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OKLAHOMA CITY Thunder

Oct. 26, 2015
Oct. 26, 2015

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Oct. 26, 2015

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OKLAHOMA CITY Thunder

MODEST PROPOSAL

This is an article from the Oct. 26, 2015 issue

BE FLEXIBLE WITH POSITIONS

WEST 1

Part of LeBron James's incredible value lies in his ability to slide seamlessly between forward positions. The same is true of Kevin Durant. No opponent is capable of fully shutting down the 6'9" Durant's far-reaching and wide-ranging game, with slower bigs especially ill-suited to the task. Durant unlocks something special—and upends an opponent's rotational defense—when he plays at power forward, something he has done in brief stretches.

First-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan ought to explore that dynamic more often. Oklahoma City has players to fill minutes at the four behind starter Serge Ibaka, though none really thrive. Durant certainly could, but Donovan would have to juggle the team's established substitution pattern. By pulling Durant out of games midway through the first quarter, Donovan could create a nice window of opportunity for all involved. Point guard Russell Westbrook would get an early, pace-setting turn at the reins. Steven Adams could exit with Durant to bring in backup center Enes Kanter, who is best when playing with a defensive safety net like Ibaka and a playmaker like Westbrook. Then, after a few minutes, Durant can return in Ibaka's place to give the lineup its optimal speed and stretch.

There are a lot of interests to balance in Oklahoma City this season, not the least of which is keeping Durant, a free agent next summer, happy. But as long as Durant is game, Donovan has good reason to dedicate even more time and attention to expanding KD's positional options to get the most out of his star.

ENEMY LINES

A rival scout sizes up Oklahoma City

For them to progress, they probably had to get rid of Scott Brooks. He was a good coach who connected with the players, but he had weaknesses, timeout plays being one of the biggest. It will be a big adjustment for Billy Donovan, but at the same time Sam Presti is a very heavy-handed GM. He's like Joe Dumars was. Presti hired Donovan's staff for him.... The relationship [Donovan] has with Russell Westbrook is more important than the one with Kevin Durant. Russ is a hard guy to coach. You have to connect with him.... They have great depth. Kyle Singler is an ideal complementary player. I thought Steven Adams took a step back last year. There were times that he was out there getting in scraps and being more of a distraction than helping the team. Anthony Morrow was a great get for them. He can space the floor. You can't help as much on Russ's penetration, and it's one less guy you can double-team Durant with.... Was Enes Kanter worth the money [four years, $70 million]? No, but they are all in. I don't think anyone would double him, but he can shoot elbow jumpers. If he can make them, he will be a real weapon.... At the end of the year before last and at the beginning of last year, Serge Ibaka was way too focused on showing everyone he was a great shooter. They need him to affect the game defensively first.... Dion Waiters is a wild card. Will he be like Reggie Jackson and get jealous when he's not getting his shots? They don't need a one-on-one player; they have two of the best. They need a guy who takes away the help.

PROJECTED LINEUP

2014--15 stats

COACH BILLY DONOVAN

(1st season with Thunder)

2014--15 RECORD 45--37

(2nd in Northwest)

PG RUSSELL WESTBROOK

28.1 PPG; 8.6 APG; 7.3 RPG; 42.6 FG%

SG ANDRE ROBERSON

3.4 PPG; 3.8 RPG; 0.8 SPG; 45.8 FG%

SF KEVIN DURANT

25.4 PPG; 6.6 RPG; 51.0 FG%; 40.3 3FG%

PF SERGE IBAKA

14.3 PPG; 7.8 RPG; 2.4 BPG; 47.6 FG%

C STEVEN ADAMS

7.7 PPG; 7.5 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 54.4 FG%

BENCH

SG DION WAITERS

11.8 PPG; 2.4 RPG; 39.6 FG%; 29.7 3FG%

C ENES KANTER

15.5 PPG; 8.9 RPG; 0.4 BPG; 51.9 FG%

SF KYLE SINGLER

6.0 PPG; 2.4 RPG; 38.6 FG%; 39.8 3FG%

TELLING NUMBER

593

Points scored by Russell Westbrook in transition, the most in the league. (James Harden was a distant second, with 514.) The scoring champ also had an NBA-high 544 possessions in transition.

PHOTOGREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDPHOTOGREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDTHUNDER BALLER Durant was hobbled by a fracture in his right foot all season, but when he played, he had a strong presence: OKC went 18--9 with him in the lineup.