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Monday, September 24, 2012

SDH's 2012/2013 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 3. Oklahoma City Thunder

Overall Win/Loss Record :  47-19 first place Northwest Division

Last Season’s Rank

Projected 2012/2013 Finish

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank
  • Points Scored: 103.1 (3rd)
  • Points Allowed: 96.9 (17th)
  • Team FG%: .471 (3rd)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .427 (4th)
  • Rebounds per game: 43.7 (6th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 41.3 (12th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders
  • Scoring: Kevin Durant (28.0)            
  • Rebounds per game:   Kevin Durant (8.0)
  • Minutes per game:  Kevin Durant (38.6)
  • Assists per game: Russell Westbrook (5.5)
  • Steals per game:   Russell Westbrook (1.7)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Serge Ibaka (3.7)

Projected Starters Based on Last Season’s Performance, Veteran Seniority and Projected Impact

Key Reserves Based on Last Season’s Performances, Veteran Seniority and Potential Impact.
  1. James Harden (G)
  2. Eric Maynor (PG)
  3. Nick Collison (F/C)
  4. Daequan Cook (SG)
  5. Cole Aldrich (PF)

2012/2013 Projection:  55-27 tied first place in the Northwest Division—will be hard pressed to repeat storied playoff run from last season.


For numerous basketball purists it must have been agonizing to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder play last season.  Here was a team who ranked dead last in assists per game, committed the most turnovers, and had the lowest assist to turnover ratio in the league.  Yet they were still able to finish with the second best record in the Western Conference and managed to beat not one, or two, but three former NBA Champions who in the last 15 years had won ten NBA titles between to reach the NBA Finals.  What made it even more infuriating to purists of the game was that the Thunder’s playoff success was not due to the team playing well, but rather the opposite.  Both the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers played terribly allowing a team with a rather simplistic and predictable offense to simply steamroll them while the San Antonio Spurs, who started the Western Conference Final series with a two games to one lead simply folded under the pressure.

Only the Miami Heat had the insight and the common sense to figure out the way to shut down the Thunder and it did so by rather simple roster adjustment.  Instead of having their star Lebron James use up much of his energy defending Thunder star Kevin Durant in the series, heat coach Erick Spoelstra had a better idea.  He shifted Lebron to the power forward position placing the Heat’s defensive specialist Shane Battier to humbug Durant on the defensive end. Spoelstra, as many have already surmised knew that the Thunder’s offense primary consisted of the ball being dominated by both Durant and Russell Westbrook while their three other teammates simply stood and watched.  Knowing full well that Serge Ibaka would not less see the ball let alone get any touches, he knew that Lebron would be free to aide with doubling down on Durant along with not spending energy guarding on the defensive end.

The same thing happened with the Heat’s other star, Chris Bosh, who was shifted to the center position knowing full well that he would not have to spend any effort on the defensive end guarding Kendrick Perkins.  Bosh would simply switch and double down on Kevin Durant while just staying in the paint to prevent Russell Westbrook from converting in the paint every time he barreled into the lane.  Instead of playing five on five basketball, the Thunder forced itself due its rather pedestrian offensive scheme to play five on two against Miami.  That would spell doom for Oklahoma City as they would lose their next four games after stealing the first game of the series on the Heat’s home court.  Their performance in game five said it all as fatigue set in for both Durant and Westbrook as Miami simply rolled over them winning the game and the series by 15 points thus becoming NBA champions.

Basketball purists would finally breathe a sigh of relief as they watched the team that had spit on their cherish beliefs of how the game should be played finally bested by sound basketball fundamentals.  The Miami Heat not only won the NBA title, but also exposed the glaring weakness of the Oklahoma City Thunder leaving them vulnerable to other teams looking to take a crack at them.  One of those teams is the Minnesota Timberwolves who underwent one of the biggest roster makeovers during the offseason by adding one of the best overall defenders in league in Andrei Kirilenko, along with former all star swing man Brandon Roy among other.  Now the Thunder will be faced with a team that can possibly take away their current stranglehold on the Northwest Division while at the same time prove to be a troublesome opponent come playoff time.  Add the spectacular offseason of the Los Angeles Lakers acquiring not just one but two potential Hall of Famers, the Thunder will certainly be hard-pressed to repeat that spectacular playoff run from last season.

Adding to the pressure is that the Thunder’s second best player, James Harden, will be a restricted free agent once the season ends giving OKC’s GM Sam Presti and team owner Clayton Bennett quite the dilemma.  There is no doubting Harden’s talent and worth—he is arguably the second or third best shooting guard in the league and certainly worth a maximum contract extension. Unfortunately, the problem lies with the current collective bargaining agreement in place which penalizes a team almost double in luxury tax penalties if a team goes over the salary cap.  With the Thunder already paying close to 50$ million on four players, paying Harden his worth will certainly put them over the luxury tax threshold and there will be numerous teams who are under the salary cap and ready willing and able to inflate Harden’s value just enough to scare the Thunder away from matching their offers.  So this may be the last time fans in the OKC will be able to see their team who reached the NBA Finals last season play together and with Harden possibly parting ways with the Thunder once the season ends, it may be the last time the Thunder will ever have to make the Finals as well.