After failing their first two tests against elite Western Conference foes, the Oklahoma City Thunder managed to defeat a truly formidable rival on Wednesday night. Their adoring home fans and a national ESPN audience saw them outlast the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime, but even this triumphant moment was fraught with worrisome undercurrents.
Since most of those questions have followed the team for weeks – or. in some cases, months – the loyal, questioning Thunder supporters deserve the best answers available at this hour.
Who Should Be Playing the Most? Dedicated blog readers know that Kendrick Perkins’ effectiveness is at best an open question. It was thus exciting to see the Thunder hold onto a lead in the second and fourth quarters with the much rawer but more explosive Hasheem Thabeet manning the middle instead.
Thabeet had his best outing of the season (and one of the best of his woeful career), providing points, rebounds, and energy to a club in need of all three. An early-fourth quarter stretch that included a turnover and two fouls in less than two minutes highlighted the lack of refinement that has held him back in previous NBA stops, but his lack of meaningful playing experience is partly to blame.
If the Thunder stay committed to developing Thabeet, they might eventually be able to use Perkins in his rightful slot, as a widebody defensive specialist for use against certain matchups.
Russell or Kevin? Serious NBA fans might have already grown weary of this alpha dog debate, which almost comes down to a matter of personal basketball aesthetics. The argument rages on, though, because it has no definitive answer: Kevin Durant is better at most aspects of basketball than Russell Westbrook, but in some situations Westbrook’s abilities trump his more heralded teammate’s, and the two of them don’t always fit perfectly together.
Westbrook remains frustratingly mercurial: just look at how he ended the first half, with two great passes to open shooters, followed by a brick-technical foul-brick sandwich. Durant is steadier and handles the ball less, so his inconsistencies fly further under the radar: his mistakes are passive, while Westbrook’s are aggressive.
For now, it’s important to remember that both players have shown important signs of growth this year, and still have time to figure out how best to use each other. This long season will hopefully afford them the opportunity to mesh more completely.
Why Did We Trade Harden for Martin? Some Thunder fans undoubtedly aren’t over losing their bearded cult hero, but they need to spend some time appreciating their singular new toy.
Kevin Martin runs a nightly clinic in luring unsuspecting defenders into shooting fouls, and his ability to find open spots on the court has opened up space for Durant and Westbrook. Like a clock-killing running back, he carries offensive burdens that allow his team to keep a lead.
No rational person would argue that Martin is a better player than Harden, but everyone needs to give him a chance to prove that his efficient offensive game makes him a better fit for this particular team.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.