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Billy Donovan open to staggering Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook's minutes

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are on the floor together for a lot of minutes, something the Thunder will try to manage. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder played just four minutes and 45 seconds total without Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook on the floor.

The Thunder during that time scored three points, none coming on a made basket.

This season, the Thunder have played some 212 minutes without either of their two superstars on the floor. And they're a minus-8.5 per 100 possessions. That's an offensive rating of 101.4, and a defensive of 109.9. That's really, very, pretty bad. Basically, the Thunder without Durant or Westbrook on the floor are the New Orleans Pelicans, who are 5-16. Only two teams in the league have net ratings worse than OKC minus Durant and Westbrook -- the Los Angeles Lakers (minus-10.7) and the Philadelphia 76ers (minus-12.0).

Billy Donovan is well aware of this issue, and it's a reason he's staggered the minutes of Durant and Westbrook a bit more than his predecessor Scott Brooks did. But still, for key stretches, Donovan leans on an all-bench unit to try and spell Durant and Westbrook some time off together. Against the Miami Heat, Donovan trusted an all-bench unit for the opening six minutes of the fourth quarter, and that group ended up a minus-three on the scoreboard before Durant and Westbrook re-entered. Not good, but not devastating.

Donovan's aim is to try and give his bench a chance to grow and develop, before just pulling the plug and placing the entire burden of the final outcome on Durant and Westbrook playing as much as possible. Because if Donovan wants to reduce their overall minutes -- which he does -- he can't leave one or the other on the floor constantly without sitting one for an extended stretch. He has to utilize the entire roster.

“As I look at it, I think you have to develop your whole entire team," Donovan said. "I just think that you can’t expect Russell and Kevin every single night to just keep carrying it."

Some of this is a bit skewed because Durant missed six games this season with a hamstring injury, but two of the Thunder's most used lineups this season are all-bench units. D.J. Augustin, Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, Nick Collison and Enes Kanter have played 48 minutes together, second only to the starting five and have a net rating of plus-5.3. Augustin, Waiters, Anthony Morrow, Collison and Kanter have played 38 minutes and have a net of minus-21.2.

Part of the problem is rotational, Donovan said. If you're going to stagger their minutes, you'd have to pull one out of the game early in the first quarter, which interferes with rhythm and chemistry.

"In talking to Kevin and Russell, they are open-minded to it," Donovan said, "but sometimes you don’t want to break their rhythm and give them enough time on the floor so in order to do that where you stagger those guys, you’re going to have to take somebody off the floor pretty quickly within the first six minutes and bring them back in back in maybe the end of the first or start of the second.

"But the one thing you don’t want to do is break their rhythm where they feel like they’re getting pulled in and out of the game and they’re playing short periods," he said. "But it’s something that we’ll definitely look into and evolve into. I’m aware of those kind of numbers, but at the same point too, getting some consistency off our bench is important in terms of the long run, in the long haul of being [able] to do that.”

Plus there's this angle: The more you sit Durant and Westbrook together, the more you can play them together. And when they are on the floor, the Thunder outscore teams by 12.2 points per 100 possessions. That's San Antonio Spurs-level good.

“There’s a balance there, because you start to stagger those guys and you get down to the end of the game and you look at the amount of time both those guys were on the floor together and it wasn’t as much as it needed to be," Donovan said. "Because clearly when those two guys are on the floor they play at a very high level. They complement each other very well. So there’s that balancing act so to speak, of how much time are they separated and then how much time are they together. And sometimes you can have a game plan to do that, but [matchups] or foul trouble or what’s going on in the game doesn’t allow you to do that.”

The main fix is simple, right? Just improve the bench. That's what Donovan wants to do, and appears to have the patience and stomach to try. The Thunder have rebuilt their roster in the past season, supposedly deepening themselves more than ever. Kanter has been solid in his role, but Augustin has disappointed. Singler has put up probably the worst numbers league-wide this season (he hasn't recorded an assist in 193 minutes and has a -1.1 PER), and Waiters remains talented, but abrasively inconsistent. Morrow can still shoot and Collison defends pick-and-rolls well, but in terms of having creators and scorers, the Thunder dry up once Durant and Westbrook leave the court.

Donovan's in a bit of a tight spot. The Thunder are 12-8, still amazingly sitting third in the West, but they clearly have issues and flaws. One of the biggest being the inconsistency of the bench. So on one hand, you want to develop that because the season is really about April and May and not November and December, but on the other, you don't want to fall into a deep hole trying to catch something up.

Donovan threw rookie Cameron Payne on the floor for a few minutes against the Kings, and maybe that's the adjustment to try. Like how Reggie Jackson supplanted Eric Maynor in the 2012-13 season, possibly Payne does the same over Augustin. Because the Thunder need some sort of playmaking and creativity in that second unit, otherwise Donovan might just have to face the music and figure out a way to keep Durant or Westbrook on the floor as much as possible.