Four questions for four writers, analyzing the state of the Oklahoma City Thunder as the defending Western Conference champs get set to defend its crown.
Be on the lookout for these all season
1. Only time will tell if the James Harden trade ends up being the right move for OKC’s organization. But strictly speaking about the 2012-13 season, did this team get worse on Saturday night?
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer): Worse? I don’t know about that. Or should I say I don’t think that word will define the team’s entire season. I’ll say “different.” Losing a versatile threat like Harden hurts. And if the Thunder expects to succeed playing the same way this could be a tough season that ends with a short playoff run. But if the Thunder is willing and able to adjust and adapt, the team could be better in many ways. Martin, for example, offers OKC an opportunity to greatly benefit by utilizing an offensive threat unlike anything it has ever had. His skills as a shooter and mover without the ball makes him a constant threat that defenses must beware of whenever he’s on the court. That will free up lanes for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. And the trade also could force Scotty Brooks to play small ball more frequently, which would make the team more athletic and guarantee the five best players are on the court more often. It might take some time to implement a new style. But the Thunder should soon figure out how best to reinvent itself.
John Rohde (beat writer): I think they actually could end up being slightly better, more efficient. Perhaps the beginning will look a little rocky. Harden and Martin get their points in slightly different ways. But as long as they get points, what’s it matter? Martin is incredibly efficient, more efficient than Harden.
Berry Tramel (columnist): Yes, the Thunder got worse. But only marginally. Kevin Martin is an excellent replacement, if you have to trade James Harden. Martin is a scorer. Not just a shooter. A scorer. So he should supplement the B team. Now, there are two areas that will be hurt. One is chemistry. It will take a while for the Thunder to get it, and it’s unlikely that the Thunder this season can have the kind of chemistry it had with Harden. The other is late-game situations. The Thunder liked going with Harden in the fourth quarter. Now, Scotty Brooks will have to decide if he wants Martin, or Thabo, or both (going small). So all in all, the Thunder probably is a little worse. But still potent.
Anthony Slater (sports blogger): How about these numbers? James Harden averaged 16.8 points in 31.4 minutes last year, while Kevin Martin averaged 17.1 points in 31.6 minutes. Strikingly similar, despite the two players differing reputations. I know Harden is younger and more efficient (he shot 49 percent, while Martin shot 41 percent), but the offensive drop-off won’t be near as drastic as people think. Martin is a proven NBA scorer, five times averaging more than 20 points per game in a season. The chemistry, especially of the second unit, must be reestablished. But by midseason, I expect this team to look just as potent as last season’s club, even more if PJIII or Jeremy Lamb can provide productive minutes.
2. What (or who) was the biggest surprise in the preseason? Disappointment?
Mayberry: I’ll say Serge Ibaka. His court awareness offensively has greatly improved, and he looks like he could be a big-time contributor on that end of the floor this year. He’s extended his range out to at least the corner 3 spot, he’s making the proper pass, showing decisiveness on the low block and floating and cutting to open spaces to make himself a target. I was really impressed with Ibaka and wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he has several 20-point games this season. As for disappointment, I’ll go with a “what.” No zone defense. That was a major talking point at the end of last season, giving the impression it would be a focal point coming into this year. But so far, we have yet to see it. Of course, it’s not too late to add it. But anybody who is still stumped as to why James Harden was guarding LeBron James in the Finals, or why Serge Ibaka was stuck chasing Shane Battier out at the 3-point line, knows how badly the Thunder needs another scheme in order to succeed.
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