Billy Donovan, Thunder depth being tested in West semifinals
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Proportionally speaking, the involvement of players like Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed were exaggerated by the lopsided margin in Game 1. Collison, though, was a rotation regular for the entire first-round series against Dallas and filled his usual minutes in the first half of the blowout loss. He was bumped from the rotation entirely in the game that followed—a decision that was likely overdue. There’s little place for a player like Collison against the best defensive team in the league; when he caught the ball on a short roll in Game 1, the Spurs defense actually pulled back to cover lob threats and passing angles while allowing Collison any shot he wanted from the lane. That won’t do.
A slice of Collison’s minutes also went to Adams, enabling the seldom-used jumbo pairing of Adams and Kanter. Those two only played 127 minutes together all season, yet in the early fourth quarter Donovan entrusted them to hold their own against San Antonio’s reserve bigs. They succeeded—perhaps in a way that could last a few minutes at a time throughout the series.
Within that same lineup was another adjustment: Waiters, whose ability is so often shorted by his decision-making, was left in the game to run point. Oklahoma City got away with playing Randy Foye as its backup point guard in its first-round series against Dallas, yet Donovan found out rather quickly that the out-of-position veteran wouldn’t be a realistic option against San Antonio.
The thought of Waiters initiating offense on a regular basis is far from comforting, particularly if Payne’s minutes are whittled down further. Waiters has his merits; relative to the other backup options at the position, Waiters is the best on-ball defender, the strongest driver, and perhaps the best shooter. His play also lacks a certain recognition that can lead to minutes-long downward spirals, the likes of which the Thunder can hardly afford. It seems inevitable that Westbrook will have to play more and more minutes as the series progresses (he logged 37 in Game 2), even at the expense of his on-court energy.
Singler initially got his shot in this series as a taller, longer defender to line up opposite San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard. That idea was foiled quickly, but credit Donovan for adjusting to have Waiters assume those defensive responsibilities whenever Roberson cannot. The fact that Leonard can shoot over the top of Waiters is undercut by the way Waiters’s strength and quickness prevents Leonard from getting to his spots in the first place. Consider it a fair improvisational solution. Things will get messy when the Spurs click into fluid motion and force Waiters to run through consecutive screens while tracking multiple offensive players. Give him a single focus on a Leonard iso, however, and Waiters can at least hold his own.