We know that Russell Westbrook and Paul George will come out and put on a show against the Blazers. The other starters, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson have played great supporting roles all season long and will also be expected to make an impact during the team’s first round series. The Thunder will need their bench to perform at a high level, otherwise it could prove costly against Portland and going forward in later rounds of the playoffs.
The bench has been the bane of the Oklahoma City Thunder for a few seasons now. Thunder fans have experienced countless times where Westbrook, Kevin Durant or George couldn’t get anything going and there was no one off the bench that could take over and carry the load. The story needs to change this postseason if the Thunder want to put themselves in the position to defeat the Blazers and accumulate 16 wins by the end of June.
It is encouraging that Sam Presti has filled this year’s bench with very good role players. Dennis Schröder has been an excellent back up to Russell Westbrook and would be a starter on most teams in the NBA. The German averaged 15 points and 4.0 assists per game off the bench during the regular season. He has played 34 games in the playoffs so he’ll be familiar with the atmosphere and intensity. His stand-out games on the road against Miami and Milwaukee have been impressive and he’ll undoubtedly want to replicate his performances in the postseason.
The Thunder also have toughness and grit on the bench, two crucial ingredients for any contending team. Nerlens Noel and Markieff Morris will have to be at the top of their game during the Play-Offs. Noel has shown his defensive abilities throughout the season, the former No. 6 pick averaged 1.2 blocks per game during the regular season while playing limited minutes but in order for the center to improve his contribution he will need to better his 5 points-per-game that he averaged during the 77 games he played for OKC. Morris has shown his toughness and scored in double digits on seven occasions during his short time playing with the team.
Patrick Patterson, Abdel Nader, Raymond Felton, Hamidou Diallo and Deonte Burton are the other guys on the bench that are unlikely to fit into Billy Donovan’s play-off rotation but when they do get minutes, they need to make the most of them in order to provide an invaluable boost to the team.
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