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Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

With the NBA season just a week away and the majority of player movement being done, I’m going to start previewing the teams. Based on my projected order of the standings, we’ll start at the bottom and work towards the top rotating between East and West. Past previews will be linked as well.

Atlanta Hawks | Brooklyn Nets | Charlotte Hornets | Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Dallas Mavericks | Detroit Pistons | Indiana Pacers | Los Angeles Clippers | Los Angeles Lakers | Memphis Grizzlies | Miami Heat | Minnesota Timberwolves | New Orleans Pelicans | New York Knicks | Orlando Magic | Phoenix Suns | Portland Trailblazers | Sacramento Kings | San Antonio Spurs | Washington Wizards

Overview:

The Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off a free agency shocker, keeping Paul George after it was a foregone conclusion that he was headed to the Lakers. The Carmelo Anthony experiment lasted one season and was traded away bringing back Dennis Schroeder as the centerpiece. A major concern heading into the season is the health of Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson. Westbrook is expected to miss the start of the season due to a knee injury that he seems to get fixed every off-season. Unfortunately defensive stopper Andre Roberson had a set back, and it will be at least two months before he's reevaluated and his season might be in jeopardy. Without Westbrook to start the season, PG13 is going to have to take on the alpha role once again and needs help from Schroeder and Steven Adams to keep the Thunder afloat. Last summers big free agent addition Patrick Patterson never really found his role, but needs to become a big contributor this season. Another early playoff exit and the questions around Westbrook grow louder each year, can they win with Westbrook as their best player? Does he make his teammates better? A deep playoff run would silence the critics.

Photo courtesy of si.com — by Sean Taira
Photo courtesy of si.com — by Sean Taira

17-18 Stats:

Offensive Rating 107.6 (10th)

Defensive Rating 104.7 (10th)

Net Rating 2.9 (8th)

True Shooting Percentage 54.6% (24th)

Assist Percentage 53.5% (29th)

Rebound Percentage 51.7 (3rd)

Turnover Percentage 14.0 (12th)

Pace 99.23 (16th)

Record 48-34

Key Additions:

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot SG (trade), Hamidou Diallo SG (trade), Abdel Nader SF (trade), Nerlens Noel C (free agency), Dennis Schroeder PG (trade)

Key Departures:

Carmelo Anthony SF, Dakari Johnson C, Kyle Singler SF

Addition by Subtraction?

Carmelo Anthony had his moments with the Thunder, but in the end it was the same story. Melo refused to come off the bench, and his defense was close to non-existent which shoudn't have come as a surprise. Anthony needed the ball and continued to be a ball stopper, while shooting a career low 40.4% from the field. A combination of Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson, Terrance Ferguson, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot are expected to take over Melo's minutes at the three and four. None of them are the same type of scorer that Anthony is, but by needing the ball less they could help the offense function better. When Russell Westbrook is back, the Thunder have a clear one and two and can surround them with role players who don't need the ball. His scoring will be missed at times, but the Thunder should be able to function better especially on the defensive end of the court without Melo.

Bench Production

The Thunder are built around Russell Westbrook, there is no disputing that. However, when Westbrook is on the bench the Thunder have not been able get bench production to keep them in games. Last season the Thunder had a net rating of -5.0 without Westbrook, and an offensive rating of 97.4 which would have ranked dead last in the NBA. The positive news is that it was an improvement on their -7.1 net rating without Westbrook in the 16-17 season. The addition of Dennis Schroeder should help the bench production as will a second season of Patrick Patterson. The one positive of the Westbrook injury is that it should give the Thunder a change to develop and play style without him, which can hopefully be carried over once he's back. If the Thunder can at least stay close to positive when Westbrook is off the court, it should ease the offensive burden that is placed on him.

Can You Win With Westbrook?

There are two distinct camps on Russell Westbrook. The first came firmly believes that Westbrook is a great player and just hasn't had the teammates or has had bad injury luck and just can't seem to get over the hump. His statistical dominance comes from him taking over games and willing his team to win. The other camp believes that Westbrook is a great player, but doesn't make his teammates better and pads his stats (he definitely pads his rebound stats). He can't be the best player on a championship team, but isn't willing to accept a secondary role. The second camp is getting more and more evidence every season, as players continue to blossom once move on from playing with Russ (Oladipo being the latest example). I am more in the second camp, and until Westbrook shows his willingness to pass in crunch time, give max effort on the defensive end of the floor, and elevate the play of his teammates it's going to be hard to change my opinion.

Player to Watch: Terrance Ferguson

Photo courtesy of tendopic.com — by Sean Taira
Photo courtesy of tendopic.com — by Sean Taira

Terrance Ferguson was one of the players that skipped college, and spent a season playing overseas in Australia. He came to the NBA extremely raw, was able to display some of his athleticism in Sportscenter highlights. As the season progressed Ferguson's role grew and he is poised to take a leap this season. With a cloudy future surrounding Andre Roberson, and Carmelo Anthony gone, wing minutes are available for Ferguson. Ferguson has the athleticism to be a solid perimeter defender, and has shot the ball pretty well (a very small sample size). The problem with Roberson has always been that he is a complete zero on offense, and teams simply don't guard him. If Ferguson can at least make teams respect him on the offensive end of the floor and play competent defense, the Thunder might have their Roberson replacement.

Starters:

PG: Russell Westbrook

SG: Andre Roberson

SF: Paul George

PF: Jerami Grant

C: Steven Adams

Reserves:

PG: Dennis Schroeder

SG: Alex Abrines

SF: Terrance Ferguson

PF: Patrick Patterson

C: Nerlens Noel

Westgate Projected Win Total: 50.5

Projected Record: 47-35 (5th in Western Conference)