Oklahoma City Thunder: 5 Players To Keep An Eye On In 2013-14
With Russell Westbrook Out, Keep An Eye On These 5 Players
This year will be a bumpy grind for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and most of that struggle will be felt within the first two months of the season. All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook will be out for the first four to six weeks of the regular season with a knee injury.
Westbrook sustained his injury in the second game of the Thunder's first-round matchup against the Houston Rockets in last year's playoffs. Oklahoma City was able to get past the Rockets but fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round. Their series loss to Memphis made it evident that Kevin Durant couldn't carry the team on his own. So, Oklahoma City will begin this campaign with different tools to help support Durant's other-worldly play.
Westbrook's absence will be felt no matter how well Durant comes out the gate to start the 2013-14 NBA season. Durant will, however, have a slightly better supporting cast to help him win games until Westbrook returns. This crew of improved players includes two rookies — one who needs to play like his former college self and another that has been opening eyes around the league — and a forward who has made more-than-necessary refinements to this game. And luckily for Durant, the Thunder have an ample replacement for Westbook at the point guard position for the time being.
These first two months of the season will be crucial for the Thunder. Players around Durant will need to step up in order to rack up wins in Westbrook's absence. Here are five player to keep an eye on through this early stretch of the 2013-14 season.
5. Reggie Jackson, PG
Reggie Jackson is going to be the injured Russell Westbrook's immediate replacement at the point guard position. He's definitely not the same player Westbrook is, but he's had a productive preseason thus far. In the Thunder's latest preseason game, which ended in a 88-82 win over the Utah Jazz, Jackson led the team with 18 points and six assists. He'll need to continue contributing to make up for the temporary loss of Westbrook. And when Westbrook does return, the Thunder will have a nice duo of point guards to run their offense.
4. Jeremy Lamb, G
Aside from Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder do not have a viable option from beyond the arc. Rookie guard Jeremy Lamb has an opportunity to provide such scoring, but he's been failing horribly to do so far this preseason. In four games, Lamb 2-for-18 from three-point range. This comes from a player, however, who shot .348 from three during his two years playing college basketball at the University of Connecticut. Thunder fans should watch Lamb vigorously during the early stages of the regular season to see if he can be the guy Oklahoma City can call on to hit a big shot when needed most.
3. Steven Adams, C
The 7-foot center and native of New Zealand has arguably been the most surprising and eye-opening player this preseason for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Steven Adams proved himself a worthy man in the paint in the NBA by outplaying former third-overall selection Enes Kanter on Sunday night. Adams is playing in place of Kendrick Perkins, who is out with a dislocated finger, and he's making the most of his opportunity. He scored six points and brought down 10 rebounds in 24 minutes against the Jazz. Adams also played Kanter very sound defensively; Kanter was held to two points on 1-for-5 shooting and just two rebounds in the 18 minutes they found themselves together on the floor. Adams could finally provide the consistent scoring from a big man in the paint the Thunder have been longing.
2. Serge Ibaka, PF
Along with Adams, forward Serge Ibaka looks poised to provide some scoring in the paint for the Thunder this upcoming season. His improved post game has been widely reported, which would add an important side to his game that has been primarily defense-dominant. The four-year NBA veteran has more experience than the rookie Adams, so Ibaka's improved offensive game could see an immediate impact in the Thunder's first few games this season.
1. Kevin Durant, SF
Is there really a player on the Thunder that you're more likely to watch than Kevin Durant? He'll be even more special to observe given that there is no other dynamic scorer on the team with Russell Westbrook riding the bench. Westbook averaged exactly one more field attempt per game (18.7) than Durant did during the 2012-13 season. Without Westbrook hoisting up shots, Durant will be far and away the primary man early on this season. Durant is arguably a much better scorer than Westbrook so without his point guard bringing him down Durant will be able to score at will, making this early part of the season one especially memorable to watch for Durant and Thunder fans alike.