The Oklahoma City Thunder head into the March 1st buy-out deadline with an empty roster spot and several needs. Before we head any further into this article, there are a few things you might need to know about the buy-out market. First off, no team is acquiring a superstar via the buy-out market. In fact, it’s always questionable whether the player being obtained will even be that much of a difference maker. Buy-out signings are usually veterans the acquiring team hopes will make a small incremental difference in the positive direction for and during a playoff run.
For the Thunder, their recent buy-out signings over the past few seasons have been Norris Cole, Nazr Mohammed, Caron Butler, and Derek Fisher. These were veterans that weren’t necessarily useless, but also weren’t game changers moving forward. Fisher filled a role as a back-up point guard during the Finals run of 2012. Butler was important in the first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies in 2014, but his importance decreased with each successive series. Mohammed was more of a locker room/veteran presence during Durant’s final season in Oklahoma City. And last season, Cole was brought in be a better option at back-up point guard than Semaj Christon, but neither totally worked out.
With the loss of Andre Roberson, the most pressing need for the Thunder is a wing defender that could potentially start. Before Roberson’s injury, the Thunder had a defensive rating of 103.1 (5th in the league at the time) and a net rating of +3.9 (also 5th in the league). In the month since Roberson’s injury, the Thunder are 19th in defensive rating at 108.8 and 21st in net rating at -2.1. That is a huge swing and shows the importance of Roberson on this team.
Currently, the Thunder are using Josh Huestis as their starting shooting guard. Although Huestis has been the most Roberson-like (good defense, bad offense), the Thunder have also tried Alex Abrines and Terrance Ferguson at that position. While Abrines has shown flashes offensively as a floor spacer, he’s also been inconsistent on the defensive end. Ferguson has also shown flashes, but his lack of experience and strength make him a detriment on most nights, especially against top-level opponents.
While no one will completely duplicate what Roberson brings to the table, there are several options that could act as place-holders for the Roberson position moving forward.
This is likely the most sentimental option for most Thunder fans due to Allen’s alma mater being Oklahoma State. In addition, Thunder fans have seen what Allen can do on the defensive end in many a playoff battle against the Grizzlies over the years. As far as having it, the 36-year old was named to the All-Defense 2nd Team as recently as last season. Statistically, in the 22 games Allen has played this season, he has an individual defensive rating of 103.7 and a net rating of +1.6. To the untrained NBA statistician, those are both good numbers.
So why haven’t the Thunder pounced on the opportunity to sign Allen? The answer could lie in Allen’s current health. In mid-December, the New Orleans Pelicans announced Allen had suffered a non-displaced left fibular fracture that would likely necessitate 3-4 weeks of recovery time. In that time, Allen was traded and then waived by the Chicago Bulls. If the Thunder feel like Allen isn’t 100% healthy, this could be the reason why he hasn’t been signed by Oklahoma City (or any other team, for that matter).
Brewer was recently waived by the Los Angeles Lakers. The history shared between Brewer and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan could come into play as far as making a buy-out signing decision. Brewer was a part of the trio that also featured Al Horford and Joakim Noah that helped lead Florida to consecutive national championships under Donovan. In 59 games this season, Brewer has an individual defensive rating of 107.6 and a net rating of -5.7. Those are both bad numbers, but you also have to take into account the fact the Lakers are a bad defensive team. Last season, when Brewer was on the Rockets for the first 58 games of the season, he had an individual defensive rating of 103.0 and a net rating of +7.5 in nearly 16 minutes of action.
Neither Allen nor Brewer will give you much on the offensive end. Both are inefficient 3-point shooters. Allen is crafty around the basket and has a “good enough” jump-shot from the mid-range. Brewer is more of a transition type of a player, while also having the ability to handle the ball on straight line drives. On a positive note, both are great cutters, knowing when to dive and when to stay out of the lane. Defensively, Allen, at 6’4″, is a pit-bull, using his strength and lower-body strength to push larger opponents from their comfort zones, while also having the ability to keep up laterally on the perimeter. Brewer, on the other hand, at 6’9″, uses his length to disrupt passing lanes and recover on shooters.
For what the Thunder need, I think any of the two players would be a welcome signing. The big deciding factor may be health. Brewer has been healthy all season long, while Allen has been out with the leg fracture. Brewer’s length is more Roberson-like, but Allen is likely better at guarding the likes of a James Harden. A decision should be coming in the next couple of days. But as is the case with Thunder GM Sam Presti, don’t be surprised if another name creeps into the mix. Someone like Gerald Henderson, Semaj Christon, or even Derrick Rose may end up being the guy signed by the Thunder. But for what they need, I think Allen or Brewer would be their best bets.