Baller Mind Frame

NBA Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder Team Preview

2014-15 NBA SEASON PREVIEW CONTENT LIST

Atlantic: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors |Division Preview
Central: Bulls | Cavaliers | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks | Division Preview
Southeast: Hawks | Hornets | Heat | Magic | Wizards | Division Preview

Pacific: Warriors | Clippers | Lakers | Suns | Kings | Division Preview
Northwest: Nuggets | Timberwolves | Thunder | Trail Blazers | Jazz | Division Preview
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Top 10 by Position: PG | SG | SF | PF | C
Top 10 Lists: Sixth Men | Sophomores | X-Factors | Rookies | Games to Watch | Comeback | Contenders | Breakouts

Articles: Assessing the Cavaliers Trio | Important Season for James Harden | Return of Paul George? | Trading Rajon Rondo | Are the Nuggets This Season’s Suns? | NBA’s Best Starting Five | NBA’s Worst Starting Five | Now or Never for Durant and Thunder After Injury

Fantasy Basketball: Top 10 PGs | Top 10 SGs | Top 10 SFs | Top 10 PFs | Top 10 Cs | Sleepers, Studs, and Sinkholes | Analyzing the Schedule | BMF Mock Draft | Cavs and Cav-Nots | Like A Bosh | Rajon Injury Impact

Media Day: Clippers | Hawks | Kings | Knicks | Magic | Mavericks | Nets

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Never in recent years has an NBA franchises been so teased and tormented in its pursuit of a championship than has the Oklahoma City Thunder, arguably the most dominant team in the league throughout each of the past three regular seasons with no more than a finals trip to show for it. With the all-too-familiar process of being the team to beat in a loaded Western Conference still painfully engraved in the psyche of the Thunder as a whole, the 2014-15 season has set the stage for the team’s most legitimate chance at a title run; that is, if LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t become as dominant as Miami was in the last few years. Barring this unlikely scenario, the Thunder could finally win a finals series and go on to bring home not one, not two, not three, not four…

Here is a summary of what should be expected out of this 2014-15 Oklahoma City Thunder team.

Most Important Player: Kevin Durant
NBA fans have been too spoiled by the consistent greatness of Kevin Durant in the last handful of seasons. It’s become second-nature to read a box score and see that Durant went out and put up 40+ points and made every elite defender the league has look like a shmuck in the process. Nonetheless, the ridiculous talent this team has is centered, and will continue to be centered, around the pure talent of KD. Anyone who says this team could be a contender without this scoring machine is out of their mind. Every team needs its most important player, its center to hold everything together at least to the point where a championship is in the forseeable future. Durant is so good that he’s had this championship in his grasp even before his prime began. Now that is has, every other team should be preparing for a possible finals matchup with this squad led by scoring champion KD Trey Five.

X-Factor:Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is immensely exciting to watch, and it’s because of the extent to which he makes his presence felt every minute he runs the point guard position for this team. With all the talk people throw around about his selfish play at point guard, I have one answer: This team is not built like the San Antonio Spurs. It’s not built like the Memphis Grizzlies. Running the ball from person to person for 20 seconds to get a bucket on the low post is not what Westbrook or this team is meant for. The importance of his mid-range jumper is bigger than any guard I’ve watched in the past couple of years, and his consistency as a scorer is equally as important as is Kevin Durant‘s. Let Westbrook figure his game out with bad shots if he needs to. He still makes his team better every time he graces the court with his all-out play.

Rotations: OKC’s rotations are very straightforward while being very confusing at the same time. This is a team who isn’t afraid to throw out random, untested looks mid-game if it feels the need to change something up. Scott Brooks‘ genius is mostly made up of making ridiculous formulas work in the only way he knows how. Westbrook will start at the one, with a new face in Anthony Marrow replacing the lost defensive strength of Thabo Sefolosha, which the team valued so highly. KD at the small forward with pending all-star Serge Ibaka at the four spot makes the forward combination one of the most lengthy, athletic, and overall fun to watch tandems in basketball. The somehow effective mediocrity of Kendrick Perkins rounds out the team at the center position, making a winning starting lineup which will likely be looked upon to carry much of the weight for the team. The bench grows increasingly thin, with Reggie Jackson being presented as the second team’s most polished player. Nonetheless, it’s been a winning rotation in the past, and it will continue to be in the future.

What Needs to Go Right: At this point, it’s safe to say that pretty much everything is going to go right for a minimum of the regular season. People will speculate, matchups against the Spurs and Cavaliers will be looked upon as a basis for judging this team, and OKC will likely end up atop the Western Conference, a spot that means seemingly nothing come playoff time. What needs to go right is every single thing that happens once the post season rolls around. This team can’t continue to barely scratch its way out of first-round matchups, as it did with the Memphis Grizzlies who had a legitimate shot at beating the Thunder before Zach Randolph flushed away those hopes with one swift elbow. If Westbrook stays healthy and the first two rounds are a breeze for this team (as they should be) Oklahoma City has a very real chance of winning the championship they should have won at least once in the past three years.

It’s Really Bad If: If the thinning bench of the Thunder can’t produce the way Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams, and Derek Fisher did last year, the playoffs could be a real problem for this team. Again, the regular season needs to be a time of understanding that the Thunder are the best team in the Western Conference, and the team’s record will reflect this fact regardless of how much Nick Collison or the aforementioned New Zealander play. Once the Houston Rockets, Pheonix Suns, and other possible post-season matchups come along, the very thought of Jeremy Lamb attempting to guard James Harden makes me want to pick the Rockets in four. Please come back, Thabo…

Bold Prediction: This is as good a year as any for the Oklahoma City Thunder to win a championship. For the sake of the team’s future past the 2014-15 season, which will likely be questionable if a championship is not reached, this has to be the year KD hoists the trophy. This has to be the year Westbrook’s fanatical play is fully understood rather than scuritinized, and it has to be the year that OKC brings home a championship. It has to be the year the Thunder realizes its full potential as a basketball team. It’s as good a year as any.

PLAYER PROFILES

Steven Adams, C
Strengths: He got Zach Randolph to elbow him in the face.
Weaknesses: Adams doesn’t shoot the ball very well, but that’s because he isn’t expected to shoot the ball very well. I can’t think of very much bad to say about his game considering his job is to play as hard as he can and go all out for every ball. A huge team player and a big plus for the Thunder.
Season Prediction: Hopefully he draws another elbow to the face from Zach Randolph.

Nick Collison, PF/C
Strengths: The ultimate role player. Collison is willing to play anywhere from five to 20 minutes a game with varying roles each time he steps on the court. His toughness and big body make him a hastle for opposing power forwards.
Weaknesses: He doesn’t have the most polished game offensively, which is a downside considering he mostly plays when Serge Ibaka isn’t on the floor.
Season Prediction: Collison will raise his value even more this season with a consistent all-around regular season, and will post some big games for Oklahoma City throughout the playoffs.

Kevin Durant, SF/PF
Strengths: Best scorer in basketball, carries his team every night with 30+ points per game and ridiculous offensive ability.
Weaknesses: He can’t play every position for the team, as much as Scott Brooks would love for that to be the case.
Season Prediction: KD will win the scoring title again and will be a legitimate contender for another MVP award and a possible finals victory.

Josh Huestis, SF
Strengths: What he lacks in natural offensive talent, Huestis makes up for in athletic ability and hustle. He has a promising outside jumper and with the right help from KD and Scott Brooks, could become an all-around impressive rookie.
Weaknesses: His game is very unpolished making him a definite project.
Season Prediction: Huestis will likely see insignificant minutes this season, barring an injury to either Kevin Durant or Perry Jones.

Serge Ibaka, PF/C
Strengths: Wildly gifted shot blocker, has picked up the pace offensively, and developed a reliable midrange jumper. He is, next to KD, the Thunder’s most consistent player.
Weaknesses: Serge’s main weakness is that he can’t be played for all 48 minutes of a game. It’s hard to find holes in this guy’s skillset; the Thunder would love to see him play full games at multiple positions.
Season Prediction: Serge will distance himself as the league’s best shotblocker and will be selected to an all NBA defensive team.

Reggie Jackson, PG
Strengths: Overloaded with potential to become a breakout player within the next few years using his ability to get hot, and stay hot, at any given point of a game. Jackson’s reliability down the stretch in close games makes him a surefire starter at some point in the near future.
Weaknesses: Slightly undersized for the position especially when going up against elite point guards in Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall. However, what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in aggression and competitive drive.
Season Prediction: Jackson will further the growth he has displayed throughout his role as a backup for Russell Westbrook and will play extended minutes come playoff time. A backcourt of Jackson-Westbrook will definitely be revealed by Scott Brooks in some rotations.

Perry Jones, PF
Strengths: Athletic small forward to back up Durant, and keeps the defense working by constantly running the length of the floor.
Weaknesses: Jones has been relatively disappointing up to this point in his career, but a partnership with one of the best small forwards in sports (KD) could take care of some of the flaws.
Season Prediction: If Jones doesn’t become a reliable backup for Durant, this team is in a lot of trouble. He’s become a relatively unknown player since his NCAA days, but still holds a crucial role for this team.

Jeremy Lamb, SG
Strengths: Lamb has potential to become a reliable catch and shoot scorer from all ranges. If he fulfills said potential, it could free up space for Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka to work closer to the basket offensively.
Weaknesses: Had long stretches with little to no production last season; Lamb hasn’t always been the most reliable option even with wide open looks.
Season Prediction: Lamb will likely improve his shooting stroke out of sheer necessity. This team is stretched too thin to not have a backup shooting guard capable of putting up 10 points while on the floor.

Mitch McGary, PF
Strengths: McGary is a good finisher around the rim and works well without the ball. He sets good picks consistently, a huge factor especially with the constant pick and rolls this team runs to free up Kevin Durant.
Weaknesses: Not a real threat from mid to long range shooting the ball, but this isn’t a big issue considering he will mostly set screens and cut to the basket.
Season Prediction: With both Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison ahead of McGary in the rotation, he won’t see a big chunk of minutes at any point through the season.

Anthony Morrow, SG
Strengths: Morrow is a perfect fit for the Oklahoma City Thunder. His natural shooting ability and consistency when spotting up from deep is going to be perfect when paired next to Westbrook and Durant.
Weaknesses: He is a purely one-dimensional player, but it just so happens to be the dimension the Thunder need more than any other.
Season Prediction: Morrow will be a crucial asset of Oklahoma City’s especially come playoff time, and will be a constant implementation in the team’s offense.

Kendrick Perkins, C
Strengths: Works well without the ball and constantly uses his big body to clog the paint and force tough shots for opposition.
Weaknesses: Virtually no threat imposed on the offensive side of the ball other than simple lay-ins and offensive boards.
Season Prediction: Perkins will provide the same amount and type of minutes as he has in years past for Scott Brooks‘ team, and it will continue to be just as effective.

Andre Robertson, SG
Strengths: Robertson is an impressive rebounder, especially when playing the guard position. He showed stretches of productivity for Oklahoma City last season when his minutes were increased.
Weaknesses: This team lost one of the league’s best perimeter and pick-and-roll defenders in Sefolosha, and Robertson’s defensive hasn’t been nearly as beneficial for the Thunder. He’ll need to step up his game defensively to keep his minutes.
Predictions: Robertson will have an increasingly important role for the Thunder in the wake of Thabo Sefolosha’s lost defensive presence. He will see career highs in minutes and rebounds, as Scott Brooks may throw more playing time his way.

Sebastian Telfair, PG
Strengths: Telfair has the potential to go off in any given game. He works best in high octane offenses and keeps the defense honest with his presence on the court.
Weaknesses: He hasn’t been a consistent NBA player by any means. If he wants to see any significant minutes behind both Westbrook and Jackson, he has to string together a few months of reliable basketball.
Season Prediction: Telfair will likely look to raise his stock as a basketball player and keep himself on an NBA roster. He will likely be a professional player for years to come, but if he’s going to turn his career around, it should start with this year.

Russell Westbrook, PG
Strengths: Most imposing point guard in basketball, keeps defenses worn down with constant offensive and defensive prodding.
Weaknesses: Shot selection is weak at times. Needs to recognize difference between good and bad scoring opportunities.
Season Prediction: Westbrook will iron out the kinks in his mental game, and will emerge at the end of the 2014-15 regular season free of previous scrutinies based on shot selection… either that or he’ll shoot 35 percent from the field. We’ll see.

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