One of my favorite team blogs has to be Welcome To Loud City, our SB Nation brethren who cover the Oklahoma City Thunder. I love when we get a chance to work with them, but, on the flip side, when we get an e-mail from team WTLC, that just means one thing: it's time for the Grizzlies to face the Thunder. Ugh.
I had a chance to send three pressing OKC questions to our friend J.A. Sherman over at WTLC. Of course I had to ask him about Eric Maynor's injury, the expectations for the Thunder this season and, yes, what's up with Russell Westbrook? Take a jump to see his well thought-out responses to these topics.
(For a look at my responses to their questions, Click Here!)
1.) What does the loss of Eric Maynor mean for the Thunder? Who now steps in and fills his role as the team's backup point guard?
Consider Maynor in the team context - he only plays about 15 minutes a game, but during that time he spearheads one of the top two or three 2nd units in the league. He clearly has a close relationship with his teammates, and to lose a steady hand and high basketball IQ hurts the team in numerous ways. Maynor also has a knack for hitting clutch shots, and such wherewithal and ability is not easily replicated.
In order for the Thunder to continue their march toward a title, they are in the challenging position of not just figuring out how to replace 15 minutes of point guard duty, but how to lead the team when Westbrook and Durant are not on the court. I believe that the team will turn toward rookie Reggie Jackson
, who has played sparingly but in his limited time has demonstrated good athletic skill and basketball knowledge. Jackson will go through some frustrating moments to be sure, but his greatest attribute is that he gets to play on a second unit that is laden with great intelligent veterans, including James harden, Nick Collison
, and Nazr Mohammed
. His growing relationship with those guys will help push him to a place where he is ready to handle the stresses of NBA competition on a nightly basis.
2.) The expectations for the Thunder this season are extremely high. We all start the season with the goal of, at the very least, making it to the NBA Finals, but the reality is that only a handful of teams really have the personnel to make the run -- with the Thunder being one of those teams. Would anything short of a Finals appearance this season be a disappointment?
Before any game was played this season, my personal conservative expectation was that anything short of a Western Conference Finals appearance would be a disappointment. Last season, the Thunder lost to the Mavericks
in the WCF, and that made big-picture sense - the Mavs simply had greater experience and ability raise their game to a higher level than the Thunder did. The interesting thing about that WCF experience though was that the Mavs essentially gave the Thunder what they were lacking - more experience under intense pressure. The Thunder will now have that experience to hearken back to when they arrive at a similar place.
If we take quick stock of the landscape, it seems like in the West, the Thunder will be competing with the Trail Blazers
, the Lakers
, and possibly even the Clippers
for a Finals appearance. Portland looks very strong this season though, so if the Thunder end up facing off against them in the WCF, I think the Blazers are well equipped to battle OKC in a seven game series. I know it is risky to extrapolate that far into the future, but I think that OKC and Portland are the two front runners at this point, with either team having what it takes to move to the Finals.
3.) Russell Westbrook's numbers are down across the board. I'm sure you can go on forever about what's "wrong" with Westbrook, but in short... what's wrong with Westbrook?
I look at Westbrook this season the way I looked at James Harden
last season. For the first half of last season, Harden was "adequate" and sometimes "solid," but seldom great. The problem seemed to be that he couldn't quite figure out what he was supposed to be within the team concept. However, once Jeff Green
was traded to the Celtics
and the team said, "Harden, you're our 2nd unit primary offensive weapon," he took off. He finally knew what he was supposed to do and he did it exceedingly well.
I see the same thing going on with Westbrook right now. Durant has taken steps forward and is more dangerous than ever. Harden comes in and plays with the first unit on a nightly basis. Serge Ibaka
is expected (and needed) to become an offensive low post presence. Thabo Sefolosha
must be an offensive threat on the perimeter. Where does this leave Westbrook and his 22 ppg? Westbrook is going to have to reinvent himself on the fly by focusing on his other attributes. Specifically, I think that if Westbrook can change his focus to his defensive effort, not only will it benefit the team overall, it will also create more scoring opportunities for him personally.
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