Wanted: Low-Post Scorer Who Likes Winning Rings
Well, they lost.
Thunder fans knew it was coming, and most of them would tell you they’re just happy they didn’t lose in the first round.
Still, there is always a touch of bitterness after being booted from the playoffs, especially when you have a team that was supposed to compete for a title.
Now that OKC executives and players have a little extra time on their hands, their focus should be on a year from now when they will have a chance to compete yet again.
Ultimately, this team is going to be a contender for a long time. A healthy Russell Westbrook solves many of the issues this team had against Memphis, but not all of them. It's important to remember age here, as well. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are only 24. They are four years younger than LeBron. These two superstars have plenty of time to figure things out, and they are only going to get better.
However, a team can almost always improve its personnel, and OKC could definitely use an addition or two this offseason.
Due to Westbrook’s injury, we were given insights to this OKC team that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. We learned more about this edition of the Thunder than we would have with Westbrook on the court. Even though every OKC fan in existence would rather have seen another trip to the finals with Westbrook, there is no doubting the silver lining in what we saw in his absence.
So with those thoughts in mind, let's examine some of the decisions OKC will be making and what they need to do this offseason to become a better team.
To me, the most glaring need for the Thunder is someone who can score out of the low post. 6-10 Serge Ibaka, who was once a promising low-post threat, inexplicably decided to become a jump shooter on a team of jump shooters. I love his defense, I love his energy but I hate that he’s a jump shooter. He’s an effective one as long as he’s shooting in the mid-range, but what OKC really needs is a low-post scorer to draw the defense inside.
Also, when Westbrook went down, Ibaka didn’t get any better. When a star player taking 20+ shots a game goes down, you expect the next best players to pick up the slack. In the regular season, Ibaka averaged 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. After Westbrook’s injury, Ibaka averaged 12.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He became more of an offensive focus, getting double-digit shots in every game post-Westbrook but one, but he continued to provide the same production.
OKC’s other starting big, Kendrick Perkins, has never been a low-post threat and has one of the ugliest offensive games I’ve ever seen. However, OKC didn’t acquire Perk for him to be a low-post scorer; they traded for him to be a low-post defender. He just got abused by Memphis when they needed him most and his plus/minus numbers are less than satisfactory. Many fans are calling for an amnesty due to his considerable salary. It’s an intriguing option; if OKC amnesties Perk and doesn’t resign Kevin Martin, they will have some money to spend.
I’m not sure what the Thunder will do regarding Martin and Perk. Both have upside, but they are both being overpaid. The front office has decisions to make here, and ultimately it may come down to whether or not OKC feels comfortable with the replacements they can find.
So what options are out there in the low post for OKC? They could try and sign someone out of free agency. There are a few notable free agents this off season. The first ones that jump out to me are Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum and Nikola Pekovic. Jefferson and Bynum are unrestricted free agents, while Pekovic is restricted. All three players would cost some significant money, and that may ultimately be why OKC passes on a top-tier low-post free agent, but as already mentioned, they could have the money if they wanted to do it. To me, Pekovic seems like the best option of those three because of his age, his strictly low-post game, and his love for meat.
The club could also decide to find a low-post threat through the draft. They have Toronto’s first round pick this year as long as the pick is number 4-14, which it most likely will be. There is actually a decent crop of big men in that range that OKC will likely be considering. Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Gorgui Dieng, and Mason Plumblee all have shown varying levels of low-post scoring, but every one of those picks could also be a bust. If it were me drafting, I’d be picking Zeller if he fell that far and Olynyk if he didn’t. Both are legit 7-footers and both can score out of the post. Olynyk is bigger and stronger, but he can also be a bit of a jump shooter, which OKC definitely does not need. Zeller is surprisingly skinny at 210 pounds, but he is very skilled around the basket. Both will need to get tougher if they want to play in the league, no matter what team they play for.
If OKC doesn’t like any of the players at this range, another option would be to trade up in the draft. The low-post options at the top of the draft are Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter and Alex Len. All three can score out of the low post, but all three have weaknesses. Bennett and Porter would be undersized for their positions. However, talent-wise, they are both more NBA-ready than Alex Len, who is a project. He has size at 7-1 and he has shown promise in college, but I’m wary of NBA prospects that weren’t able to dominate in college on a fairly consistent basis.
Something must be done to address the void of low-post scoring on the Thunder. Most of the other positions are set. Reggie Jackson proved to me in these playoffs that he is more than capable of being an effective backup point guard next year, and Nick Collison certainly isn’t going anywhere. If OKC does part ways with Perkins and Martin, they will have to replace a starting center and a bench scorer. They would want to replace both positions with scorers, and finding a new wing scorer off the bench is easier in today’s NBA than low-post scorers.
OKC has jump-shooting down. To become a complete team that can compete with Miami, they need a big man who can score.