Last season was supposed to be the Oklahoma City Thunder’s year. In Kevin Durant, they had a legitimate superstar, and with a strong supporting cast and the aging San Antonio Spurs, there was no reason they couldn’t reach the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
Something happened along the way, though. The Thunder lost star guard Russell Westbrook to a knee injury and the team floundered in the playoffs, failing to reach the championship round. With Westbrook expected to be back early this season, though, the team is reloading and will have another shot at contending in the Western Conference.
Points Per Game: 3rd
Points Allowed Per Game: 9th
Rebounds Per Game: 6th
Notable Additions: Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Ryan Gomes
Notable Losses: Kevin Martin, Ronnie Brewer
Point Guards: Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Diante Garrett – Grade: A+
There has always been a contingent that has questioned if Russell Westbrook is good for Kevin Durant. That speculation should be put to bed now after seeing the Thunder without him. OKC missed Westbrook’s scoring in the Western Conference semifinals last season, failing to reach 100 points in any of the five games. Twice, in fact, the Thunder didn’t even tally 90 against the defensive minded Grizzlies.
Westbrook is not only one of the best scoring point guards in the league, but averaging over seven assists and five rebounds last year, he did a little bit of everything. Oklahoma City also has some depth at the position with the veteran Derek Fisher and the emerging Reggie Jackson. Jackson couldn’t replace Westbrook’s production in the postseason entirely, but with 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and shooting nearly 50 percent from the field in the playoffs, he proved he can be a dependable backup.
Shooting Guards: Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, Rodney McGruder – Grade: C
Technically, the Thunder have their starter back in Thabo Sefolosha, but they’re also missing a significant contributor with the recently departed Kevin Martin. Martin joined the Minnesota Timberwolves this offseason and Oklahoma City is missing one of their leading men off of the bench. Sefolosha’s true value is in his defense but without Martin, the team will rely on three young players, including rookie Andre Roberson to fill the void.
Small Forwards: Kevin Durant, Ryan Gomes, Perry Jones – Grade: A+
The Thunder added Ryan Gomes to provide a bit of depth here, but Kevin Durant is the star, obviously. Durant is arguably the second best player in the league behind LeBron James and is the biggest reason of all why Oklahoma City might find themselves in the finals. Averaging 28.1 points a game last year in the regular season, he was forced to do even more in the playoffs with the loss of Westbrook. He responded by upping his scoring, but saw a decrease in his shooting percentage as he made only 45% of his shots.
Still, if you’re starting a team and James is off the table, Durant wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. There’s not much quality depth here, but with Durant, it’s not really needed.
Power Forwards: Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison – Grade: B
At first glance, this unit seems to be a bit lacking. With Ibaka and Collison manning the position, though, things are in good shape. Ibaka, in particular, has developed into a quality forward and really has helped the Thunder’s frontcourt. Ibaka had a big year last season with career highs in points (13.2), rebounds (7.7), and field goal percentage (57 percent). More importantly, he’s been a defensive standout for the team, blocking approximately 3.5 shots per game over the past two seasons. Collison isn’t above average, but he’s a capable reserve as a nine-year veteran.
Centers: Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams, Hasheem Thabeet – Grade: C-
Perkins continues to age and it’s starting to show. His rebounding totals have been in decline for three straight seasons and last year, his six boards per game dipped just below his career average of 6.2. Perkins’ offense has also been tailing off for several seasons now. In 2009-10, he scored a career-high 10.1 points per contest, but last year, had less than half of that at 4.2 points a game. In addition, as a starting center, his 46 percent shooting is an embarrassment. The amazing thing is that Perkins is only 28 since he didn’t play college ball, but entering his 11th season, he often looks 38.
The Thunder tried to improve the position for the future by drafting Steven Adams in the first round this year, but the former Pitt center was a one-and-done player in college and will need time to develop. And in four pro seasons, Hasheem Thabeet has proven to be little more than a backup center capable of playing few minutes. Adams will get better as the season goes on, so this grade might not be as bad by the end of the year. With a declining Perkins, though, this unit has too many question marks to warrant a higher mark right now.
Coach: Scotty Brooks – Grade: A
After five seasons in Oklahoma City, it’s getting harder to question Brooks’ coaching credentials. In Durant and Westbrook, he has two of the league’s best players. Still, it’s never easy to manage egos and Brooks has done a good job of it so far. Even more impressive, his teams have had legitimate postseason success. Brooks guided the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals three seasons ago and the NBA Finals in 2012. The team fell to Memphis in the semifinals last year, but that was with Westbrook injured. With a healthy team in 2013-14, Brooks could again reach the Finals behind his two stars.
Team Grade: B+
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