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.
Collison remains solid and blends well with any teammate.
Tuesday's fourth quarter was hardly a masterpiece for Thunder reserves, who shot 35 percent (7 for 20) from the field and got outscored 25-23 by a Raptors lineup that included three starters for three-plus minutes.
It was more about spending time together than the execution itself.
“Better,” Collison said when asked how it went for the reserves. “Overall, our energy was much better tonight. I think our second unit was included in that. We played better and Hasheem played great, so we're coming along.”
Thabeet finally is with a team that believes in him and continues to impress his coaches and teammates with his determination and effort. He oozed confidence against Toronto, scoring 10 points, grabbing five rebounds and not missing a shot (6 for 6 from the free-throw line; 2 for 2 from the field) before fouling out.
Jones, Reggie Jackson Jeremy Lamb and DeAndre Liggins appear headed for spot minutes, at best.
“It felt good to play together for a lot longer than normal,” Jones said after Tuesday's game. “You've got to credit the first unit for doing a great job on the defensive (end) to make that possible.”
The most difficult transition is for Maynor. In addition to coming off season-ending knee surgery, Maynor now returns to the point guard position while with the second unit, but frequently defers to Kevin Durant when they're on the court together.
Maynor has shown the ability to adapt to any role, but that adaptation takes time — particularly coming off a serious injury.
“I think it went great,” Martin said emphatically. “Any time we get on that court, we're going to just keep on jelling together.”
Through the first four games, Martin has jelled to the tune of 19.3 points, 2.3 assists and 2.3 rebounds with ridiculous shooting percentages of .512 from the field, .619 from 3-point range and .957 from the free-throw line.