact in short stretches. Go back and review his 10-minute performance at Utah from last November. Ivey's problem is that he's now got rookie Reggie Jackson to compete with as well as Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor.
6 — ERIC MAYNOR
Position: Point guard
2010-11 stats: 4.2 ppg; 1.5 rpg; 14.6 mpg; .402 FG; .385 3FG; .729 FT; 2.9 apg; 0.4 spg; 0.1 bpg
Niche: Solid as they come at backup point guard. Can hold down the fort, but also can supply a lift. Scored in double digits in three playoff games last year. Had nine assists in Game 5 win vs. Memphis.
Opportunity: It was Maynor, not Russell Westbrook, finishing the Thunder's lone playoff victory against Dallas. That game thrust Maynor into the limelight while Westbrook got ripped mercilessly. Being reliable and dependable always works when you're a backup point guard. Maynor and Westbrook are a terrific combination of calm and combustible.
23 — BYRON MULLENS
2010-11 stats: 1.9 ppg; 1.8 rpg; 6.5 mpg; .321 FG; .000 3FG; .500 FT; 0.0 apg; 0.2 spg; 0.2 bpg
Niche: Good practice player. Above average mid-range shooter for a big man. Expected to display more of a low-post game this season but focuses on face-up game. Defense and rebounding are spotty and need work.
Opportunity: Mullens starts the season fourth on the depth chart behind centers Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed and Cole Aldrich. He might get the nod some nights over Aldrich, depending on matchups. With offensive firepower throughout the lineup, the Thunder needs its centers to be defensive-minded. Mullens must improve there if he wants significant court time.
8 — NAZR MOHAMMED
2010-11 stats: 6.9 ppg; 4.8 rpg; 17.9 mpg; .573 FG; .000 3FG; .625 FT; 0.7 spg; 0.4 bpg; 0.3 apg (with OKC)
Niche: Elder team statesman at age 34. Spent his entire career posting solid numbers in very few minutes. Outstanding stabilizer off the bench. Team sage. Has been integral in team development since he arrived from Charlotte.
Opportunity: Mohammed can lend a hand from multiple directions – leadership, rebounding, scoring. There will be times when he'll be relied upon for minutes (see Denver and Memphis playoff series). There will be other times he might not come off the bench (see Dallas playoff series). Solid reliever for Kendrick Perkins and valuable asset for youngsters Byron Mullens and Cole Aldrich.
15 - REGGIE JACKSON
Position: Point guard
2010-11 stats: 18.2 ppg; 4.3 rpg; 34.1 mpg; .503 FG; .420 3FG; .796 FT; 4.5 apg; 1.1 spg; 0.5 bpg (at Boston College)
Niche: Unselfish and anxious to contribute. Will gladly pass up a layup to give a teammate an assist. Student of the game who said he already had learned a great deal from the three point guards in front of him. Already has bonded with Royal Ivey.
Opportunity: Teammates quickly took a liking to Jackson. Enters the league during a difficult transition period. Limited training camp should be offset somewhat thanks to time he spent with teammates at voluntary camps during the lockout. Slowed by groin and abdominal strain before camp. Jackson said he's not much into his own stats and cares more about helping teammates succeed.