The Oklahoma City Thunder have some soft spots in their armor. In order for the Thunder to get back on track, key upgrades must be made.
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Nov 23, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) looks on against the Sacramento Kings during the second half at Golden 1 Center. The Kings beat the Thunder 116-101. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
The Oklahoma City Thunder are second place in the Northwest Division — a division they’ve dominated throughout the 2010s. The Thunder have claimed the Northwest Division for every season except one since 2010, with the lone exception being the 2014-15 season in which Kevin Durant was sidelined for 55 games.
The Thunder started off hot this season, winning six of their first seven games. Since then they’ve cooled, losing seven of their last 11 games for a 10-8 record on the season. The Thunder are struggling to figure things out without Durant. Russell Westbrook is at the helm of the Thunder offense, but OKC has a thin supporting cast for Westbrook to utilize.
The Thunder have problems offensively, but, the defense has been the biggest contributing factor to their demise. The Thunder are allowing teams to score in the 105.4 points per game, which is 20th in the league.
Andre Roberson has struggled mightily this season. His defensive win shares are at 0.7 through the first 18 games. To clarify, defensive win shares are an estimated number of wins contributed by a player based on his play defensively. Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook are tied with defensive wins shared at 0.8.
While this is just one isolated stat, the Thunder have to consider a few different options going forward. One option is moving Oladipo to the bench and putting Jerami Grant in the starting lineup. Grant has been a pleasant surprise for the Thunder, shooting 54 percent from the floor. Now, he’s only taking 4.5 shots a game. As a starter, you would expect to see him get more shots.
The NBA trade deadline is just under four months away. The Oklahoma City Thunder will have to make a move to bring in a couple key pieces they desperately need. But, who should they trade for? Who should they trade away? Obviously, Enes Kanter and Andre Roberson have been linked to trade rumors, so who should the Thunder bring in? What do they need the most?
Jan 12, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Cameron Payne (22) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. The Thunder defeated the Timberwolves 101-96. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
1. The Oklahoma City Thunder need a backup point guard
During the preseason, the Thunder cut veteran point guard Ronnie Price. I saw this as a questionable move, not because Price is a great player, but rather, because I wasn’t sure how the Thunder would handle not having a true backup point guard.
Cameron Payne is a decent young player, but he sometimes looks like a deer in headlights in big game situations. What OKC needs is a point guard who can control the offense and get the ball into the hands of its playmakers off the bench.
A solid pick-and-roll point guard like Ricky Rubio would be ideal. Rubio is a player who doesn’t have to score at will to impact the game. A Rubio-to-Kanter type of game would be good for the Thunder on the offensive end. If Oladipo is in the second unit as well, he doesn’t have to handle the ball as much. He can become a catch-and-shoot player off the bench. This would help the Thunder tremendously.
While bringing in Rubio is highly unlikely, the Thunder could package Alex Abrines and Kyle Singler (also unlikely) to work a deal for Rubio or a player like Rubio. Another player that the Thunder could use as a backup point is Leandro Barbosa. The Brazilian Blur has been the backup for Steve Nash and most recently the Golden State Warriors. Currently, he averages about 12 minutes a game for the Phoenix Suns. However, he can run the pick-and-roll offense and get the ball to players in their sweet spots.
Nov 9, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Anthony Morrow (2) shoots the ball over Toronto Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll (5) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
2. The Oklahoma City Thunder need a true three-point specialist
I can’t stress this enough: The Oklahoma City Thunder are not a good three-point shooting team. The Thunder are 138-of-413 on the season from three, which translates to 33 percent on the season. At this point, the Thunder should call Ray Allen and see if he can come out of retirement for one more season.
The Thunder need a legit three-point specialist. One player that could help the Thunder from three is Kyle Korver. Korver has a career three-point percentage of 43 percent. He is also a free agent following this season. The Thunder could do a trade of Anthony Morrow for Korver straight up, though other incentives would have to be included to get the Hawks to bite.
Kyle Korver is strictly a three-point shooter, and he even plays a little defense. His defensive plus/minus this season is +1.1 whereas Morrow’s is -2.9. This trade would help the Thunder massively with the three-point shot. Korver can spread the floor and give Westbrook a more automatic option on the wing. Korver could even replace Roberson in the starting lineup.
Of all the trade ideas that Thunder fans have, this one is clearly the best option. If Atlanta would even consider it, and I doubt they would. However, the Thunder could also just sign Korver this upcoming offseason as he and Morrow are both free agents.
Nov 26, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) handles the ball against Detroit Pistons center Aron Baynes (12) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Thunder need a dominant scorer off the bench
No one likes coming off the bench; just ask James Harden. It seems like ever since Harden was traded to Houston, the Thunder have struggled mightily to find a player that can do what Harden did. They have been unsuccessful thus far. The Thunder have had players like Dion Waiters, Kevin Martin, Caron Butler, and they even had Ronnie Brewer for a brief period.
However, none of these players had the talent Harden did. Harden’s ability to create his own shot is coveted by many players in the NBA. With that, the second unit has its main offensive weapon. As of right now, the Thunder rely heavily on Enes Kanter to keep the second unit afloat offensively. However, without a true backup point guard, the ball movement is not as crisp as it should be.
Moving back to my original point, if the Thunder brought in a Ricky Rubio or Leandro Barbosa, Enes Kanter would blossom the way he did upon his arrival in Oklahoma City in the 2014-15 season. Kanter is so gifted offensively. However, if the Thunder were to trade for a player like Rudy Gay, they would have to package Kanter as part of that deal.
Gay is averaging 20 points a game for Sacramento. He’s shooting 47 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three. Many will argue that he should start if traded to the Thunder. If Gay did start you could ideally move Oladipo to the bench and rely on his scoring to keep the Thunder from losing leads with Westbrook on the bench.
It’s unclear if the Thunder will make a move before the trade deadline. However, I am 100 percent sure that general manager Sam Presti is currently doing his analytical magic to try to get this team on the path to winning games. One thing is clear at this point — the Thunder must switch some things up and start winning again.