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Russ Or No Russ: Examining The Thunder's True Weakness

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There's no question the Thunder is slumping.

Oklahoma City is 5-5 in the 10 games since Russell Westbrook's second knee procedure and has two very tough opponents, Houston and Golden State, coming in the next two days.

While 5-5 doesn't sound awful, consider that 8 of those 10 opponents entered play at .500 or worse. The schedule's been cushy.

The Thunder has averaged 108 points per game with Westbrook this season, compared to just 98 points without him. In the five aforementioned losses, Oklahoma City has scored just 93 points per.

The general feeling is that:

1: Westbrook's absence is the cause of the struggles.


2: Once he returns, the Thunder will get right back to normal.

The second half of that statement might be true. If fact, it's very likely true. The first half? Not so fast.  

There's no question that the play of Westbrook and Kevin Durant has allowed Oklahoma City to mask its weaknesses in the past. But now, without its fearless leader, what better time for the Thunder to focus the microscope on its auxiliary positions?

There are 332 players in the NBA. Remember that number.

According to Player Efficiency Rating (PER), the Thunder has three of the bottom 52. And not only does OKC employ three, they give them all heavy minutes.

Most of the players in the bottom 52 see minimal playing time. That's not the case with OKC.

Thabo Sefolosha ranks 280th in PER. He starts and plays 26 minutes per game.

Derek Fisher ranks 307th. In Westbrook's absence, he is playing 21 minutes per game.

Kendrick Perkins ranks 322nd. He starts and plays 19 minutes per game. His PER is dead last among centers.

That means the Thunder is handing 66 minutes per game to three of the 52 least-efficient players in the entire league.

By comparison, Jeremy Lamb's PER ranks 140 spots higher than Sefolosha's. Steven Adams' PER comes in 135 spots higher than Perkins'. And 64 point guards rank higher in PER than Fisher; that's about two point guards per team.

The crazy part of this, of course, is that the Thunder is STILL one of the best teams in the NBA. OKC is 21-4 this season with Westbrook and during its 20-2 stretch earlier this season, looked every bit the Western Conference favorite.

So truth be told, even with 66 minutes per game dedicated to guys who aren't getting it done, the Thunder still has a decent shot to win the title. That's not the question. The question is: How much better could they be with a different lineup?

What would the Thunder's ceiling be with a starting lineup of Westbrook, Lamb, Durant, Ibaka and Adams? And instead of Fisher, Perkins and Sefolosha in the rotation, what if the Thunder went out and acquired, well, anyone?

With the uncertainty surrounding the future of Westbrook's knee, the time has arrived for a higher sense of urgency from the Thunder's front office and coaching staff. The time for waiting for guys to improve is over.

There's a lot to decide between now and the trade deadline on Feb. 20, but finding new roles for Fisher, Perkins and Sefolosha should be priority No. 1.

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