Four questions for three writers, analyzing some intriguing storylines surrounding the first month of the Thunder’s season:
1. What Western Conference contender does the Thunder matchup with best?
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - The Clippers. With Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder has a terrific counter for L.A.’s best two players, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Thabo Sefolosha can neutralize J.J. Redick, and Jared Dudley is no match for Kevin Durant.
Anthony Slater (beat writer) - Houston. The Thunder is a bit better in the backcourt, a lot better at the forward positions and clearly worse at the center position. But with obvious offensive deficiencies, I can’t see Dwight Howard dominating the interior in a potential series. He’s good, but the Rockets would need him to be incredible (like, best player on the floor incredible) to upset the Thunder. Not likely.
Berry Tramel (columnist) - Houston. Who guards Kevin Durant? I mean, Patrick Beverley does a decent job on Westbrook. But who guards Westbrook? Meanwhile, the Thunder has Thabo to put on Harden, Perkins to put on Howard. Heck, I don’t know who Houston puts on Ibaka.
2. What WC contender does the Thunder matchup with worst?
Mayberry - We have yet to see the Thunder face them this season, but I’m going to go with the Spurs. San Antonio would have been a tough test for the Thunder last season even with Kevin Martin and a healthy Russell Westbrook. Now, the Thunder is younger and less experienced, while the Spurs have more continuity and chemistry. San Antonio’s spacing, ball movement and unselfishness also pressures the Thunder’s defense like no other team in the conference.
Slater – Beyond the Spurs (which are the obvious choice and OKC’s biggest Finals road block), the Thunder should fear two teams in an early playoff series: Memphis and Golden State. The Grizzlies’ bruising defensive style will ensure games remain close down the stretch, where the Thunder has historically struggled to find easy buckets. And Golden State is a concern because, if Steph Curry and Klay Thompson get red hot for a two-week stretch, they can shoot anyone down in a series.
Tramel - Golden State seems a little bit of a problem. The Warriors love to go small, which means they’re a good counter when Scotty Brooks goes small. And the Warriors have a guy in Igoudala who can dog Durant.
3. OKC’s first 11 games have been ____________.
Mayberry - Predictable. We knew the Thunder would have to adjust without Russell Westbrook, and we saw that. We knew the Thunder would have to adjust when Westbrook returned, and we’ve seen that. We knew Westbrook would be rusty, and we’ve seen that. And we knew the schedule was soft to start the season, and we’ve seen the Thunder take advantage of it by beating the teams it was expected to beat. So despite all the reactions the early storylines and ups and downs have elicited, really, nothing we’ve seen in the first 11 has been unexpected.
Slater - Beneficial. Jeremy Lamb has already played more minutes than his entire rookie season. Russell Westbrook has returned to health more than a month early. Steven Adams is a future starter. Reggie Jackson has become a dynamite Sixth Man. Moving forward, there are some clear kinks to work through. But 11 games in, the long-term ceiling of this roster has been raised.
Tramel - Promising. Not because of the overall play, but because of the young players’ development. Jeremy Lamb looks like a ballplayer. So does Steven Adams. And Reggie Jackson is even better than we thought. Even Perry Jones has a pulse.
4. Give me one tweak you would make to Scott Brooks’ current rotation
Mayberry - Why? If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. On Wednesday, I wrote about Brooks being more flexible this year with his rotation, lineups and minute distribution. He’s done a superb job so far. Nobody that isn’t playing should be playing.
Slater - I’d find a way to get Reggie Jackson more minutes. He’s averaging 23.1 right now. James Harden averaged 31.4 two seasons ago, Kevin Martin 27.7 last year. Jackson isn’t as established as either of those two, but he certainly looks ready for an enhanced role. Take a few minutes away from Thabo, a few from Fisher, a few from one of the bigs. Whatever. Just find a way to get the third-year playmaker more court time.
Tramel - I’ve got no major gripes right now. I might play Derek Fisher less, but of course, he’s needed mightily at times.