Some of those wacky lineups Thunder coach Scott Brooks trotted out in the preseason were just experiments, but others were dress rehearsals.
Brooks' brain has been downshifting ever since reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden was shipped to Houston in Saturday night's monster trade that shook teams residing in the NBA penthouse.
Newly acquired Kevin Martin will not assume Harden's exact role as sixth man. Like Harden, Martin will come off the bench probably midway through the first quarter, but he will not automatically replace Thabo Sefolosha at shooting guard.
Don't be shocked if Martin replaces center Kendrick Perkins, and with the game's first substitution, four OKC players will change positions.
Martin will enter and play the shooting guard (No. 2) spot; Serge Ibaka will move from power forward (No. 4) to center (No. 5); Kevin Durant will move from small forward (No. 3) to the 4 spot; Sefolosha will move from the 2 to the 3 spot; and Russell Westbrook will remain at point guard (No. 1) until he is relieved by Eric Maynor (or possibly Reggie Jackson).
Nick Collison will come off the bench preferring to play the 4, but probably will be asked to play the 5. Rookie Perry Jones III will relieve Durant at the 3 or 4, and occasionally they will stay on the court together. When needed, 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet definitely will play the 5.
That's pretty much the regulars. DeAndre Liggins and Jeremy Lamb will try to prove themselves with scant minutes.
In last year's playoffs, the Thunder rarely used a true center more than 10 minutes per game, and Brooks figures to go with a small lineup far more frequently during the regular season.
The widening scope of Ibaka's game is the primary reason, which is why the most significant statistical change from last season likely will be an increase in minutes for Ibaka (27.2 mpg last season) and Sefolosha (21.8) — two players who combined can defend five different positions.
“It's earned,” Brooks said of Ibaka's increased role. “Every minute is earned with Serge.”
Martin's role will be different from his previous stops in Sacramento and Houston, where scoring was his top priority.
Playing for OKC, Martin will be asked to do his fair share offensively and defensively. Durant and Westbrook will help out with the scoring, while Sefolosha will show how perimeter defense is properly done.
Depending how well Martin meshes with his new teammates, the Thunder could easily have four 15-point scorers, and it'll come in a variety of lineups.
Here are some combinations, listed by positions 1 through 5:
Starting 5: Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka, Perkins — Set the tone with some points and angst. The more Perk's presence is felt early, the more he'll play late. Mostly depends on his foul trouble (both personal and technical).
Alpha 5: Westbrook, Martin, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka — Brooks said he likes to dictate when the game goes small, and this lineup would do that after the first six minutes. This could become the team's most frequently used combination.
Second 5: Maynor/Jackson, Martin, Jones, Collison, Thabeet — The Thunder's second team has a new look and will search for the same success it had the previous three seasons.
Fab 5: Westbrook, Martin, Jones, Durant, Ibaka — Durant and Jones played side-by-side a few times this preseason, and Brooks playfully admitted he wasn't sure who was playing the 3 and who was the 4. Doesn't matter, just play them together.
Flash 5: Jackson, Westbrook, Jones, Durant, Ibaka — Opponents had better wear track shoes. Good luck beating this group down court. Start the clock with a starter's pistol.
Perimeter 5: Maynor, Martin, Durant, Ibaka, Westbrook — No one is positioned within 15 feet of the basket, except for Westbrook when he posts up at center.
Big 5: Westbrook, Durant, Collison, Perkins, Thabeet — When some enforcement is required down low.
Timecard 5: Maynor, Jackson, Sefolosha, Jones, Collison — Five guys who deserve more minutes.
Bobcat 5: Jackson, Lamb, Liggins, Jones, Thabeet — This group plays the entire fourth quarter against Charlotte.
“We have some flexibility,” Brooks said with a wry smile.