October 29, 2010
Last year's record? 50-32, lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Significant departures? No significant departures. Save for their innocence.
Projected record, as predicted three months ago in time to publish in Yahoo! Sports' NBA Preview Magazine? 47-35
Why I think that sounds about right?
Because, last season, two things happened that won't happen again in 2010-11.
1). Teams didn't always take the Thunder as seriously as they should.
2). Oklahoma City's rotation was healthy, to a man, throughout the season.
These are just two very, very significant points that should have Thunder fans understanding that merely holding serve in 2010-11 is accomplishment enough. An honest assessment of this team would have fans understanding that Sam Presti is being fantastically patient with his group of up-and-comers, he's taking his time and not making any stupid move just for the same of mistaking activity for achievement.
The Thunder have added absolutely no veterans of any significant value over the last two offseasons, and that's a good thing. It means that the team's cap situation is spot on, and that this group of lottery-selected youngsters (including this year's pick, Cole Aldrich) will figure things out together.
But it also means that the Thunder are biding their time, and working off of internal development alone. And the attitude behind last year's run as plucky up-and-comers just cannot be duplicated, even for a smart and energetic team like this. And the health, I'm sorry, but these things rarely sustain.
This doesn't mean I think the team is overrated or that it overachieved last year. It got a lucky in a way that doesn't mean it didn't deserve all those 50 wins, it just got lucky in the sense that most teams at least have to deal with a two-week absence here or a month played on a dodgy ankle there, and OKC never had that problem last year.
Why I think I might be terribly, terribly wrong?
Because though this team is banking on internal development alone to move ahead in 2010-11, just look at who will be developing, internally.
This is an astonishingly potential-laden group of youngsters. If things swing Oklahoma City's way again -- the West is injured, OKC is not -- this could be a 60-win team. This could be a group that gets to fight for another chance at sending a series against the Lakers to a seventh game, this time in the third round of the playoffs. And all this with picks galore and cap flexibility on the horizon. Because, remember, even though the Thunder won 50 games last year, this is still a rebuilding process. The Big Moves have yet to hit, and the future is so, so bright for this team
I just don't think 2010-11 is the year of the Big Step Up. 2011-12? Look out, NBA.
While last season's leap from lottery also-ran to 50-win team on the rise obviously had a lot to do with the monstrous evolution of Kevin Durant(notes), the equally frightening development of Russell Westbrook(notes) and the steady leadership of Coach of the Year Scott Brooks, as J.E. Skeets of The Basketball Jones mentioned during a recent episode of The Jonah Keri Podcast, it also had a lot to do with the team's stunning good fortune on the injury front -- Durant, Westbrook, Jeff Green(notes) and Thabo Sefalosha both played all 82 games during the 2009-10 regular season.
In fact, the Thunder's top nine contributors last year -- those four, plus James Harden(notes), Nenad Krstic(notes), Nick Collison(notes), Serge Ibaka(notes) and Eric Maynor(notes) -- combined to miss a total of just 18 games due to injury in 2009-10. Harden missed six with a mid-March hamstring issue; Krstic missed two in December due to an Achilles injury and a sprained ankle, then the final four games of the season with a right knee contusion; and Collison missed four in December with a knee injury, then two with a mild concussion in January.
For the most part, from October through April, Brooks had his full rotation at his disposal, and the Thunder had the opportunity to not only get familiar with one another, but to stay that way. It's a luxury that the basketball gods didn't afford to Northwest Division rivals Utah (who lost Andrei Kirilenko(notes) for 24 games, Kyle Korver(notes) for 28, C.J. Miles(notes) for 18 and Mehmet Okur(notes) for 9) or the M*A*S*H unit in Portland (whose players combined to miss 311 games to injury, second-most in the league behind the Golden State Warriors), both of whom were forced to perform mix-and-match jobs to stay afloat in a tough Western Conference. There's no shortage of talent in Oklahoma City, but for the Thunder to live up to the preseason expectations of an improvement over last season's landmark 50 wins, they'll need to be blessed with the same type of luck in keeping their principals out of the trainer's room and on the court.
Typical bench stuff, really
"Oh, man, come on, Nick."
You know what Thabo's talking about, Nick.
No, I don't, Nenad. Why don't you enlighten me?
"That last one was clearly real, dude."
I don't know what you're talking about, Thabo.
Yeah, that was pretty gross, Nick. We all have to sit here.
Whatever, Nenad, like you haven't done it a BILLION times. And you drink so much milk.
I don't drink that much milk.
"You kind of do drink a lot of milk, dude."
Serge Ibaka x Owl City = Cognitive dissonance, ahoy!
Obviously, Owl City is about as NBA as it gets, so it's pretty great that Legetto129 has made highlight mixtapes for three members of the Oklahoma City Thunder and post them on http://www.youtube.com/, a popular Internet video programming content clearinghouse/weblog. Owlklahoma City Thunder? No, that doesn't work.
No disrespect intended to the Jeff Green or Eric Maynor mixes, but boy, do I like me some Serge Ibaka dunks and blocks -- Serge Iblockas? No, that doesn't work -- laid over the plinking strains of "Rainbow Veins." Lyrics about "subtle variations of blue," "small-town hearts" and "a ghost of a good mood" perfectly reflect Serge's powerful, athletic game.
Plus, who among us hasn't had to "dry [their] damp eyes" after watching him swoop in from the weak side to erase a layup? Now that works. (NOTE: It actually does not work.)