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Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

September 16, 2012
By

 

Ibaka got paid, Harden didn’t…..drama? 

In: Eric Maynor (missed 2011-12 after knee surgery)…rookies Perry Jones, Hollis Thompson…Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins.

Out: Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed (CHI), Royal Ivey (PHI), Ryan Reid.

Lineup:

PG Russell Westbrook   Eric Maynor

SG Thabo Sefolosha       James Harden, Daequan Cook, Reggie Jackson

SF Kevin Durant             Perry Jones (r), Lazar Hayward, Hollis Thompson (r)

PF Serge Ibaka               Nick Collison

C Kendrick Perkins       Cole Aldrich, Hasheem Thabeet, Daniel Orton

Offseason Recap: The big question following the team’s loss to Miami in the Finals wasn’t who they’d add to the roster this summer…it was, if the team would be able to keep both James Harden & Serge Ibaka (both 2013 free agents). This is a small market team that’s already paying stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook big money. Well, the team decided not to wait till next year…they locked up Ibaka with a four-year, $48 million extension in August. James Harden, though still talking to the team about his deal, seems to be left out in the cold. The sides have until opening night to get a deal done but it’s unlikely. James will probably wait till next summer to try and get the most $ possible. Meanwhile, GM Sam Presti did quite possibly the best one can do with a late 1st round draft pick as Perry Jones (III) of Baylor fell to them at #28. He’s a long, talented forward that’ll back-up KD as well as play some PF when the team downsizes. As for point guard, the team got an upgrade by default. Eric Maynor, who missed almost all of last season after a knee injury, is back and healthy. Derek Fisher gave the team a lot but visibly faded in the Finals. ‘E-Money’ will be a big addition to this group…not only on the court but in the locker room. As for back-up center, the additions of Thabeet and Orton (if nothing else) provide some well-known names from NCAA seasons’ past. Since Kendrick Perkins will miss the preseason after having surgery on both his wrist and his groin, these two (and Cole Aldrich) will get plenty of run in October.

Strengths: They have two of the top 10 players in the NBA in Durant and Westbrook. They also have the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Harden. Lastly, the cohesion they’ve built together over the past few seasons is huge. If only they had the big pockets to keep up with, let’s say, a team like the Lakers.

Weaknesses: Scott Brooks started out Media Day admitting that his team was not a good passing team last year…ya think? They were last in the league w/ 18.5  assists per game at. They still feature a score-first PG (Westbrook) while the team’s best passer (Harden) is still coming off the bench…but they can realistically inch up to the middle of the pack in this category. There’s just too much offensive talent not to.

Despite all of the talent and versatility on this team, they’re still a group that relies on the perimeter game. Other than Westbrook’s drives and the occasional Ibaka put-back, this team is shooting jumpers all night. If a squad like Miami, with Bosh at center, can exploit you on the inside…you know you got a problem. I also think team chemistry, though a strength in year’s past, may start to become a weakness next season…..

Prediction: How will Ibaka play now that he has the pressure of big money coming his way? Will the fact that Harden didn’t get the same luv this offseason hurt the chemistry of this group? Coming off the bench was all good last season, but this will be a contract year for James. I can’t wait to see how this team continues to grow as the business of basketball steps in. Lastly, Russell proved in the playoffs that he’s not a #2 guy but rather a #1-A to Kevin (see Game 4 vs Heat). One of the major reasons Miami went all the way last season was that Dwyane Wade acquiesced the #1 spot to Lebron. No locker room of contenders has ever had 2 equal superstars…there can only be 1 alpha dog (Shaq >Kobe, Duncan>Robinson, etc).

The Thunder have improved each of the the past four seasons. The loss to Miami was all about growing pains…it’s part of the process. However, while OKC did things ‘the right way’ and grew from within a certain team out west (wearing purp n’ yellow) appears to have leap-frogged them in the course of one month. I hate to do this, but in my mind it’s already set out west: Lakers vs. Thunder in the conference finals. L.A. is old school, playing inside-out….OKC is new school, winning without a big presence down low (hey, it worked for the Heat). But as long as Sefolosha is in the game to guard Kobe, Steve Nash has a place to hide on defense (Thabo isn’t a threat). Plus, Dwight is back there to clean up all the mistakes. That leaves MWP on KD and the tandem of Howard-Gasol vs Perkins-Ibaka…..Mike Brown has to like his chances. Scott Brooks, who I think is a way better coach, will have to be perfect to beat the new L.A. lineup…..Lakers in 6.

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6 Responses to Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

  1. mac ill vain on September 17, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    I agree with your point of the business aspect affecting Harden & Ibaka on the court, but its a little early to be predicting the west finals vs LA.

  2. BOBBY DAN on September 18, 2012 at 5:27 am

    SO WHO’S GONNA MATCHUP W/ HARDEN OFF THE BENCH, STEVE BLAKE?
    DOOSH

  3. Glenn on September 20, 2012 at 9:19 am

    So if Nash is hiding his defense on Thabo, where is Kobe hiding HIS defense?

    You can’t fail to mention that Kobe defending Westbrook is a huge mismatch.

    • Martin Knezevic on September 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm

      Great point, Glenn. Kobe’s defense is hanging on for dear life. How he continues to get voted All-Defensive Team is a mockery of the game. In my book, a starter like Thabo should’ve been voted SG on the 1st team…Battier at SF. Why do you have to be a star to get that honor? Russ definitely took a huge step forward in the Finals. He is now a Super Star and almost impossible to stop on offense.
      -Knez

    • Girlee on December 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      You are dead on. Westbrook killed the Thunder the enirte Mavs series. Notice how Jason Kid got the Ball to Dirk in the 4th quarter, especially when Dirk got hot. Westbrook on the other hand is coming down and constantly chucking up stupid shots. In fact the Dallas comebacks were based upon moron Westbrook ball hogging it up and not getting the ball to Durant. Thunder will not win a NBA title unless they replace Westbrook, or Westbrook magically grows up and starts getting the ball to Durant.

  4. P P on September 22, 2012 at 4:02 am

    Championships Arent Won On Paper, Laker Boy.

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