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Saturday, November 29, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 9. Oklahoma City Thunder

Overall Win/Loss Record :  59-23,  first place Northwest Division

2014/2015 Projection: 50-32, second place Northwest Division, fifth place Western Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 106.2 (5th)
  • Points Allowed: 99.8 (12th)
  • Team FG%: .471 (6th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .436 (3rd)
  • Team FT%: .806 (2nd)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .361 (14th)
  • Rebounds per game: 44.7 (7th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 40.9 (3rd)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.8 (26th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.5 (10th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Kevin Durant (32.0)
  • Rebounds per game:  Serge Ibaka (8.8)
  • Minutes per game:   Kevin Durant (38.5)
  • Assists per game:  Russell Westbrook (6.9)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Nick Collison (.556)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Reggie Jackson (.890) 
  • Three Point FG Percentage:  Kevin Durant (.391)
  • Steals per game:   Russell Westbrook (1.9)
  • Blocked Shots per game:   Serge Ibaka (2.7)
Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact::

  1. Jeremy Lamb (G)
  2. Nick Collison (F/C)
  3. Anthony Morrow (G)
  4. Sebastian Telfair (G)
  5. Steven Adams (C)
Three years ago, it looked as if it would be just a matter of time until the Oklahoma City Thunder won the NBA championship and have a dynasty of their own; however, after two straight disappointing post seasons, not only does it seem like the Thunder's window of opportunity for  championship glory has closed, but it also looks as if this team is running on borrowed time.  Both the team's two key figures--reigning MVP Kevin Durant and his back court sidekick Russell Westbrook--will have two years left on their contracts and if the post season fortunes of the Thunder do not improve, they might find themselves in different uniforms by then.  Numerous big market teams such a the +New York Knicks+Chicago Bulls+Los Angeles Lakers, +Houston Rockets and +Miami HEAT  will be looking to snag either one or both Durant and Westbrook and will have the cap space to certainly make a play for them.  Surprisingly, another team that also seemed as unlikely location has also been added as another potential location is the +Washington Wizards, who will not only have the cap space, but also the hometown edge with Kevin Durant hailing from Baltimore, Maryland.  Nevertheless, time is running out for the Thunder and the last thing they need is a major setback such as having one of their Dynamic Duo out for a great portion of the season which may lead to disaster, especially in an already tight Western Conference.

Sadly for Thunder, such a tragedy has already happened with the news that Kevin Durant will not be available for the first couple of months of the regular season due to breaking his foot; nonetheless, such news does not phase Oklahoma City fans as they know that as long as they have Westbrook at the helm, their playoff expectations will remain intact.  The problem will be if ever the Thunder lose both Westbrook and Durant at the start of the regular season which will leave the Thunder virtually unarmed and powerless; however, the chances of such a disastrous event to occur can be measured between slim and none.  If such an unlikely moment were to occur, though, the results would be disastrous as the Thunder has virtually no one to pick up the slack since the team's virtual identity has revolved around those two players for the past five or so years.   Even if both managed to return by mid season, the damage would have already been done with the Thunder falling behind in the standings that they may not be able to recover thanks to the rather oppressive hold of the Western Conference by the very few along with the emergence of young teams such as the +Phoenix Suns+Sacramento Kings and +New Orleans Pelicans.  Just one slip up and the Thunder will find themselves completely losing their current and rather strong foothold in the West to middle of the range teams such as the +Dallas Mavericks+Memphis Grizzlies, and +Denver Nuggets will be there to quickly snatch OKC's long standing place in the Western Conference.

The team's front office did not help itself during the off season as it wasted its first draft picks taking two players that were not even in many analyst's draft board and created a rather noticeable logjam in the front court causing even more trouble for the team in the future.  In a draft that still had big name talented and athletic prospects such as +Cleanthony Early+Thanasis Antetokounmpo+KJ McDaniels, Glen Robinson III, Kyle Anderson and +Melvin Ejim still available, the Thunder used the draft pick they had claimed from the infamous +James Harden trade to select Mitch McGary--a player in which they did not need whatsoever.  McGary, a 7 foot center out of the +University of Michigan, was expected to fall to the mid to late second round, but the Thunder picked him thus increasing logjam of centers on its roster to five total.  That resulted in OKC having to trade away +Hasheem Thabeet and waiving the player they received in exchange to free up a roster spot for McGary; however, even with the departure of Thabeet, McGary still remains way down the team's totem pole playing behind Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and Steven Adams thus resulting in him possibly not wearing a Thunder uniform for the entire season.  To make matters worse, save for Ibaka who led the team in rebounds and blocked shots per game last season, McGary joins a sad group of big men that have produces very little thus far and who the team are virtually stuck with for better or worse.

Kendrick Perkins has been an absolute embarrassment for the Thunder after the team signed him to a very lucrative contract deal and for the past three years his production has dwindled from 5.1 points 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game to 3.4 points, 4.9 boards and 0.6 blocks in 19.5 minutes per game.  What's worse about Perkins is not just his declining production on the court or his extremely bad contract which thankfully expires once the seasons ends, but the sad fact that he is right now the best option at center for the Thunder.  Although he had a moderately decent rookie campaign which earned him All Rookie Second Team Honors, nothing much else is expected from second year center Steven Adams as he has been projected to have as much upside as Perkins thus making him not that much of an alternative.  Nick Collison has been a mainstay of the Thunder since the team was once called the Seattle Supersonics and at the advanced age of 34, he will no likely do any better than the 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game as his basketball career comes to a close.  As for McGary, he did not necessarily set the +NCAA on fire as he did not have a standout career in his two years in Michigan and only entered the draft because he would not have been able to play the following year due to being suspended for marijuana use.

As if the McGary selection  at number 21 was bad enough, the Thunder's front office still had a chance to right their wrong as they still had the twenty ninth pick of the draft and with the likes of the aforementioned Early, Daniels, Antetokounmpo, Ejim, and Robinson among others. Unfortunately, instead of adding any one of those players who certainly would not have only been an excellent steal, but a great fall back plan if Kevin Durant got hurt or choose to sign elsewhere, the Thunder's decided to waste that pick again.  This time they choose some nobody from Stanford, whose last name when say very quickly sounds like "who's this"--something that many OKC fans asked themselves when their team selected him in the draft.  Like McGary, Josh Huestis certainly did not set the NCAA on fire with his career stats of just 7.2 points and 6.2 boards per game for +Stanford University; in addition to his less than stellar collegiate career, Huestis probably would have been available for the Thunder in the second round as he probably would have never been drafted, period.  So in summation, the Thunder could have had selected a much needed swing-man who could have been great option to fall back on especially with the injury to Durant, but instead selected two players who will most likely not even play this season due to the severe logjam of already mediocre players in the paint.

Now with Durant out of the picture until at least January, the Thunder are left with no real option at the small forward position and will have no other choice but to use a far smaller player such as Jeremy Lamb or Anthony Morrow--both of whom are talented for their positions at shooting guard, but simply do not have the size or ability to keep up with NBA small forwards.  Unfortunately, like Durant, Lamb will also be riding the pine as he has yet to heal from a tweaked back injury during the preseason thus limiting the Thunder's options even more, so if a tragedy were to happen--let's say that Russell Westbrook were to be lost early in the season due to injury--this season certainly will not start off on the right foot.  In fact, such a loss can prove so damaging that it might prove fatal as OKC has the misfortune to reside in the most ruthlessly competitive of the two NBA conferences where even the slightest setback can drop a team from being among the top teams in the West to falling completely out of the playoff picture.  Hopefully Westbrook will remain healthy as he remains as the sole source of not only scoring, but leadership in this very vulnerable Thunder team and can at least tread water in the rather deep Western Conference until Durant returns to the court; however, even with him projected to start on opening tip off, it feels as if something bad is going to happen and everything that OKC fans have long feared might just happen.  

It does not help that Durant's injury has occurred at the worst time: where the Thunder are virtually on the clock and are literally running out of time as their window for championship glory seems to slowly close with each passing game.  Perhaps losing Durant and Westbrook for an undetermined time will probably be good for the Thunder as the team as well as its fans will have to soon deal with the reality that neither of them may return once their contracts expire.  Fortunately for OKC, there are some bright spots in an otherwise bleak future thanks to Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson who not only both posted breakout performances last season, but also have the upside to just possibly become the future faces of the franchise if ever Durant and Westbrook decide to part ways with the Thunder; however, all of that is just speculation right now.  What should be focused on is the present and so far it does not have an bumps on the road, even with Durant sitting out the first couple months of the regular season; however, there still remains a trembling "what if," scenario if the Thunder's second franchise pillar sudden takes a fall once the season starts.