The final installment of "Inside the Thunder" will look at Oklahoma City's weakest position, the Center.
Nenad Krstic, acquired midway through last season, will once again be charged with anchoring the Thunder. He brought the Thunder a much stronger presence in the paint. While he is not a great rebounder (5.7 per game) or blocker (.7 per game), he does have the ability to pull up and shoot the ball. Nick Collison will, likely, see a lot of minutes at Center again this season. Collison is a great rebounder (despite being a natural PF), and solid scorer. Etan Thomas, acquired by OKC from Minnesota, is a solid veteran, but ineffective on the floor. Rookie Byron Mullens has a lot of potential, but until he can add some bulk and develop more consistency he will be pushed around by most NBA fives.
If there is a strength to be found, it is the ability to stretch defenses. Krstic, in particular, has the ability to pull defenders out of the paint and allow Oklahoma City's wing players lanes to attack. As he continues to regain his pre-injury form, Krstic's offensive numbers should continue to improve. Collison is, arguably, the team's glue right now. Last season, he played despite a broken finger for much of the end of the season, and was willing to play any position for Coach Scott Brooks. Having a leader like Collison in the locker room will continue to be a great thing for this young team. Thomas is a player who has never played to his full ability. The Booker T. Washington product has never averaged more than 8.9 PTs and 5.8 RBDs in his career. While he doesn't bring much on the court for the Thunder, he does bring a valuable veteran presence for the young team. Mullens is the definition of raw. In Summer League games, Mullens looked like a younger Krstic. He can shoot the ball from outside the post, but tends to fall apart in the paint. He can score on raw ability alone, but needs to focus on his defensive growth in order to really contribute in his rookie season.
Where to begin? The Thunder's Centers are either undersized, or they aren't strong enough to play with the best Centers in the league. Krstic isn't aggressive defensively. If he could push his block average more towards two per contest, rather than 1.1, he will be a much more imposing force down low. Collison's main weakness is that he isn't a Center. He is a Power Forward who plays where ever his coach needs him. This offseason he has spent a lot of time in the weight room, and, hopefully, this will show in the upcoming season. Thomas doesn't take advantage of his height or strength in paint. Yes, he is still struggling with injuries, but most expect that a player built like Thomas would be more productive than he has been over his career. Mullens needs to develop a defensive mindset. Last season with Ohio State, Mullens had a decent stat line (for a back-up), but needs to develop defensively in order to hang with most NBA Centers. If Mullens can add muscle mass, the combination of height and strength will put Mullens in a great position.
There is a lot of room for improvement at the Center position for the Thunder. They aren't the worst unit in the league, by any means, but they have a lot of room to grow and get better. A full season with the defensively minded Brooks should be great for these big guys.
(Stats from NBA.com and picture from PicApp.com)
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