Monday, Sept. 30 marked the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 12th media day, and there wasn’t the same draw as previous seasons. There were no ESPN booths set up in the arena, most media members seemed more excited to see each other rather than OKC’s new additions, and there was a stale feeling in the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
This season should be seen in a different light, though. Yes, Russell Westbrook and Paul George are rocking different threads this season. Yes, OKC lost three future Hall-of-Famers without a championship to show, blah, blah, blah. That’s known and in the past, so let’s knock that noise and start looking into this year’s team.
Looking back, they are very reminiscent of the first two Thunder teams. No one expects them to be a 50-win playoff qualifier, but they also aren’t a 23-win team that ranks 13th in the NBA’s Western Conference.
After media day, one word that persisted was “competitive.” Despite everyone else’s predictions, the Thunder players believe, or at least seemed to believe that they’ll be competitive this season. They think that they’ll be a competitive team night-in-and night out and it kind of makes sense.
I know what you’re thinking, the man writing this article is crazy, but hear him out. He doesn’t think the team will defy all odds and go on a storybook run to the playoffs like the Los Angeles Clippers did last season, but they will indeed be competitive and will win more games than you think.
We have the Thunder winning 38 games this season.
A (38-44) record for a team that lost 69.1 points and two superstars from last season’s core players, only to be replaced by 46.2 points (Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari) isn’t too bad. That points towards a few players stepping up and rising to the occasion, which will make for an entertaining journey of a season.
The guard position is very deep. There’s a star in Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder is a solid backup, and Gilgeous-Alexander has been hyped up to be the next coming of Westbrook in OKC. There’s depth and shooting at the power forward position with Gallinari, Mike Muscala and Darius Bazley when he’s playing that position. Gallinari and Muscala shot a combined 39 percent from three, with Gallinari shooting 43.3 percent himself. The wings are probably the most unproven, but the potential is abundant there. Terrance Ferguson has improved each of his first two seasons, so why wouldn’t he improve this year with more freedom? We’ve talked about the potential of Hamidou Diallo, and if Roberson can be half the defender he was before, the second unit is better equipt to pick up what he lacks offensively. Oh yeah, Steven Adams and Nerlens are still pretty good from the center position too.
This young Thunder team has the opportunity to be a defensively scrappy bunch, and their success depends on it.
That’s where the leadership of this team kicks in. We’re talking about Paul and Roberson leading the bunch when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. When Paul locks in he’s a nuisance on defense, and you can check Roberson’s past resume on elite players.
After reading this there will be many fans and media members that’ll still predict this year’s team as a wash. Others want it to be in order to gain higher value on the boatload of draft picks Sam Presti finessed. But if coached correctly by Billy Donovan, executed correctly by the players, and if key individuals reach their full potential this year, the ‘Peake won’t be as dead as you think.
Feature image: Derek Parker.