Monthly Archives: January 2012

B-ball Analogy – Russell Westbrook : point guards as Lebron James : small forwards

After watching Russell Westbrook’s recent performances this season, I can’t help but think that Russell Westbrook is the Lebron James of NBA point guards. The things that separate Lebron from everyone else are his skill set, size, strength, and freakish athletic ability. Some of these qualities are taught, while others are innate. These tools have given James the opportunity to earn 2 MVPs and twice lead his team to the NBA Finals. 

First off, comparing Russell to Lebron is not necessarily apples to oranges, but it is not what I’m intending to do here. While a one on one game between the two would be entertaining, I’m sure Lebron’s size and strength advantage would trump Russell’s athleticism and quickness. It is after all, basketball, where the player who is closest to the rim (taller) has the advantage most of the time. But, can the same things that give Lebron advantages, be the things that give Russell that extra edge and hopefully lead him to be one of the greats? 

3 S’s: Size, Strength, and Speed 

Individually, each of these characteristics can lead a player to have an advantage over another player. But if you possess an advantage in all 3 of these categories, the battle is already halfway won. That’s the thing about Lebron James. His size (6’8”) makes him above average for the small forward position. His speed can be matched by only a couple players at his position. But his strength is what completely makes him a match-up nightmare for the opposing player and defense. But when you put all 3 to work against the opponent, this is where Lebron overwhelms the opposition. 

Russell Westbrook is basically upper middle class when it comes to size in the point guard class. In looking at all the starting point guards in the league, the average height is about 6’3”, with Tyreke Evans being the tallest at 6’6” and Jameer Nelson and DJ Augustine/Kemba Walker coming in at about 5’11 ¾”. Russell is about 6’3 ½”. Nothing is going to overly separate him in this category. 

One of Russell’s main advantages is his strength. Only about 3 or 4 other point guards can compete with Westbrook in regards to strength. The factor that makes Russell different is in how his muscles distribute themselves on his body. The best comparison I can make is to Alfonso Soriano, the 2nd baseman who played for the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, and Texas Rangers this past decade. From 2002 to 2008, Soriano averaged 35.5 homeruns per season, a run unheard of for a 2nd baseman. What’s amazing about this run is in how Soriano’s musculature appears on his body. Soriano is all of 6’1” and 190 lbs. So a hulking Paul Bunyan he is not. Instead, Soriano has a wiry frame that packs muscle in an elongated fashion, instead of stacking muscle on muscle. This type of musculature is good for power and … 

Speed. In that same time frame, Soriano also averaged 29 stolen bases, which is pretty good for any baseball player that doesn’t necessarily specialize in speed, a la a pinch runner or lead off hitter. So, where Tyreke Evans and Deron Williams are bigger and stronger than Russell, his advantage at speed neutralizes that deficiency. Just ask Derek Fisher, one of the stronger, yet slower point guards in the NBA. 

Like James, Russell’s combination of these 3 characteristics (the 3 S’s) make him a load to handle for most point guards on a nightly basis. Knowing that you have these attributes leads to a person having….

 Freakish athletic ability 

The combination of the 3 S’s above, leads to having freakish athletic ability. Anybody who has high qualifications in the 3 S’s, is going to manifest itself in having this kind of athletic ability. The legendary, mythological stories of Lebron James grabbing a not so great lob with his hand nearly at the top of the square on the backboard and being so far above the rim that he couldn’t dunk it, but instead had to let it drop from above the rim are that of internet lore. Of course it happened in practice. Of course there were no cameras around. And of course, some teammates confirmed it. But, based on his athleticism, its something that we can consider possible. With Russell, it’s sort of the same way, but we get to see some of these things live in an NBA game. The dunk over Lamar Odom in their first playoff run against the Lakers in 2010. The lob that Earl Watson threw off the backboard, and Russell grabbed with one hand and dunked while skying over a Warriors player (we see you Marco Bellinelli). The facial he gave the Rockets last season. All tales of a book that is currently being written. 

Defensive ability 

The freakish athleticism also shows up on the defensive end of the floor if a player wants to work hard enough to show it. The same things that overwhelm defenders on the offensive side of the court, are also the things than can overwhelm an opponent on the defensive side of the court. Lebron is an average man defender, but a great help defender, getting into the passing lanes for steals, and coming up with self-esteem rattling blocks from the weak side or from behind. This is the only part of Russell’s game that leaves you longing a little. He was touted as a defensive guard coming out of college, but has only been an average defender in his young NBA career. But ask any of the international guards that he defended during the World Championships whether he can defend, and I’m sure you’ll get a resounding “YES” in whatever language they speak. 

Russell has the ability to be one of the better defenders in the league. The question is, does he want to be? He has shown more signs of being a shutdown defender this year. The aggressiveness that we saw in the World Championships is being shown more this season and that has led to a better defensive game plan from Russell. But that also leads to him gambling more and putting the rest of his team in 5 on 4 situations whenever his gambles don’t work. Through film-study, coaching, and experience, this part of his game can be fixed. The fact that he actually wants to be a better defensive player is the first step in becoming a better defender.    

Skill-set 

This may be the biggest difference between Lebron and Russell. While Lebron was your prototypical prodigy and came into the NBA with a deep skill-set, Russell had to learn a position that was not natural to him. And he had to learn it at the highest level of competition, night in and night out. So while Lebron has just had to refine and improve his skill set, Russell has had to constantly add more and more skills to his repertoire based on the learning curve. Organic growth at this level is very rarely seen from the point guard position. Yeah, you can have players learn a skill here or there, but to have a player go from where Russell was his rookie year to where he is now, is very rarely seen in professional sports. And this is what leads to the biggest difference between Lebron and Russell….. 

Will 

The will to constantly want to learn and get better is something that I think separates these two players. Russell’s meteoric rise is a manifestation of the hours of practice he has put in since his first day of minicamp in 2008. Great players usually take off in their 3rd season. This happened to Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Jordan, etc. It’s the time when the game slows down for the player and their instincts begin to take over. All the stuff that Russell has learned and practiced these past 3 ½ years (refining his jump shot, knowing when to attack and when to pull up, learning how to run a team) are finally coming to fruition. Is he still a work in progress? Of course. What he showed in the first 2 weeks of the season, is where the learning comes into play. But what we’ve seen the last two weeks is the player that is destined for greatness. 

I don’t think Lebron has this will. Yes, he has all the talent in the world. But he basically came to the league a finished product. He just had to constantly get better at what he already knew he could do. He just now added a post-up game to his arsenal, and he’s 8 years into his career. With Russell, we don’t know what the ceiling is. We don’t know how far up he can go. Can he be a 25 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds per game player? Based on his career arc so far, I wouldn’t put it past the realm of possibility. 

Closing ability 

Another thing that separates these two players is their mind-sets at the end of games. While Russell may make mistakes late in games, they are usually an effect of him needing to do something within the scope of the offense. When 3/5th of the offense is stagnant, and the main offensive weapon (Durant) is being heavily guarded, the only option is for Russell to somehow get off a shot. This is what leads to the bad shots and charge calls in close games. But the fact that he is willing to take these shots (and make some of them) shows a willingness to shine in pressure situations that is severely lacking in James’ game. As seen in last season’s Finals, when the pressure got hot, James usually deferred to Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Russell seems to be learning what needs to get done to close games. Whether its hitting a couple 20 footers, getting the ball to the hot hand, grabbing the necessary rebound, driving the lane for a deuce, or, most importantly, hitting free throws consistently, he has been one of the main, if not the main, component in us winning close games. 

For all of his faults, Russell has always been a player that has wanted to improve in order to prove his detractors wrong. It’s what makes that cauldron of heat inside of him boil. It’s the reason he asks “Why not?”, instead of “Why?”.  It is because of this passion, that the Oklahoma City Thunder signed him to a max extension for the full 5 years. With this extension, the Thunder now have 2 of the top 15 players in the league signed for the next 5 seasons. So instead of comparing one player to the next, maybe it would be more apropos to compare the Thunder to what would seemingly be one of their main competitor should they win the West….the Miami Heat. But, hopefully, I’ll save that article for sometime in June.

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Just A Game

Its funny how life sometimes put things into perspective. A dear friend of mines passed away on Wednesday. Someone that I can proudly say was like a 3rd grandfather to my kids. His wife was my kids’ main caregiver before they started school. And while this gentleman was at work most of the time his wife was running the home daycare, there were those days where he was home from work and would help out with the daily chores of running a home daycare. The kids even had their own nickname for him, just like a regular grandfather. Not only that, but his daughter and my wife were best friends in junior high and high school. In addition, he was also one of my co-workers for about 2 years. Needless to say, there was a bit of history between our family and theirs.

So when the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the lowly Washington Wizards, it didn’t quite register as large a blip as it normally would have on my radar screen. I was still disappointed, don’t get me wrong. Title contenders aren’t supposed to be losing to teams that have a great shot at obtaining the No. 1 pick in the next draft. But at the moment, in that time, a loss to the team with the league’s worst record wasn’t really that important.

Honestly, in the context of an entire season, one loss isn’t really that important if you are either an elite team or a bottom of the barrel team. Barring injuries, I don’t think we will be struggling to hold our post as a home court advantage team in the Western Conference. History is sprinkled with examples of eventual champs getting surprised by that one go-getter team that is galvanized by their home crowd into playing out of their minds and winning that one crazy game. I call it the “Loser’s Game 7” effect. Washington will only have a couple of these games this season: OKC, Miami on February 10th and April 26th, Chicago on January 30th, the Lakers on March 7th, and the Clippers on February 4th. Bad teams don’t get hyped to play other bad teams. The Milwaukee Bucks don’t have their visit to New Orleans circled on any game schedule. Bad teams love being the hunters, if only for that one game.

The Thunder just happened to fall into the lions den on the wrong night. They started off good, but you could tell from the beginning they were playing a bit too loose with the ball. You give any team enough opportunities, and they’ll eventually start to cash in on those. And that’s what the Wizards did. They eventually started to feel good about themselves and started hitting shots, contested and open. They started to look like the team their fans imagined them to be. And for that one night, everything fell into place. The questionable blocking call was called a charge. The FT’s started falling. Hell, the 3 pointers started falling. In the end, the Wiz got one of their biggest wins of the entire season.

And it still doesn’t worry me that much. We are still a young team that is prone to hiccups at times, especially against lesser competition. We still had an opportunity at the end of the game to either tie it or win it outright. I just hope this serves as a lesson to the Thunder. When you are the hunted, you are usually getting the best from each team for the full 48 minutes. That’s something that still may be new to this young Thunder team. Elite teams lose sometimes, no matter who the other team is. The difference, is that they take each loss and use it as a lesson to be learned. And that’s what I’m sure Scott Brooks is doing right now.

As for me, I still did manage to watch the game last night on DVR. In the midst of pain, basketball is my refuge. Always has been. So with that said, I bid adieu to my friend, Hector Carreras. A good father, husband, soldier, pseudo-grandfather to my kids, and human being. An avid ping pong player, I guess the angel that used to play against God wasn’t cutting it anymore. So God had to call in his replacement. Rest In Peace, dear friend.

On the Road Again

I’m a child of the late 80’s / early 90’s. It was during that time that I was in elementary school learning, as most of the world was, about computers. And, of course, the best way to learn is to interactively play games that also teach you about the subject matter. My favorite games to play on those old floppy-disc induced Apple computers was Oregon Trail. If you, either, don’t remember, or were too young to know what a floppy disc was, it was a story-based game of a journey through the Oregon Trail. You are the wagon leader of a party of settlers going from Independence, Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette Valley over the Oregon Trail in an oxen-drawn wagon. Along the trail, you have to make decisions concerning food and directions to survive the trail. You and your fellow settlers can die from a range of maladies from drowning to snake bites to dysentery. Needless to say, it is a game about the difficulties of being on the road.

 

Many teams in this young strike shortened season are probably looking at their road records and wondering whether the entire team is suffering from a bout of cholera. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, only 6 have a winning record on the road. While most teams struggle on the road in any given season, shortened or not, the upper echelon teams usually buck that trend and win wherever they play. Such has not been the case this season. 

  • The Southwest-leading San Antonio Spurs have an 8-4 record overall, but are an awful 0-4 on the road.
  •  The Pacific-leading Los Angeles Lakers are also 8-4 overall, but carry a 1-3 road record. 
  • The veteran Boston Celtics, a team that is supposed to know how to play on the road, is 1-3 in its games away from Massachusetts.

 Winning on the road usually involves a balanced combination of veteran leadership, youthful legs, good defense, and good bench play. It should come as no surprise that the 6 teams with winning road records have some semblance of each of those 4 characteristics needed to be a good road team.Oklahoma City (5-1), Chicago (7-2),  Miami(5-2), Orlando(4-2), and Indianapolis and Atlanta(both at 4-3) are all defensive minded teams with a nice mix of vets and youth, and good to great benches.

  •  5 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for point differential. 
  • 4 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for opponent’s PPG. 
  • 5 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for opponent’s FG%. 
  • Oklahoma City and Chicago have 2 of the best benches in the league.

 

 While it is still early in the season, trends like these don’t tend to change too much throughout the course of the season. We are already at least 1/6th of the way through the season (unless you are the Los Angeles Clippers). At this point, most teams are Denny Green (“They are who we thought they were!”). In the playoffs, you have to know how to win on the road. So take a good look at the 6 teams with winning road records. More than likely 2 of those teams will end up playing in the Finals.

 

End of a Rivalry

As the Oklahoma City Thunder set up for their game tonight against the New Orleans Hornets, I’m reminded that this is the first Hornets team completely absolved of any of its Oklahoma City history. What started as a response to an SOS from the league after one of the country’s worst national disasters has evolved into a love affair with a team that was formally from the Pacific Northwest. Who would have ever thought that the actions put forth from the response to Hurricane Katrina would have impacted 3 cities and 2 NBA franchises?

They say you never forget your first love. For someone who never thought he’d see a professional team in his home state, the arrival of the New Orleans Hornets was one of the best days of my life. I got on the phone as soon as I heard the news and was calling everywhere trying to find out where I could purchase season tickets. Novemeber 1st, 2005, was one of the most surreal days of my life. I was sitting there watching a regular season NBA game in Oklahoma City, with a team that was partially known as the OKC somethings. Needless to say, the New Orleans Hornets quickly became Oklahoma City’s first love when it came to professional sports.

We got to see the infancy of a point god, as we hosted Chris Paul during his rookie of the year campaign. We got to see the progression of David West from disappointing young player to “on the brink” All Star. We got to see JR Smith go from young, budding star to knucklehead. We saw game winners! We got to live the NBA experience. In return, Oklahoma City got showered with praise that it had never seen in such a positive light. We had been previously showered with praise before, namely in April 1995 and May 1999, but those were in response to tragedies that happened on our soil. But this was the national media heaping praise on us for our support of this nomadic franchise, and we started to kind of like it.

But alas, we knew it probably wouldn’t last. After that first season, there were inklings of hope among the populace that the Hornets may actually stay in Oklahoma City. And they did….for one more season. In hindsight, that was just foolish thinking from someone being in love. In the back of our minds, we knew that the NBA would never abandon New Orleans in its darkest hour. The NBA wanted to be there to celebrate New Orleans’s greatest triumph. But it still hurt when they officially returned back to the N.O. after the 2006-2007 season.

Fast-forward to the beginning of the 2008-2009 season. Through all the waiting and legal proceedings, the Seattle Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC finally had its team and were revving up with Thunder fever. But most of us still had a very soft spot for our first love, the New Orleans Hornets. It was very apparent to me during the first Thunder game, when the ref signaled that a loose ball belonged to us and the PA announcers asked, “Who’s ball is it??????” That was the most difficult question I’ve ever had to answer in my life. My mind kept saying, “Remember to say Thunder ball, not Hornets ball!”.

Then the moment that we had been waiting for happened. On November 21st, 2008, OKC’s old team went up against OKC’s new team in OKC. It was like watching your ex-girlfriend fighting against your current wife. You want your current wife to win, but you don’t want her to slaughter your ex. We applauded when they introduced CP3, David West, Tyson Chandler, and even, Peja. Then they went out there and kicked our ass. They kicked it so bad that the coach was fired after the game.

Of course, the roles have reversed a bit as of late. The Thunder are one of the top teams in the league, and the Hornets have been on the brink of a rebuild for awhile, now. February 2nd, 2011 was the last time OKC got to experience the love-struck rivalry that was OKC vs. New Orleans. The last two remaining members of the OKC Hornets team were Chris Paul and David West. After suffering an ACL tear, David West never received an extension from New Orleans, and instead, chose to sign with the Indianapolis Pacers. Chris Paul went on to be traded to the Clippers in a blockbuster deal that transformed to junior varsity Clippers into Lob City.

So when the two teams meet up tonight, it will just be another game for me. I knew the day would come where the Thunder would face a Hornets team that had no connections to OKC at all. I just never thought it would get here so quickly. But such is the revolving door of NBA rosters. The only relic that still remains on the New Orleans team from its time in OKC is a HoneyBee by the name of Christina (pictured above). Other than that, its just another game in January. It has truly been a short, but strange ride.

Thunder Rumblings – Week In Review (Jan 2 – 8)

Oklahoma CityThunder: Week in Review (Jan 2nd – Jan 8th

Record for the week – 3-2

Overall record – 8-2 

Games played: 

Jan 2nd (@ Dallas)

After starting the season winning their first 5 games, the Thunder were looking to stay on pace with the Miami Heat to remain the only unbeatens in the league. This was the 4th meeting between these two teams within a 2 week period, and started to take on the feel of a playoff series. With the Mavs looking to get their season on track, the Thunder came out flat and ultimately lost the game 100 – 87. The Mavs bench dominated the Thunder’s, outscoring them 47-25. The only good news of the night came with the fact thatMiami also lost their first game, and lost it, chronologically speaking, before the Thunder game was over.

 Jan 3rd (vs.Portland)

Looking to get back on track after their first loss of the season, the Thunder went back home to face division rival Portland. With starting SG Thabo Sefolosha out with an injured foot and flu-like symptoms, 6th man of the year candidate James Harden was inserted into the starting lineup. The teams played pretty evenly in the first half, with the Thunder taking a 2 point lead into halftime. Behind the great play of Lamarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant’s shooting struggles,Portland took over in the second half and won the game 103 – 93. With Harden starting, the bench scored an anemic 14 points and could not muster much when they were in the game.

 Jan 6th (vs.Houston)

Looking to get back on the winning track, the Thunder took on the Houston Rockets, who were 0-4 on their previous road games. With Thabo Sefolosha returning to the lineup, the rotation normalized and the Thunder jumped out of the gate to finish the 1st quarter up by 10 and never looked back, eventually winning 109 – 94. The starters rested in the 4th quarter, and every player that was active played.

 Jan 7th (@ Houston)

If games were played purely on paper, then this game wasn’t worth playing. The Thunder had beat the team by 15 on the previous night. The only difference was the locale. Well, the Rockets came out and gave the Thunder a good game, matching them bucket for bucket for much of it until late in the 4th quarter. The Thunder got a couple timely stops late in the game and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook worked the two man game in the 4th to perfection with Durant scoring the Thunder’s last 13 points. The Thunder escaped with a 3 point victory 98 – 95. The only blemish in the game was the loss of back up PG Eric Maynor to a torn ACL in the 4th quarter.

 Jan 8th (vs.San Antonio)

The dreaded 3rd game in as many nights. The strange thing is that every team that has played a back to back to back, has won the 3rd game. So why should the Thunder be any different? While the first half stayed pretty close, the 3rd quarter belonged to the Thunder who blew the lid off the game, outscoring the Spurs 37-21 in the quarter. The Thunder had a 22 point lead heading into the 4th quarter and the starters sat for the entire period. Rookie Reggie Jackson saw his first extended action of the season, replacing the injured Eric Maynor as the Thunder’s backup PG, and scored 11 points on 4-9 shooting with 4 assists. 

My Takes: 

  • The loss of Eric Maynor could prove to be big. If you’re are looking at it, strictly, from a statistical point of view, then Maynor’s 4 points and 2 assists per game may seem inconsequential. But from a game manager point of view, his loss could have major ramifications on the Thunder’s bench play. Maynor set the tone on the 2nd unit, and provided a change of pace to the starters whenever necessary. There will be games where this aspect of what he brought to the table will be sorely missed. Here’s to sending a get well wish to Eric Maynor.
  • Its amazing how the return of a defensive minded SG could have such a positive effect on the offense. In the two losses, the offense seemed out of sync with the loss of Sefolosha. The players, especially Durant and Westbrook, seemed unsure of themselves and the bench suffered with Harden’s insertion into the starting line-up. Here’s to Scott Brooks not messing with the lineup unless he has to.
  • Durant seems to be efficiently scoring again and Westbrook seems to be returning back to form after starting the season in a bit of a funk. Here’s to realizing that this is a weird season, and players (even superstars) will probably have more ups and downs than an oscillating wave. 

Player of the Week: 

While Durant and Westbrook both struggled a bit in the beginning of the week, James Harden remained consistent throughout the week, averaging 19.5 points on 51% shooting from the field and 43% shooting from 3 point land, while contributing 3.8 boards, 3.8 assists, and 1.3 steals. If the Bearded One continues this, I don’t just see a 6th Man of the Year award in his future, but also an All Star nomiation.

Be Careful What You Wish For…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In late February of last season, when the Oklahoma City Thunder first acquired Kendrick Perkins, one of the biggest changes occurred on the offensive end of the floor. The lanes that were once open with the spacing provided by the perimeter games of Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green were no longer there. In its place, those lanes were replaced by “box and 1” defenses with defenders hedging off of Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha. 

Mainly used for his defense, Sefolosha’s inability to consistently hit jumpers limited the first team’s offensive production. The opposing shooting guard, usually one of the better ball hawks on the floor, was able to play off of Sefolosha and help defend throughout the floor, whether it was doubling down on Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, or plugging up an open lane in the interior. In addition, the team replaced one of the better shooting centers in the league with one of the more offensively-challenged centers in the league. Perkins does all of his work in the interior. While he may step out and try a 15 footer from time to time, his best play is no more than 5 feet from the basket. Krstic’s biggest offensive impact wasn’t necessarily his shooting; instead, it was in keeping the opposing center away from the basket. Also, Serge Ibaka’s midrange game had yet to develop any type of consistency. In essence, the team seemed like it was playing 2 on 5 on the offensive end with this line-up most of the time. 

This had the biggest effect on the play of point guard Russell Westbrook, whose game is predicated on using those lanes to drive to the basket. Westbrook’s stat line for the regular season remained consistent at 22 ppg on 44% FG shooting to along with 8.2 assists. But when the game slowed down as it usually does in the playoffs, his scoring increased to 23.8 ppg, but it was on 39% FG shooting to go along with 6.2 assists and 4.6 turnovers per game. Westbrook became less efficient in the playoffs and the offense, as a whole, became less efficient because of this. It was during these playoffs that the glaring need for a spacer became very evident. 

Once the season ended, the consensus was that the next step in the evolution of this team was to replace Sefolosha with 6th man James Harden in the starting 5. Harden was a much better shooter and creator than Sefolosha, which would’ve added another dimension to the starting 5. No longer would the wing defender be able to help by hedging off of Sefolosha, as Harden’s ability to consistently hit 3’s would negate this. This would’ve opened at least one extra lane for Durant and Westbrook to drive through. Add this to Ibaka’s improving midrange game, and this should have brought the offense back to where it was pre-trade, with good spacing and perimeter options. Seemed simple enough.

 But the devil’s advocate to this move has always been to ask where the bench scoring was going to come from once Harden was lifted off the bench. Every great team has at least one player from the bench that is able to take over when the bench unit is in there. The Mavs had Jason Terry and JJ Barea. The Lakers had Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. The Spurs had Manu Ginobili. The Bulls had BJ Armstrong (first 3-peat) and Toni Kukoc (second 3-peat). And who could forget the Bad Boy Pistons and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. Due to the Thunder’s great durability and good luck, we’ve never had to see what the second unit would look like without James Harden for an extended period of time. 

The Thunder’s bench unit has been a well-oiled machine for the past 2 seasons. With point guard Eric Maynor running the show, Harden doing the scoring, Daequan Cook providing spacing, and forward Nick Collison providing the muscle, the Thunder bench has been one of the most efficient in the league during that time. This season, the bench averaged 39 points per game in the first 5 games, with Harden doing the most damage at 16 ppg. Where the starting line-up falters, the bench usually picks up. 

Then the last two games happened. With Sefolosha dealing with a sore foot and flu-like symptoms and Cook also dealing with flu-like symptoms, the Thunder’s usual 10 man rotation was shortened to 8, with rookie Reggie Jackson and second year player Lazar Hayward filling in the missing pieces. With Harden in the starting line-up for the second half of the Dallas Mavericks game and starting outright in the Portland Trailblazers game, Thunder fans got a glimpse of what life would be like with Harden in the starting lineup. 

In the second half of the Mavericks game, the trio of Durant, Harden, and Westbrook scored a combined 31 points with 3 assists while trying to come back from a second half deficit. The rest of the team scored 9 points in the second half with only 5 coming from one bench player (Maynor). In thePortlandgame, the trio combined for 64 points and 16 assists, but struggled from the field, shooting only 40% from the floor combined. The bench, on the hand, had only 14 points on 6/17 shooting. 

While the trio figure themselves out, the bench is left to fend for itself without a valid scorer on tap. This is where an acquisition like Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter, or Tracy McGrady could’ve come in handy. While I like what I see from the future starting line-up, I also think the team is incomplete without a scorer off the bench. Which leads me to the weirdest thing I’ve said this young year: Damn, I miss Thabo Sefolosha.