A Wing Away from a Ring

“It’s home.  I’ve been here for eight years.  Time has flown by.  Time flies when you’re having fun.”

– Kevin Durant when asked about OKC.

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russell-westbrook-kevin-durant-laughingIt’s funny how time flies when you’re having success, and for the majority of Kevin Durant’s career in Oklahoma City, he’s enjoyed plenty of it – sans a NBA championship.  Oklahoma City was a 4th quarter away from sending the defending NBA champs home packing in Game 6.  They lost a game in which they lead for a total of 45 minutes.  The Thunder now need to ask themselves a crucial question: “how could we lose a game, and eventually a series, that we dominated through 4 games?”

The answer is simple – to the Warriors anyways: the 3-Ball killed the Thunder.  In Game 6, the Warriors snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, coming back against the Thunder by riding a 21 for 25 3-point shooting performance while their opponents went 3 for 23.  In a matchup of two evenly matched teams, being out-played from deep by 54 points is a mind-boggling turn of events; but, for the Warriors, who nailed 90 3s while their opponents only made 55, it’s par the course.  That’s a 3 point shooting differential of 35, which equates to 105 points for the series – the Thunder found out that kind of performance from deep is ultimately insurmountable. 

Still, OKC took Golden State to 7 games. During the Thunder’s postseason run, the team showed flashes of their potential, beating a 67-win team in only 6 games in the 2nd round of the playoffs and pushing the defending NBA champs to the brink of elimination in the conference finals.  In that series, they held a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead against the NBA’s best regular season team; though the Thunder eventually lost, there’s no shame in that – the Warriors are a 73 win team, and they put up a fight.  Clearly, the Thunder aren’t far off from being a championship team, only needing a roster tweak to put them over the top. 

I’m just going to go out on a limb and say it – Kevin Durant is not going anywhere. Why would he?  In addition to the financial incentives of returning to his current team, he’ll once again return to his All-NBA 1st teammate, Russell Westbrook.  With the tremendous leaps that Steven Adams and Enes Kanter showed in their development this off-season, the Thunder now have the best big-man rotation in the league with Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka & Enes Kanter.

Andre Roberson's Shooting Mechanics: On left, broken jump-shot, airballs a three. On the right, fixed mechanics, improving shot

Andre Roberson’s Shooting Mechanics: On left, broken jump-shot, airballs a three. On the right, fixed mechanics, improving shot

Andre Roberson showed vital offensive improvement from the beginning of the season, and if he keeps working on the 3 ball, he’ll be an instrumental piece playing alongside the starters.  The Thunder should also bring back Waiters to provide scoring off the bench, but the bench needs outside help at the guard and forward positions unless both of them improve.

New York Knicks guard Arron Afflalo has a player-option that he will likely exercise to become a free agent. If he does, he’s a player that could help bolster the Thunder’s bench.  He’s known as a defender, but the aspect of his game that could make the difference for the Thunder is his career 3-point shooting average of 38%.

6-time All-Star Joe Johnson is also a free-agent this summer, and he’s a scorer that would be great off the bench for the Thunder.  Johnson was a vital part of Miami’s run down the stretch, including during their playoff run.  Johnson would provide the Thunder a great veteran presence in the locker room, and on the court he’s known for being a great passer and floor spacer.  A 37% career 3-point shooter, Johnson was one of the best shooters from deep last year after being traded to Miami, nailing over 40% of his shots from beyond the 3 point line.  Johnson was a starter for the majority of his career, but at this stage of his career, he will be a great option off the bench on a contending team. 

joe johnson

usa-today-9135314.0Throughout his career, Guard Courtney Lee has been a tough defender who can put the ball on the floor, and provide reliable 3-point shooting.  His career average from 3 is 38% and he would be a great complement I think to KD & Russ.  His 3-point shooting would give OKC’s stars more space to operate on the court because defenders would need to respect the threat of a kick-out 3 for Lee.

The bottom line is clear: the Thunder need to put shooting around KD and Russ to unlock the team’s offensive potential.  Morrow’s defense makes him a liability, and Roberson’s offense needs to drastically improve for him to provide the type of offensive threat the Thunder are looking for.  Signing any of these free-agent shooters would provide the help that OKC needs to reach their ultimate goal of winning a NBA championship.

By Blake James