There's some downtime between games and we're all real itchy for the real season to get underway. So first of all, Joe over at thunderguru.com rounded up us Thunderbloggers and had us do a little survey. If you want to see what us smarties predicted, click HERE. But with this little lull, I'm going to use my ridiculous, expansive knowledge of Thunder basketball to answer a few questions that I know are keeping you up at night. Since I don't have enough dedicated readers to actually produce a "mailbag" type thing, I'll make one up on my own.
Where are the points going to come from?
The points will come from three people, mainly - Kevin Durant, Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison with a little here and there from Earl Watson, Damien Wilkins, Jeff Green and Desmond Mason. And maybe a little icing from Russell Westbrook if he starts to get the hang of NBA basketball. Scoring has been an issue in the preseason, but I'd expect it to improve a little during the regular season as Durant gets more in the flow and Wilcox and Collison see more minutes.
What will it take for the Thunder to get near .500?
Someone to surprise and Kevin Durant to rise into the NBA elite. Look, Cleveland had to start somewhere with LeBron James. As he became a superstar, so the team improved. Nothing says that KD can't emerge this season into a prime player and the Thunder starts shocking people. Remember, the Hornets' 2005 roster looked much worse than this roster (I mean come on, they had Arvydas Macijauskas, Moochie Norris and Kirk Snyder playing significant minutes) and those Hornets won 38 games.
Is there any shot we'll see a 2005 type Hornets run because of the OKC bump?
I say yes because I believe in the Bump. But by run, I mean "exceed expectations." Home court advantage is huge and I think every player will feel it each time they step on the floor at the Ford. They know the excitement in the City so they'll probably play just that much harder for us. They want to win. And more importantly, I think they want to win for us.
What's more important for this team to improve: offense or defense?
Defense, for the simple reason that defense is what Sam Presti is building the team around. He's going with the Spur model and that model says defense wins games. There's already some solid scorers on the team even though the offense has looked inept at times during the preseason. But keeping the ball out of the basket is more important than putting it in, especially when you have difficulty with the latter.
What would be better: the Thunder to win 35 games and show serious improvement but fall well short of the playoffs, or win 18 games and land the No. 1 pick in next year's draft?
As I wrote that question, I had my answer in mind. But as I re-read it to check for errors, I'm having a little trouble deciding. Both look extremely good in one way, but extremely bad in another way. It's like a question my old college roomie posed to me once: You're in a tank, tied down and can't move with puke filled up to your bottom lip. Someone is about to throw a pile of crap in your face. Do you duck your head into the barf and dodge the poo or take the dungaree right in the kisser? There's really no right answer. Anyway, with this question, I settled with "get the No. 1 pick" because I would dance naked on top of Leadership Square wearing cowboy boots and a ribbon in my hair if OKC landed Blake Griffin next year, but I've changed my mind to "win 35 games."
The reasoning: Because that means the youngsters made serious improvement and that's better than getting another high pick. Presti already has an army of draft picks lined up and he'll probably lock away another couple before the end of the year, so it really isn't that big of a deal. But if OKC won 35, Russell Westbrook will have had to evolve into a darn nice guard and more importantly, Jeff Green will have had to made a giant leap. And KD will likely have upped his averaged and played more efficiently.
Will the Thunder roster look the same at the end of the season as it does today?
No chance. Sam Presti wheels and deals more than a Wall Street day trader. But for Presti, times aren't nearly as tough right now (or are they?). Joe Smith, Earl Watson, Chris Wilcox and Desmond Mason could all be shopped to a contender later on in the season if some other GM dangles some draft picks in front of Slick Sammy. We all know he eats those draft picks up like Rosanne at an ice cream buffett.
By the end of the season, will the league and the general public respect the OKC franchise?
Tough to say. Right now, OKC is the punching bag for every blogger, journalist and TV dude out there. They can't start a sentence that contains the words, "Oklahoma" "City" or "Thunder" without snickering about the colors, the logo, the jerseys, Clay Bennett or the name. And that's just the way it's going to be for a while - sadly. But if OKC starts putting together a serious franchise and has the look of a competitve team by year's end, people will stop focusing on the negatives and start talking about what's been happening on the floor - not off it.
Will Kevin Durant be an All-Star?
Probably not. There's so many good twos and threes in the West that it will be hard to outshine them; especially playing on a subpar squad. He'd have to average 25 or 26 to catch anyone's eye.
Will Russell Westbrook overtake Earl Watson as the starter by the break?
This is my Vegas "Lock-O-the-Week." Lock it up. Westbrook is the future of this franchise and Watson is some contender's solid backup point guard. If OKC falls ten below .500 quickly out of the gates, Sammy and Coach Peej will jump ship and start looking toward the future - which is bright with Westbrook, Jeff Green and KD.
Who is going to win the Thunder "David West Award" for "Who saw that coming?"
How about Chris Wilcox? He's only 26 and has as much athleticism as any four in the league. If I could explain to you why a guy with his ability is a career 9.6 ppg/5.5 rpg guy, my name would be John Hollinger and I'd actually be making money for all this pointless writing. Before West's 2005 season, he averaged 5.0 ppg and 4.2 rpg. Then in '05 he jumped to 17.1 and 7.4. One big reason? His minutes almost tripled. The same issue has plagued Wilcox. He's never averaged more than 30 minutes a game, but as a pillar to this team's "success" he should see more time and maybe put up bigger numbers. Last year, Wilcox showed a little life averaging 13.4 ppg and 7.0 rpg. If he bumps those up to 17 ppg and 10 rpg, he could be what pushes OKC into that "surprise team" catagory. And, like I've said before, this is a contract year for him and money talks - and makes you play harder.
What are the main missing pieces?
We've been over this before, but quickly: a consistent outside shooter, a big man that can score and a point guard that distrubutes and manages the game.
Who needs to go?
Time to throw up the "peace out" to Watson and Joe Smith. There's a serious youth movement in OKC and those two guys are just holding us back. They'll serve their purpose for this season (or maybe half of it) but by year's end, OKC will be looking at bringing in new guys and drafting even younger ones. Watson and Smith will provide some nice veteran leadership to this group for now, but they won't be here next year.
If the team really, really stinks, will the Ford Center still be full by seasons end?
Yes. No doubt about it. Yes. OKC will be known for having the best fans in the league within ten years. Mark it down.