- NBA Rank: 3
Conference Rank: 2
- Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder were in a great spot to challenge the Spurs for the top spot in the West. Kevin Durant's injury derailed that plan in a big way. He will likely return healthy, so they will certainly be contenders, but the Thunder probably won't have the luxury of home court advantage if they make a deep run in the playoffs.
Last year's story was simple. We've seen this played out on lots of teams. Take one part MVP, mix in judicious amounts of solid defenders who play hyper-efficient on the offensive end in, and you get lots of wins.
|Thabo Sefolosha ||1,584||30||0.173||5.7|
|Derek Fisher ||1,428||39||0.067||2.0|
|Caron Butler ||598||34||0.102||1.3|
|Hasheem Thabeet ||192||27||-0.113||-0.5|
Indicates that the player is no longer with the team.
Kevin Durant was a wonder. His performance is almost unprecedented. The list of players that have shot 1500 field goal attempts on greater than 63% true shooting is very short. It doesn't include Wilt or Kareem or Micheal, just Adrian Dantley in 1981-1982 and Kevin Durant last year. If you bump FGAs to 1600, Durant stands alone in the history of the NBA. And Dantley, obviously, didn't shoot any threes in 1981. Oh, and he didn't grab nine boards or dish out seven dimes per 48 minutes, either. What Durant did last year....frankly, I don't think it will be replicated anytime soon.
Steven Adams had a very good rookie year. He was solid at all the things you want big men to do, rebounding, shot blocking, taking care of the ball, and converting in limited shot opportunities. He was foul prone, but that's par for the course with most rookie centers, and is one area where the improvement from year one to year two is pretty predictable.
The rest of the Thunder were a familiar story from the last few years: Ibaka cleaned up boards and blocked shots. Thabo played great D. Nick Collison played solid and hit shots. Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins played way too many minutes and caused lots of head-scratching.
|Anthony Morrow ||2.0||2,115.5||29||0.107||4.7|
|Sebastian Telfair ||1.0||718.9||30||0.037||0.6|
|Mitch McGary ||4.0||445.0||0||0.095||0.9|
|Josh Huestis ||1.0||393.2||0||0.044||0.4|
|Grant Jerrett ||4.0||346.8||0||0.028||0.2|
Indicates that the player is new to the team.
The loss of Kevin Durant in the first 6-8 weeks will obviously hurt...a lot. And the loss of Thabo Sefalosha could hurt a lot as well. One of the things that will make this Thunder team hard to project after the departure of Thabo is that it's not clear what Scott Brooks will do about Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, and the shooting guard spot.
The logical thing to do (as Arturo has suggested in the past) is to move Westbrook to the shooting guard spot, and let Russ be Russ. Most of Westbrook's deficiencies are from his shot selection. If you take the primary ball handling duties out of his hands and put them in Jackson's hands, then you get a point guard doing point-guardy things and Russ doing shooting-guardy things and a lot of those shot selection problems just go away. And please, don't bring up height. Russ may be 6'3" but he's built like a truck and has a 6'8" wingspan with hands the length of most people's feet. Plus, he's about as fast as Usain Bolt, and can jump and benchpress like the Incredible Hulk. He's hardly a defensive liability at shooting guard. If you list off the guys that Russ would have trouble guarding, you're just listing the guys that everyone has trouble guarding.
But Brooks may not choose to do this. He may instead continue using Russ at PG, with Jackson off the bench, and start Anthony Morrow. I think this is a distinct downgrade from last year. Morrow is the better shooter, but Thabo was better at...well, everything else. These positional decisions will be the biggest determinants in how the Thunder handle the transition before Durant returns.
The next big factor is how long Brook's bizarre love affair with Kendrick Perkins will continue. Steven Adams should have gotten more minutes last year, and will almost certainly improve this year. Durant's injury hurts here, again, because those small ball lineups with Durant at 4 and Ibaka at 5 need to be replaced with more minutes from the team's more traditional big men, which sadly means more minutes for Perkins.
The Thunder's game plan is simple: tread water until Durant is healthy and hope they are close enough to make a run at a top four seed. To do that, I think they need to think outside the box, let Russ play the 2 a lot, maximize minutes from productive players like Ibaka and Adams, and keep Perkins and Telfair off the floor.
It remains to be seen if Brooks can pull that off. The Thunder are too loaded with talent to ever be out of the playoff picture even with Durant out for eight weeks (assuming Durant makes a full recovery), but will they be able to grab a top 4 seed? It will be close.