Oct 7, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
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.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Beal’s max extension projects to pay more than $118 million over five years
Nov 27, 2014, 1:37 AM EST
LeBron James and the Cavaliers were good, Chase Budinger had the flub.
Nov 27, 2014, 12:28 AM EST
Ish Smith will stay on the roster.
Nov 27, 2014, 12:01 AM EST
If the Cavs can defend like that on a regular basis they will be far more dangerous.
Nov 26, 2014, 10:45 PM EST
Bulls, Pacers, Bucks, Pistons to Western Conference
Nov 26, 2014, 9:15 PM EST
He also talks Milwaukee, doing away with conferences.
Nov 26, 2014, 8:15 PM EST
With Popovich out, Ettore Messina takes over Spurs
Nov 26, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
Maverick shows off long arms
Nov 26, 2014, 7:00 PM EST
Harden shifts defensive-woes attention onto Knicks forward
Nov 26, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Haywoode Workman should have let it fly
Nov 26, 2014, 4:59 PM EST
You have to like that he wants to step up, but based on history, a lot of top point guards in the league just started drooling.
Nov 26, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
Don’t forget to be thankful for the Raptors, too.
Nov 26, 2014, 3:02 PM EST
Nov 26, 2014, 2:02 PM EST
Suns have three capable guards, and Thomas is the one coming off the bench.
Nov 26, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
Anthony was in severe pain after suffering back spasms on Monday against the Rockets.
Nov 26, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Chandler didn’t fit the triangle but Rick Carlisle knew how to use him properly.
Nov 26, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
West has been out since the preseason with an ankle injury.
Nov 26, 2014, 11:05 AM EST
Clark had his best NBA season with L.A. back in 2013.
Nov 26, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Detroit has a fundamentally flawed roster.
Tom Thibodeau says Derrick Rose ‘didn’t re-injure himself’ after playing just 10 minutes in loss to Nuggets
Nov 26, 2014, 9:50 AM EST
Team originally said Rose left with hamstring tightness.
- PBT’s Wednesday NBA Winners/Losers: Ettore Messina making history for Spurs 0
- LeBron James, Cavaliers have kind of game they need to replicate blowing out Wizards 3
- Gregg Popovich to miss game following ‘minor medical procedure’ 7
- PBT Extra: Anthony Davis’s MVP-level play, the Spurs and things to be thankful for 7
- Report: Knicks worried Carmelo Anthony’s back issue may be season-long concern 10
- Report: Lakers working on a one-year deal with Earl Clark 13
- Tom Thibodeau says Derrick Rose ‘didn’t re-injure himself’ after playing just 10 minutes in loss to Nuggets 20
- Lakers granted $4.85 million disabled-player exception for Steve Nash injury 13