via Yahoo Sports
Will they still rise above the opposition?
The OKC Thunder had their season end on a disappointing note. A second round exit was totally unexpected, much like Russell Westbrook’s injury.
Which led many of its fans to ask–are the Thunder just one injury away from mediocrity?
They became vulnerable with the James Harden trade, and now the main asset they got for that trade has walked away. What happens to the Thunder is Durant gets injured (knock on wood)?
Should they make a move to shore up their bench? Why have they been quiet this offseason?
per Yahoo Sports:
1. Is Jeremy Lamb ready to play a major role off the bench?
Lamb will likely be thrown into the fire next season. He is expected to be one of the main scorers off Oklahoma City’s bench, along withReggie Jackson, and will be asked to partially fill the shoes Martin left behind.
Can he handle it?
The organization thinks so.
Lamb doesn’t have much experience at the NBA level, but he did play well with the Tulsa 66ers last season. He averaged 21 points, 5.3 rebounds and three assists per game. He also shot 49 percent from the field in the D-League and showed signs of a complete game during this year’s Summer League in Orlando.
GM Sam Presti and head coach Scott Brooks showed confidence in Lamb by letting Martin walk and staying away from the main free agents on the market. He will likely split Martin’s minutes with Jackson and will be asked to play a much bigger role. Most of his minutes came in garbage time last season, so it will be a major adjustment.
He has a long way to go and a lot to prove, but if Lamb pans out the way the Thunder expect, he could be a major part of a Finals run next season.
2. Is Reggie Jackson ready to be the team’s sixth man?
Jackson proved his worth last year as the team’s backup point guard for the majority of the regular season. He also proved it as a starter in the Playoffs after Westbrook went down in the first round.
But is he ready to be the main man off the bench?
He averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 33.5 minutes per game in last year’s Playoffs. He also averaged 19.5 points in two Summer League games in Orlando and even scored 23 points in one fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons.
His length and ability make him dangerous and with more minutes his numbers should skyrocket. The Thunder are looking towards him and Lamb to control the bench scoring, but Jackson will definitely take on the role of sixth man.
Again, it will be another major adjustment for a player on Oklahoma City’s bench. However, if Jackson continues to mature into his game, he could pan into a dangerous asset.
3. Can the Thunder score in the post?
Oklahoma City’s post-game has been almost nonexistent for the last two seasons.
Perkins is not an offensive threat and Ibaka has hardly shown growth on the block. Not to mention the team is built around two of the best perimeter players in the NBA.
However, according to Brooks during the team’s exit interviews, Ibaka will work with NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon this offseason in hopes of developing an offensive post-game.
Durant also claimed his post-game has developed and will continue to develop. With his size and frame there is no reason Durant can’t grow on the block.
As the Thunder rebuild their bench, it will be essential for the starting unit to find different ways to score. Durant and Westbrook can control the perimeter, but at some point they will have to score from the post.
They have the size and ability, but until Durant and Ibaka develop, the Thunder will struggle to score from the post.
4. Why isn’t the organization spending money this offseason?
It’s easy to forget Oklahoma City is a small market.
The Thunder have to be wary of where they play because their superstars are still so young. Durant and Westbrook are 24 and Ibaka is 23. Meaning: they still have to spend for their already lavishly paid players in the future.
Letting Martin walk and passing on the amnesty clause with Perkins are perfect examples of thinking about the financial future of the team. They are saving money now and staying out of the luxury tax in order to spend more on their superstars later.
The team has pursued free agents, but hasn’t found a player they consider worth the price tag of sending the organization over the tax threshold of $71.6 million. If the team were to break the threshold it would mean a $1.50 tax on every $1 over the limit.
In a small market with two of the game’s best players, the Thunder are pretty limited in their abilities to spend money. Spending now could mean Durant, Westbrook or Ibaka walking in the future.
5. Can the team legitimately contend for a championship with their roster?
With Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka the Thunder are definite championship contenders.
There are question marks surrounding the trio’s complementary parts, but offensively and defensively the team is one of the best in the Western Conference.
The Spurs return off a Finals run, but they are again another year older. The Clippers now have Doc Rivers, but they still have matchup problems with the bigger teams in the West. The Grizzlies are without Lionel Hollins who was a major part of their Conference Finals run last season. The Rockets have James Harden and Dwight Howard, but it takes time for teams to mesh.
Pending health, the Thunder are still one of the best teams in the Western Conference. With the roster they have in place they are set to make a run at their second Finals appearance in three years