In the Thunder’s loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday, Kevin Durant played 44 minutes, and Russell Westbrook played 42. That’s some pretty heavy usage for the team’s two All-Stars, and it’s something that’s not likely to be sustainable over the course of an 82-game season.
With James Harden’s playmaking ability gone from the second unit, however, it’s tough to find ways around that, especially when you consider Scott Brooks’ propensity to almost always play Durant and Westbrook in lineups together at the same time.
The two were both absent from the lineup for just four minutes against Memphis, and Durant (obviously) played those two extra minutes without Westbrook by his side.
Those heavy minutes can’t continue, and Oklahoma City needs to find lineup combinations that maximize effectiveness, while getting its superstar players some much-needed rest. It’s something Brooks is aware of, and he’s beginning to look at changing his substitution patterns to try and help the situation.
Brooks is in the process of plotting that transformation, and he has a plan that could work. It’s an adjustment that has the potential to bring more balance to the bench unit while establishing additional harmony in the star-studded first string.
The idea is to sub out Kevin Durant earlier.
It’s a strategy Brooks told me following practice today that the coaching staff began kicking around earlier in the day.
By sitting Durant earlier, the Thunder can accomplish three things: most importantly a more sensible rotation that relies less on only Eric Maynor and Kevin Martin to create, secondly, an opportunity for Westbrook to run as wild as his heart desires for longer stretches and, lastly, more rest for Durant.
Mayberry does an excellent job of digging deeper into how this could all shake out, but the short version is, staggering Durant’s minutes is a solid solution to the issue. He and Westbrook are both capable of creating for themselves and their teammates, as well as scoring on their own and in bunches. It only makes sense to spread the wealth across multiple lineups instead of always featuring the two on the court at the same time.
There will be an adjustment period to each playing without the other for extended stretches, but it’ll likely be best for the Thunder in the long run if they want to maximize the talent on the roster and position themselves for another run at the Finals.
With Harden’s scoring and playmaking gone forever, it’s time OKC began to make the necessary adjustments.