Should the Oklahoma City Thunder Add James Harden to the Starting Lineup?
In the first quarter of both Games 1 and 2 in the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat pummeled the Oklahoma City Thunder. In Game 1, the Thunder were down by seven points after 12 minutes of play, and in Game 2, the score was 27-15 in favor of the Miami Heat.
In Game 1, the Heat were unable to hang onto their lead as the Thunder outscored them by 18 in the second half. Then, in Game 2, OKC outscored Miami again in the second half, but this time it was only by eight, and that wasn’t enough to win the game.
After failing to close out the Thunder in Game 1, Miami was able to finish them off in Game 2, and now the Thunder need to improve the way that they start games.
The main problem for the Thunder is that they have struggled right out of the gate. Before four minutes had passed in Game 1, the Thunder were already down 10-2. Then, in Game 2, the Heat got out to an 18-2 advantage after 7:21 had gone by in the period.
Looking at the numbers—especially the fact that OKC’s starting lineup was only able to score two points in more than seven minutes (at home nonetheless)—it is obvious that the Thunder have struggled to get into an offensive rhythm at the start of games. Now, Scott Brooks might have a few ideas on how to spark his offense from the opening tip, but a dramatic change might be necessary.
This series is shifting back to Miami and if the Thunder get down early, they won’t have a crowd cheering them on to get back into the game. It will be much tougher to make a comeback on the road, so it is imperative that the Thunder figure out a way to get their offense going early.
One change that Scott Brooks must be considering is inserting James Harden into the starting lineup. The Beard is instant offense—he is as lethal as Manu Ginobili when it comes to finding a way to get in the lane and score a lay-up, and he is money from downtown.
The drawback is that while adding Harden to the starting lineup would cause a lot of problems for the Heat, it would also mess up the rotations that the Thunder have used all season. Bringing Harden off the bench makes it easier for Brooks to be sure he has a legitimate offensive threat in the game when Russell Westbrook and Durant come out, and just as importantly it helps Harden stay fresh so he can play the majority of the fourth quarter.
The issue is that the Thunder might be too far down in the fourth quarter from being blown out at the beginning of the game that it won’t matter if Harden is fresh. And while the Thunder are as good as any team in the league at making comebacks—they probably are the best at it—it might be worth it to them to add Harden to the starting lineup if it means they won’t have to play catch up for most of the game.
Obviously, if Harden starts the game, then that means that one of the starters will have to come off the bench. Westbrook and Durant can’t be considered for that, so it would have to be Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, or Kendrick Perkins.
It would make sense to just slide Harden in at Sefolosha’s spot since they both play shooting guard and Sefolosha isn’t much of a scorer. On the other hand, Sefolosha’s role is important as his job is to guard LeBron and make The King’s life as difficult as possible.
It might be unorthodox to start the game small, but it would also work to take out either Ibaka or Perkins or even both of them. In Game 2, both were negative influences when they were in the game as Perkins was minus-16 and Ibaka wasn’t much better at -15.
Meanwhile, Nick Collison was plus-8 for the game and it was Collison who helped trim Miami’s double digit lead in the fourth quarter down to 90-86 with 4:31 remaining.
Collison is a great hustle player, but it’s been pretty clear since the start of this series that the Thunder are just a more effective team when they go small. It’s easier for them to run and get the pace up, which tires out LeBron and Wade.
Now, it’s hard to see Scott Brooks inserting Nick Collison into the starting lineup, but it would make sense to keep Sefolosha in as a starter, so that LeBron is being guarded tough from the outset.
If you had to choose between Ibaka and Perkins, it might be better to have Ibaka in the game because his shot-blocking ability helps his teammates stay out of foul trouble. Instead of taking a hard foul to make sure LeBron doesn’t get an easy lay-up, Sefolosha/Durant can guard him tight to slow him down which gives Ibaka time to rotate and swat the ball away.
At the end of the day, Scott Brooks needs to make some serious changes to the way that his team opens games. And if he thinks that adding Harden to the starting lineup would help, then he should do it. Because if the Thunder continue to start games poorly in Miami, then they will be returning home without a chance to fight for a trophy.