Thunder Future, Part 4

As we begin the week we continue our series on the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last week we began on Monday when Randy Renner and Jeremy Griffin looked at Thunder head coach Scott Brooks and two of the Thunder's Big Three, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.

Wednesday in Part 2, they examined the changes that could be on the way for some key bench guys, Reggie Jackson, Caron Butler and Nick Collison.

Friday the focus was on three players who've been mainstays in the starting lineup, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha.

Today we look at three more guys off the bench, Hasheem Thabeet, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III and once again some changes could be on the way for these guys too

HASHEEM THABEET

RANDY (MAYBE RETURNS)

A couple years ago when I first heard the Thunder were bringing in Thabeet, I thought I hadn’t heard correctly. I really saw no reason this team could use what I thought Thabeet could bring.

I was wrong.

Hash doesn’t light up the scoreboard but he has worked hard in practice to make his teammates better and when he’s had opportunities to play he’s done well, especially on the defensive end.

This season, with the arrival of Steven Adams, Thabeet played in just 23 games after seeing action in 66 in 2012-13.

His attitude stayed the same though, always working to get better and always smiling and always leading the cheers from the Thunder bench.

Fans and media don’t get to see what goes on in practice but by all accounts Thabeet has been an All-Star when it comes to work ethic.

The team has an option to bring him back at a cap friendly $1.2 million. Thabeet’s fate probably rests with whatever decision is made on the immediate future of German big man Tibor Pleiss. Pleiss is 7-1, 265 and continues to play in the Euro League after the Thunder secured his draft rights in 2010.

If Pleiss is ready to come to America and play in the NBA he would likely take Thabeet’s spot on the Thunder roster. Adams and Pleiss are likely the Thunder’s future at center. But Pleiss may not be quite ready and his Euro League contract has a stiff buyout, that combination may force the Thunder to keep Pleiss stashed in Europe, if so then Thabeet will return to bang around down low with Adams and Kendrick Perkins in practice and be ready for any precious game minutes that come his way.

JEREMY (RETURNS):  In reality the 3rd rotating center is probably interchangeable with virtually anyone weighing in at 250+ and topping 6’ 9” in terms of practice and game prep so this one is tough to predict.  I HOPE the Thunder keep him though his contract is a bit pricey for what he provides.  When Hash played meaningful minutes this season he performed great on the defensive end providing a solid blocking threat down low.  The Thunder have options here so I am not super confident in my prediction that he will return but I will go back to Presti’s goal of trying to improve the roster without losing anyone.  I will also say that his statement was open ended and that free agency doesn't really count against his statement as they are already out of contract.

JEREMY LAMB

RANDY (RETURNS): Last season was supposed to have been Lamb’s time to shine and he did for a while. The first half of the season he averaged 10.3 points on 46 percent shooting, but from February through April his shot failed him. He hit just 37 percent of his attempts and averaged 5.8 points, barely more than half what he’d averaged November, December and January.

The first half of the season his scoring helped offset the occasional lapse on defense but when he started struggling on offense the Thunder decided to make the move the put Lamb back on the bench and out of the rotation for the rest of the regular season. Caron Butler was brought in to take his spot. At first Lamb seemed to sulk, not understanding what was going on. But since he and Butler both played collegiately at UConn a bond developed and Lamb understood what had to be done.

He had to regain the confidence in his shot and most of all he had to pay attention to defense. “At first I didn’t care about defense at all,” he admitted during his exit interview. But now he has seen the value of a player who can be a bulldog defender at one end and then a sharpshooter at the other. “Seeing those players that lock you up (on defense) and then go score on you, that motivates me,” Lamb said.

He vows to return better and with his length, athleticism and overall skills, Jeremy Lamb could have a breakout season.

JEREMY (GONE): I am very much alone in this prediction but here it goes.  I see Lamb much like I saw James Harden when I predicted 6 months before he was traded that he would be dealt and not for the reasons everyone thinks.  Harden did not represent the model OKC player.  Harden was arrogant, “me-first”, and wanted the spot light.  I think Lamb is much the same way but without the numbers to back it up.

I believe he may start the season with the Thunder but look for him to be dealt before the deadline in a “big news” kind of trade for two reasons.  He does not do much for the Thunder as he was part of a lack luster bench (in the play-offs) and inconsistent is kind when describing his reliability.  With that said he still has trade value because he has another year left with rookie salary and he could represent “the future” to several teams out there.

He may ultimately become a good player but “great” is not in the cards for him, at least not in OKC and that’s what the team needs coming off the bench next season…”great”.

PERRY JONES III

RANDY (RETURNS): When the Thunder drafted Perry Jones III out of Baylor the biggest knock on him was that his motor didn’t shift into high gear very often. That’s still the knock on him. He’s shown flashes on both offense and defense of the type of player he can become. His shooting numbers took a nice jump and he hit 45.9 percent of his shots overall and 36.1 percent of his threes.

Some of his other numbers are intriguing also. His rookie year, 98 percent of the shots he took were from inside the 3-point arc. Last season he stepped out across the line much more, 66.3 percent of his shots were twos and 33.7 percent were threes. The more confidence he’s developing in that shot the more often he’s taking it. But right now, he isn’t consistent enough on either end of the floor. We’ve heard that Jones has often times been outstanding in practice but the media is never allowed to watch any actual scrimmaging so it’s impossible to tell for sure. Jones should get opportunities this coming season and he better make the most of them or he could find his name attached to a trade. Jones will be paid $1.13 million this coming season but in 2015-16 his salary will almost double if the Thunder decide to pick up his option. If Jones can’t pick up the pace, it’s doubtful the Thunder will pick up that option.

JEREMY (RETURNS): This is guy who is playing behind an MVP.  He simply has not had that many opportunities to play mainly due to KD’s playing time and the reality that the Thunder needed more seasoned players on the court last year with all the injury issues.

PJ3 will see more meaningful playing time next season as long as everyone stays healthy as I believe at the coaching level we may see a more economical use of their star power.  Scott Brooks is evolving as a coach and I think that may be an area we see more prominently next season.

The Thunder still have need of Perry Jones and though I wouldn’t rule him out of a potential trade by the deadline next season I think he is far less likely to go than Lamb.

EDITOR: Wednesday we'll wrap up this series with a look at the Thunder draft class from last June, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett. Tuesday Randy begins his look at some of the players the Thunder may be interested in drafting this year, he was going to begin with Euro big man Kristaps Porzingis because there have been various reports the Thunder had promised to take him with the 21st pick if he was still on the board.

But yesterday Porzingis pulled his name out of the this year's draft, preferring to play one more year in Europe.