2015-16 NBA Record: 55-27
Additions: Victor Oladipo (traded from Orlando Magic), Ersan Ilyasova (traded from Orlando Magic), Domantas Sabonis (draft), Ronnie Price (Phoenix Suns)
Subtractions: Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors), Serge Ibaka (traded to Orlando Magic), Randy Foye (Brooklyn Nets), Dion Waiters (Miami Heat)
Projected Starting Line-up:
PG – Russell Westbrook
SG – Victor Oladipo
SF – Andre Roberson
PF – Ersan Ilyasova
C – Steven Adams
The most unimaginable thing that could’ve happened happened, with star Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City to join the Golden State Warriors. This move has left many within the OKC organisation reeling, but they managed to re-sign Russell Westbrook to a multi-year extension. This is now Westbrook’s team. The Thunder also traded Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and rookie Domantas Sabonis, which leaves coach Billy Donovan with some young pieces to work around his star point guard. Many are expecting Westbrook to have an MVP-level year, but the main consequence would be seeing the Thunder drop down a peg or two in the Western Conference.
With Durant gone, Russell Westbrook becomes the focal point of the Thunder’s offense. Last season, Westbrook averaged 23.5 points in the regular season (26 PPG in the playoffs) and there’s no reason to believe he can’t average 30+ points this year. He recorded 18 triple-doubles, which tied Magic Johnson for the most triple-doubles within the past five decades. His play-making skills have improved as well, as he averaged a career-high 10.4 assists last year. This year, he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot, so it’s what he does with the ball in his hands that will determine how far the Thunder will go. With a nice supporting cast as compensation for Durant leaving, Westbrook should go crazy this season. Steven Adams should have a bigger role this year following his strong playoff performances last season, where he averaged close to a double-double (10.1 points and 9.5 rebounds). Adams is a warrior on the court and his toughness will help develop the Thunder’s identity on defense with Serge Ibaka gone. The Kiwi is efficient on pick and rolls and is extremely mobile for a big man, which is handy for Westbrook to have. Andre Roberson was another player who came up big in the playoffs, using his versatility on defense to be a distraction for opposing players. His length makes him an underrated defender and if he can develop his offensive skills, he can be a huge part of this team. Victor Oladipo was traded to the Thunder and seems like the perfect backcourt partner for Russell Westbrook. He averaged 16 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists with the Magic last year, where he switched between the starting line-up and a Sixth Man role. Oladipo is a great slasher who can defend well and he and Westbrook will create problems for opposing backcourts. Ersan Ilyasova should be the starting power forward and is the true stretch forward the Thunder needs. With Enes Kanter locking down the sixth man role, Nick Collison getting older and Sabonis just starting out, it’s Ilyasova’s job to lose. Kanter seems to be enjoying himself in OKC along with his Mustache Brother Steven Adams. The former Jazz player averaged 12.7 and 8.1 rebounds in a sixth man role and looks to keep this form up this year, but will need to improve his defense to be more effective. Cameron Payne will need to break out this year in order to help Russell Westbrook, but veteran Ronnie Price is around in case things don’t go so well.
With Russell Westbrook ready to unleash and a young roster that’s ready to contribute, this Thunder side can definitely make the playoffs again. Billy Donovan proved many wrong last year by leading his side to the Western Conference Finals. He showed his ability to change line-ups as the game went on and you could say he outcoached Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr at times in last year’s playoffs. The loss of KD has hurt the Thunder’s wings, with Andre Roberson expected to step up in a major way. But I’m looking at an angry Russell Westbrook who’s out to prove he can be a leader on his own and dominate the league. He’s a favourite for MVP and with guys like Oladipo, Adams and Kanter with him, OKC can definitely take out their division, although there’s not much difference between themselves, Portland and Utah.
Prediction: 1st in Northwest Division