Starting Five: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins
Key Bench Players: PG Reggie Jackson, SG Jeremy Lamb, PF Nick Collison, SF Perry Jones III
Notable offseason additions: C Steven Adams (12th overall pick)
Notable offseason subtractions: SG Kevin Martin
FACT OR FICTION: The quiet Thunder offseason was a failure for a team with title aspirations?
FICTION. The relatively quiet offseason for the Thunder was a story in itself. While other teams in the Western Conference like the Clippers, Warriors and Rockets were making big moves to bolster their rosters, the Thunder stayed pat. Kevin Martin, in the eyes of OKC, didn’t warrant what Martin was expecting in his next contract and lost him to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Martin is the only player in the nine-man rotation from last year who won’t be suiting up in OKC this season.
But those who were yelling for OKC to do more in the offseason should realize the Thunder led the NBA in point differential and possessed the No. 1 offense and No. 4 defense last season. There is cause for concern though, as the past 12 months have seen the Thunder go from James Harden, to Kevin Martin, to Jeremy Lamb as the shooting guard off the bench for Scott Brooks.
If there was one positive (there really was only one) that came from Russell Westbrook hurting his knee in game two of the playoffs, it’s Reggie Jackson. The third-year guard is looking to grow from Westbrook’s stop-gap for 12 minutes a game into a bona fide 6th man. He showed flashes of what he can do in the playoffs when he started the last nine games in Russ’ stead and thus I think you will see the Thunder second unit try to get out and go in transition this season. With Jackson at the helm running with KD (who usually sits early and starts the second quarter), Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, other teams will not like the track meet OKC will try to run to start the second & fourth quarters.
The continued development of Serge Ibaka will be something to keep an eye on. Heading into his fifth season in OKC, the 24 year-old Ibaka will look to become more of an offensive presence as his game rounds into form. He has continued to improve his jump-shot in the pick-n-pop game and at times was automatic from 17 feet away. His next step is a back to the basket game, which has showed flashes of promise, and other times still looked too raw to be a consistent tool at his disposal. Ibaka has steadily improved his defense from just a shot-blocking phenom to starting to scratch the surface of a defensive anchor. As Serge figures out how to truly effect the game on the defensive end, his value for OKC will only continue to rise.
Finally, a few words about the dynamic duo. Russ and Kevin are pissed off. They are pissed because people don’t think they win without Harden. They are pissed that Russ got hurt when they had a legitimate chance to get back to the finals. They are pissed because everyone is reacting to the splashy moves in the offseason made everywhere but OKC. You saw a glimpse of it in the playoffs in KD after Russ went down. Going into game three at Houston, Durant was having no part of losing that game. He was everywhere on the floor, doing everything he could, and he was pissed. He needed his running mate, and he knew it. Everyone now knows it, even though KD gets most of the accolades, Westbrook is the heart that pumps blood into that team night in, night out. I hope this 2013-2014 edition of the Thunder take on the persona of their superstars. Mad at the world, looking to set it on fire, get our of our way.
Best case scenario: NBA Champs. The core of Durant, Westbook and Ibaka continue to improve. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb prove they are capable of running a bench unit, and are able to combine to produce at the equivalent of the hole left with Harden’s departure before last season. Scott Brooks not only adjusts his lineups well, but finds the role for Kendrick Perkins that is needed. Westbrook breaks twitter with his fashion choices.
Absolute Apocalypse: Westbrook returns from his knee injury but has lost some explosiveness. Jeremy Lamb shrinks from the spotlight and is not a solid contributor. Perk continues to play 25-30 minutes a night consistently. Scott Brooks still doesn’t run any sort of offensive system. Ibaka’s development stalls and in a fit of rage bites a basketball so hard it explodes.
Expected outcome: After polling some Thunderheads on the expected outcome of this season no one picked OKC to be NBA champs. A couple had them losing to Heat in the Finals, others before that in the playoffs. There are too many question marks as we sit here today to be able to say they will be the champs. There is a better than expected chance for their best case scenario to come to fruition than the apocalypse, but a chance nonetheless. They will win the Northwest Division for the fourth straight season and be the two (or one) seed in a loaded Western Conference.
1st in the Northwest, 1st in the Western Conference
Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series: