With the Thunder leading by 25 points and its starters glued to the bench, something worthwhile actually came out of the final quarter against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.
In addition to OKC getting a much-needed victory with a 108-88 triumph at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Thunder reserves finally got a chance to get acquainted for the first time this young season.
If OKC can get in front of the Chicago Bulls in its 7 p.m. game Thursday at the United Center, the second unit might have a chance to spend quality time together in a hostile environment.
The Thunder's reserve unit is drastically different from at the end of last season. Veteran free agents Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed are gone, as is long-range bombardier Daequan Cook.
Most significantly, NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden was traded to Houston alongside Aldrich, Cook and Lazar Hayward in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-rounder.
For the better part of two seasons, the Thunder's second team was among the league's elite. It was a unique combination of experience and youth that not only could maintain a lead, but also build upon it while the starters rested. The unit had the potential to also turn the tide if the first group had capsized.
Each reserve played his role and the mesh was consistent and unselfish.
With four key components now gone, only forward Nick Collison and point guard Eric Maynor have significant experience together. New to the unit are Martin, free agent center Hasheem Thabeet and rookie forward Perry Jones III.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks previously utilized a roster that could go 10 or 11 players deep, if needed. That body count is now closer to nine, max.
Harden is a huge loss. With the second unit, Harden would either spot up from the outside, or run the show by working the pick and roll as well as any player in the league. Something always was in the works with Harden as sixth man.
Like Harden, Martin also can score points in a hurry. While Harden uses ball screens, Martin maximizes screens away from the ball. It frequently brings the same result, just different modus operandi.
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