OKLAHOMA CITY —
The Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the best benches in the entire NBA.
Led by James Harden, the Thunder usually have no problem outplaying its opponents' second teams.
Earlier this season, Eric Maynor went down with a season-ending knee injury. Rookie point guard Reggie Jackson has been serviceable in his absence.
Thabo Sefolosha hasn't played since late January with a foot injury, and could be out for another month.
Sefolosha's injury has reduced the depth of this Oklahoma City squad significantly.
So what should Oklahoma City do? Some would say they should trade for a veteran guard that can provide defense and timely scoring, or maybe for a better reserve point guard than the inexperienced Jackson.
Kirk Hinrich's name has been thrown around as a potentially good fit, but there is no indication that the Thunder has interest in making a move for Nick Collison's former college teammate at Kansas.
It doesn't appear likely that Oklahoma City will be active before the trade deadline, and the loss of Maynor hasn't appeared to affect the team too badly; as of Thursday afternoon the Thunder is tied for the league's best record with the Miami Heat.
What the team needs is for some current players to step up.
One player who has a perfect opportunity to earn a bigger role is Daequan Cook.
Cook has spent his time with the Thunder as the backup guard/small forward, a part of the reserve squad that has been so successful.
But, because head coach Scott Brooks is so comfortable with Harden coming off the bench, Cook has been thrust into the starting lineup as Sefolosha's replacement.
Cook has started all of Oklahoma City's games in the month of February, and has averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 13 games.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Cook's minutes have increased from 15.5 to 27.8 per game.
The problem, however, is that Cook has not shot the ball well since entering the starting lineup.
In 19 games as a substitute, Cook shot 38 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range.
Since entering the starting lineup, though, Cook's shooting percentages have dropped to 34 percent from the field and 29 percent from three-point range.
He's been in a serious slump recently. In his last five games, not including Thursday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Cook has only shot 27 percent from the field and 15 percent from beyond the arc.
Against Boston on Wednesday, however, Cook showed, as he has at times this season, that he can be a legitimate scoring option.
Cook scored 17 points against the Celtics, tying his season-high and playing a season-high 40 minutes.
For the Thunder to continue to be successful in the absence of Sefolosha and Maynor, Cook will need to find consistency. His outside shooting has the potential to be a crucial factor in the second half of the season and in the playoffs.
Sefolosha is a defensive asset for the Thunder, but even once he returns Scott Brooks would likely appreciate the knowledge that he has a more offensively skilled guard he can use if a matchup calls for it.
However, if Cook can't be consistent with his production, he may find his minutes cut in half again, as they often were when he was coming off the bench.