I also answered some questions for him about the Mavericks here!
1. The main concern for the Thunder early in the season has to be fitting in less experienced players into larger roles (Jeremy Lamb in particular). Through three games, how is that working out?
When it comes to young players, I have found that it doesn't matter much whether they are lottery picks or 2nd round draft picks, one common trait seems to hold. That is, it is incumbent on the coaching staff to clearly define what their limited responsibilities are and then work from there. To be sure, sometimes you get a situation like LeBron and Durant's rookie seasons, and even what the 76ers are doing now with Michael Carter-Williams, where the starting expectation is low enough that you can turn them lose and see how they evolve. For most others though, the coaching staff has to carefully assign their players to a few responsibilities so that they don't get too overwhelmed.
We all came into this season thinking that the Thunder might have to throw Lamb to the lions, expecting him to turn into James Harden overnight. For the first 2 games, things were looking shaky and the bench players had little identity. Lamb, Reggie Jackson, and Perry Jones III were trying to do more than they were capable, and it wasn't working. This put even more pressure on Durant and Ibaka to produce more, and we were not hopeful. However once Russell Westbrook returned, every piece fit back into its intended slot. Jackson, a 3rd year PG, was able to slide back into a supportive role. Lamb was able to work off the ball, as Durant and Westbrook occupied the defenses. Jones simply concentrated on setting screens and grabbing rebounds.
In this way, young players can grow. What starts out as a small role on the team can turn into a bigger one, but they have to be given time first to master the small things.
2. Kevin Durant has been on an upward trend for years; what, if anything, has KD added to his game this past off season?
Durant is at a place in his career now where his primary attributes are set (most efficient scorer on the planet, defensive rebounding, point-forward) and he now looks to add a few wrinkles to his game each off-season. I thought we were getting a good look at it during the preseason, where Durant was getting more comfortable playing out of the high post. As you probably know, Durant has often said that he models his game after Dirk, and so the high post needs to be more of a staple.
Unfortunately, what we've seen thus far this season is a lot of haphazard offense that has no real purpose other than the fact that Durant is often the best and only option available. The design of the big man in the high post is to be able to exploit mismatches and swing the ball to open shooters, but the Thunder have not quite gotten that down yet, and as a result, Durant has recorded 3 assists through 3 games (against 12 turnovers). Ideally Westbrook will help balance out the court to give Durant more space, but as of today this is something to strive for, not something on which OKC relies
3. Why does Derek Fisher keep getting chances with the Thunder? His time in Dallas was short and not particularly well received.
I guess we have to look at his progression over the past 3 seasons to figure out how he's become so entrenched. In year 1, we lost backup PG Eric Maynor during the season and had to replace him with rookie Jackson. Jackson wasn't quite up for the playoffs, so Fisher was added to supplant him. Fisher's positives balanced out his negatives, and the Thunder lost in the Finals. Last year, Fisher was once again brought in late for reasons I still can't fathom, and he was awful in the regular season. However, once the playoffs rolled around and Westbrook went down, Fisher suddenly found his shooting stroke and turned into one of the lone bright spots in a disappointing playoffs.
In each of these two scenarios, bringing Fisher in late in the season made sense, as long as he was operating as a 3rd PG. However, what really ground our gears is that Fisher was treated as some kind of instant offense and 3-point sharpshooting, of which he is neither. This marginalized other players who could have contributed. Now in this 3rd season, Fisher was added over the summer so it will be the first time he is around from start to finish. Will this matter? I think it will, because it will give the coaching staff plenty of time to evaluate exactly how Fisher is or is not contributing.
Again, as a 3rd PG, Fisher makes sense. The test will come though when OKC realizes that it has to utilize its young talent, and if Fisher is getting the nod over guys like Lamb and Jackson, we're going to be setting ourselves up for disappointment once again.
4. Reggie Jackson has turned into a heck of a point guard, do you think he's capable of starting on another team?
Fisher had his coming out party in last year's playoffs, where he performed admirably after Westbrook was lost. He was solid most of the time. While he still had some playoff rookie mistakes, Jackson was not the reason the Thunder struggled and eventually lost against Memphis. Because of his performance up to that point, OKC fans were optimistic about Jackson's future.
During the summer league and preseason, Jackson continued to improve and looked very comfortable running the offense. However, once the regular season started, reality set in and we realized that Jackson isn't quite where we thought he was. He regressed into a more passive and indecisive point guard and as a result it allowed defenses to crash on Durant and ignore just about everyone else. Jackson quickly became overwhelmed.
When Westbrook returned, Jackson was able to go back to a less pressure-packed role, and I think being able to play in this capacity will help him get comfortable again. He can run the point while Westbrook works off-ball, and if Jackson gets in trouble, he's got bailouts available. I am optimistic that while Jackson isn't quite good enough to lead a playoff team today, he may reach that place by the end of this season.
5. Other than Dirk, what Dallas player would you like to see in a Thunder uniform?
Can I take Rick Carlisle? Because I'd like to take Rick Carlisle.
As mentioned above, the biggest challenge for this Thunder team is how to allocate its talent. This is one area where I think Carlisle is very good. You might disagree because you have a larger sample size to work from, but from 2011 to every time Dallas has played OKC, that has been the impression I have received. He knows who to deploy, when to do it, and how to maximize mismatch advantages.
If I can't take Carlisle, I'd look for one of your shooters. OKC is in desperate need o designated shooting specialists, and as you'll likely see tonight, they are not very good at all about generating open good looks. Calderon, Ellington, and even Vince Carter would be valuable to the Thunder's perimeter game. What makes it most difficult is not that OKC can't make 3-point shots (although they haven't really yet this season) but that they don't even have the personnel to do it. As we saw in the Finals, if a team doesn't have at least 2 good 3-point specialists, they become vulnerable to aggressive defensive trapping schemes. OKC will fall victim to this unless they can find a shooting specialist who can make defenses pay for their aggressiveness.
6. What's the key for Oklahoma City against the Mavericks?
One of the ways that the Mavericks have forced the Thunder to grow up over the years, starting in 2011, is by teaching them the value of every single possession. The Thunder like to play fast and lose and this will work at times against the Mavs, but Dallas has always shown a good penchant for knowing exactly when to slow down games so that whatever advantages the Thunder have when running are quickly reversed.
When the Thunder slow themselves down and value half-court possessions, they are able to work the ball to any number of their favorable matchups. The challenge is shifting from one gear to the other.
Thanks for talking with us.