The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
2016-17 finish: 47-35, lost in the first round
• Offensive rating: 105.0 (17th)
• Defensive rating: 105.1 (10th)
Additions: Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Patterson, Raymond Felton, Terrance Ferguson, Dakari Johnson
Subtractions: Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Domantas Sabonis, Taj Gibson, Norris Cole
Did the summer help at all?
Hell to the yes. Sam Presti turned two bad contracts (Kanter, Oladipo) and a couple borderline draft busts (McDermott, Sabonis) into a pair of future Hall of Famers (George, Anthony). Need we say more?
Let’s say more. The Thunder GM also added Patterson on the mini midlevel exception, a ridiculously affordable contract for the glue guy from the 50-win Toronto Raptors, and Felton on a veteran minimum deal — again, not such a bad deal for a guy who represents a marked upgrade from the non-existent backup point guard contingent of last season (with apologies to Cam Payne and Norris Cole).
The question is whether George and Anthony can coexist on a roster that was dominated last season by Russell Westbrook’s triple-double quest. But the reigning MVP has thrived on star-laden teams before, reaching three conference finals with Kevin Durant and a Finals with James Harden aboard, too. And George and Anthony arrive at points of their career when winning should take precedent.
The reality is that George and Anthony fit seamlessly onto the Thunder, forcing opposing defenses to choose between collapsing on a stampeding Westbrook and leaving two marksmen open on the wings (George and Anthony shot 39 percent on 646 open 3’s last season) or guarding Westbrook straight-up and letting one of the game’s most ferocious finishers operate in the space those marksmen provide.
George and Anthony can create for themselves, too, and that kind of offensive firepower allows Andre Roberson and Steven Adams to focus on what they do best — defend like monsters. Adams also frees up shooters with devastating picks and cleans up messes around the rim quite nicely. That’s a rock-solid starting five, while Patterson, Felton and Alex Abrines provide the makings for a decent bench.
Anything the Thunder get from first-round pick Terrance Ferguson and D-League center Dakari Johnson is gravy, although OKC’s lack of depth behind Adams may afford Johnson a significant opportunity. If he can’t handle the workload, the Thunder can always rely on Nick Collison for a 3,827,965th season.
Best-case scenario: You know Westbrook would tear a bison limb from limb on an Oklahoma prairie to unseat Durant’s Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. He carried the Thunder to the playoffs last season, and they’re no longer a solo project. With George and Anthony in tow, OKC should be an elite offensive unit after ranking below-average last season, and what was a top-10 defense should benefit from adding Patterson and George. If there’s a recipe for upsetting the Warriors, that’s it. I’m not saying they can, but it will be damn entertaining to watch Westbrook and company try.
If everything falls apart: There’s the potential for disaster ahead. Should this Big Three experiment fail, Anthony and George can both leave in restricted free agency. (Although, George said Westbrook’s recent extension could make his decision to stay next summer “easier.”) Their departure would set the franchise back again, with little chance to rebuild anywhere but the draft. And they’ve already traded two first-round picks, along with every young asset, to go all-in on this season. So, what defines a failure for the three All-Stars? A first-round exit? Second round? OKC should hope it never finds out.
Best guess at a record: 58-24
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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