Friday, October 17, 2008

Fight for the Four

Coming into this season, the starting lineup appeared set. After adding a couple of veterans, the OKC rotation was also much improved. Now the Thunder have played five preseason games, and the starting five is up for grabs.

I will be looking at the three closest battles over the weekend, and hopefully things will be cleared up after the final pair of tune-up contests. The Thunder have been luckier than some clubs (knock on wood) that the BIG injury has not claimed a starter. There have been some scares, but that happens in the NBA world. Now, on to the main event.

Ding, ding, ding...

In one corner there is the more athletic, more proven scorer, and more of a question mark. This is Chris Wilcox's corner, where he has played more like a big small forward instead of the presence needed at the power forward spot. The scoring edge is in his favor, and this ultimately may give him the advantage.

Although not a stranger to high expectations, Nick Collison brings more pressure into this campaign. Each of his four seasons has produced better stats, and Collison nearly averaged a double-double last year. Unfortunately, there isn't a crystal ball to say if those trends will continue, but the Thunder will find a place for both talented big men.

This preseason has been huge for some OKC players, and it has also been more of an afterthought for others. For Wilcox and Collison, it has been a role-reversal. Wilcox was huge in the Thunder's lone victory, posting a 13 point, 14 rebound contest against the Rockets. Not to be outdone, Collison's 21 points off the bench was the highest total in the Houston game and best of the preseason.

What does this all mean?

When the chips are down, put your money on the safe bet. Pencil Wilcox in as the starting PF and Collison as the starting C. My hope would be that Johan Petro and Joe Smith round out the rest of a healthy and productive OKC front line, no matter who starts against Milwaukee on opening night. More than likely, however, is that sometime soon the Wilcox vs. Collison fight will be on center stage.

And that is great for the Thunder, as long as both players use the rivalry against the other team, not the other way around.

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