Oct 7, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Last season: The Thunder finished the regular season with a record of 60-22, which was good for the number one playoff seed in the Western Conference.
Thanks to the unfortunate knee injury that occurred in Game 2 of the team’s first round playoff series against the Rockets, however, OKC quite literally limped to the finish line, and was overmatched by a Memphis Grizzlies team in the second round that took care of them easily in five games.
Signature highlight from last season: The play that was most impactful was, of course, Westbrook’s injury in the playoffs. But let’s keep it positive here, and with too many ridiculous Kevin Durant highlights to choose from, let’s go with this explosive dunk from Westbrook on the break that he threw down over Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
Key player changes: OKC didn’t make any additions that would lead you to believe the roster this year is better than it was a season ago, and lost it’s only reliable scorer from the bench unit in free agency.
- IN: Rookies Steven Adams (drafted with the 10th overall pick) and Andre Roberson (drafted with the 26th overall pick by Minnesota, then dealt to OKC on draft night) are the only new faces with guaranteed contracts in place for the coming season.
- OUT: Kevin Martin was allowed to leave in free agency, and although he got more from the Timberwolves than he would have been worth to the Thunder (especially when retaining him would’ve meant entering luxury tax territory), his loss will be noticed, especially in the early part of the season. Ronnie Brewer was a midseason acquisition, but he didn’t have much impact and ended up signing with the Rockets this summer.
Keys to the Thunder’s season:
1) The health of Russell Westbrook: We know Westbrook is going to miss at least the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season following an additional knee surgery that took place just recently. What we don’t know is how long it’ll be before he returns to form as one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the game today.
The timeline of Westbrook’s ascent back to the player he once was is going to make all the difference in how the Thunder’s regular season plays out. The team is obviously looking at playing deep into the postseason, after finishing with 60 wins last year and making it to the Finals in the season before that. But in the midst of a crowded Western Conference stacked with at least six powerful teams, finishing lower in the standings will make the desired playoff results that much more difficult to achieve.
2) The development of the bench: OKC traded away James Harden before the beginning of last season, and while history is not going to look kindly on the deal from the Thunder’s perspective, at least they got a semi-serviceable scorer in Kevin Martin in return who could fill that role off the bench. With Martin now gone in free agency (and with no one added to replace him), the Thunder are going to need to get production from the reserve unit somewhere if they’re going to be able to compete with the league’s elite teams.
The hope is that Reggie Jackson, who saw heavy minutes during the playoffs and performed better than expected, can continue to develop into a reliable contributor that he’s already shown signs of proving to be. But it would be nice if Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins or one of the freshly-drafted rookies could contribute as well, and there’s just no guarantee that they’ll come along as quickly as the Thunder need them to in order to remove some of the burden from the starters’ shoulders.
3) Kevin Durant, MVP? This could be the year that Kevin Durant unseats LeBron James as league MVP, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost on the list could be voter fatigue — we all know that James is considered to be the game’s best player, but if the Heat coast a little during the regular season and Durant is forced to put up ridiculous numbers to keep his team in the hunt while Westbrook is out, it would be easy to see him quickly becoming the favorite to take home the award if those making the call are looking to give it to someone besides James.
Durant is capable of dominating offensively, and will be expected to do so with his All-Star teammate sidelined. He could take on an even bigger role as the season progresses depending on Westbrook’s recovery and whether or not he gets much help from his teammates. If he puts up MVP-caliber numbers, there’s no reason the Thunder can’t be right where they need to be by the time the season concludes, despite all of the apparent challenges.
Why you should watch the Thunder: Durant and Westbrook are arguably two of the league’s top-five players. Beyond that, the intrigue with this Thunder team runs deep. Can Durant carry them to a high place in the regular season standings, or will the team collapse under heavy expectations, and due to Westbrook’s injury and the lack of a capable bench? There’s drama here, and that’s exciting.
Prediction: 53-29, good for a top-five finish in the West. Durant will need to come through with that MVP season for the Thunder to be in the championship conversation, especially in a deeper-than-usual Western Conference. While he’s certainly capable of that, the questions surrounding Westbrook and the reserve unit are too plentiful for the team to warrant anything more than a forecast of a similar outcome as it experienced a season ago — a second round playoff loss.
Mar 13, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT
No word on when Aldridge will return.
Mar 13, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
To quote Cartman: Respect my authoritah. Blake Griffin basically said that with this dunk. He has broadened his game this season, adding a far more consistent jump shot to go with handles and improved defense (which he showed off all night on the pick-and-roll against Stephen Curry), but the man can still dunk. With authoritah. As…
Mar 13, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
There was no way we were going to get through a PBT Podcast without talking some more about Phil Jackson and the Knicks. So that comes up in the latest PBT podcast with myself and Eytan Shander of NBC Sports Radio. But we spend a lot more time talking other things, such as the slumps of…
Mar 13, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
BOSTON – When he was about 8 years old and accompanying his dad to his NBA games, Tim Hardaway Jr. used to grab a basketball and wander onto the court beyond the 3-point arc. There, he’d attempt NBA 3 after NBA 3. It’d be years until he’d make them regularly and even longer until he…
Mar 13, 2014, 3:53 AM EDT
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while playing table tennis against a robot… Paul Pierce, Brooklyn Nets. In a game against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, The Truth was the best player on the court. He couldn’t seem to miss on his way to 29 points on 9-of-12 shooting including 5-of-7…
Mar 13, 2014, 12:55 AM EDT
Normally posting video of one player dropping another with a crossover if it only leads to a missed shot is a bit gauche, but in this case, it’s worth making the exception. Tony Wroten seems to mystify Kings rookie Ray McCallum here, and McCallum trips over himself trying to keep up. Again, Wroten should have…
Mar 13, 2014, 12:11 AM EDT
Brooklyn started to look like a threat this season when they were forced by injry to go small without Brook Lopez, which meant coach Jason Kidd slid Paul Pierce over to the power forward slot. You knew Pierce could score at the four, but the surprise is how much better the Brooklyn defense is with…
Cole Aldrich, nearly four years after being drafted in lottery, gets double-double in first career start
Mar 12, 2014, 11:11 PM EDT
BOSTON – As a swarm of media enclosed Cole Aldrich, the playful calls began from his teammates in the less-crowded areas of the New York Knicks locker room. “Cole Stoudemire!” “Cole Chandler!” Aldrich could hardly contain his smile as he discussed his first career start with larger-than-usual-for-him audience. Without the Knicks’ highly paid big men,…
Mar 12, 2014, 11:01 PM EDT
Memphis grinds, they defend, they make the game ugly and throw you off your game. That is how they won 6-of-7 and vaulted into the Western Conference playoff picture. But they can make shots when they need to. Mike Conley did that for the game winner against the Pelicans on Wednesday night — he came…
Mar 12, 2014, 10:21 PM EDT
Adam Silver has preached transparency and innovation since taking over as the NBA’s commissioner on Feb. 1, and that has meant a lot of talk about how the draft lottery may not be the perfect solution to prevent teams from stacking their rosters with less than the best available talent as part of the rebuilding…
Mar 12, 2014, 9:02 PM EDT
The Bobcats are a playoff team in the East at the moment, but that position is relatively tenuous. Every game counts toward that goal, obviously, so willingly sitting down one of your rotation players has to have happened for a good reason. We don’t yet know exactly what that reason is, but we do know…
Mar 12, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
It’s just one game, so you can’t read too much into Andrew Bynum‘s 8 point, 10 rebound first game with the Pacers, but he certainly has the potential to make them better. Today on PBT Extra Kay Adams talk about what Bynum can bring to the Pacers. Then we discuss the stumbles of the Portland…
Mar 12, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
Is there tanking going on in the NBA this season? Depends on how you want to define taking. However even if you define it broadly it’s not as bad as many seem to think it is. New NBA commissioner Adam Silver defines it more narrowly and says there is no tanking going on right now.…
Mar 12, 2014, 6:16 PM EDT
Kobe Bryant expects the Lakers front office to turn the Lakers roster around fast. By the start of next season fast (when he will return from his fractured knee). I expect Emily Ratajkowski to call me so we can go out tonight. You can expect whatever you want, doesn’t make it reality. But if Kobe…
Mar 12, 2014, 5:08 PM EDT
Kobe Bryant is frustrated — with his recovery, with the Lakers losing, with Lakers management. And he talks about it all.
Mar 12, 2014, 4:04 PM EDT
NBA guys break out trick shots at practice all the time. Not so much during pregame warmups. Except for Dallas’ Monta Ellis, who practiced some free throws with his eyes closed, and a no-look over-his-head corner three. And nailed it. Maybe he should have broke them out during the game in Golden State Tuesday night…
Mar 12, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
We told you this was coming on Tuesday night, but now the Lakers have made it official: Kobe Bryant is out for the remainder of this NBA season. “Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I’ve received from the Lakers and the fans, and look forward to…
Mar 12, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
It’s the NBA — you keep your star players in the loop, you consult with them on big moves, if for no other reason then to make them feel wanted. Elite talent is in limited supply in the NBA, you need to keep those guys happy. So it was only a matter of time before…
Steve Kerr confirms his interest in coaching, understands speculation that he will join Phil Jackson with Knicks
Mar 12, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
Steve Kerr sees why you’d make the connection between Phil Jackson, the Knicks, and himself. But he won’t discuss it just yet.
Mar 12, 2014, 1:04 PM EDT
Patrick Beverley went hard after Russell Westbrook from the opening tip on Tuesday, but James Harden says it was a needless distraction.
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