Wednesday, October 21, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
[] 45-37
[] Offensive Rating: 108.4 (11th)
[] Defensive Rating: 106.2 (15th)
[] Net Rating: +2.2 (12th)
[] Last playoff appearance: 2014
[] Coach: Billy Donovan

The 2014-15 Thunder lost a combined 88 games to injury from their top three players (Westbrook, KD and Ibaka), and still managed to nearly make the playoffs.  That was in large part thanks to Westbrook, who missed the fewest of the three, and played like an absolute madman when he was on the floor.  He won't have to do that again this year, as Kevin Durant should be back from his absence and ready to resume his rightful place as the NBA's leading scorer.  Westbrook and KD should make the transition to the NBA a little easier for Billy Donovan in his first stint as an NBA coach.  Donovan had an excellent stint at the University of Florida, and now he takes over for Scott Brooks, who didn't seem to know how to get the most out of his star-studded offense when it mattered most.  Figuring out when to stand out of the way and when to draw something up should be Donovan's biggest challenge.  Aside from Donovan finding his way, the other item to watch will be how, or if, talk of Kevin Durant's impending free agency affects the Thunder.  Whether or not you think KD would actually entertain the thought of leaving OKC, you have to think it will at least be something he and the team have to address throughout the year.  Though if you're the Thunder, you'll gladly answer the questions if it means that Durant is on the floor and giving you roughly 30 points a night.

Projected Starting Five


PG: Russell Westbrook - 6'3, 205 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
67
28.1
29.1
38.4%
53.6%
29.9%
.196
83.5%
.445
47.0%
14.3%

Westbrook made a bid for MVP, playing the role of Mr. Everything for the Thunder with Kevin Durant sidelined for a large chunk of the season.  He wasn't able to single-handedly carry Oklahoma City to the playoffs, but it's impressive enough that he even got them close.  His campaign included 11 triple-doubles, nine games with more than 40 points (not including his 41 in an ASG MVP performance) and three occurrences where he recorded 17 assists.  He put up huge numbers in part because of his insanely high Usage Rate, but more so because he's just that good.  Basketball, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook need Kevin Durant back on the floor, but it was awful exciting watching Westbrook do his solo act.

SG: Dion Waiters - 6'4, 210 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
80
11.8
10.9
22.5%
46.0%
29.7%
.260
68.0%
.182
11.9%
10.0%




SF: Kevin Durant - 6'10, 235 - 9th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
27
25.4
27.6
29.1%
63.3%
40.3%
.340
85.4%
.366
22.2%
10.4%

Basketball's just more fun to watch and follow when Kevin Durant is healthy.  The Slim Reaper missed 55 games last year due to a lingering foot injury.  The 2013-14 MVP will look to reclaim his throne, but he'll have to do so with unending speculation about his pending free agency for the summer of 2016.  He's lead the league in scoring four times, can he capture a fifth, win another MVP and finally lead the Thunder to a title?  Those seem like reasonable expectations, right?

PF: Serge Ibaka - 6'10, 240 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
BLK/36
64
14.3
16.6
18.9%
54.9%
37.6%
.261
83.6%
.140
12.6%
2.6

Ibaka's ability to step out and routinely hit the three ball may add a new dimension to the OKC offense, but it's starting to hurt his efficiency.  Ibaka's FTr plummeted in 2014-15, falling to a mark nearly half of what it was two years ago.  That's bad news for a guy who shoots the ball so well from the line.  Last year was also the first time since his rookie season that he didn't block at least 3 shots per 36 minutes.  I'm looking for a bounce-back year from Ibaka.

C: Enes Kanter - 6'11, 260 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
75
15.5
20.3
24.7%
56.4%
17.6%
14.6%
20.5%
78.2%
.252
0.5

The Thunder had to open the bank to keep Kanter this summer after the Blazers drifted a max offer sheet his way.  There's no questioning his value on the offensive end of the floor, but any improvement from Kanter on the defensive end would be welcomed with open arms by OKC fans.  He's one of the worst defensive bigs in the league.  That's less of a problem when he's on the floor with Ibaka, but probably limits the kinds of lineups you can play with Kanter.

Bench

PG: DJ Augustin - 6'0, 180 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
82
9.5
13.7
19.5%
52.7%
33.7%
.380
86.8%
.317
27.3%
16.4%

Augustin is a steady backup PG who can occasionally put up some big numbers on the offensive end.  He'll have to defend his minutes from Cameron Payne as the season goes on, but he should factor into the rotation thanks to his ability to score.   A career 37.1% three point shooter, Augustin should be better in that regard than in 2014-15.

G: Cameron Payne - 6'2, 180 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3P%
FT%
35
20.2
3.7
6.0
45.6%
37.7%
78.7%

Payne fractured a finger in a pre-draft workout, which caused him to miss the Orlando Summer League.  He should be back by the start of training camp though, and that's where his battle for minutes at both guard spots will start.  The environment in OKC should allow him to develop at his own pace, which should be good for him.  Look for bigger things further down the line, as Donovan figures to pick his spots with the rookie.

SG: Anthony Morrow - 6'5, 210 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
74
10.7
14.8
16.5%
60.4%
43.4%
.528
88.8%
.145
5.2%
5.5%

A three point specialist, nothing more, nothing less.  He's good at what he does too: Chocolate Reign has never shot below 37% from three in a season, and has finished above 45% in three different seasons.

G/F: Andre Roberson - 6'7, 210 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
67
3.4
9.1
9.0%
51.3%
24.7%
.423
47.9%
.239
10.6%
7.4%

Roberson is a defensive specialist who saw big minutes due to the injury issues the Thunder had last season.  He's in for a major role reduction this season, unless there are similar injury issues again.

SF: Kyle Singler - 6'8, 230 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
80
6.0
8.5
13.2%
51.2%
39.8%
.540
76.9%
.117
7.3%
10.5%

Much like Morrow, Singler is on the floor for his shooting ability.  He's not quite as proficient as Morrow, but every team can use a guy like Singler off their bench.

SF: Josh Huestis - 6'7, 230 - Rookie (2014-15 D-League stats)
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
44
10.3
9.8
14.5%
48.8%
31.6%
.618
65.7%
.154
4.8%
9.2%

Huestis was the first domestic draft-and-stash selection in NBA history, something that the Thunder probably regret after the depth issues they had early last season.  It looks like he struggled mightily in the D-League, but he's going to get a shot to make the roster this season.

F: Steve Novak - 6'10, 220 - 10th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
35
1.8
8.6
14.1%
55.4%
39.6%
.857
0%
.036
6.3%
8.6%

Novak was a throw-in as part of the trade that brought Enes Kanter to OKC.  He'll either be traded or ride the bench for a significant portion of the year.

PF: Mitch McGary - 6'10, 255 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
32
6.3
16.6
19.0%
55.0%
18.2%
11.9%
24.4%
62.5%
.242
1.2

As a Michigan fan I could be biased in saying this, but I like what McGary has to offer this team off the bench.  He's the right blend of energy and skill for a bench role playing both frontcourt positions.  His ceiling isn't sky high, but the results weren't bad in year one.

PF: Nick Collison - 6'9, 255 - 12th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
66
4.1
11.2
12.8%
48.5%
26.7%
.237
69.2%
.257
12.2%
11.6%

Collison is attempting to add a three point shot to his repertoire as he ages, and it did not go well last season.  His minutes will likely to continue to shrink as the Thunder feature McGary more often as their reserve PF.

C: Steven Adams - 7'0, 250 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
70
7.7
14.1
14.3%
54.9%
15.8%
12.2%
19.3%
50.2%
.514
1.7

Adams should make for a nice offense-defense platoon partner with the scoring-oriented Enes Kanter.  He does the dirty work for the Thunder in the frontcourt, but it's not like he doesn't produce too.  Adams is a solid player and would likely start for close to a dozen, or more, teams in the league.

Outlook

The Thunder were almost good enough to sneak into the playoffs last year with Russell Westbrook doing all of the heavy lifting.  He'll have Kevin Durant and most likely a full season of Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter in the frontcourt to assist this year, and it's impossible to imagine a non-injury scenario where the Thunder don't make the postseason this year.  They have two upper echelon stars, an excellent supporting cast around them, and enough depth that the bench should be a strength.  Even with the time it might take to adjust to a new coach, OKC is probably going to get back to challenging for supremacy in the Western Conference.  That all being said, I don't think they're going to quite claim a spot at the top of the heap; 53 wins in the unforgiving Western Conference seems about right.

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