The Oklahoma City Thunder just did something that has never been done before.
The Thunder beat a team, in this case, the Los Angeles Lakers, by 35 or more points twice in the same week. They defeated the Lakers by 40 points on Saturday and won by 35 points on Wednesday.
Despite the blowouts, it’s impossible to ignore what happened in the second quarter where the Thunder lead was lost with the all-bench lineup on the floor.
The Thunder’s second unit has had major issues this season. They’re aren’t using Enes Kanter in the way it was designed to this offseason. D.J. Augustin is a liability everywhere unless he’s taking a wide open spot-up 3. Nobody can get Anthony Morrow open shots, and Dion Waiters is the most effective creator on the second unit, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Considering all these factors, it’s time for a significant shake-up by throwing Cameron Payne and possibly Mitch McGary in with the second unit. Coach Billy Donovan has given the all-bench unit enough time to try to figure itself out, and it’s not getting any better.
Augustin is what he is. It’s not like playing him more in garbage time is going to get him in some sort of rhythm or improve his game to the degree where he’s making a difference as it would for Payne. Payne could be a real solution to the second unit’s woes, so why not give him a chance? In the 8:34 Payne did play against the Lakers Wednesday night he once again looked solid running the offense and even created offense for himself.
The Thunder have an easy, 10-game stretch coming up in which seven opponents are under .500, and the 10 teams have a combined record of 121-172. This would seem like a good time to see what the highly-coveted 14th overall pick can do. So far he’s been relegated to bench and mop-up duty.
Sure it’s the D-League and all, but in two games, Payne has averaged 23.5 points per game (on 44/43/83 shooting splits) to go along with seven assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Is that not worth, at least, a look?
Augustin as the backup point guard is playing almost 16 minutes per game, and he has delivered very little. He’s averaging 4.6 points and 2 assists per game this season. His passing has been average at best (Nick Collison had a higher assist percentage this week), and he doesn’t play defense worth a lick. But most of this is due to his lack of size.
Payne has more length at 6’3” compared to Augustin (6’0”) and has more potential to become a better defender already in his rookie season. The Thunder drafted Payne knowing they will need a backup point guard with Augustin being a free agent after this season. He can shoot, pass it, get to the lane and with his size he has potential to be a good defender.
I’m all in on the Cameron Payne “Campaign Train.”
There are some people who follow the Thunder closely who believe McGary should join Payne in getting more playing time with the second unit. If the Thunder are stacked at one position, then that position is the post.
Like Payne, McGary was drafted to eventually take the reigns from one of the veterans on the team. If McGary were to get more minutes, then he would have to take them from Collison. Although Augustin and Collison are verterans in this league, it’s been Collison who has held his own with the Thunder’s second unit
Despite Collison’s mileage, he is still a smart defender and a good rebounder. He is also one of the most intelligent players on the court and doesn’t try to do too much.
McGary brings a nice energy to the Thunder, but he still has some time to go before he deserves playing time over Collison. McGary has talent and played in stretches last season where he was good, but there were times where he looked like the worst defender on the court.
He needs more time to develop in the D-League before he gets additional playing time for this team. He doesn’t have a role right now with Collison on the team and doesn’t deserve one, yet. In eight games with the Oklahoma City Blue, McGary is averaging 14.4 points (5th most on the Blue) and 8.6 rebounds (3rd most on the Blue) per game. It’d be nice to see better numbers from him in the D-League, and you would like to think there is a good reason Donovan and Co. haven’t given him any playing time thus far.
Regardless, there need to be some changes with the second unit. Either it’s time to give Payne more minutes or Sam Presti needs to get on the phone to find someone who can help the reserves because the current bench will become exposed against the Golden State and San Antonio’s of the world.
Heck, it’s been exposed against everybody lately. Let’s compare the first and second most-used lineups since Durant’s return (via NBA.com).
In 223 minutes: The starters of Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams have an offensive rating of 113.3 and a defensive rating 89.7, which is a net rating of +23.6.
In 69 minutes: The all-bench lineup of Augustin, Waiters, Morrow, Collison and Enes Kanter has an offensive rating of 93.3 and a defensive rating of 114.9, which is a net rating of -21.6.
That’s a stark contrast, and the performance of the bench group is unacceptable. Something just has to give there, so we’ll see if Donovan shakes things up soon.