Following the unfortunate announcement that the Thunder will be without Serge Ibaka for the rest of the playoffs. and with a series against perennial powerhouse San Antonio coming up, there is little time for Scott Brooks and company to feel sorry for themselves.
Ibaka is the team’s number three option as well as its primary rim protector. In 13 postseason games, the 6’10” power forward averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, per ESPN.com. Against the Clippers, Ibaka did a spectacular job defending Blake Griffin, almost always doing so in isolation. Furthermore, he developed into an effective two-way threat, defending Griffin at one end and shooting 64 percent at the other. He even connected on 54.5 percent of his midrange jumpers, per NBA.com.
Now, Oklahoma City is forced to adjust. What does this mean? No, not more Kendrick Perkins, although given Brooks’ reputation for relying on his older veterans, that certainly wouldn’t surprise. However, what might be a more effective adaptation is going small.
The Thunder’s rotation has just gotten even smaller, so increasing Reggie Jackson’s minutes by sliding himinto the starting line up and playing Kevin Durant at the four seems to make sense. Popovich will adjust, but making this tweak might push Tim Duncan to the five, where if Brooks is wise, he would have to defend the more mobile big men, Nick Collison and Steven Adams, more than he would Perkins. Collison can stretch the floor, creating a lot of pressure on an undersized Spurs line up to keep the likes of Russell Westbrook of the glass. Adams meanwhile, can lure Duncan or Thiago Splitter away from the basket by setting screens to free up Oklahoma City’s perimeter players, forcing switches and diving to the basket. Perkins is an excellent screener but not nearly as mobile as Adams or Collison.
Going small more frequently and having its big men set both on-ball and off-ball screens solves two of Oklahoma City’s problems – spacing and stagnation. Far too often the Thunder’s perimeter players stand in one spot, watching Durant and Westbrook attack, ready, should the ball get kicked out to them.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if San Antonio won this series, even if Ibaka was healthy. But the fact of the matter is that the Thunder need to adjust and given its personnel, sticking with small ball line ups and big men who can stretch the floor give the team its best chance to get back to the finals.