Hi all. Today we’re going to have a slightly different format for our Season Preview (and by ’slightly,’ I mean ‘completely’). This particular blog is part of the CelticsBlog NBA Blogger Previews. Make sure you guys check them out, there’s some great previews being written. If you came here via CelticsBlog, welcome to BallerBlogger. We’ve been writing once a day team previews for all 30 teams (following the same schedule as CelticsBlog). You can go to the Eastern Conference and Western Conference Overviews and take a look at the individual teams from there. Enjoy! Now, on to the Oklahoma City preview.
Sea Oklahoma City Thunder
2007-08 Record: 20-62
Key Losses: 40 years of history, Luke Ridnour
Key Additions: Ugly uniforms, Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, Russell Westbrook, D.J. White
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
Well, they brought in a few decent veterans, made some draft picks and, oh yeah, moved the franchise 2000 miles across the US. Now, that probably won’t make a huge difference on the court, but it’s better for this young team to not be entrenched in the conflict that was surrounding them in Seattle. They’ll get a new start in a city that will, at least initially, really love them. As far as the new players, there are some things to be excited about. They basically acquired Desmond Mason and Joe Smith for nothing, getting better players and better salaries in the deal (they gave up Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin). Mason isn’t very good, but Smith is a valuable veteran post player. As much as I don’t like the pick of Russell Westbrook, he has a chance to be a solid player down the line. I’m not seeing him as a pure point guard, but there’s no reason he can’t be a Rajon Rondo-like player. I loved the D.J. White pick. White would be my pick for the annual Carlos Boozer “Undersized PF Who Goes Way Too Late In The Draft” Award (yes, it is a very long name, deal with it), however, he didn’t go in the second round, so he doesn’t qualify. He’s a strong athlete, rebounds well, can score in the post, can hit jumpers, what’s not to like? The guy was Big Ten Player of the Year for goodness sake.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Strength, singular. I’ll give you a hint, it starts with a ‘K’. Still stumped? Ok, it ends with an ‘evin Durant.’ Durant wasn’t that great last year, struggling with many of the things most rookies struggle with. Unsurprisingly, since he was asked to carry a bad team offensively, he struggled mightily with shot selection. However, he also made great strides as the season went on. In the second half of the season, his three point attempts dropped drastically, he shot 5% higher from the field, his free throw attempts went up and his turnovers dropped. Those are fantastic signs of growth for a young star like Durant. I’m expecting huge things from Durant this year. He’s only 20, and already he has one of the most diverse offensive games in the league. He’s 6′9 with ridiculous length and a prodigious skill-set for his size. I expect that we’ll see his three-point percentage rise significantly this season as he adjusts to the longer arc. When Durant adds some strength to his frame and wraps his head around the NBA game, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. I think that happens sooner rather than later. Durant will average 30 a game sometime in the next few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened this year. Yes, he’s that good.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Um, take your pick.They’re awful offensively and they’re awful defensively. They’re awful in almost every measurable quality. Other than the tanktastic Heat, they were the worst team in the league by a long shot, so you can take your pick of weaknesses. Me, I’ll go with their center rotation. You know, you’d think three years of taking a center in the first round would yield a serviceable starting center, but you’d be wrong. The Thunder (cringe) feature such luminaries as Johan Petro, Robert Swift and Mouhamed Sene at the center position. As a result of that group’s general suckitude, the Sonics often have to play natural PFs like Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox at center. It’s ok though Thunder fans, because the team drafted Serge Ibaka this year, and foreign centers who are major projects almost always work out, right? …
4. What are the goals for this team?
Develop the young guys and win enough games to endear yourself to the new home crowd. Obviously, this team is not going to contend for a playoff spot. However, they should expect to win at least a handful more games than they won last year. I think they’ll be disappointed if they don’t win at least 25 games, with 30 as an outside possibility if Durant and Green both make huge improvements in their second seasons. Another thing to look for is in-season trades. GM Sam Presti has shown a pretty good mind for getting the best out of trades, and there are some solid assets here (Collison or Smith especially) who could be traded to a contender for draft picks.
5. Is Clay Bennett in fact the devil incarnate?
Short answer: Yes. In addition to stealing cherished NBA franchises from their loyal fan bases, Bennett also kicks puppies and devours small children. In all seriousness though, the only real storyline on the court this season is Durant. Just how good is he and how quickly will he reach his potential? Will he continue to struggle with his efficiency? Will he be an All-Star? Will he average 30 a game? Will he earn a cool enough nickname to offset the terribly bad team name (The Thunder, really?) Nothing would surprise me. The sky is the limit.
Projected Record: 24-56