While the majority of Western Conference powerhouses were swinging for the fences in the off-season with acquisitions that shored up some of their largest deficiencies, Oklahoma City was looking at the loss of volume shooter Kevin Martin. Losing their sixth man was catastrophic for the Thunder who even with him struggled to provide any legitimate help for Kevin Durant. This missing link continued to be in serious scrutiny because of the cloud hanging over Westbrook’s future due to consecutive knee surgeries. Once the darlings of the NBA, Oklahoma City now possessed a stock that was nose-diving. Little did they know, the answer was already in their deck of cards.
Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb have been sensational. After receiving minimal playing time last season, they have been interjected into the forefront of the second unit with hope that the bench can stay afloat while the Thunder’s starters replenish their fuel. Surprisingly this dynamic duo has in fact allowed Oklahoma City to thrive. Jackson and Lamb’s numbers gauged at 36 minutes of play per game average at roughly 18 points, 5 assists, and 5.5 rebounds and 17 points, 2.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds respectively. Both these men are recording comparable per-36 statistics to Kevin Martin last year. After relying solely on James Harden and Kevin Martin individually to carry the second unit, the Thunder finally have discovered its 2 to tango.
The Oklahoma City bench has the league’s best net difference between offensive rating and defensive rating. The offensive proficiency comes primarily from Jackson’s versatility coming off of a screen. He’s very unpredictable, as he possesses a plethora of weapons in his arsenal after utilizing an on ball pick and contextually selects which one to choose. One of Jackson’s main forms of attack is the penetration. He utilizes the attack often, as he’s 4th among bench players in drives per game.
Two methods of offense can be evoked from this. One is obviously a Jackson lay-up, which is very effective as Jackson’s shooting an efficient 53.5% in the restricted area. This pertains to Reggie’s unbelievable finishing ability even when surrounded by bigger bodies. Due to the heightened threat of Jackson attaining an easy lay up, the defense converges in the paint, which leads us to the second technique: the pass to an open Oklahoma City player. Frequently it’s sharp-shooter and slasher Jeremy Lamb receiving the rock. And every time this happens, Lamb’s eyes brighten as his diverse skillset makes him a terror when he possesses some space.
Lamb’s a scintillating talent when he has room to maneuver. Jeremy is converting 68.6% of his attempts within five feet of the hoop, good for 4th among bench guards. In addition amongst this group, he’s 7th in field goal percentage outside the restricted area but in the paint and 7th in three-point percentage. Thus after Jackson lures Lamb’s defender to shy off of him, said defender finds himself in a pickle. Not closing out hard enough prompts Jeremy to shoot from long range and rushing out to Lamb tempts him to attack and utilize his tremendous finishing ability.
One of the other approaches Reggie has up his sleeve post-screen is the pull up jump shot. It’s effective as a nice change of pace move to punish the defense from solely guarding against his drive. Lastly when the defense sends a double team, both him and Lamb when pitted in this scenario are very impressive at baiting the defenders to follow them and to diverge from the screen man. They then both do a great job at delivering a precise pass to the open man, allowing him to attack a collapsed defense.
Defensively, the 2nd unit of the Thunder prefers to rely on the rim protection of their big men Adams and Collison. Yet Oklahoma City’s perimeter defense headlined by Jackson and Lamb applies a lot of pressure on ball handlers. They are slightly inconsistent and do relinquish the angle to penetrators at times, but are still sufficient at staying in front of their men. What they both thrive in is pick and roll coverage and off ball defense. Both guys barely lose track of their men on the weak side and are always in perfect position to provide help if necessary. And when the screen is set, both Lamb and Jackson are very quick to recover. Thus Oklahoma City’s big man can hold the fort and play under the ball handler, since he knows Lamb and Jackson will arrive very shortly. These two skills diminish the variety of attacks the offense can use.
Oklahoma City now has the ability to increase a lead when their superstars rest. Against the Spurs, the game was dead-locked when Jackson and Lamb entered the game. The Thunder possessed a seven-point lead when they left. One aspect that gets overlooked is the fact that the Westbrook injury separates Jackson and Lamb. I believe that’s one huge factor in Oklahoma City’s struggles. Jackson sometimes gets lost in the flow with Durant attempting to take over. Lamb also finds it harder to create without a pesky Jackson alluring the defense. When Westbrook returns, Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson’s capability to guide the 2nd unit to put the Thunder in a more favorable position makes this team the Title favorites.