Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011-2012 NBA Preview #29: Oklahoma City Thunder

Alright, I'm making my lone foray into the West... the Zombie Sonics...

Roster Breakdown (Starters in Bold)
  • PG - Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor, Royal Ivey, Reggie Jackson
  • SG - James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, DaQuan Cook, Nate Robinson
  • SF - Kevin Durant, Lazar Hayward
  • PF - Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison
  • C - Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Cole Aldrich

General Thoughts

If there was a bandwagon, non-Miami Heat title pick, it's been the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Westbrook/Durant duo returns for another season, this time having gone deeper into the playoffs than ever before, and they do so as the 2nd best perimeter duo in the league (deference to the Heat). The lead story is the "power struggle" between Westbrook and Durant, but I don't believe that it's an issue, and the world should know that Kevin Durant is the alpha-dog in OKC. Westbrook threw up a 22/8/5 stat-line with a career high 44% FG and 33% 3-point last year, and emerged as an actual star alongside Durant. For Durant, his scoring took a step back from 30 to just under 28 (as his help emerged), but threw up 29 a game in the playoffs, and is still immersed in the "best alive" discussion with Lebron, Wade, Dirk, Howard, etc. Okay, you know what you're getting with those two guys. The rest of the cast will determine how far this team goes. James Harden is my "breakout" candidate this year in the West (John Wall in the East). After a breakout second half last year in which he averaged 16 a game (versus 10 per pre-ASG), I think he makes the leap to the 18-19 a game range, and that's kind of insane as the third option. Ibaka and Perkins form a formidable front-line duo, and because of the scoring prowess of the other 3 starters, they can concentrate on protecting the rim. Ibaka made a mini-leap last year when he averaged 10 points and 8 boards per, but he's a freak athlete who isn't done getting better, so I don't think a 13/9 type of season is out of the question. Perkins looks to be in great shape (shed 30 pounds you can see it) and that should help take some pressure off that knee issue of his. Depth has been an issue for OKC the last couple of years, but with Maynor and Thabo in the backcourt (with Cook on occasion to bomb away), and Collison and Mohammed up front, that's a decently deep top 9-10 guys. There is some question around Scott Brooks and his end of game offensive tactics in the playoffs last year (i.e. never running anything seemingly), but I've usually liked what I've seen from him. It's a really nice squad.


Ibaka. If I have to pick one, I'm going with Serge just because I think it's a virtual certainty that Harden makes a mini-leap (can you tell I'm all in?), and I think you know what you're getting from Perkins. Ibaka is still very raw, and if he can get some more polish to go along with that freakish athleticism, this is a scary roster.

Predicted Finish

2nd in the West

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