Already without 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder will open their 2014-15 NBA campaign with a couple more casualties.
The team reported on Monday that guards Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb will not be traveling with the team for their first two regular season games against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday after both players were injured during Monday’s practice sessions.
According to the Thunder’s injury report, Jackson suffered an ankle sprain while Lamb tweaked his back. The severity of the injuries were not disclosed although team officials said that both players will have their injuries evaluated when the team returns from the early road trip.
Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said “he’s never seen anything like this”, referring to the string of injuries that have hit the Thunder in the off-season.
All Part of the Game
However, Brooks added that these injuries are “part of the game” and “beyond control”. The only thing they can control, according to the six-year head coach, is “preparation and how they play.” But while Brooks remains positive, that is easier said than done.
Aside from Durant who will miss six to eight weeks with a foot injury, the Thunder will also start the season without off-season addition Anthony Morrow ( strained MCL) who is out for six weeks, rookie big man Mitch McGary (foot fracture) who is down five to seven weeks and reserve big man Grant Jerrett (ankle) who is listed as day to day. The injury to Jackson and Lamb further depletes the Thunder’s thinning line-up to start the season.
New Starting Unit
Despite these injuries, the Thunder are still left with a decent starting unit, which coach Brooks revealed during the interview. He said that Andre Roberson will start alongside Russell Westbrook in the backcourt while Perry Jones will compliment Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams in the frontcourt.
The key for this starting unit will be the development of Steven Adams. The sophomore big man assumes the starting spot of veteran Kendrick Perkins who didn’t play in the preseason to rest a strained quad. Perkins started 62 games last season, but could only average 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in 19.5 minutes of playing time. Adams averaged 11.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in the last 5 preseason games while shooting at a very high .600 from the field. With Adams’ steady development, the OKC frontline should be better than last season.
A Scoring Problem?
But the problem with OKC is with their backcourt and scoring.
The Thunder could be looking at 20 games without Kevin Durant and those will be huge shoes to fill. Last season, Durant contributed 19.2 win shares out of the Thunder’s 59 wins last season or .325. Russell Westbrook hopes to prove himself with this opportunity to lead the team, but he will need more scoring boost from Roberson and Jones with their shooting guards Morrow, Lamb and Jackson also out of commission. Morrow was having a sensational preseason, scoring 16.0 points per game and hitting 2.4 three pointers per outing.
Perry Jones though has shone in the preseason, averaging 13.6 points per game in five games and scoring at least 20 in the last two games. They will need more scoring in the absence of Durant and shooting guard Morrow. Roberson, who was the 26th pick in the 2013 draft, also picked up his scoring during the preseason by notching 6.0 points per game. If Jones and Roberson continue to improve their scoring during the regular season, they will at least mitigate the scoring loss from Durant’s 32.0 points per game and the expected double digit scoring of Anthony Morrow.