2017-18 Kia Season Preview

2017-18 Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Everyone anticipated that Russell Westbrook would deliver a career year without Kevin Durant in the mix, and this was one example where expectations were wildly exceeded. Westbrook became Mr. Triple Double in 2016-17, the likes of which the NBA hadn’t seen since Oscar Robertson. He almost helped OKC win 50 games, but of course the one-star system was exposed in the first round of the playoffs after reaching the conference finals the year before. OKC entered the off-season at a crossroads, trying to find the right addition to ease the pain of losing KD.

> One Team, One Stat: Help wanted for Kia MVP Westbrook

> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Thunder bank on new-look backcourt

> DA’s Offseason Rankings: Oklahoma City is No. 3

> Thunder-Rockets first round series recap

ICYMI

The surprise winner of the Paul George sweepstakes, OKC suddenly became a major player again in the West when George was stolen from the Pacers, then doubled down by trading for Carmelo Anthony. There is risk involved with both, because George, the California native has only one year left on his contract and could be LA-bound next summer … Anthony can opt-out next summer and leave as well, but that’s a story for another day. … As a bonus, OKC signed Patrick Patterson for a very reasonable price in the free agent market, and added the intriguing Terrance Ferguson through the Draft. He went from high school in the US to play professionally in Australia last year.

THREE POINTS

1. The George-Westbrook-Melo combo should be fine from a chemistry standpoint. Westbrook is Type A who’s demanding and dominates the ball, but he’ll likely concede often to George and Melo, a proven scorer. True, Westbrook didn’t always do that with Kevin Durant but he’ll do whatever to keep his new teammates happy.

2. Patterson was primarily a bench player in his career, helping Toronto and Houston, his previous stops. He brings a three-point weapon but can he suddenly thrive in extended minutes, or will his weaknesses start to show the longer he’s on the floor?

3. Raymond Felton is aging yet he’s probably the best backup to Westbrook since Reggie Jackson, a smart floor general who can find teammates.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Anthony came up empty in Denver and New York, his previous stops, in terms of the bottom line. He had All-Star stretches in both places but the Nuggets and Knicks never thrived consistently with him. And now Anthony is 33 with a history of knee issues. He can still get buckets and when he’s on a roll, defenders start to sweat. Yet this will be the first time in his life where he won’t be the Lead Singer on his team and perhaps is the third option. He must adapt, adjust his game and mindset and man-up on defense.

STARTING FIVE

Russell Westbrook | 31.6 ppg | 10.7 rpg | 10.4 apg

On the heels of a top-five season all-time, the reigning MVP remains locked and loaded.

Andre Roberson | 6.6 ppg | 5.1 rpg | 1.0 bpg

Defensive specialist who struggles offensively was signed to a long-term deal nonetheless.

Paul George | 23.7 ppg | 6.6 rpg | 3.3 apg

A solid all-around All-Star starts anew with the best teammate he’s ever had; is George a one-year rental, though?

Steven Adams | 11.3 ppg | 7.7 rpg | 1.1 apg

Rugged and physical low-post player is an afterthought offensively; has he already peaked?

Carmelo Anthony | 22.4 ppg | 5.9 rpg | 2.9 apg

Now in his 14th season, Melo got his wish to leave the sinking Knicks; can he cope with increased expectations and stakes?

KEY RESERVES

Patrick Patterson | 6.8 ppg | 4.5 rpg | 0.4 bpg

Signed to give some pop on the front line, Patterson can score but often is wildly inconsistent.

Jerami Grant | 5.5 ppg | 2.6 rpg | 0.6 apg

Terrific dunker and athletic marvel whose basic skills need improving.

Terrance Ferguson | 15.2 mpg | 4.6 ppg | 38 pct

OKC’s first-round pick went from high school to the Australian pro league; he might be pressed into duty sooner than later.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Make no mistake, neither Melo and George is Durant, and folks in OKC would do themselves a favor by keeping that in mind. That said, both bring something unique and needed to a team that relied too heavily on Westbrook, and that should make coach Billy Donovan’s job easier than it was last season. Donovan simply didn’t have many tools besides Westbrook, especially in the clutch. George changes all that by bringing the goods at both ends, while Melo can get 20 any given night. A 50-win season sounds like a given, yet OKC must grind hard to separate itself from the pack below the Warriors, still the gold standard in the conference.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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