With the start of the 2013-14 NBA season rapidly approaching, we thought it only fair to share what makes each team so exciting. Ontologically speaking, all 30 teams deserve our eyeballs this season. Even disastrous lineups still present oodles of plays, personalities, highlights and headaches. Here are five things to keep in mind for each team before flipping the channel.
Next up, a Thunder team waiting for Russell’s return.
[5 Reasons To Watch: Kings, Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Bobcats, Cavs, Magic, Warriors, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, Clippers, Rockets, Bulls, Pistons, Bucks, Nets, Pacers, Wizards, Thunder, Heat, Mavericks, Celtics, Raptors Hawks, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Suns, Jazz]
As one of the only NBA teams who’s neither fully invested in “Tankapalooza 2013, the fight for Andrew Wiggins” (movie idea?), or a franchise that overhauled their roster (why would they?), the Oklahoma City Thunder are poised to have another successful season behind Kevin Durant and a returning Russell Westbrook.
Though reports indicate Westbrook isn’t quite ready to set foot in an NBA hardwood within the first month of the season, the Thunder can at least manage without him before trekking towards another strong challenge for an NBA Championship.
Over the last 12 months, the Thunder’s GM Sam Presti has been forced by small market constrictions to make some impossible moves. They traded newly dubbed Houston superstar James Harden and lost replacement Kevin Martin. In return, they saw the progression of Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb and increased Serge Ibaka‘s role with the club, hopefully turning him into a third star and not a third wheel.
Key Additions: Steven Adams, Ryan Gomes, Andre Roberson
Key Losses: Kevin Martin, DeAndre Liggins, Ronnie Brewer
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Be Very Afraid of Russell Westbrook
All right, this should be obvious, but let’s just say it because we have too: Westbrook is a monster. No really. Look at him. He’s a freak of nature.
Outside of the goofy glasses and laughable clothing options, Russell Westbrook is legitimately a top-10 point guard in the NBA, injury or not. The thing with this season is that fans all over the country as well as the diehards in Oklahoma are all waiting for Westbrook’s return.
For the Thunder, think of this as a blessing in disguise. While not having Westbrook means relying on Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to take the bulk of his minutes, the moment Westbrook comes back, the result of all that time for the two youngsters becomes a nightmare for opposing defenses.
First, no team outside of the Thunder will be able to properly study Westbrook the first few weeks he’s back, which makes him even more of a mismatch if he comes out as explosive as we hope. Second, the front office and Scott Brooks will finally know how far along Jackson and Lamb have come, and if they can provide steady production in the rotation behind the three star players.
So yeah, it’s actually a blessing in disguise.
The Young Bench Players
After meeting Adams at the pre-draft festivities in Manhattan this summer, the first thing I thought to myself was “Man, this guy is massive.” And as ambiguous as that may seem, it’s the exact point I’m trying to convey.
Adams is 7-0, 255 pounds. The remaining seven footer for the Thunder is Hasheem Thabeet and his skill set is still…well…Hasheem Thabeet. Adding a solid player like Adams will increase the depth in the frontcourt the Thunder have desperately lacked in several seasons. It’ll come in especially handy against the big guys (the Gasol’s, Dwight, Duncan) in the later rounds of the Western playoffs.
Furthermore, with the addition Gomes and Roberson (who got nods from NBA GM’s for preseason rookie of the year), the club now possesses two gangly wing players that can take some pressure off of Durant in Westbrook’s absence. The operative word is some, but who knows if it’s enough. Durant had to do everything in the playoffs last season after Westbrook went down, so this is just a less stressful precursor until his return.
The progression of Lamb and Jackson becomes intriguing to watch as well. Jackson’s quick crossover in transition can embarrasss teams at times. He has shown glimpses of the player Brooks would love him to be. Now with over thirty minutes a game at his disposal and Durant to feed the rock to, Jackson’s numbers could skyrocket.
Add savvy veterans like Derek Fisher and Nick Collison in the mix and the Thunder could actually have a functioning rotation. Not the same as having the best shooting guard in the league as your sixth man, but an improvement over last year’s Westbrook-less offense only required Memphis to stop Durant and ignore everyone else.
Durant v. the NBA GM’s v. Durant
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since LeBron James moved to Miami a few summers ago, the Miami Heat have dominated the NBA, and the league’s general managers agree that their best player is the biggest reason why.
In the annual GM survey, Durant again finished second to James, in a variety of categories. There was a 69 to 24.1 percent discrepancy between the two for next season’s MVP. Durant wasn’t the 69 percent.
The trend continued for most of the questions that coupled the NBA’s two best players; altough, the GM’s did nominate Durant as the player they’d most like having the last shot with a game on the line. With what could be one of the best rosters the Thunder have put together since 2008-2009, Durant has a few months to prove that he should be considered the best player in basketball.
Without Westbrook to demand more touches, and no Martin isolations where he’s trying to draw the foul or fire quick bombs from beyond fifteen feet, it’s Durant’s time to prove what he can do on his own. This time he’s carrying the team for at least a month during the opening of the regular season rather than the slapdash weeks after Westbrook’s injury during the playoffs. Count on a string of 30- and 40-point outings before Westbrook gets back. Durant could lay claim to a MVP award that’s gone to James in four out of the last five years.
Ibaka and the Best, Least-Talked about Defense in the NBA
When it comes to defense, Oklahoma isn’t the first place you think when trying to come up with a list of the most stifling teams in the NBA. But the crazy part is, they might be as good as any defensive club in the business.
With all the young talent on the roster, the Thunder are in the position to boost their defense in a place that’s most unexpected: the backcourt. Without Westbrook, Lamb and Jackson aren’t the most defensive-minded players, but they bring a load of quickness to the floor.
Looking specifically at a combo of Jackson, Lamb and Thabo Sefolosha, their speed and quick hands will force turnovers in the backcourt. Some educated switching on high post screens will keep teams away from Ibaka and Perkins at the rim, while getting out to run in transition. Plus, the triumvirate has the athleticism â€” particularly the younger two â€” to get back and cover shooters when they’ve over-rotated.
Last season, the Thunder finished tied with the Spurs as the No. 3 most effective defense, trailing only the Grizzlies and Pacers for defensive efficiency. They gave up 99.2 points per 100 possessions. Combine that impermeable defense with Ibaka and you’ve got a team that will continue to be in the title hunt each year. Ibaka swatted three blocks a game last season and he’s gotten noticeably better on the pick-and-roll. The Thunder’s stout defense will turn a lot of opposing offensive sets into high-powered fast breaking offense.
If there’s one goal the Thunder have going into another season that ended on a disappointing note, it’s an NBA Championship. That point can’t be stressed enough.
Though the offense will take a step back with Westbrook’s absence for a month or so, it’s the Thunder’s offense, spearheaded by Durant, that has become so lethal in recent memory.
Every season since Durant has been the face of the Thunder, fans have expected only a few things: awe-inspiring dunks in transition and an up-tempo offensive scheme have become second nature when thinking of Oklahoma City. But one thing that will be key this season is the familiarity the club has with its roster.
The chemistry is strong with a franchise that retains its players. Plus, this season, the Thunder possess a combination of size, speed and athleticism in the open court that will keep any defense on their toes. The defense of Sefolosha and late-round pick, Roberson, coupled with Ibaka, will open the floor for Durant, Jackson and Lamb. It can’t get more exciting than that.
The Chesapeake Energy Arena is one of the most exciting atmosphere’s in basketball today, and they ranked 6th in the league last year for attendance. The fans are just trying to match the product on the court.
What do you think?
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