Oklahoma City Thunder

Is this the best Thunder bench ever?

Is this the best Thunder bench ever?

Soobum Im USA TODAY Sports

Soobum Im USA TODAY Sports

Three years ago, Reggie Jackson was thrown into the rotation when former Thunder player, Eric Maynor, fell to an ACL injury. All of a sudden, the Oklahoma City Thunder had an inexperienced player, fresh out of college.. and honestly a bit in over his head. Oklahoma City saw it as well. They went out and signed veteran, Derek Fisher.  We also had the bearded wonder, James Harden to help deviate some of the point guard duties.

What three years makes.

Gone is James Harden. Gone is the guy we traded for James Harden, Kevin Martin. It brought in a lot of questions for the Thunder bench this season. Without two proven scorers off the bench, many pundit experts are wondering how and where Oklahoma City was going to get their scoring when the starters step out of the game for a rest would come from.

27 games in, the question still remains. However, it’s more of a positive question. It’s more like, who will lead Oklahoma City in scoring off the bench tonight. It’s a whole lot of players. Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and sometimes Nick Collison or Steven Adams.

Oklahoma City’s bench has never been a strong suit for them. here all the following stats for the Thunder bench in the history since moving to Oklahoma City:

  • 2008-09: 16.3 MIN – 27.6 PPG NBA Rank: 20th
  • 2009-10: 15.9 MIN – 26.0 PPG NBA Rank: 28th
  • 2010-11: 17.6 MIN – 30.3 PPG NBA Rank: 16th
  • 2011-12: 18.4 MIN – 31.7 PPG  NBA Rank: 16th
  • 2012-13: 17.1 MIN – 29.7 PPG NBA Rank: 22nd

So, if you look there, Oklahoma City’s bench hasn’t finished in the top side of the league since their move to Oklahoma City. A lot of it can be contributed to youth, inexperience and just blatantly, a lack of bench depth. Outside of Harden and Martin, Oklahoma City has primarily had just one real go to bench scorer.

That’s changed this season. It’s refreshing. The stats for Oklahoma City are reflecting the fact that more than one or two players are just consistently contributing. In 20 bench minutes, Oklahoma City reserves are averaging 34.3 points per game. That’s 11th best in the league, doubling their position from last season.

“You have to have a good bench in this league,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We’ve always had a great bench. They’ve been playing really well this season.”

Jackson, the third year guy out Boston College, who was once in over his head, is now a leader off the bench. His a prime candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award. The way he stepped in the playoffs last season when Russell Westbrook went down with the meniscus injury was huge, for the team and the growth of a young, budding player. He showed glimpses of being the player that we’re going to be watching for a few years coming.

Then Lamb, a player who was unproven last season and raised a lot of questions. Many thought he was still a year away from being a quality contributor to this team. He is just shooting the best percentage of three-pointers on the team. Adams, a rookie out of the University of Pittsburgh, has done nothing but improve defensively and even had a double-double in his first 10 games. Tons of potential there. Last, but not least, you have Nick Collison, a savvy veteran who comes to work every day with his hard hat on, and puts his body on the line.

With Jackson and Lamb doing a majority of the bench scoring, the Thunder are confident that they have the right players to replace Harden and Martin. If you take Harden’s Per 36 minute stats in the NBA Finals season of 2011-12, against the contribution of Jackson and Lamb right now, they’re uncanny.

  • A) FG%: 49.1, 3PT% 39.0, 4.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 19.3 PPG
  • B) FG%: 47.1, 3PT% 30.0, 5.5 RPG, 5.1 APG, 17.9 PPG
  • C) FG% 46.2, 3PT% 39.3, 4.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 16.4 PPG
  • D) FG% 45.0, 3PT% 42.6, 3.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 18.2 PPG

Which player do you actually want? I’d take player B. That’s Reggie Jackson. Despite not having the percentages that player A or C has, he has more other facilitation in rebounding and assists, and has the same amount of of points per game (per 36), than the other two players. Player C is Lamb and Player A is Harden, player D is Martin. Enough said.

That’s not even counting Fisher or even Perry Jones III, who a lot of people are calling to see a lot more time. He’s shined in his limit minutes.

While the Thunder’s stats don’t exactly state “this is one of the best benches of all-time,” there are signs showing that this could go down as one of the most quality benches in the past 15 years at least. When was the last time you had five players that you could come off the bench and really just trust them to extend a lead? Doesn’t happen very often.

Raptors Coach, Dwayne Casey, said that Collison could start on 29 other teams in the NBA. Many think Lamb should be starting over Thabo Sefolosha. Jackson is a player who will be getting some serious attention when he comes to free agency in two years. Oklahoma City. Even if you were to look at the two-time defending NBA Champions, the Miami Heat, their bench isn’t full of players who would go on to start for other teams. They’re full of decent role players and three future hall of famers in the starting line up.

That’s where Oklahoma City has improved this season. This bench extends leads, they contribute, and no longer are they a weakness defensively. Adams is a huge part of that. We always knew what Collison brings to the line up. However, Adams defense is great. It’s only has gotten better as the season has progressed. He’s learning at an extremely quick rate, and his numbers do nothing but get better. He has his brain farts, but overall, the kid is going to be something special.

What Oklahoma City lacked two years ago, even last year, was a bench that was consistent. While they’re not going to give us 34 points every game for the remaining 55 games, they’re something there. It’s special. Jackson has been groomed by Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant trusts him immensely. Harden had a knack for disappearing in clutch situations, sans the 2012 Western Conference Finals. Kevin Martin disappeared after the All-Star break last season, despite having career numbers. So far, this bench has been very consistent for the most part this season.

If Oklahoma City is going to take that next step, and win a World Championship, this bench will be a huge reason why they will be able to do it. We’ll be reading on how Jackson, Lamb, Adams and Collison were all principal pieces in a run to the city’s first championship.

Only time will tell.

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