October 9, 2012 by shivusharma
Projected Starters: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefalosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Key Reserves: James Harden, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor
Strengths: Crazy athleticism, three point shooting, points in transition, shot-blocking, isolation scoring, team chemistry, penetration, finishing
Weaknesses: 1-on-1 defense (Westbrook & Durant), shot selection, post-scoring, bench depth
The western conference is loaded with talent, so it will be an uphill battle for the Thunder next season. The biggest advantage for this team going into the new season is the memory of them losing the NBA finals. Their defeat, at the hands of the Miami Heat, exposed many of Westbrook, Durant, and Harden’s individual flaws. We all realized that those three aren’t particularly good 1-on-1 defenders. They made several mental mistakes that hindered the production of their team. You can expect to see better versions of Westbrook, Durant, and Harden this season, as their flaws have now been exposed and worked on.
With Eric Maynor coming back from an ACL surgery, the Thunder will have a true back-up PG to take the load off of Westbrook, and maybe even let him play off-ball a bit more. It remains to be seen what Hasheem Thabeet will bring to the table, if anything, but the drafting of Perry Jones III may prove to be huge stroke of genius by Sam Presti. PJ3 was once projected to be a top 5 pick, and fell into the late 1st round because of concerns about his knee and motor.
Overall, I think the Thunder will end up as the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season. They are still so young, but the experience they have accumulated over the past two years will be truly invaluable. That being said, OKC was able to ransack many of their western conference foes by out-running them. That task will become ever more difficult as teams have a full off-season to adjust. The Thunder must become a better team, both offensively and defensively, in the half-court. If these improvements are not made, the Thunder will struggle against a team like the Lakers who can play excellent half-court basketball.