Better Know: Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook

We’ve been dealing with a few tech issues here for the past week. My apologies for the lack of updates. We’ll take the next couple of days catching up on opponents around the league, unless we’re destroyed by another serpent. Cross your fingers.

Today’s installment of Better Know An Opponent focuses on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Let’s take a look.

Projected Starting 5

Russell Westbrook Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook (Stats)

Thabo Sefolosha Oklahoma City Thunder

Thabo Sefolosha (Stats)

Kendrick Perkins Oklahoma City Thunder

Kendrick Perkins (Stats)

Serge Ibaka Oklahoma City Thunder

Serge Ibaka (Stats)

Kevin Durant Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant (Stats)

Key bench players: Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison

2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder By The Numbers:

Oklahoma City Thunder LogoW-L: 60-22
Playoffs: Lost in the second round
Offense: 110.2 points per 100 possessions (2nd)
Defense: 99.2 points allowed per 100 possessions (4th)
Net: +11.0 points per 100 possessions (1st)
Pace: 95.89 possessions per game (10th)

Games vs. the Brooklyn Nets:
January 2nd — Brooklyn Nets @ Oklahoma City Thunder
January 31st — Oklahoma City Thunder @ Brooklyn Nets (StubHub)

Key Additions: Steven Adams (draft), Ryan Gomes

Key Subtractions: Kevin Martin, Ronnie Brewer

Strengths: It all starts with Kevin Durant, the league’s indisputable second-best player. The 6’11” Durant is a scoring machine that can drop points effortlessly from all over the floor — his 28.1 points per game average landed him second to just Carmelo Anthony, and ‘Melo needed 4.5 more shots and 3.5 more free throw attempts to score just 0.6 more points per game. Durant’s insane percentages induct him into the 50-40-90 club, as he finished last season shooting 51.0% from the field, 41.6% from three-point range, and 90.5% from the free throw line. Only Larry Bird averaged more points per game in a 50-40-90 season.

But enough about the league’s best scorer. Flanking Durant is the fearsome Russell Westbrook, a terrorizing, explosive point guard that hasn’t missed a regular season game in five seasons. Westbrook averaged 23.2 points and 7.4 assists per game last season, with a 23.9 PER and an assist rate higher than Deron Williams. After an NBA Finals appearance in 2012, the Thunder were primed for another run for the crown in 2013 before an injury to Westbrook cut them short.

And that’s not even getting into the rest of the roster: the shot-blocking menace Serge Ibaka, the sneakily excellent backup Nick Collison, and a solid draft pick in Steven Adams at center.

Weaknesses: Outside of their big 2, the Thunder pose some serious question marks. Kendrick Perkins doesn’t look like an NBA player on some nights anymore and he’s their starter. They lost sixth man and three-point marksman Kevin Martin this offseason, leaving Durant and Thabo Sefolosha as the team’s only legitimate three-point shooters. The team isn’t that deep — Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Derek Fisher are underwhelming backups, and Hasheem Thabeet may get playing time.

Why you should watch: Duh. Marquee. One of the best teams in the league and one of the league’s unique players in Durant. Storylines aside, this game should be really interesting from a pure basketball standpoint — the Thunder tend to run their offense through the “big 2” of Westbrook and Durant, while the Nets (presumably) will have a more continuous motion offense. Durant v. Pierce, D-Will v. Westbrook, Garnett v. Ibaka should be must-watch T.V.

Asking The Other Side: Oklahoma City Thunder blogger Royce Young of ESPN TrueHoop’s Oklahoma City Thunder blog Daily Thunder.

Most important move: Well. Um. Most important? There’s really no answer for this, so allow me to be creative and say Russell Westbrook. They’ll get him back following his meniscus surgery, which is certainly the most influential move the Thunder are going to make this summer. Because drafting Steven Adams or signing Fisher and Ryan Gomes isn’t exactly anything that’s going to be altering any landscapes.

Expectations? I’ve got the Thunder with 58 wins. A little step back from the 60 they won a season ago, but I think the team will be equal or maybe even a bit better. The issue is, the West’s just a lot deeper and more talented now. The Rockets, the Clippers, the Grizzlies, the Spurs, the Warriors — that’s a really challenging top five teams to compete with.

What’s the team system? It’s a simple one. The Thunder run a version of the same offense your little league school team ran. It’s called “Get the ball to Russell or Kevin,” meaning, give it to your best players and let them do things. The Thunder don’t employ much of an offensive system or structure, and really, that’s worked for them. This has been a top three offenses the past couple seasons. In terms of efficient offense, the Thunder are almost unmatched. It’s just a question of if that style of offense translates well to the postseason.

Matching up with Brooklyn: Pretty contrasting styles, I think. The Nets are a bit more matter of fact and straightforward, while the Thunder rely on their athleticism, speed and flash. With the Nets adding Andrei Kirilenko, they have someone well equipped to attempt to guard Kevin Durant, and while Deron Williams isn’t a great defender, he’s big, strong and athletic enough to compete physically with Russell Westbrook.

The Oklahoma City Thunder in under 100 words:

I can do it in eight:
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook. They are really good.