OKLAHOMA CITY – When Oklahoma City lost to Memphis on Wednesday night, coach Scott Brooks was quick to say his team’s effort was good.
But effort isn’t the issue. The Thunder proved that with their recent five-game winning streak against some of the league’s least-interesting teams.
The issue is the bench. What should be a strong point for Oklahoma City is more of a question mark. What should have been a mismatch Wednesday against Memphis, wasn’t. The Thunder bench got worked by Quincy Pondexter, Wayne Ellington and Jerryd Bayless. Overall, the Thunder bench was outscored 31-13 by the Grizzlies bench.
Gone is James Harden, who will likely be a recurring topic of conversation throughout the year, but Kevin Martin has filled in more than admirably so far. Past that, things are sketchy.
Brooks has yet to put his trust into anyone but Martin and has yet to settle on a rotation. That got the Thunder burned against Memphis, particularly in the second quarter when Pondexter went for 11 points, Bayless hit a 3-pointer and Ellington had a pair of buckets in what turned out to be a 36-15 advantage for the Grizzlies.
Energy guy Nick Collison is playing nearly five fewer minutes per game than his career average and scoring 2.4 points per game less than his career average. Guard Eric Maynor has not responded well this season after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury.
Hasheem Thabeet has yet to be trusted and is coming off a slight ankle injury. Reggie Jackson has played in just five games, Perry Jones only four and Daniel Orton only one. Oddly, guard Jeremy Lamb, who has played in only four games, started the second quarter against Detroit two games ago.
Nothing wrong with trying to figure things out, but it shouldn’t take nine games. The Thunder bench is scoring 28.9 points per game, which is 25th in the league. They are averaging 10.3 rebounds, which is 28th in the league. They are focusing a lot on Kevin Martin but are unsure past that. And when Martin struggled for the first time, the bench took a hit.
“Four shots is not good enough,” Brooks said of Martin’s 1-for-4 shooting day. “That’s a combination of the team and myself and Kevin. He’s too good of a scorer. We didn’t do a good job.”
The Thunder can get away with the off night from Martin if the others chip in, but until Brooks gets his rotation set, expect more struggles.
Who’s Hot: Kevin Durant scored 34 points against Memphis, the first time he’s gone over 30 this season. Durant went 12-of-21 from the field with 10 rebounds and five assists. It seemed like he woke up, too, and he’ll need to. With Russell Westbrook struggling with his shooting and James Harden gone, Durant will have to be counted on to take over. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter against Memphis
Who’s Not: As good as he’s been this season, and on short notice, too, Kevin Martin was pretty much invisible in his 33 minutes Wednesday against Memphis. He took just four shots and made one, scoring seven points, his lowest output of the season.
1. I’m curious why Thabo Sefolosha doesn’t play more. He doesn’t hurt the Thunder offensively and he only helps defensively. Sefolosha played just 21 minutes Wednesday against Memphis, but he made both of his 3-point tries and three of four shots overall. Sefolosha is shooting 50 percent for the season and 60 percent on 3-pointers. Sefolosha is just a 33-percent shooter for his career on 3-pointers.
There’s no one on the team who plays better defense, and he wasn’t in any foul trouble Wednesday night. Expect him to get overlooked if coach Scott Brooks is looking for offense, thanks to the hot start from Kevin Martin. Martin has been coming off the bench and is a more-skilled offensive player, but Sefolosha is a more savvy choice for minutes as he brings a more-rounded game. To me, when Sefolosha plays more, the team is better.
2. Kendrick Perkins got ejected, along with Zach Randolph, Wednesday night in Oklahoma City. Not surprising since Perkins often loses his cool and is known for his scowl and his intimidation tactics.
What I’m concerned about is Perkins creating scenarios where he needs to fire himself up. After Sunday’s win over Cleveland, Perkins said he he likes to pick out a player on the other team and use that as motivation. Yikes. How about just concentrating on rebounding and helping Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get open, via a screen? The idea of creating issues that don’t exist is troublesome for a guy who is continually having anger and control problems.
3. It would be a bad matchup for the Thunder, but man, it would be great to see Memphis and Oklahoma City in a playoff series. The teams seem to bring an impressive intensity each time they face off. Remember, it was two years ago when they played a seven-game series in the Western Conference semifinals. The Thunder won the series and went on to fall to Dallas.
News and Notes
• After Kendrick Perkins and Zach Randolph were ejected Wednesday, Perkins sprinted off the court. According to The Oklahoman, Perkins and Randolph had to be separated by Oklahoma City police officers outside the lockerrooms, in the tunnel. No action was taken by authorities and despite several people saying they heard something, officials said nothing happened.
• Hot or not? Well, going back the last 10 games, the Thunder are just 6-4. That includes a Game 5 loss to the Heat in The Finals. In that same span, they have not really registered a quality win unless you count a victory in Chicago against a Bulls team without Derrick Rose.
• Something must be wrong with center Daniel Orton. Orton has been active for just one game this season. The Oklahoma City native, who had been with Orlando the past two seasons, was hoping to get a chance to show what he can do.
It looked like Orton would get a shot, too. The Thunder traded away backup Cole Aldrich and lost Nazr Mohammed to free agency, leaving just Kendrick Perkins and an untested Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet is averaging 2.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in seven games this season.
• Russell Westbrook had an amazing game Wednesday against Memphis, despite the fact he was just 6-of-19 from the field. He had 13 assists, including five in the first quarter. It was good that Westbrook got his teammates involved, but his shot hasn’t fallen this year. He’s shooting 39.5 percent from the field but already has three games with 10 or more assists.
Friday at New Orleans; Sunday vs. Golden State; Wednesday vs. Los Angeles Clippers.
After seven games in 10 days, the Thunder have just three games this week, including a Wednesday game at home against the Clippers. It should be a great matchup as Oklahoma City native Blake Griffin comes back to his home state. Meanwhile, the Thunder will still be looking for their first quality win, and the Clippers will be that test. They beat Miami and have already beaten the Lakers, too.
Tower of Power?
Well, this isn’t college football where teams are evaluated and judged from week to week. If it was, the Thunder would certainly take a hit, because they have yet to put together a great game.
But this is the NBA and just because Oklahoma City lost to Memphis doesn’t mean the team is bad. This team is built for the playoffs, so regular-season games or results are only part of the process. Think Spurs.
The Thunder are not playing at a championship level now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t when it matters.