Culture of Hoops

2016-17 NBA Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

Image courtesy of Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Erik Daniel Drost/Flickr.

Atlantic: Boston Celtics | Brooklyn Nets | New York Knicks | Philadelphia 76ers | Toronto Raptors
Central: Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Detroit Pistons | Indiana Pacers | Milwaukee Bucks
Southeast: Atlanta Hawks | Charlotte Hornets | Miami Heat | Orlando Magic | Washington Wizards
Pacific: Golden State Warriors | Los Angeles Clippers | Los Angeles Lakers | Phoenix Suns | Sacramento Kings
Northwest: Denver Nuggets | Minnesota Timberwolves | Oklahoma City Thunder | Portland Trail Blazers | Utah Jazz
Southwest: Dallas Mavericks | Houston Rockets | Memphis Grizzlies | New Orleans Pelicans | San Antonio Spurs

Presenting an NBA preview of the Oklahoma City Thunder that looks at the potential highs and lows for this coming 2016-17 NBA season.

What’s Good… Russell Westbrook is on a mission of determination to raise his organization from the post-Kevin Durant ashes and bring glory to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In others word, the Thunder and Westbrook agreed to a new contract which will keep the team’s new best player around for at least a bit longer. Steven Adams has emerged as an elite and dynamic big man who hasn’t even reached his prime. The Thunder committed a criminal act in robbing the Orlando Magic of Victor Oladipo and other valuable assets in exchange for the declining Serge Ibaka. The Oladipo acquisition also allowed OKC to massively upgrade over Dion Waiters who left in free agency.

What’s Bad… A Hall-of-Fame and generational talent didn’t only leave town, he left for the Thunder’s biggest rival and largest nemesis in the Golden State Warriors. This leaves a gigantic void in scoring, leadership, and also allows opposing defensive schemes to dedicate their entire game plan to defending Westbrook (not that it will necessarily work). Calling the Durant loss bad would be a grotesque misrepresentation of the truth – it’s profoundly devastating and puts the Thunder from near the top of the mountain towards somewhere near the bottom. Sure, the team should still be a quality unit, but in terms of championships aspirations, the offseason drop was irreversible.

The X-Factor… It’s Oladipo, although I also expect Domantas Sabonis and Enes Kanter to be x-factor sort of contributors for the Thunder. The reason why Oladipo is the logical selection here is because of the offensive input he’ll need to provide. We know Oladipo has a developed game and never lets up on defense, but with Durant out of town, Oladipo needs to average closer to 20 points per game than the 16 he averaged last year for the Magic. Oladipo has the opportunity to become Westbrook’s primary running mate during the 2016-17 season. If all goes well and this duo becomes a wrecking ball, perhaps Westbrook will spend his entire career in a Thunder uniform (#toomuchspeculation).

Bet On… Westbrook scorching the galaxy and finishing in the top three of the MVP race. My rough guess is that Westbrook puts up 29 points, 10.5 assists, and 8.5 rebounds per game. Bet on many of the shots Durant is leaving available going to Westbrook. Monitoring how Westbrook leads OKC and what a KD-absent Thunder squad looks like will be one of the most fascinating dynamics of the 2016-17 season. Even if you don’t care for Westbrook’s aggressive style and often short temper with the media, he’s a sensationally gifted player who will light the NBA on fire for at least 82 games.

The Crystal Ball Reveals… A 44-38 record which lands the Thunder the six spot in the West. When Durant left on July 4th, it seemed that OKC would suffer an enormous downfall into irrelevance. The fall will still be steep and painful, but Westbrook’s resigning has stabilized the franchise at least in terms of remaining competitive. For a period, the expectation was that a Westbrook trade would follow the Durant decision. So long as Westbrook is in town, don’t count out the Oklahoma City Thunder from being competitive. 44 wins and plenty of excitement will be the result.

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