Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
With 2013 now in full effect, its time to read a list of things Oklahoma City must do to win a title. Besides, lists are dope, right? RIGHT?
*Note from Ed: This will be my final post on SB Nation Kansas City, as the time has come for transition and I will figure out what my next journalistic move will be. I assure you that it will be a glorious one, and I appreciate you all lending me your ear while I attempt to write poetic about the NBA.*
Life is good for the Oklahoma City Thunder. A 26-7 record and the best record in the NBA for the hometeam means that the status of top dog is squarely on the Thunder shoulders. Yet, I remain unconvinced at the Thunder's chances to bring home their first NBA title. I mean, that is the goal right? Bringing home a title? Of course it is.
I need more convincing and I have 10 axes to grind before I feel semi-confident. bear with me as I give you my laundry list.
1. Russell Westbrook has to remember how to shoot: Its been widely noted at this point in the struggles of Westbrook this season. His field goal shooting percentage (41.5% entering Monday) is the lowest its been since his rookie year. Yet quietly, no one has noticed that his three-point shooting percentage (36.7%) is the highest of his career. The Thunder offense has evolved so that Westbrook can get more open looks, so while he's converting from beyond the arc, he's not converting at his two favorite shots. The pull-up at the elbow and any layup at the rim.
My guess is that this trend will not continue, and it must change for OKC to work at peak efficiency.
2. Serge Ibaka must continue to improve as a defender: There are too many times still that on defense, there's a wide-open man setup for a jumper around the arc to capitalize from deep. Stretch 4's seem to kill OKC more than anyone else, and Ibaka's rotation is left wide open. I'm not sure if it means that Ibaka should play more center, and allow someone like Collison or Durant to play the 4, to make for a quicker defensive unit, but against a team like Miami in particular this has to be fixed. Speaking of Durant at the 4...
3. Scott Brooks has to believe in his small-ball lineup: During the finals last year, I always believed that a lineup of Westbrook-Harden-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka was the best five to counter what Miami would throw on the floor. For whatever reason, Brooks wanted to have former reserve Derek Fisher in the lineup, which frustrated me to no end. With this team, there are several iterations that could work, but with Maynor back and Durant capable of playing bigger, its something I'd like to see more of. Could a lineup of Westbrook-Sefolosha-Martin-Durant-Ibaka work? What about more Maynor? Perry Jones even? We must find out eventually.
4. Kendrick Perkins is going to have to figure something out: I've said plenty before, so all I'm going to say now is the following...Perk, you've got to play better brother. Period.
5. No injuries: Most people know about Westbrook's consecutive games streak that may or may not have started in high school, but by and large this team has stayed remarkably healthy over the last few seasons. Knock on wood, but the luck on injuries must continue moving forward.
6. Eric Maynor must come back to life: Can the Duke-killer Eric Maynor please be revived, please? I'm only asking for this one thing Lord...okay, I might've asked for three things yesterday but...can VCU Maynor please come back? I'm begging.
7. Scott Brooks should learn how to bring the corner three into the offense: Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefolosha look almost exactly like each other on the basketball court. They also are phenomenal spot-up three point shooters. So its weird to me that we are continually beat by teams with shooters in the corner, and yet we don't utilize the space nearly as much as we should. Planting a shooter in the corner could open up even more space for KD and Russ to work 1-on-1, and even Ibaka could shoot the corner jumper from 18-20 feet. Space is cool Coach Brooks, I promise it is.
8. One rookie is going to have to step up: I really wish it would be Perry Jones, only because I've been dreaming of a lineup of Westbrook-Martin-Jones-Durant-Ibaka. Scary huh?
9. Kevin Durant has to figure out a way to guard LeBron James: It was the scariest thing I remember seeing during the finals last year. James Harden was guarding LeBron James. That's when I knew we were in deep dog poop. Just look at the roster, who's the only person that can guard LeBron James?
Not really sure how that's going to work, but if a Miami vs. OKC rematch happens, then Durant's going to have to shoulder this load. You'd think all that time on the Olympic team and working out in the summer would net a few notes on how to slow down The King....right? RIGHT?
Otherwise, we'll only have one option left.
10. Pray: Pray that the New York Knicks find a way to beat the Heat. Pray that Chris Bosh forgets how to play basketball. Pray that Perry Jones evolves into another Kevin Durant and then we can have two KD's on the court at the same damn time. Okay, I'm reaching, but you get my point.