Scoring 36 points in 24 minutes isn’t something we’re going to see from Kevin Durant or anyone else in this NBA season, but it does serve as an example of just how much the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to rely on him, especially while Russell Westbrook is out.
There are two options for the Thunder while Westbrook is out: Replace the 18.7 shots per game Westbrook took last year by simply adding more pressure on Durant to deliver (which resulted in catastrophe last postseason), or hope that Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb make up for Westbrook being out and not having the recognized name coming off the bench with around 14-15 points a night, like James Harden or Kevin Martin.
In the win over the Denver Nuggets, it was all about Durant, scoring 22 points in the first half and 36 overall on 13-of-20 shooting in the 109-81 win for the Thunder, which might serve as more of a warning to the Nuggets about how hard they’re going to fall after regular season success with George Karl in the previous decade.
As for Jackson? He scored 8 points in 22 minutes with 2-of-6 from the field, adding 3 assists. Despite playing the point guard position, it’s quite clear that the Thunder are going to put the ball a lot more in the hands of Kevin Durant, especially considering how un-creative the coaching from Scott Brooks can be.
Jeremy Lamb off the bench? The Thunder don’t need him to handle the ball; they just need him to hit open shots, which didn’t really happen against the Nuggets, finishing with 3-of-12 from the field, scoring 6 points. He’s not going to take that many shots on a regular season game, but the Thunder are hoping they’ll be getting the same kind of percentages they got out of Kevin Martin last season, hitting a career high 42.6% of his three point shots last season.
Serge Ibaka is most likely going to be the third scoring option, as the Thunder hope that the frontcourt duo of him and Kendrick Perkins continues to be a defensive backbone this team relies on. Statistically, the Thunder were the second best team in the NBA last season before Russell Westbrook went down. With all the criticism they’re taking for many things, they were the favorites, on paper, to come out of the Western conference once again.
However, it doesn’t mean they’re as good as their record suggested. Russell Westbrook is a problem if he takes more shots than anyone in the league except for Kobe Bryant. It’s a problem when Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha provide almost no offense during their time on the floor. It’s a problem when they’re not quite sure who’ll provide more points behind Durant and Westbrook, when he gets back.
For now, the Thunder have a good enough team to ride on Durant and relieve him with some points from Jackson and Ibaka during the first month and maybe a bit more of the season. But if Westbrook doesn’t change his game, not to mention doesn’t come back as explosive as before, the Thunder are going to feel the problems they haven’t been able to fix for the last couple of years dragging them down for the first time in their rise from lottery team to NBA finalists.