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.
Dec 5, 2013, 9:28 AM EST
Nike held an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles to unveil its latest signature shoe for Kobe Bryant, the Kobe 9 Elite. And it’s a huge change from what we’ve seen out of Bryant’s line over the past several seasons. From the official release: “Designed with Kobe’s tech insights and…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:45 AM EST
Mark Cuban tried to just spend his way to an NBA title. It didn’t work. It rarely does in the NBA — you need an elite player or two, but you can’t just go Steinbrenner and try to buy all the talent in the world to go around them. You need the right kind of…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
I have this odd vision for the future of the NBA, and in it everyone looks like Kirk Hinrich. Well, everyone doesn’t actually look like Kirk Hinrich, but all the players are wearing goggles nonetheless. That’s not just because they look cool and I think Hinrich is the undisputed king of accessorizing, and it’s not…
Dec 5, 2013, 3:09 AM EST
I said it in the PBT nightly grades post and I’ll say it here — I think LaMarcus Aldridge is the best four in the league right now. I’d take him over Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan or anyone else you can throw out there right now (excluding LeBron James, who plays kind of…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:20 AM EST
Our nightly look around the NBA, or what you missed while figuring out how to use lasers to mark the first down line in the a football game…. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. For my money right now he is the best power forward in the game. I’d rather have him over Kevin Love or…
Dec 4, 2013, 10:53 PM EST
Kobe Bryant is back to practicing at full speed this week, and while many hoped that would mean a return to real game action as soon as Friday on the road against the Kings in Sacramento, Bryant himself said on Wednesday that wouldn’t be the case. Speaking to many reporters one-on-one at the unveiling of…
Dec 4, 2013, 9:27 PM EST
UPDATE 9:46 p.m.: The NBA later issued an official release detailing the postponement: “The National Basketball Association game scheduled for tonight between the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves has been postponed due to a generator malfunction which produced smoke inside Mexico City Arena. “The date for the rescheduled game, which will be played at…
Dec 4, 2013, 9:01 PM EST
Gerald Henderson of the Bobcats became the latest player to be warned for violating the league’s anti-flopping rule on Wednesday, and there’s little doubt that his dive against the Mavericks on Tuesday was worthy of its distinction. With his back to the defender, Henderson simply takes a leap toward the sideline with the ball in…
Dec 4, 2013, 6:35 PM EST
Is it too late to join the Eastern Conference? Asking for a friend.— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 04, 2013 That is just classic. Sure, it’s been easy for fans and the media to pile on the Eastern Conference, where the 9-9 Wizards are the No. 3 seed and the 8-12 Celtics lead the Atlantic Division.…
Dec 4, 2013, 5:59 PM EST
Larry Sanders has been out since early November when he got involved in a bar fight and tore ligaments in his thumb so badly it required surgery to repair the hand. Sanders has since apologized to fans and the team for the incident. But it’s not over yet. Sanders has been cited twice for his…
Dec 4, 2013, 5:14 PM EST
The Washington Wizards have gone 7-3 in their last 10 and have moved into the No. 3 seed in the East (at 9-9, but still the three seed) all without having the No. 3 pick in the last draft Otto Porter, who was supposed to be the starting three on this team. But they could…
Dec 4, 2013, 3:58 PM EST
When TNT worked with the NBA to set up its Thursday showcase schedule, this Thursday seemed like a ratings spike — the defending Atlantic Division champion Knicks with Carmelo Anthony against the new Kidd on the block in the Brooklyn Nets. Then a showdown between Derrick Rose‘s Bulls and the two-time defending champion Heat. The…
Dec 4, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
It’s the most anticipated game on the NBA calendar, a battle of powerhouse franchises fighting for the heart of America’s biggest city… Or, it could be a big steaming pile of… that stuff you have to scrape off the bottom of your shoe sometimes. It’s the Thursday night showdown between the 3-13 Knicks vs. the…
Dec 4, 2013, 2:28 PM EST
Nate Robinson often gets plenty of run for the Nuggets in the fourth quarter of games. For one thing, he is the human proof of the hot hand theory and when he gets going can change a game (or he can be Mr. Snow Miser, everything he touches turns to snow in his clutch… he’s…
Dec 4, 2013, 2:04 PM EST
DeMarcus Cousins sat out the Kings loss to the Thunder Tuesday night with an ankle injury. When asked if he would be ready to go Friday, he decided to play comedian. Don’t tempt fate, DeMarcus. Derrick Rose may not think it’s funny but Cousins’ comments sounded like a lot of people on twitter who have…
Dec 4, 2013, 1:14 PM EST
Got to hand it to Turkish Airlines — they are willing to pay for two of the most expensive sports sponsors in the world, then they have put together some pretty clever ads for them. The latest has Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi — apparently both having time on their hands as they try to recover…
Dec 4, 2013, 12:48 PM EST
We use the phrase here regularly: Kevin Durant is the second best basketball player walking the planet earth right now. Durant is sick of having that title. He has said it before and he said it again in an interview set to air on “60 Minutes Sports” which will air on Showtime tonight (10 ET).…
Dec 4, 2013, 12:04 PM EST
Omer Asik will be out for at least a week after suffering a right thigh contusion, reports Jason Friedman of Rockets.com. Asik will be re-evaluated at that time to assess whether or not he’s able to return. Asik’s injury could leave Houston pretty shorthanded for Wednesday night’s contest against the Suns. Jeremy Lin is out…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:42 AM EST
The Spurs will face the Timberwolves in Mexico City on Wednesday as part of the NBA’s 2013-14 Global Games schedule, which included eight preseason games played internationally and one more to be played in London on between the Hawks and the Nets on Jan. 16. San Antonio’s players celebrated the occasion by taking on some…
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