Interim Thunder coach Scott Brooks has assured he would roll players in and out of the starting lineup at the shooting guard and center positions since the day he took over back in November.
But center Nenad Krstic is beginning to make that a difficult promise for his coach to deliver on.
Krstic scored a team-high 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting to lead the Thunder to an 88-83 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night at the Ford Center. It was the second straight game Krstic has led the Thunder in scoring. He poured in a season-high 26 points in Monday’s 96-87 win over Dallas.
"I’d be a fool taking him out of the starting lineup for the next game,” Brooks said only half-jokingly.
No matter what Brooks decides to do with his lineup over the final 21 games, Krstic has finally arrived as the sharp-shooting center the Thunder thought it acquired when it signed him away from his Russian team in late December. And after two months in a Thunder uniform, only now does Krstic resemble the player who was on the verge of NBA All-Star status before sustaining a knee injury during the 2006-07 season with the New Jersey Nets.
Krstic is averaging 16 points and 5.5 rebounds over his last four games, proving to be a reliable option as a dead-eye shooter on pick-and-pop plays with guard Russell Westbrook. But while Wednesday’s game displayed the progress Krstic has made offensively, it also highlighted the defensive development still left to be done.
As the Thunder nursed a 44-43 halftime lead over the Wizards (14-47), Krstic sat on 12 points but had yet to pull down a rebound. He snared four in the final 24 minutes, a modest total but one that typified how the 7-footer has challenged himself over the past three weeks to hit the glass harder.