Russell Westbrook took a second to digest the question, then another moment to gaze out over the Thunder’s crowded practiced court.
“Is this the most versatile team you guys have ever had in Oklahoma City?”
A few yards away stood Steven Adams, the Thunder’s rookie center with rare athleticism for a 7-footer. On an adjacent court was Perry Jones, a developing 22-year-old with the height of a center and the lateral quickness of a guard.
Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb were nearby, two freakishly lanky young guards. And on the far court was Kevin Durant, one of the most unique athletes in NBA history.
“Probably so,” Westbrook concluded, not even mentioning himself. “Probably so. Because Perry can guard the 2 through 4, even 5. Andre (Roberson), Kevin, our bigs can switch off to guards from time to time, so probably so.”
Scott Brooks has never had as many rotational tools in his arsenal. He’s never had as many lineup configurations to toss out there. And he’s never been more willing to use them.
“The versatility that we have on our roster has won a lot of games for us,” Brooks said.
And that’ll become even more important over the next six weeks. Kendrick Perkins is out with a groin injury, Hasheem Thabeet is stuck in a deep freeze and Steven Adams is now, likely, the team’s only true center who will be used.
But that shouldn’t be of too much concern to Brooks.
Even when Perkins was healthy, he and Adams only combined for about 34 minutes per game, leaving the Thunder center-less for the other 14.
Without Perkins, that number may double. Adams only played 16 minutes against the Clippers on Sunday and, depending on foul trouble and matchup, will likely remain somewhere between 16-24 minutes per night.
So that leaves the Thunder playing small for a good chunk of its upcoming games. And with the roster OKC has compiled, that may not be a bad thing.
This season, the Thunder has had 23 lineups appear in at least 10 games together. Of the top six from a plus/minus standpoint, four are without a traditional center.
The best of those five-man groupings has been Westbrook, Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant and Serge Ibaka. In a limited sample size, it averages 123 points per 100 possessions and has outscored opponents by 44 points in 44 minutes.
And the unique part of that cast is the frontcourt, with Durant at power forward and Ibaka at center. Over the past couple seasons, Durant seems to be getting more comfortable playing the four.
In those rare situations, it creates a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Because of his length and increased strength, Durant is able to hold his own against opposing bigs, like he did for a stretch against the Clippers’ Blake Griffin on Sunday. But teams are wary to cross-match the Thunder in that scenario.
“It forces other teams to put a perimeter guy on him, because there’s hardly any bigs that can guard him,” Collison said. “It’s good. We’re used to playing that way.”
Brooks doesn’t typically keep Durant at the four for large chunks of the game, likely because he wants to avoid foul trouble and fatigue for his best player.
But in the coming weeks, you’ll likely see more of that, as well as some other unique combinations. Brooks has the available tools. And now, with Perkins’ injury, he has less lineup congestion.