Four questions for three writers, recapping the Thunder's recent overseas preseason trip:
1. Who/what impressed you most in the two games?
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Kevin Durant. Granted, it came against two inferior teams but his performance was a pleasant surprise. Here we thought Durant would need to go out and dominate without Russell Westbrook and as it turns out he did but just decided to go about it differently. Instead of scoring a boatload of points he became a facilitator and made all his teammates threats. While setting them up for open shot after open shot, Durant mixed in some spectacular scoring flurries of his own, finding the perfect mix of scoring and distributing that kept defenses guessing.
Anthony Slater (beat writer) - Reggie Jackson’s continued maturation. He showed us in the playoffs and he showed us in summer league, so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Plus, it was just a pair of preseason contests against overmatched teams. But man did his game look polished and his decision-making look poised and crisp. Tuesday’s stat-line (29 points, eight assists, six rebounds, 10-17 shooting, one turnover) was a model in efficiency and versatility. I’m still not ready to anoint him as the NBA’s next Sixth Man, like somebody I know (see: Mayberry, Darnell), but there’s plenty of warranted reasons for Thunder fans to be excited about his future.
Berry Tramel (columnist) - Steven Adams impressed me the most, grading on the curve. I had no idea he was that smooth. I’m not trying to make him out to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but Adams has some skills. Now, does he have the toughness and smarts to help inside? We’ll see. But clearly, Adams has a chance to play. He looks already to be ahead of ever how far Cole Aldrich got, and the best part is, what I said about Aldrich goes for Adams, too. It takes time for a big man to develop. Adams is starting from a much higher plateau.
2. Who/what disappointed you most in the two games?
Mayberry - Perry Jones III. I’m still waiting to see him distinguish himself. Through two games he’s standing out for the wrong reasons. He just doesn’t impact the game. At either end. I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing or just a lack of talent. But he appears to be moving further down the rotation.
Slater - The abysmal 3-point shooting. Jeremy Lamb was certainly the ringleader (1-of-12 overall, 0-of-8 on Tuesday), but nearly everybody chipped in. Take away Kevin Durant’s expected 4-of-9 efficiency, and the rest of the team shot a combined 4-of-32. That’s 12.5 percent. Ew. At this point, it’s far too early to suddenly consider it an area of concern. But in the new-age, three-happy NBA, OKC’s not going to win too many games shooting at that clip from deep.
Tramel - Jeremy Lamb. I keep hearing he’s a good shooter. I’ve never seen it. Not in the preseason. Not in summer league. Not in regular-season mopup minutes. It’s possible we’ve got the wrong storyline. We’ve been wondering if he could be the next Kevin Martin. I’m just wondering if Lamb can be the next Daequan Cook.
3. True or false: Daniel Orton will make this roster.
Mayberry - I hate to say it, but false. Kendrick Perkins is firmly entrenched as the starter. Hasheem Thabeet is the backup (trust me). And Steven Adams was a high first-round pick. There’s just no room for Orton.
Slater – False. It’s a numbers game. And, as you laid out Darnell, Orton looks like the odd man out. You never know. Maybe the Thunder keeps four centers as added insurance. But with the emergence of Adams, it seems increasingly unlikely. And maybe it’s better for Orton to get a shot somewhere else. I think he has the unteachable size (6-10, 275) and growing skill set to stick in the league. There’s plenty of bottom-tier teams that could give him the needed court time to see if he can develop. Just not OKC.
Tramel - I’m starting to lean toward no. I thought all summer the Thunder might go with four centers, not because they need four, but because of the makeup of the roster. But with Westbrook’s injury, I think it’s increasingly likely the Thunder trades Orton for a third-team point guard. The world has many more point guards than it does centers. Maybe some team needs some big man insurance while having an abundance of point guards who will be hard-pressed to see the floor.
4. Finish this sentence: Moving forward, OKC’s biggest question mark is _______.
Mayberry – Bench production. Where will the points come from? Who’s going to orchestrate the offense? Can the reserves defend? With Reggie Jackson having to slide into Russell Westbrook’s starting role the bench becomes extremely thin and leaves tons of questions that need answers.
Slater - Continuing the crisp ball movement. There were times the offense bogged down during the overseas trip, particularly in the first quarter of the first game. But overall, 52 assists on 66 field goals is a solid number. And the 30 they had on Tuesday against the Sixers, when the offensive continuity looked as good as we’ve seen without Westbrook, is more than all but one game from last year. Can it continue into the season, as the competition and defensive pressure rapidly grows? That’s the big question.
Tramel - Scoring past Durant and Westbrook. From where will the points come? Even if Ibaka and Jackson elevate their games, which is likely, how is the Thunder going to replace Martin’s points? Without Westbrook, it’s impossible. But even with Westbrook, it’s a challenge. The Thunder might have to survive on defense.