October 20, 2009
Once again back is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining offseason moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Up next, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
2008-09 Record: 23-59, fifth place in Northwest Division
Head Coach/Facial Hair: Scott Brooks/None
Key Additions: James Harden(notes), Etan Thomas(notes), Kevin Ollie(notes), Serge Ibaka(notes), B.J. Mullens
Key Losses: Earl Watson(notes), Malik Rose(notes), Desmond Mason(notes), Chucky Atkins(notes), Damien Wilkins(notes), Robert Swift(notes)
I know the Thunder won 20 of their last 50 games in 2008-09.
But we really have to slow down here.
In several BDL chats this season, I was asked by several presumably clear-eyed readers if the Thunder had a chance at the playoffs in 2009-10, and that's just a ridiculous notion.
Now, create a list of the top five teams you feel like are heading in the right direction, look at the team's youth and all those draft picks and the salary flexibility and Durant, Durant, Durant ... I can understand the excitement. The Thunder make that list. They might top that list.
But we can't confuse excitement and hope and youth and moral victories with an actual "W," with matching and then moving beyond the production of an opponent for 48 minutes.
Because there just won't be too many times where that happens. There are too many minutes to play, too many players to defend, too many shots to take by people not named "Kevin Durant." The team's not good enough, yet. And that's OK.
Thunder GM Sam Presti is exactly where he'd like to be. He's got Durant, loads of cap space for next summer, more for the summer after that, and all his particulars are on rookie contracts.
But the team barely goes eight deep, and that's including Shaun Livingston(notes) and Thabo Sefolosha(notes). This team still starts Jeff Green(notes) at power forward when he is clearly not a power forward, and this team will start a backcourt with a combined one year's worth of experience between the two start-uhs.
Russell Westbrook(notes)? Fantastic rookie year. He's obviously mad, the guy plays at 100 miles an hour, but he's terrific. James Harden, the rookie shooter, is just what the doctor ordered. Durant took some licks during the offseason, but he's young. He'll get better in all areas, and there's one thing we need to bring up, in case you've forgotten: The point is to outscore the other team. And this kid might lead the NBA in scoring in 2009-10.
Nenad Krstic(notes)? You would have to think he'd be better, still recovering from what was apparently the world's longest-lingering ACL tear from a few years ago. Nick Collison(notes)? Solid, not a great finisher, but a sound backup. Green works his tail off; he can't guard power forwards, but he tries. Livingston's looked good in the preseason. Thabo can help. D.J. White(notes) intrigues.
But beyond that are Kyle Weaver(notes) and Kevin Ollie, and I'm not entirely convinced they're NBA players at this point. And that's a thin rotation, full of youth, full of things that can go wrong (be it the youngsters' fault or the result of something out of their control). Scott Brooks has already proven to be a hell of a coach, but this team is in a holding pattern.
And that's OK.
And, we should remind ourselves, they're not great. Yet. Just OK.
Patience, my babies.
Is GM Sam Presti being too patient with his team?
Only time will tell. As it stands right now, it's hard to criticize the Oklahoma City personnel chief. The Orlando Magic have had great success pairing older players in their primes (Hedo Tukoglu and Rashard Lewis(notes)) with great players who are still far away from their peak (Dwight Howard(notes) and Jameer Nelson(notes)). But most GMs fail to realize the bulk of your roster needs to be peaking at the same time.
• Blue Blitz: "There are a lot of people here who are of the opinion that Scott Brooks can do no wrong. Even though the OKC was a dismal 23-59 last season, he still led the team to a large improvement over the 1-12 P.J. Carlesimo start. That being said, it is possible that we could have some people calling for his firing at the end of the season if we don't see any improvement in wins. More than likely, even if that happens, management will keep him on for another season, and if he doesn't show any improvement, then they'll seriously think about his firing. [...] Fans haven't tasted what it is like to win yet, and most of them seem to be content with winning enough games to be entertained, but losing enough to be not taken seriously in the NBA at large. Nevertheless, if we don't win at least 30 games, I think you'll see some serious threat to his job security." [more]
• Daily Thunder: "Should Kevin Durant be considered in the game's elite? Absolutely. Yes. Most definitely. Bang-a-rang. I know some people will point out his defense and some will nitpick about his plus/minus. It's not like I'm overlooking either thing. Defense is absolutely as important as offense. If you give up as many points as you score then you're really not all that valuable on the floor. But Durant is a worker's worker. He really wants to be as good as he can be. He's not afraid of work. He's not afraid of accepting his limitations. He will be an offensive assassin this year but I'm thinking he improves enough defensively to push away most of the criticism. I don't think he'll ever be an elite defender, but when you can put the ball in the bucket as much as he does, all your defense really needs to be is adequate in order to prove your worth on the floor." [more]
• The Baseline: "Okay, we get it. The Thunder are a team on the rise, have the playoffs somewhere in their future, harbor deity-in-waiting Kevin Durant, and no matter what the gate receipts say, definitively prove that small markets have their drawbacks. Embittered fans of the Sonics, sworn enemies of David Stern and snobs who hate the middle of the country will never respect them. Oh, and they've proven once and for all that haphazard branding is not just a net zero — it's a net negative. Indeed, OKC's team often serves as a cipher meaning many things to many people. However, this fragmented view of the Thunder misses the most obvious point: If you sleep on this team, you're missing out on what's probably the most exciting, innovative and altogether intriguing young squad in the league today." [more]
Ace of Base, "Young and Proud"
There are currently five Thunders (Thunderers?) that are younger in age than my sister. She's a senior in college. Saying this team is young is like saying the Thunder mascot, Rumble (right), is terrifying. It's obvious to anyone with an Internet connection. But that's not so bad. This is an exciting team that's sure to be everybody's second favorite team in due time. They're not in a hurry to contend, so they're just fine growing up together and being super fresh.
— Trey Kerby, The Blowtorch
The Thunder boast a bevy of young options that are led by rising superstar Kevin Durant. After a quantum leap in his second season, he's the No. 4 overall pick in most formats. While he's great or very good in most areas, his AST:TO ratio will keep him from cracking the top three this season. Russell Westbrook is a dynamic presence at point guard, but his fantasy line comes with two fatal flaws (FG% and TO). He clearly will climb the ranks as his game develops, but he needs to be viewed objectively in re-draft leagues as an efficiency-challenged mid-round option. Jeff Green does a few things well but nothing great, and that figures to remain the case with the alpha dogs on the team hording the usage. Let someone else reach for him in the seventh round.
Both Thabo Sefolosha (defense) and rookie James Harden (offense) have an attractive skill set, but a potential platoon scenario doesn't bode well for either. Harden is currently warranting the late pick — while playing time is sorted out — because of his more impactful offensive game. The playing time figures to be muddied in the frontcourt behind Green, with Nenad Krstic, Etan Thomas and Nick Collison being the major players — while the team has a full complement of players, don't count on any one playing or producing enough to warrant consideration in standard leagues.
Sign up now for Fantasy Basketball '09.
ClayBoy: Muahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha ... #OKC
about 21 hours ago from Echofon
Atlantic Divison: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors
Southwest Division: Mavericks | Rockets | Grizzlies | Hornets | Spurs
Central Division: Bulls | Cavaliers | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks
Northwest Division: Nuggets | Wolves