State of the Thunder: Fine without Harden?
NOV 02, 2012 12:56a ET
James Harden wasn't going to win a championship for the Thunder, and his absence won't keep Oklahoma City from winning it, either.
The loss of Harden will certainly be on everyone's mind as the Thunder head into their home opener Friday night against Portland – especially since Harden went off for 37 points in his debut with Houston and the Thunder lost Thursday at San Antonio – but it shouldn't be a cause for major panic.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are plenty good. Figure the Thunder lost Harden, but gained Eric Maynor at guard (he missed almost all of last season with a knee injury) as well as proven scorer Kevin Martin. Guard Reggie Jackson will be in the rotation as well.
That makes four guards who saw the floor in the first quarter Thursday night against the Spurs. And that's not even counting rookie Jeremy Lamb, who came over as part of the trade.
The thing that bothers people the most is the fact Harden was beloved by the fans in Oklahoma City. It won't be the same when he's not the first player off the bench for the Thunder this season.
But it could be better, or at least not that much worse.
Who's hot: Who else? Durant. He had 23 points in the season opener and also had a team-high 14 rebounds.
Who's not: Westbrook looked faster than he has ever been, but Thursday wasn't one of his better efforts. He was just 6-for-21 shooting with six turnovers. In addition, he was more than 15 feet away from Tony Parker on the game's final play when Parker made a jumper to win the game. Westbrook was lost on the play.
1) It's one game, but complaining about Westbrook can't seem to start soon enough for a lot of people. Westbrook was lost on the game's last play, but by now we know what we're getting with him – a high-caliber scorer and playmaker. He's frustrating at times, but his skill set is unmatched.
2) Kevin Martin will be just fine. He has only been with the team for two days. This was his first game. Way too soon to get worked up about his shooting form, struggles or quirks. He did make a 3-pointer to tie the score late in the fourth quarter against the Spurs.
3) Easy on the expectations. Ever season since the team moved to Oklahoma City, it has improved. From making the playoffs, to making the Western Conference finals, to getting all the way to the NBA Finals. It won't be easy to improve on that. However, fans will be wanting a lot. Relax. This is a superb team, but it may take some time to get going.
Quote of the week
"We're familiar with our turnovers." - Scott Brooks on his team, which led the league in turnovers a season ago.
The Thunder turned it over and were not able to get a shot off – with the game tied – with six seconds to go.
News and Notes
• The Thunder lost Harden, but they are banking on Maynor, Jackson and Martin making up for it. That shouldn't be a problem. Martin won't have to shoulder the scoring load like he has done in the past and Maynor has proven he can provide big minutes. Jackson made a first-quarter appearance Thursday, so clearly the coaches feel good about his improvements from a year ago.
• Kendrick Perkins is once again the starter at center, but Hasheem Thabeet is the clear No. 2 after one game, although it may not mean much. Thabeet played just 12 minutes and had one point and two rebounds. Don't get concerned about seeing too much of Thabeet. The Thunder have plenty of options to avoid having to play him, as they can stick with Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka if they are looking for offense.
• The Thunder aren't exactly like the Lakers, but they will have some minor chemistry issues to work out as the season goes on. The addition of Martin into the rotation will need to be ironed out, but it shouldn't be a problem. Remember, this team made the NBA Finals, and the only key loss is Harden.
• Oklahoma City native Daniel Orton, who was waived Saturday, was claimed and put on the roster before the season opener. Orton went to Bishop McGuinness High School before signing with Kentucky.
Orton played last season in Orlando as a backup to Dwight Howard and averaged 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 16 regular season games. It looks as though Thabeet will be the No. 2 center, but when the Thunder traded Harden, they also sent Cole Aldrich to Houston. That could mean Orton could see time if Thabeet doesn't work out.
• You could tell, just from the first half of Thursday's game against San Antonio, Martin was a bit hesitant. His shot didn't seem smooth and his game didn't flow. My guess is he needs time. Likely anxious around his new teammates, Martin has heard for the past three days how much the Oklahoma City fans loved Harden. That makes Game 1 tough. He finished with 15 points on 4-of-10 shooting. He did go 3-of-6 from the 3-point line.
What's next: vs. Portland on Friday; vs. Atlanta on Sunday; vs. Toronto on Tuesday; at Chicago on Thursday.
Not a stellar lineup coming to Oklahoma City in this three-game home stand, but the Thunder's next road game is a good one when they travel to play the Bulls. By then we should know a lot more about Martin's development with the team and have a better idea of the rotation. Meanwhile, we'll also see how the Thunder can score on the road against what has been one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Tower of Power? Too soon to say if the Thunder are the same "Super" team that knocked out the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs on the way to the Finals last season. Thursday night's opener was both good and bad.
Good because the Thunder were within a basket of the Spurs, despite no one outside of Durant having a good game. Bad because the same, old problems seem to be an issue – too many turnovers, and an out-of-control Westbrook.
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