2018-19 Season Preview Extravaganza | Do The Thunder's Stars Have Enough Support?

by Julian Andrews
Web Editorial Associate Follow

Twenty-nine different opposing NBA teams will walk through the doors of Target Center to play the Wolves this season, and we want you to know as much as you can about all of them. We’re going worst to first in order of last year’s standings and telling you everything you need to know. Next up, a Thunder team with two of the brightest stars in the league, but questions about who will play alongside them.  

Notable Players Acquired: G Dennis Schroder (trade), G Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (trade), C Nerlens Noel (free agency), G Hamidou Diallo (draft)

Notable Players Lost: F Carmelo Anthony (trade), F Corey Brewer (free agency), Nick Collison (retirement)

Recapping 2017-18: In a year steeped in huge expectations after the team brought in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder went 48-34 to finish with the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. They lost in six games to the Utah Jazz in the playoffs.

The Thunder struggled for much of the season, but still managed to finish with a decent record. Though the playoff loss stings, there’s little question that the Thunder are still on a path to success. Russell Westbrook continued to put up phenomenal numbers, and his rapport with George seems strong. George turned down free-agent offers from other teams to stay with the Thunder.

With George and big man Steven Adams, along with Andre Roberson, the Thunder were one of the best defensive teams in the league before Roberson went down with a ruptured patellar tendon. After that, the team lost a lot of its defensive flexibility. Even before Roberson returns, the Thunder will be trotting out a faster and more athletic defensive unit this season than they did last season, so they could be very difficult to score against.

The biggest offseason move the Thunder made was trading Anthony to the Hawks for Dennis Schroder. Schroder has disappointed as a starting point guard over the course of his career, but immediately becomes one of the most capable backups in the league. The Thunder will also be better off without Anthony, who wasn’t a great fit for their system and did not have an efficient season. Turning his contract into something valuable for the team was a big move for OKC.

Additionally, the Thunder added two players in Luwawu-Cabarrot and Noel who have underperformed but still have huge untapped potential. Neither player really found minute on their previous teams, but on a Thunder team that desperately needs depth, they will have a chance to play valuable roles.

The Big Question:

What will happen at the power forward spot?

It’s a little unclear how the Thunder will handle the distribution of minutes at the four. It’s not a matter of huge consequence since whoever fills the spot will likely be the fifth option on offense (especially once Roberson returns), but the departure of Anthony does leave a hole. The starting job will likely fall to Patrick Patterson, but Jerami Grant could earn just as many if not more minutes at the spot. Patterson gives the team more size and rebounding, but Grant is an exciting young player who the Thunder view as a major building block. The position battle will be one to watch.  

How Do The Wolves Beat Them? 

With George and Westbrook on the team, the Thunder are hard to stop, but making OKC’s two stars go iso the whole game is still better than letting them get into their offense. The Wolves should work to cut off outlet passes and deny the ball to the Thunder’s shooters on the wing. If the Thunder start running designed plays to get their non-stars going, that’s better for the Wolves than hitting George and Westbrook in rhythm.

Andrews’ Prediction:

The Thunder should be better this year than last, but the rest of the West is as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Thunder challenge for the No. 3 seed, but it’s more likely they’ll finish around No. 4 or No. 5. It’s just a feeling, but another first-round matchup with the Jazz doesn’t seem out of the question.

Describe This Team In 15 Words Or Less 

With two superstars locked in, the Thunder want to win now.

So When Can I See Them?   

The Thunder host the Wolves on Dec. 23 and Jan. 8, and travel to Target Center on Mar. 5 and Apr. 7.