Welcome to Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other you’ll read before the 2016-17 season tips off. The premise is simple. We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
Are the Oklahoma City Thunder going to win the 2017 NBA championship? Yes, of course they are. Here’s how that awesome that journey will be. Spoiler alert, though: This will be a referendum on the power of moxie, on the highly underrated value of hubris.
Russell Westbrook, for starters, will be really mad all season, even more so than usual. He will be so mad that a power that is strong enough to allow him the force to lazily body slam Shaquille O’Neal runs through him. He will two-step his way to the rim from half court and drunk so harshly that you don’t even really see it happen. His pace and ferocity will make him so blurry on telecasts of the court that the sensation of watching him will be akin to how old people feel when they listen to certain hip hop with excess RPM’s and cannot understand what’s being said. As has been the case throughout his career, many will despise Westbrook because they’re unable to keep up with what he’s doing.
New Thunder buddy Victor Oladipo will do his best to match and imitate Russell, and — though he won’t come terribly close — this will be a good thing. He will narrowly miss the All-Star team in a comically loaded West as the Thunder cruise to 50ish wins as the most physically domineering team in the league. Their relentless guards will be matched in their intensity only by the mean-spirited versatility of center Steven Adams, who will make the All-Star team. And it will be Adams, not Westbrook, who is transparently salty about Kevin Durant’s defection to the rival Golden State Warriors.
“That Kevin Durant guy is lousy,” Adams will say after a shocking 100-90 win over the Warriors in Oklahoma City on Feb. 11. “He’s the Occam’s razor of blokes looking for gold in the easiest places. I don’t think he’d last in the wild west of my mind, where there aren’t any companies to cling to, only outfits of criminals and upset people everywhere, no one’s a leader there, we just fight.”
Westbrook, for his part, will never refer to Durant by name or answer questions about him all season as he wins his first-ever MVP award, just like NBA 2K17 predicted. His shooting will only marginally improve, but it will not matter much because he’ll double down on scoring at the rim and kicking out to his shooters around the arc. He will single-handedly collapse defenses in a way that is a drug, and not sustainable for more than one season, but his season will be so good that we’ll hardly need another like it. A trend in officiating that favors hard attacks of the basket will favor him, too: Fewer offensive fouls will be called this year than in over a decade, and Westbrook’s beefy, ceaseless speed will wear all defenders out.
Enes Kanter is going to shoot three-pointers this year and he is going to do it really well, at least for a man as massive as he is. He’ll knock down 38 percent of them over the season. The Thunder will still have relatively weak spacing, but they will hurt the bones and kill the legs of the opposition enough for this not to matter. In the playoffs, this will be all the more true. Andre Roberson will make people regret not voting for him as Defensive Player of the Year as he utilizes his length and foot speed toward a scary devotion to protecting the three-point arc.
The Thunder will beat the Warriors in a six-game second-round series amid drama in the bay, headed up by the nebulous 2017 free agency of Steph Curry and the serious financial dilemma Golden State faces in trying to re-sign him, Durant — who decides to opt out after the year — and the luxury taxes that’ll come with Steph making what he deserves. The ball won’t move as well for the Warriors when these fears begin to congeal, their defensive communication will get bogged down, and even though everyone knows the Warriors are the best and most talented, their sudden shortcomings will open a window juuust big enough for Westbrook and Co. to sprint through it.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will be tired as hell and easy prey in the Finals — J.R. Smith won’t know when to stop partying, this year, and LeBron will be lacking in big things to prove. Westbrook, for one June, will seem the superior player. The Thunder will win it all before Durant ever does.