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Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

2010-11 result: 55-27, Northwest Division Champions, Western Conference Finalist.

Key Departures: No key departures.

Key Acquisitions: Reggie Jackson, Lazar Hayward

Outlook: It’s so easy to write here on the outlook or expectations. However, to break it down for you, it’s a bit harder than that. You don’t want to say it’s Championship or bust. However, you know this team needs to take the next step… which would be the NBA Finals.

This team has come a long way, 3-29. Still haunts me to a bit. Then 2010 when the Thunder shocked the world, finishing 50-32. Took the Lakers six games, which could have at times gone the Thunder way.  Yet, here they are, fresh off a Western Conference Finals appearance where they blew big leads against the Dallas Mavericks enroute to a 4-1 series defeat.

If you look at this team as a whole, they’re built for the NBA Finals. They’re loaded on the floor and on the bench. I mean, really the only thing lost off last season’s team was Nate Robinson. He was mainly the cheerleader for the team. Never contributed anything off the bench. Here is what the team looks like, Should be special.

Russell Westbrook is not your typical NBA point guard. He’s a two guard converted into a point guard. He’s going into this third season and he’s already considered a top 5 point guard. He’s such a raw talent still. He’s so fast, so agile. He can cut to the lane and get to the rim with the best of them. His defense has improved throughout the two seasons he’s been here. His shooting and sometimes decision making has been left up to question. However, he went out and hired a trainer to improve his shooting. Against the Mavericks he shot just 36% from the floor. He shot the ball well in the two games against the Mavericks. Shooting 9 of 16 for 56%. His decision making was much improved. At times Westbrook will jump in the area and try to make a decision at the very last season. However, that’s a lot of the two guard still in him. What’s the most scariest part about Westbrook is that he can be better. He can improve off his second team All-NBA, all star performance.

Kevin Durant, the two-time scoring champion, should have another explosive season. His defense continues to improve. He’s the heavy favorite to be the MVP this season. However, at times Durant can make an average player look like an All-Star on the offensive end. (See Shawn Marion). Then at times, He’s known for defending very well. (See Lebron James in Miami last year). He’s developed a fade away shot, similar to what Dirk does on the court. Durant can be much more unstoppable if he could learn to be aggressive in the crunch time. He took 14 game winning/tying shots, only hit one.

The interior defense was at times still a question mark, even with Kendrick Perkins. Serge Ibaka was foul prone and Perkins was not fully healthy. So, Perkins went out, got healthy. He also lost 32 lbs. He’s basically a brick wall of muscle now. We’ll really see how much the weight loss has effected him come the first game against Orlando. Ibaka has improved a bit. It’s really hard to tell in the preseason to see his improvement, so also, we’ll wait and see with him in the first game.

Bench will be very key. Coach Scott Brooks already goes ten deep into his bench. Adding Reggie Jackson and Lazar Hayward to the rotation makes it 12 now. If Cole Aldrich comes along as the Thunder expect him to, that makes it 13. The Thunder will have to find some bench scoring outside of James Harden. I expect Harden to be starting, so therefore, the scoring load off the bench will have to come from someone else. It’ll be key to a championship run for the Thunder.

The ceiling for this team is a NBA Championship. Is it tough to say if this team doesn’t win the title, is this season a failure? Just the fourth season in Oklahoma City. Three years removed from that deplorable start, at times it’s just a distant memory. Then with articles like this we are constantly reminded of it. This team is very good. Just how good are they. Perkins says they’re ready and have all the pieces. We saw them reach the Western Conference Finals. Does that mean the logical next step is a title, right?

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