Since the trade of James Harden before the beginning of last season, the question has been raised: who’s going to provide the scoring for the Oklahoma City Thunder besides Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?
That answer has yet to be answered. Kevin Martin did a decent job of filling the void, but his production was not what the Thunder were hoping for. While Martin provided 14 points a game for Oklahoma City, his career average is nearly 18.
In retrospect, Martin’s average of 14 points per game was only about a three points difference than what Harden brought to the Thunder in the 2011-12 season (16.8). However, the ultimate difference between Harden and Martin is their overall star power. Martin has been a solid player throughout his career and a deadly three-point marksman, but Harden’s upside for being an overall superstar far outweighs what Martin has done or will do for the rest of his career. That is the problem many Thunder fans felt about this trade.
Martin wasn’t the only asset the Thunder got from the Houston Rockets in return for Harden. Oklahoma City also received a first round selection as well as Jeremy Lamb. Lamb spent most of his first season in the NBA in the D-League, playing in only 23 NBA games last year. Lamb has tremendous upside for the future if he can get his feet under him. The scoring ability he showed at UCONN alongside Kemba Walker, helping to bring home a national championship in the process. It’s a little too early to tell where Lamb’s career is headed but he has the potential to be a key player in the Thunder’s system.
The downside to this trade was the first round pick. Oklahoma City was not guaranteed to earn that selection for the 2013 NBA Draft unless it was within the first 12 picks in the draft. The 2013 draft class was widely regardless as a very weak class with many teams looking to make moves for next season’s star studded class. Thunder fans weren’t that lucky, as their acquired pick landed at number 12. With that pick, Oklahoma City selected Steven Adams out of Pittsburgh.
Adams was not extremely high on a lot of team’s draft boards with many wondering why he chose to enter the draft so early. Adams only averaged just over seven points per game while hauling in six rebounds. The more troubling stat is his free throw percentage in his one season at Pittsburgh (44 percent from the charity stripe). However, Adams is still young, turning only 21 years old in July. He’s also a big presence standing at 7-feet . He’s a young big man whom the Thunder are hoping will mold into their next starting center when Kendrick Perkins’ knees finally give out on him.
However, none of this information answers the question on who is the next scoring option after Westbrook and Durant. It does, however, provide some information on who the Thunder hope will be their next big-time role player.
Lamb’s production is expected to go up with the opportunities he’s going to gain in the absence of Martin this season, who now plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Adams is going to get some good learning experiences on how to be tough in the paint as well as have time to bulk up playing behind Perkins.
The most realistic third-tier scoring option for the Thunder is going to be Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has been known throughout his career as a shot blocker extraordinaire but his offensive game is no joke. He’s physical down low, works his feet well around the rim and has a consistent mid-range jump shot that helps open the floor for the rest of the team. While all the attention is going to be placed on Westbrook and Durant, Ibaka could very well average about 15 points per game if given the opportunity. He averaged 13 per game last season as a fourth option and should see those numbers bolstered being a more viable member of the offensive game plan.
One way or another, the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to challenge for the top seed in the Western Conference. Many people felt their team would struggle without Harden in the fold. Instead, OKC went out, took care of business and landed the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Had it not been for Westbrook’s injury the Thunder may have made a return trip to the NBA Finals.
Whether it’s Lamb, Ibaka or whoever else decides to take a more prominent role in the offense, OKC is going to be just fine, Thunder fans. However, they will need either Lamb or Ibaka or both to step up in a big way this year if they want a shot at an NBA Championship.