The NBA Season is ready to start on Christmas Day, the last couple of preseason games are being played as I write this up, and it's time for me to cater to every serious NBA fans love of season previews! The 2011 Geektastic Preview is going to be way too large for one article, so I'm dividing it up into divisions (and even so, it's going to be long, so get a cup of coffee!). In this article I'm going to preview the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team for whom the big question is, can you win a championship without a superstar?
The 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder
Lost: Byron Mullens, Robert Vaden (collectively known as "Who the hell are they?"), Nate Robinson (possible buyout?)
Added: Reggie Jackson (R), Lazar Harward (T - Timberwolves)
Outlook: Fantastic. Best team in a tough Western Conference. Will play the Heat in the finals.
2010 - 2011 PER-48 stats
One thing jumps out fast when looking at the Thunder: they have no bad players! It's really kind of amazing how Sam Presti has managed to systematically purge his team of bad players over time, by trading them to other teams. At this point, when you are picking up the phone and Presti is on the other end, offering you a player, your reaction should probably be like this:
It's hard to think of a deal in the last few years in which Sam Presti didn't get the better end of it. The guy has been destroying his peers for a couple of years now.
The Thunder have the same sort of problem that the Nuggets have -- they have a ton of good players, some bordering on great, but no superstars (Durant was a star in 2009-2010, in 2010-11 he regressed a little). I personally think that winning a championship without a 0.300+ WP48 player is possible, and we only think it's hard because it's very rarely happened. But that's correlation, not causation. The reason it has rarely happened is that it is incredibly hard to do what Presti has done in constructing a team where there are no bad players getting significant minutes; a team that has a very bad player with lots of minutes (Bruce Bowen, Derek Fisher, Antoine Walker, etc etc etc) made up for it by having one or two superstars (I probably don't need to name them for you. Ben Wallace is the only one that you pundits might disagree with me about).
The Thunder have a couple of other things going on for them that I like: Serge Ibaka and James Harden. I think James Harden is going to have a breakout year. It's fairly common for players to get better each year for the first few years of their career, and Harden increased his WP48 from .121 his rookie year to .154 his sophomore year. If he makes a similar leap again this year, he'll be a borderline all-star. Ibaka, who was already a star, could possibly truly break out (.166 as a rookie, .212 last year) and become the superstar of this team (note: Yes, I'm aware that the pundits, and probably most of you, think this team is 80% Durant/Westbrook and 20% "the rest". As usual, you're just concentrating too much on scoring totals).
The Thunder are my pick to win the west. I don't think they have enough firepower to beat the Heat (the deep bench won't be as large an advantage in the playoffs, when the Heat are only going to play 7-8 deep anyway). But the deep bench and lack of bad players is going to win them a lot of back-to-backs and and back-to-back-to-backs.