Coming into his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard Alex Abrines had to fight for his minutes coming off the bench for the team; competing with fellow spot-up shooting guard Anthony Morrow for backup minutes for the Thunder. The former 32nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft was expected to come along slowly in his rookie season, despite having seven years of experience playing professional basketball overseas. But, at the trade deadline, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to move Morrow, along with Cameron Payne and Joffrey Lauvergne to the Chicago Bulls for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round draft pick. This along with the fact that Thunder guard Victor Oladipo hurt his back has thrust Abrines into the starting lineup for Oklahoma City and he has risen to the occasion.
In their three games back from the All-Star break, with all three being wins, Abrines has averaged 14.3 points in an average of an even 30.0 minutes per game. Not only has Abrines performed higher than his season average of just 5.9 points per game but he has also stretched the floor as well shooting a red-hot 52.3% from beyond the arc. Along with the addition of Doug McDermott, Oklahoma City now has two solid 3-point shooters in McDermott and Abrines both. Abrines also creates space for the Oklahoma City starting unit allowing more defenders to focus their attention on MVP-candidate Russell Westbrook, thus giving wide open 3-point opportunities for Abrines to capitalize on.
There is a problem though as Victor Oladipo is on his way back from his back injury and will be expecting to return to his starting position, relegating Abrines back to the bench. Instead, Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan should consider bringing Oladipo off the bench in a sixth-man role, similar to what Oladipo played during his time with the Orlando Magic. A bench unit of Oladipo, Kanter, McDermott, Gibson and newly signed point guard Norris Cole would be great if Billy Donovan would want to run his player rotation ten players deep. Oladipo is a playmaker, unlike Abrines, and can take advantage of lesser bench opponents with his scoring ability and help set up McDermott from the perimeter and Kanter from down-low as well. Besides, even if Oladipo does not start the game he will finish it simply due to the fact that he is by far a superior perimeter defender; especially compared to Abrines.
According to Fred Katz, Thunder Beat Writer for the Norman Transcript, Thunder head coach is not considering removing Abrines from the starting lineup by simply saying, "I’m not at a point where I’d say, ‘OK, we need to make this change now.” This vote of confidence from Donovan is huge for Abrines' case as well for remaining in the starting lineup.
As the Oklahoma City Thunder head towards the Western Conference playoffs, led by Russell Westbrook, they found a diamond in the rough in Alex Abrines. Abrines' great play as of late has given Westbrook more opportunities to attack the rim with the added spacing, something Oklahoma City has struggled to find all season long. This great play has also created a possible blessing in disguise for Oklahoma City allowing Victor Oladipo to become the primary ball handler off the bench, replacing the duty of Cameron Payne who was lost in a trade to the Chicago Bulls. Don't be surprised to see Abrines remain in the starting lineup, and for Victor Oladipo to become the sixth man for the Thunder, as they look to continue their current hot streak.