2013-14 record: 59-23
Key Additions: Semaj Christon, Josh Huestis, Mitch McGary, Anthony Morrow, Sebastian Telfair
Key Departures: Caron Butler, Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha, Hasheem Thabeet
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG Russell Westbrook SG Jeremy Lamb SF Kevin Durant PF Serge Ibaka C Steven Adams
Obviously the regular season win total for this team is taking a slight hit because of Durant’s injury, but it’s better at the start of the season than later on. With everyone getting used to new teammates, new systems, and playing real basketball again, the Thunder still shouldn’t suffer too much, assuming Durant is only out for a month, but that’s the problem with this sort of fracture, that’s not a guarantee.
KD scooted in and told us that the surgery went well, but with these sort of orthopedic procedures is there’s no way to really tell how it’s healing right after the surgery. Unless the foot accidentally gets amputated, it’s going to look like the surgery went well. What matters now is how much blood flow and healing that area gets. And for a tall dude like Durant, it takes a bit longer for the blood to get down to his toe.1 He could be ready to play at full strength in another month, or it could be two more surgeries and ten months until he’s ready to go. For the sake of getting to watch the best scorer in the league play, I’m hoping it’s closer to the one month end of the spectrum.
Until he returns, and even after he does, the question here is what to do with Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Jackson is the second best guard on this team, but he’s not really suited to play the two. They could go with a two point guard set like the Suns, but they don’t play at nearly the same pace as Phoenix does. Both players can be exploited on defense, and going up against some of the better twos in the league, you don’t want those two on the court together for two long.
Lamb is my pick to start, even though he’s never started an NBA game. His 1.8 steal percentage is solid as is the 11.8 assist percentage. If he can increase his shooting efficiency a notch and continue to benefit this team at a +8 rate, he’ll get the bulk of the starts. If that’s not working out, Anthony Morrow is the logical pick. He’s one of the best pure shooters alive, though he does nothing to calm any concerns about defense. Still, the pick and roll offense for him and Adams is going to be a beauty to watch. Right now he’s out for at least four weeks though, so this team is going to be really battered coming into the season.
But as battered as they are, they’ve still got the most dominant shot blocker in the game down low. Ibaka is a force that drives people out of the lane. He deters even the most confident finishers from getting anywhere near the basket. He makes the ball hurt when he swats the air out of it. Say what you will about LeBron’s blocks from behind or Dwight Howard’s presence inside, but there’s nothing more exciting on the defensive side of the ball than watching some poor guy think they can do a routine layup when Ibaka is on the prowl. On top of that defensive prowess, Grantland ranked him the 13th best shooter in the league. While that’s a bit higher than I’d have him, he did hit 49% from between 10 and 16 feet last year, so they do have it right that he’s great at things 6’10” guys usually aren’t.
This Thunder team is going to be really good yet again. They’re going to be really exciting come the playoffs, but, once again, they’re going to fall short of reaching the NBA finals. In fact, I don’t think they reach the WCF this year, there’s just too much talent in the West and too many questions with health and depth for this Thunder team.
X-Factor: Steven Adams
In limited minutes during his rookie season, Steven Adams shows signs that he may well come to be regarded as one of the steals of the 2013 draft. He only averaged 3 points and 4 rebounds, but it’s hard to do a whole lot more than that in 15 minutes per game. At this point it’s clear to anyone who’s watched more than ten minutes of NBA action that Adams is the better player than Perkins. Adams is an all-around better offensive player, not really a worse defender, and he doesn’t scowl at everyone, hurting morale. I think he’ll be starting very quickly if he’s not from game one, so his play is going to have a huge impact on the success of this team.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Reggie Jackson
The point guard rotation for the Thunder is more polarizing than any other duo in the league. Westbrook has his fervent fans and others who can’t stand his style of play. It’s now getting to the point where Jackson has the same thing going on. Jackson’s game isn’t quite as sloppy as Westbrook’s, but he also doesn’t have the talent or big play ability. It’s as if Reggie is a more moderate version of Russell. Last year his numbers shot up as his shooting percentage went down. When Westbrook was hurt, Jackson showed that he can play like a star in spurts, the question now is whether he can do that consistently. This is the last year of his contract, but in a point guard heavy league, his play this year is going to determine whether he gets starter money or sits in the $4-$5 million range.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
They’ve got one of the best duos in basketball and one of the most exciting defenders. They’re going to be in the hunt all season long, but there will definitely be questions about whether they have enough to legitimately contend for a title.
Best Case: Durant returns quickly and is back at his top scoring form, Reggie Jackson proves that he’s a starting point guard in this league, and Morrow proves to be the offensive piece needed in close stretches. 58 wins.
Worst Case: Durant misses the season, Westbrook can’t shoulder the responsibility, and Perkins plays more than 15 minutes per game. 46 wins.
Projected Record: 56-26
There is no medical science to support this being relevant. ↩