No Decisions Near On Starters
By Randy Renner
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks is holding firm to his mantra of 'more games and more practices' to go before settling on a starting lineup for the regular season.
Brooks now has three spots open, shooting guard, center and (with Kevin Durant's injury) small forward.
Last night in Wichita, Brooks sent out a lineup we hadn't seen yet in the preseason but it could certainly be one that bears repeating.
Russell Westbrook was back at point guard after taking the night off in New Orleans and power forward Serge Ibaka was able to play for the first time this preseason after being hobbled by a sprained ankle. Brooks again sent out Andre Roberson at shooting guard and Steven Adams at center. Adams has started all five preseason games partly because of ability and partly because of necessity. Kendrick Perkins is still recovering from a sprained quad and hasn't been able to fully practice yet, much less play. Roberson has started four of the five games at shooting guard and appears to be Brooks' clear choice for that spot.
The wildcard is small forward and last night Brooks opted to go with Anthony Morrow. That fivesome is a group I mentioned in a blog earlier this week but I had Morrow penciled in at shooting guard and Roberson over at small forward.
Last night that group played well but the Thunder ended up losing to Toronto 109-90. The minutes you need to pay attention to for the most are the ones where those five were on the floor together.
At the beginning of the game that group jumped out to a hot start and led 18-13 at the first timeout for substitutions. They also played well at the start of the second half.
"I liked what I saw," Brooks said after the game.
The final numbers for those five ended up like this, Westbrook 16 points and eight assists, Roberson, with by far his best offensive game, scoring 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting while pulling down 10 rebounds. He also handed out three assists and blocked a shot.
Morrow also had 15 points and made half his shots both overall (6-for-12) and from deep (3-for-6). Overall this preseason Morrow is hitting more than half his threes (11-for-20, 55 percent) which is of course outstanding. Morrow is a career 43 percent shooter from beyond the arc and last regular season hit almost 46 percent.
Adams saw his point production drop again, down to single digits for the first time this preseason but he hit four of his seven shots finishing with eight points while grabbing seven rebounds. The Big Kiwi fouled out though, which continues to be a problem.
Ibaka, appeared rusty as you'd think after not playing in the preseason. He was just 4-for-12 shooting scoring eight points.
Barring any more injury issues Ibaka should have time to knock the rust off by the time the regular season starts.
Perhaps the biggest concern right now for the Thunder (aside from all the injuries) is Jeremy Lamb. He continues to struggle mightily shooting the ball. Last night he scored six points on 1-for-9 shooting. Remember he was 1-for-14 in the first preseason game in Denver. In the five preseason games Lamb is shooting just 30.3 percent overall and is a meager 4-for-28 (14.2 percent).
Brooks thinks much of the problem with Lamb is a tendency to take bad shots.
"His offensive shot selection has to improve, you can't expect to make tough shots in this league."
Lamb also didn't play particularly well on defense and that's been an issue his entire career so far.
Perry Jones III also didn't do much last night despite being on the court for almost 26 minutes. In that time he scored six points and grabbed three rebounds. Jones was just 2-for-8 shooting.
If the Thunder are going to keep their heads above water while Durant heals from his broken foot they are going to have to get better production from both Jones and Lamb.
Each of them has shown flashes but their inconsistencies have been the main storyline. If that narrative doesn't change the Thunder could struggle early in the regular season no matter who Brooks puts in the starting lineup.