No longer can defenses load up and lock in on Durant and Westbrook. Butler’s shooting ability sucks his defender away from the paint. He makes the defense respect him. And that creates not just additional driving lanes for the Thunder’s All-Star duo, but also a more reliable outlet for Westbrook and Durant to kick out to when doubled or just looking for the drive and dish.
“The way they play, they pack the paint so we have to have guys that can spot up,” Brooks said of the Grizzlies.
Close observers of the Thunder have been calling for Brooks to make a similar change for years, dating back to James Harden’s days in a Thunder uniform. With one stroke, Brooks could implement more balance to the starting unit and alleviate enormous pressure off of Durant and Westbrook. The risk, of course, was the potential for a drop off defensively or a breakdown in chemistry.
Only now will we learn which direction it will go.
There have been only two other occasions in which Brooks decided to somewhat shuffle his first string. They came in Game 4 of the first round last year against Houston when he benched an ineffective Kendrick Perkins for the start of the second half, and again when he did the same at Miami this season. Rather than a revolving door of players starting at shooting guard and center — even when matchups clearly have suggested a change could be beneficial — Brooks has long preferred maintaining experience, consistency and chemistry.
But with the Thunder on the brink of elimination Thursday, Brooks went deep into his bag of tricks.
And if Butler performs up to his capabilities there might be no turning back.