How Do the Thunder Improve For Next Season?
The Oklahoma City Thunder just got done losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. That series loss marked two straight Conference Finals losses to the Spurs and leaving the Thunder looking for answers.
Fans are beginning to wonder how a team with superstars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can’t get over the hump.
The most difficult aspect to understand for some is that OKC is routinely among the league’s best teams, and is seemingly so close to winning a title, but just can’t finish the job. Specifically, the Thunder have finished first in their division four years in a row, have made it to three of the last four Conference Finals series and even made it to the NBA Finals two seasons ago.
Still, the Thunder have no rings to show for it and they will enter the offseason wondering what changes need to be made to take that next step. Some are obvious, while others at least need to be considered. Let’s break down OKC’s biggest problems and analyze what they could or should do to take their game to the next level for the 2014-15 NBA season:
James Harden’s Replacement
One of OKC’s biggest issues is that they have never truly replaced James Harden. They made the decision to let him go two years ago because they couldn’t afford him long-term with both Westbrook and Durant, and it’s only haunted them since. Reggie Jackson is a nice spark off the bench and Caron Butler and Jeremy Lamb are decent in stretches, but not one of them brings the elite scoring ability off the bench that Harden did. That is quite visible with how Harden has taken over as one of the league’s most dominant scorers with the Houston Rockets over the past two seasons.
OKC needs to come to terms with the fact that they don’t have a third scorer that is good enough right now and they either need to draft one, sign one or trade for one. The guys they currently have don’t combine together consistently enough to cut it. How they accomplish that is anyone’s guess, but an adjustment needs to happen to balance out the offense better.
It’s All About the Beef
Another issue is the consistency down low on both ends of the floor. Steven Adams is a promising center and if the Thunder don’t bring in another talented big, he should probably start and play 30+ minutes a game. He’s a tenacious rebounder and defender and he has a developing inside game on offense. He’s simply a much better investment on both ends than Kendrick Perkins, who is a hulking mass but is a liability on offense and has grown to be pretty inconsistent on the defensive end over time.
It has to be time to move on from Perkins, which should either have the Thunder bringing in a quality replacement, or switching over full-time to Adams at center. This should help the Thunder’s defense, while also help their execution on offense.
Scott Brooks Done?
Finding that elite third scorer and getting more well rounded down low are two big problems that need to be addressed. But any changes may all be for nothing is Scott Brooks sticks as the head coach and doesn’t switch up how he does things.
There’s no denying Brooks has found success with the Thunder, but it’s time to consider that his elite talent is more the reason for OKC’s success, and quite likely less because of him. Brooks runs a very simplistic isolation offense that can at times be too predictable and easy to defense. It was pretty obvious for a great defensive team like the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, and the struggles against another tough defense in the Memphis Grizzlies were well documented in round one of the playoffs.
Brooks also doesn’t make sound in-game adjustments, relying too heavily on his stars to bail him and his team out of messes. If they had a sounder mind calling the shots and a more complex offense, the Thunder could be a much more diverse team that defenses couldn’t easily disrupt.
Someone like George Karl would be perfect to switch things up on defense, while Jeff Van Gundy is one name that could come in and make them a much nastier defense and a much more cohesive offense. Those are just two big name head coaches the Thunder may want to consider.
OKC is still a fantastic team even without these three big moves. If they want to get back to the NBA Finals and actually have a chance at winning them, though, some or all of these adjustments need to be made.
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