Reggie Jackson wants to start, and who can blame him? Starters get their name called, get to run out and be chest-bumped or high-fived. Get their photo on the big screen as the arena roars. What’s not to like about that?
And of course, Jackson has sipped the wine. He started the final four games of the Thunder season, against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, so it’s hard to go back. For the Tuesday Oklahoman, our man A.C. Slater wrote about Jackson’s desire to start. You can read that story here.
We all know the script. Jackson enhances the Thunder offense. But he impedes the Thunder defense. If Jackson suddenly started playing solid defense, then he’s a tremendous addition to the starting lineup. But the Thunder starting lineup doesn’t need another scorer as much as it needs a shut-down defender. Maybe that can be Russell Westbrook, if he consistently plays the way he’s capable. But even if Westbrook commits to the defensive side, the Thunder still needs a capable defender next o Westbrook.
Jackson was effective at times against the Spurs, but he’s a Spurs-killer. Who knows if he would work as a starter against most NBA team?
The Thunder needs someone who can play defense in a manner of a vintage Thabo Sefolosha, only with more offensive acumen.
Someone like Washington’s Trevor Ariza, who will be a free agent, or Arron Afflalo, who might be available in trade. Darnell Mayberry hatched the idea of trading with Orlando for Afflalo, a solid perimeter defender who is quite handy offensively, too. Afflalo is a career 39.2 percent 3-point shooter. He shot 42.7 percent in 2013-14. Afflalo’s career numbers have risen every year in the league – from 3.7 points per game as a rookie in 2007-08 to 4.9, 8.8, 12.6, 15.2, 16.5 and 18.2. Those last two years have come in Orlando, which is rebuilding.
Might the Magic send Afflalo to the Thunder for OKC’s two first-round draft picks and one of its young, developing players, either Perry Jones or Jeremy Lamb?
Who knows? But Afflalo is an interesting case study for Lamb. Those early years of Afflalo showed no great promise. Afflalo averaged 12.9 minutes and 3.7 points a game as a Pistons rookie; then he averaged 16.7 minutes and 4.9 points a game in year 2 with Detroit.
The Pistons traded Afflalo to Denver, where in 2009-10, at the age of 24, he averaged 27.1 minutes and 8.8 points a game. But his shooting was promising: 43.4 percent from 3-point range.
OK. Now look at Lamb. As a rookie, he played 147 minutes all season, at the age of 20. This season, at 21, Lamb averaged 19.7 minutes and 8.5 points a game. He made 35.6 percent of his 3-point shots.
So Lamb is sort of where Afflalo was after his first year in Denver, with three major differences: 1) Afflalo apparently was a much better defender. We know he was in 2010-11, a year later. Lamb has struggled defensively; 2) Afflalo shot better than did Lamb, though I would bet Lamb continues to improve on that end of the floor; 3) Lamb is three years younger in terms of progression. Big difference between 21 and 24.
I guess what I’m saying is Lamb still could develop into quite a valuable player. Which is reason for the Thunder to keep him and reason for Orlando to make the trade, too.
“I want to help the team in any way possible, really,” Lamb said. “So if that’s coming in playing defense, or coming in scoring, whatever the team needs most that’s what I want to do.”
Lamb admitted he hadn’t been serious about defense in the past. Which is a shame. Had he been a good defender, he would be starting for the Thunder in 2014-15. As it is, Lamb still can get there – good defender, starter – but it will take awhile.
Until then, the Thunder needs someone to replace Thabo Sefolosha. If Jackson’s defense gets better, Jackson can have the job. But until Jackson or Lamb are ready, the Thunder has no choice but to look at players like Ariza and Afflalo.