If you’re looking for a team that’s moving up, it’s the Thunder of Oklahoma City (50-32). Last season, they were fourth in the Northwest and eighth in the Western Division. That number eight seed allowed them to meet the number one seed Los Angeles Lakers in round one of the playoffs. They lost that series four games to two. But the team had made major progress from the year before when they went 23-59, finishing 13th in the West.
Center Nenad Kristic (.502 FG%, .200 3PT%, .717 FT%, 5.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 8.4 PPG) is a six-year vet who is a skilled player. On another team the seven-foot center would be coming off the bench, but the Thunder lack depth upfront and that means he’s a starter. Kristic is still recovering from surgery for a broken finger and that may limit him at the start of the season.
Jeff Green (.453 FG%, .333 3PT%, .740 FT%, 6.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 15.1 PPG) is a power forward who offers some decent defensive skills but poor rebounding. He’s got good hands, a decent three-point shot and can ably block shots. Now starting his fourth NBA season, this year will determine a lot concerning his future as a player.
It’s safe to say that when Kevin Durant (.476 FG%, .365 3PT%, .900 FT%, 7.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 30.1 PPG) came to the NBA three years ago that he did not disappoint. Durant is one of those small forwards who can pretty much do it all. He can hit from anywhere on the court. Additionally, he’s a premium defender. Durant is quick and able to draw fouls. That’s a huge asset as he hits 90% of his attempts.
Point guard Russell Westbrook (.418 FG%, .221 3PT%, .780 FT%, 4.9 RPG, 8.0 APG, 16.1 PPG) is an impact player. A fine ball handler and assist man, and he ably penetrates and finds the basket. However, he’s a liability when shooting from downtown and his jump shot needs work. This is Westbrook’s third year in the NBA. If he can develop his shooting chops, he’ll be a huge force.
Shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha (.440 FG%, .313 3PT%, .674 FT%, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 6.0 PPG) was less of a shooter last season and more of a stealer. The defensive shooting guard stole 1.18 balls per game. In terms of ball handling, he turns the ball over a lot and when it comes to shooting he is amazingly weak. We may see second-year man James Harden (.403 FG%, .375 3PT%, .808 FT%, 3.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 9.9 PPG) get some extra minutes this season due to the fact that he is a much better shooter and defends well.
On offense, Durant had the best PER on the club (26.33). In some ways, relying on Durant as much as they do hurts the development and ultimate output of many of the other players. Despite Durant’s efforts, the Thunder had an Offensive Efficiency of 105.8 (12th) and a Pace Factor of 95.6 (11th).
Low post shooting is a big problem for this team. Because of that, no one on the Thunder draws double coverage, which means no one can pop out to the perimeter unguarded and throw up a three. Thus, the team is also lacking when it comes to three-point shots and completions.
The good news is that last season the defense came around quickly, earning a Defensive Efficiency mark of 101.6, which was eighth in the league. They should even be better this season.
The Thunder are coached by Scott Brooks (72-78). In 2008-2009, Brooks coached the team, his first head coaching effort ever, in 68 games after taking over for the fired P.J. Carlesimo. They missed the postseason. His prior coaching experience included assisting with the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets. Last season, he was with Oklahoma City the entire season, and they made the playoffs. For his efforts, he was named the 2009-2010 NBA Coach of the Year.
With an abundance of young talent and a bunch of guys who are long-armed and tall, the Thunder stand to dominate many NBA teams. There are no major additions to the team, which means that their young guys do need to show progress. After coming so far last season under Brooks, it looks like they will improve even more this season. Oklahoma City will finish second in the Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference in 2010-2011.
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