Oklahoma City Thunder Season Preview

First things first, there will be no further discussion of the James Harden trade. Sure, looking back on it now, of course it looks like a bad deal; but hindsight is always 20/20. The trade happened. James Harden is now on the Rockets. The Thunder aren’t getting him back.

Oct 23, 2013; Wichita, KS, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) drives up the floor against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at Intrust Bank Arena. Chicago won 104-95. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, let’s focus on what the Thunder do have. And that’s two of the league’s five best players in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Plus there’s Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison, and the youngsters Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams. Those are the team’s top 8 guys. That’s who they’re “going to war with,” as Kevin Garnett would say. Oh, and don’t forget VETERAN LEADERSHIP from Derek Fisher.

Since their surprising loss in the second round of last year’s playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies, quiet rumblings of doubt about the Thunder emerged. Now, with Westbrook out a few weeks to start the season, the doubts have only grown. They’re still low key, to be sure, but there are definitely concerns about the state of things in Oklahoma City.

And it’s easy to see why. Westbrook is injured and no one knows how he’ll look when he comes back. The Thunder will also be without Kevin Martin this year, as he left for Minnesota. Replacing Martin is Jeremy Lamb, and while he has all the talent to be a good player in the league, he only played in 23 games last season, averaging just over 6 minutes a game. All of these things are valid, but it shouldn’t prevent the Thunder from once again being the class of the Western Conference.

It may end up being the case that Westbrook doesn’t have quite the same burst and athleticism that he had before the injury, but even if he doesn’t, he’s still one of the league’s best players. It will hurt having him out for a while, but the first month of the season doesn’t determine anything. Plus, Reggie Jackson is no slouch. In 14 minutes a game backing up Westbrook last season, Jackson averaged about 5 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists a night. His per 36 averages (which is probably about how much he’ll be playing until Westbrook comes back) were 13.6 points, 6 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Not quite as good as Westbrook, but it’s not like the kid can’t play. And when Westbrook does return, the Thunder will have one of the best backup point guards in the league.

Now to the second area of concern. Sure losing Kevin Martin hurts, but if losing Kevin Martin is one of your biggest concerns, you’re doing pretty well. He’s a nice player, but he certainly isn’t irreplaceable. He provided scoring, but not much else off the bench. Jeremy Lamb might not provide quite those numbers, but he’ll probably come pretty close. Plus, scoring isn’t exactly an issue for the Thunder, as they finished second in the league with an offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) of 110.2 last year.

Then of course, there’s Kevin Durant; the league’s second best player by an extremely wide margin. He finished last year with averages of 28.1 points, 4.6 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game, plus joined the exclusive 50/40/90 club. (Side note: He did all of that and LeBron is still clearly the best player in the world, which shows you just how amazing LeBron is.) As crazy as it seems, he’s still only 25 year old. There’s no reason to think Durant won’t put up at least those kind of numbers again; and he’ll probably be even better.

Sure the Thunder might struggle a bit until Westbrook comes back. But they still have Durant, and he can do more than enough by himself to keep them afloat until #LetWestbrookBeWestbrook makes his return. Winning 60 games again might be tough, but regular season accolades don’t mean anything anymore in Oklahoma City. It’s time to win a championship. And while the Heat are still the favorites, the Thunder – with Durant leading the way – will be right there challenging them for the crown.

Topics: Kevin Durant, NBA Offseason, Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook

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