There is nothing more confusing on this Thunder team, outside of Hasheem Thabeet’s Twitter account, than the play of its incredibly inconsistent bench. Some nights, led by Kevin Martin, it looks assertive and strong, a legit asset. Other nights, it looks like a gaping hole.
At the trade deadline, the Thunder passed on doing anything drastic to improve it, instead adding two fringe pieces. What’s the status here though? Is Reggie Jackson maybe the second unit savior? Where does Derek Fisher fit? And how good do we all feel about Martin in the biggest moments?
1. True or false: Reggie Jackson is underused.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: True. Jackson is blossoming, people. And while he’s playing essentially the same amount of game to game time Eric Maynor saw when he was even at his best, Jackson is far more a dynamic player. He gives Scott Brooks a bunch more options as he can play alongside Russell Westbrook or play alone in the backcourt. The Thunder have been missing a dynamic offensive spark on the second unit all season and it appears Jackson might be the man to provide it. But 12 minutes a game isn’t good enough, especially when Derek Fisher is getting 15.
J.G. Marking, Daily Thunder: True. But mainly because Reggie has really come on as of late and because of the fact that Derek Fisher is, you know, playing at all (gee, I wonder how I’ll feel on the next question). Reggie Jackson’s combination of athleticism and absurd length make him a potentially wonderful nightmare for opposing defenses (especially against reserves) as he has the rare ability to penetrate and finish either around or over larger defenders. He may not be as steady as pre-injury Maynor or as savvy and experienced as Fisher, but he is something neither of them really ever have been: dynamic.
J.A Sherman, Welcome to Loud City: True. But less true now than ever before. While this may seem like an inappropriate comparison given what we know now, I liken Jackson’s role on the bench to James Harden’s role two years ago. If you recall, before the Jeff Green/Kendrick Perkins trade, Harden was being openly questioned as to whether OKC blew their draft pick on him. He seemed uncertain, unconfident, and we weren’t really sure what he was bringing to the table. However, once Green left and Harden was handed the reins to the 2nd unit, he took off and never looked back. In the same way, once Jackson was given the vote of confidence as the backup PG, his play has really become consistent and he has a calm confidence that was never present before. His drive-and-dish game is a natural continuation of Westbrook’s, and Jackson works really hard to set up his teammates for open looks. Jackson’s improvement actually makes the 2nd unit dangerous.
While I do worry some that Derek Fisher’s presence on the court may take away some of Jackson’s swagger, these past 2 games seemed to indicate otherwise. Jackson did not look hindered at all by the presence of Fisher on the court simultaneously; he continued to attack the basket and was unafraid to shoot.
2. Fill in the blank: Derek Fisher’s role should be __________.
Young: Limited. I honestly don’t mind Fisher playing. I’m not of the mind that he should play zero minutes, zero games. I think in spots, he provides some value as a spot-up option and a different backcourt look. I’d be fine with him playing a similar role to that of Daequan Cook — 5-10 minutes depending on the game, with some nights him sitting out entirely. But this stuff where it seems like Brooks just forgets he’s on the floor entirely and reaches close to 20 minutes is no good. Because with this Thunder team, when someone is playing, that also means someone is not. Meaning that you’re leaving a talented player on the bench to give minutes somewhere else. Whether those are to Thabo, to Martin or to Jackson, or heck, to Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones, Fisher can’t cut drastically into them.
Marking: Much less than it has been. Look, Fisher is a wonderful presence on this team and he still has a knack for making shots…it’s just that his presence should be in the locker room and his knack for making shots at all is becoming less and less frequent. Toss in the fact that Fisher is eating up small-ball minutes that really should be going to Brewer and/or Reggie Jackson playing alongside Westbrook (if Brooks really wants to go to a three-guard lineup), and I’m sorry but this has all the feeling of the “I will play Jeff Green no matter what”-itis, only the Derek Fisher strain.
Sherman: As a fire alarm. As in, only break open when necessary. I will admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Fisher signing, either last season or this one. I accede that he wasn’t a total negative last year, as he brought some stability to the 2nd unit that was lacking. I think we can all agree though, Scott Brooks was way too reliant and deferential to Fisher when it came time to hand out critical minutes, especially in the Finals.
In this season, the fact is that Fisher is 38, and he can’t do a lot of the things that he used to do and he can’t really do the things that a championship-contending team needs him to do. His shot has looked pretty bad, his defense has been poor because he can’t really guard the 1 or the 2, and even though he still has a good basketball IQ, it simply seems like his physical ability does not allow him to perform at a level that the Thunder need. It was smart for Presti to pick him up and fill out the roster, but I remain perplexed as to why Fisher is an immediate rotation guy while other more talented players like Ronnie Brewer or even Jeremy Lamb remain sidelined.
3. Scale of 1-10, 10 being very, how concerned are you about Kevin Martin’s pending playoff performance.
Young: 8. And that’s a lot less about Martin, and more about the Thunder. I don’t think there’s any question that Martin fits. Which maybe is the problem. He fits a little too well. He doesn’t stand out. You don’t feel him during the game. He’s completely fine blending, which is great when Westbrook and Durant have it going and have the luxury of a scorer like Martin on the wing to draw attention and knock down shots. But there will be games where the Thunder need that boost from a third scorer. Sometimes, even a second scorer. That was the thing with Harden — any given night, he could trade places with either Westbrook or Durant and be the secondary option. Martin has never been that. That’s part due to both Westbrook and Durant’s development, but it’s also because Martin is such a blend player.
Marking: 7.23. He’s never been to where the Thunder will find themselves: deep in the playoffs, where pressure and the moment are bigger than any regular season game could ever dream of. The fact that Martin is already developing a disheartening trend of drifting in an out of STRETCHES of games (plural), especially on the road, and I don’t see how someone can’t be just a little bit concerned. But I still believe Martin’s skillset fits better with this team than Harden’s did (off-the-ball shooter instead of ball-dominant iso guy), but Harden always wanted the moment, the pressure and the stage. Hence why he’s wearing Rockets red. I guess we’ll find out if Martin really has that BIG moment in him for a championship contender or not.
Sherman: I would put my concern about Kevin Martin’s play at about a 7. While I know it is a bit presumptuous to be slotting the Thunder for the Finals already, using the Heat as The Standard likely means that the Thunder are simultaneously measuring up well against their Western competition also. One of the biggest things the Finals showed us (and this season has borne out) is that LeBron James has put a stranglehold on “Greatest Player Alive” for the foreseeable future. For the Thunder to challenge James, they need the rest of the team to be performing at a high level, higher than the Heat’s role players. With Harden gone, that puts a lot of pressure on Martin.
I like Martin because he takes his role seriously, but by the same token, it’s pretty clear he’s never been in this type of pressure situation before where he knows that he’s a key cog in a team’s championship aspirations. He’s hard on himself when he doesn’t perform to the level the team needs. That’s a good thing, obviously. However, if he becomes too self-conscious about his performance, I wonder if he’s going to go into a turtle shell when faced with real pressure. Fortunately for us all, all indicators tell us that the team has fully embraced Martin, so if he’s going to learn to deal with the pressure, it will be his team that helps him get there.