Someone Needs to Be the Third Scorer for the Oklahoma City Thunder
Following a strenuous seven-game series with the Memphis Grizzlies, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in yet another uphill climb against the Los Angeles Clippers in the conference semifinals.
Having already fallen behind 1-0 following a 17-point loss to the Clippers in Game 1 – and taking into account past playoff series – the Thunder need to find a way to increase their artillery moving forward if they want a shot at getting past the league’s most explosive offense.
Despite having one of the game’s most threatening scorers and MVP in Kevin Durant, along with a freakishly athletic scoring point guard like Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are in need of consistent contribution from a third scoring option. Trying to keep pace with a Los Angeles team that averaged nearly 108 points per game in the regular season, and more than 112 since the start of the playoffs, the Thunder offense has to be more than just KD and Russ in their current pace.
Although this is probably who should be the guy - and perhaps in the long run he will be - the 21-year-old Jeremy Lamb isn't quite there. Despite seeing more than triple the amount of floor time this season as he did during his rookie year, Lamb's scoring average hovered at just 8.5 points per game during the regular season.
With a soft touch and plenty of range to score from deep, Lamb is the scoring type the Thunder need. However, it's interesting to note OKC's rotation as it pertains to Lamb and working him in with the offense.
Of the Thunder's top-10 five-man combinations for this season, Westbrook and Lamb didn't show up together in any lineups. In fact, of Lamb's more than 1,500 minutes played during the regular season, Westbrook was on the court with him only 12 percent of the time.
During the playoffs so far, Lamb and Westbrook aren't a tried combo.
Clearly the coaches are smarter than us, but for a team that needs to fill it up as much as possible against a team more than capable of scoring 115 points every night, putting your best scorers on the floor together may help totals. And when you think about Lamb coming to Oklahoma City in the trade that sent James Harden to Houston - whether there should be or not - there's anticipation of restored scoring.
Perhaps it's not the minutes Lamb's getting, but the guy's he's on the floor with when he gets them.
With the third-highest scoring average on the team at 15.1 points per game, power forward Serge Ibaka is undoubtedly a major piece in the Thunder's puzzle, not to mention his contributions on defense.
But unlike a guy like Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh, who posts similar season-long averages, Ibaka isn't the type of player who can create for himself. Instead, he thrives off pick-and-roll opportunities, cleaning the offensive glass and knocking down set mid-range shots.
The Thunder wouldn't be who or where they are without Ibaka, but he's not the guy to look to as the scoring threat this OKC team needs.
Like Lamb, Reggie Jackson is a young guard, but arguably the more trusted option in his third NBA season. He played in 80 games during the regular season - starting 36 of them - and he's averaging more than 27 minutes a game in the playoffs.
Given his skill set as a combo guard, Jackson has the ability to create and penetrate, helping to either increase his chances at the rim, or draw the defense resulting in open looks for his teammates. Additionally, although his 33.9 percent from beyond the arc isn't attractive, Jackson does have the range to knock down open threes if available.
Of all the five-man rotations for the Thunder this year with at least 100 minutes spent together, Jackson was a part of the crew with the highest net rating (5.8 NetRtg alongside Durant, Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha). He was also a part of the Thunder lineup (minimum of 100 minutes played) with the highest offensive rating (105.2) of the season, working to form a scoring trio with Durant and Westbrook.
Take a look at the Thunder's four straight losses in the NBA Finals two years ago and it's hard to argue the offense doesn't need a third scorer. Only in Game 2 did all of Durant, Westbrook and James Harden effectively shoot the rock (kind of - Westbrook was 10-26 from the field) and still lose the game.
In Game 3, Kendrick Perkins somehow managed 10 points, making him the only other double-digit scorer to join Durant and Westbrook. In Game 4, no other double-digit scorers outside of the typical duo. And in the season-ending Game 5, despite Derek Fisher and Harden joining KD and Westbrook in double figures, Russell and the Beard combined for a miserable 9-of-31 shooting.
After losing Westbrook to injury last season, the Thunder's playoff run was even more difficult, eventually losing four straight games to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals to end their season.
Although the team was without the athleticism and scoring of Westbrook, they did have an efficient scoring threat in Kevin Martin, albeit not the same creative presence as Russell, or James Harden the year before.
In Game 2, Durant got a nice 19-point chip-in from veteran Derek Fisher to go along with his game-high 36 points, and Ibaka and Jackson also contributed with 11 and 10, respectively. But the Thunder lacked focus and precision, committing 19 turnovers and losing by six.
In Game 3, the Thunder had four double-digit scorers, led by Durant's 25, followed by Jackson's 16. But overall, the team shot just 36 percent for 81 points and it didn't take much for the Grizzlies to prevail.
Martin finally came around in Game 4 with 18 points, piggybacking on Durant's game-high 27. The Thunder also received 17 from Ibaka, 15 from Jackson and 10 from Nick Collison, ultimately committing 15 turnovers and losing by six in overtime.
In their season finale in Game 5, a combined 33 points from Ibaka and Jackson was nice, but Durant's 21 came from a woeful 5-of-21 shooting and Martin only managed 10 points on six shots.
Too often in recent years has inconsistent scoring, disappearing acts and surprise appearances been too little or too late for the Thunder come playoff time.
The easy argument for third scorer this season is Reggie Jackson. This Thunder team is a talented bunch and plenty capable of scoring points (their 106.2 per game in the regular season was good for fifth in the NBA). But it can't be all Durant and Westbrook. A guy like Jackson needs to step in, create for himself, use his length and strength to draw a defense and shoot the ball effectively in order to last a full bout against this fiery Clippers squad and beyond.