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How will the Thunder survive without Kevin Durant?

Author:
durantback

So what's this then?

In case you've been living under a rock this summer, Kevin Durant took his talents to the bay area, leaving Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. The Thunder also traded away Serge Ibaka and let Dion Waiters walk away. Those 3 were the 1st, 4th, and 5th top scorers on the team last year, combining for 50 points per game, just under half of the team's per game scoring. That is a lot of points that the team will be replacing, not to even mention the defense that Ibaka and Durant played. (and Waiters was not too bad defensively) So how will they replace them?

What did they add to team?

Once again, in case you haven't been paying close attention, the Thunder got Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis in return for Serge Ibaka. They didn't really do anything else of note in additions, with the largest being resigning Westbrook, however, they do have about 6 million left under the cap so they could potentially add one more guy yet this offseason.

Ok, so how they move on?

The first thing is pretty obvious, Russell Westbrook is about to go full John Wick on everyone. He will have a great chance to win the scoring title, and him averaging northwards of 30 points per game is fairly likely. The biggest challenge for Westbrook is going to be upping his volume without his efficiency dropping off too sharply, something that has been a bit of a problem for him when playing without Durant.

He still will get to run pick and rolls with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, (or Gulan now?) both of whom showed great chemistry with Westbrook last season, (especially Adams) and as long as Ersan Ilyasova is at the 4, the lane should not get too crowded for him to operate.It will definitely be tighter spaces than with Durant on the floor though. Even if his efficiency does take a bit of a dive, Westbrook is still a top level player in this league, so regardless of everything else, he is likely to be able to carry a huge load, and how Russell Westbrook plays should be the least of the Thunder's worries this season.

Between Ersan and Oladipo they should be able to make up for the (offensive) production of both Ibaka and Waiters without too much trouble. Ersan will probably not score as much as Ibaka but he is a better shooter, and Oladipo will score more than Waiters did. One thing that will be interesting to see, is how Oladipo fares on his new team. He is not as bad a shooter as some suggest, but he certainly isn't a sniper and is definitely best with the ball in his hands, and yet I can't see him handling the ball more playing alongside Westbrook than he did in Orlando.

He may have to refine his off ball game a bit, whether that be a spot up shooting, back door cuts, or a pump and drive game, in order to really thrive with the Thunder. It will also be interesting to see how much faith Billy Donovan puts in Oladipo this season, in theory, it would be best to make sure he is on the floor when Westbrook is on the bench so Oladipo can run the bench mob, but the theory is not always reality. Either way, they should be able to combine to match the offensive outputs of the guys they are replacing.

Another option to get a little extra offense is Steven Adams. Adams is certainly not a post up powerhouse, but he did show flashes of a decent post game featuring a really soft hook shot. Perhaps giving him some minutes against backup centers and allowing him to post up a bit would be a decent way to try and steal a couple of buckets per game. Once again, it will be interesting to see how much Donovan allows a guy like Adams to spread his wings. I don't think Adams is going to be posting up a bunch, but I would not be surprised if he is getting several looks a game, especially if they can get him matched against weaker defenders (hence ideally throwing him against backups).

The last guy who could really be important is Enes Kanter. At this point, there is a very good chance that he is the 2nd best scorer on the team (in terms of just getting buckets) and unless Oladipo proves to be the real deal as an individual scorer, the Thunder will desperately need Kanter to take some pressure off of Westbrook. It is fairly ideal because Kanter can shoot enough to provide some nice spacing if he is playing center (and gives the pick and pop option with Westbrook) and can also play PF in a jumbo lineup. He could be particularly useful in lineups that feature little shooting (something that is likely to be a real issue for the Thunder) because, as a post up bully, he will be more capable of fighting through the tight quarters.

The problem, of course, is that Kanter is an awful defender despite making some real improvements last season. And his defensive issues are highlighted by Adams being such a good defender, ergo most of the time that Kanter is on the floor (at center) the defensive drop off is huge. HOWEVA, with Ibaka gone and replaced by Ersan Ilyasova, the drop off at PF would not be so steep, which would give good reason to believe that the Adams/Kanter jumbo front line will see a lot more minutes this season. Essentially with the thought process of Kanter being better offensively than any of the other 4s on the roster (which he is) and they don't actually get that much worse defensively swapping Ersan for Kanter. Either way, it will likely be somewhat of a dilemma for Donovan all season because they need Kanter's offense more than ever, but they might not be able to stomach his defensive flaws.

So what they should be worried about?

The forwards rotation. Billy Donovan will have his work cut out for him figuring out which guys to play and how much to play them. I'll start with PF because it should be a bit simpler, (emphasis on 'should') I would fully expect Ersan Ilyasova to start at the 4 because of more than anything else, he is probably the team's best PF. His shooting from the 4 will be desperately needed in OKC as well, given that neither Westbrook or Oladipo are not particularly good shooters, and there does not figure to be a lot of shooting at the SF spot either. (more on that in a moment though obviously) The problem with Ersan though is that he can't really play much defense. He does play hard and it is hugely entertaining to watch him draws charges all the time, but he just does not have the athleticism to be more than a slight negative on defense. (and often worse than that)

Beyond him, they could give more minutes to the jumbo Adams/Kanter front line, and there is a chance that Kanter could be a decent 3 point shooter on larger volume but I've touched on that combo already. Mitch McGary could end up being a decent player; he hasn't played much but the Thunder were so deep in the front court the past couple of years that it is understandable. The issue though is that he might not really even be a PF, and is definitely not a great shooter. It should be reasonable to expect him to give some decent minutes for the Thunder at the 4 or 5, but there seems to be a certain cap on how good he would be. Perhaps Josh Huestis could be yet another young Thunder to suddenly look really good, and he has a decent shooting stroke too, but he played in just 5 games last season and he looked absolutely miserable on defense. The wild card here is Sabonis, who figures to likely be miserable on defense for at least a year or two, but given the Thunder's track record with draft picks I would not count him out.

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Simply put, Ersan is a known commodity and should give them some stability at PF, but beyond him, there are not any options that they are likely to feel too comfortable about and will likely do some experimenting with the 4 spot and hope they find something that works. But at least they know they have 1 guy who can give rock solid minutes at the 4, which isn't really true of the other forward spot.

So how about SF?

It is a lot worse here because there is no Ersan to stick in and know that he will at least be alright. The main two options at SF are Andre Roberson, (who I think most are assuming the starting job is his to lose) and Kyle Singler, and possibly Anthony Morrow as well, which is something that should be pretty terrifying for the Thunder. Andre Roberson can't freaking shoot, or really do anything else on offense. Kyle Singler is a walking personal foul who also inexplicably forgot how to play offense since arriving in OKC as well. Morrow is a sniper, but he is really a SG and is pretty miserable on defense, and does very little other than shoot. The Thunder could well have the worst SF rotation of any team actually trying to win games next season, which once again, should scare them. The best hope for the Thunder is, regrettably, a Kyle Singler resurgence.

KYLE SINGLER??? You're kidding, right?

Nope. As a Pistons fan, I can tell you that somewhere in that goofy haired white guy is a useful and versatile basketball player who can really shoot, has a decent dribble drive game, and can play the 2, 3 or 4. And even if he isn't much good on defense and fouls a lot, he does play his tail off and occasionally makes nice plays as a result. Simply put, Kyle Singler is the best chance the Thunder have for having a two-way wing that can do more than just one specialty. (Admittedly, “two-way” is a stretch with Singler)

There is no situation where he is ideally a starter, even when he was playing well in Detroit everyone knew he was really not good enough to be starting. But Detroit Singler would be the Thunder's best wing behind Oladipo, which once again, is more of a comment on how bad the rest of their wings are than anything else. But his combination of size, shooting, effort and a dash of ball handling could be an absolute boon for the team. And for what it's worth, given his inconsistent playing time and role in his first year and a half with the Thunder, there is some reason to believe that he can find his game back with consistent minutes.

What about the defense?

I've inadvertently touched on this already, but whatever. If you are paying attention, the Thunder have a serious issue of not having many 2 way players. Almost all of their guys are either offensive of defensive guys, and at this point, more of them are offensive. The first thing that will help them is Westbrook being a bit more disciplined on defense, which is like asking a wolf not to howl at the moon, but still. He could get away with it because the previous Thunder defense thrived on being long and athletic and making the big plays. That Thunder team is pretty much gone now, and they will be much less capable of covering for Westbrook when he flies out of position for a low chance steal.

A big plus is that Oladipo is a really good defender, which when paired with Roberson, should make for one of the better defensive wing duos in basketball, however playing Westbrook, Oladipo, and Roberson will kill all of the team's spacing. The other problem is that the Thunder don't have a single defensive plus at the 4 spot, and really any big other than Adams. But they can rest easy knowing that many good defenses have been put together with 1 minus defender on the floor, and any lineup with Dipo, Roberson, and Adams should be pretty solid on defense.

Once again, though, those 3 could well be the only positives on defense on the whole roster, (although I guess Ronnie Price is a decent defender. But he doesn't figure to play a lot.) which will be hard to deal with. The defense will be a bigger issue for the Thunder than their offense will, and their best hope is that Adams can build off of an impressive playoff to become an absolute monster on defense. As in DPOY good, which would be a huge leap for him, but he could possibly do it, and a truly great defensive big can make up for a lot of defensive flaws on the rest of the team. Other than that, though, this team will likely struggle to put together a full games worth of defense, particularly because their best defensive lineups might be almost unplayable because of spacing issues on offense.

So what's the verdict? (My actual opinion on everything up there.)

Obviously, you can't just replace Kevin Durant. The Thunder will be a lot worse as a team, there is now way around that. And I am legitimately worried about their ability to score points and play defense at the same time, but I actually think Kyle Singler will make a comeback and be somewhat of a god send for the Thunder this season. I also think Andre Roberson will build off of his year last season and be able to shoot around 31% from 3 on a few more attempts (aka not just WIDE open ones) to make himself at least sort of useful on offense. (which also, would be a god send)

Maybe it is because I am seeing what I want to see, but truthfully, I think the Thunder should roll out the jumbo lineup a lot this season. I explained the benefits already, but I really would just accept that the defense will kind of suck and just try and score all of the points. Enes Kanter could well be the key to the Thunder staying relevant in the West.

As far as other lineups go, Roberson should probably spend as much time playing with Ersan and/or Kanter as possible to make up for his lack of shooting, and I will be interested to see what Sabonis, Payne, and Huestis look like as well. One last thing that I didn't really mention is that Mr. Sonics himself Nick Collison is always reliable and as I look at what I said, I should have probably mentioned him somewhere, so I'm doing it here.

What do you think? How will the new additions do? What are some lineups you want to see?

EDIT FOR THE TRADE: The Thunder just received Joffrey Lauvergne from the Nuggets in exchange for 2 2nd round picks. This will mostly take up the “one more guy” they could possibly add. (he won't take up all the cap space, but they will be closer now.)

He will likely be behind Ersan, but he fixes one of the bigger problems brought up in this article in that he is a decent 2-way player who can play either the 4 or the 5. He's not great by any stretch, but he is young and should improve. There is some talk that this could push McGary off the team but I am not so sure about that because I have no sources obviously. But he will help them in a big way, I mentioned several times that they could use a couple more real 2 way guys and he is one. Good pickup for the Thunder.