Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder: Record last season: 55-27
Postseason results: Lost to Warriors in Western Conference Finals, 4-3
Additions: Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, Domantas Sabonis, Ronnie Price, Joffrey Lauvergne, Chris Wright, Kaleb Tarczewski, Alex Caruso, Alex Abrines
Subtractions: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters, Randy Foye, Nazr Mohammed
Biggest move: Losing Kevin Durant
Projected Finish: Fifth in the Western Conference
Entertainment ranking: 5. Russell Westbrook will be asked to do more for his team than any other NBA player this season, and he couldn’t be happier about it. Buckle up and brace for delightful turbulence. — Ben Golliver
Preseason Power Ranking: 10. Perpetually incensed Russell Westbrook will make for an amazing watch, but flying solo comes with turbulence. We won’t be able to look away. — Jeremy Woo
One number: 39.0. With Kevin Durant off the floor last season, Russell Westbrook’s usage rate was an astronomical 39.0. That would be the highest of all time if maintained for an entire season. And lest you think Westbrook can’t keep that up, he finished the 2014–15 season, when Durant played in only 27 games, at 38.3. (The Thunder won 45 games but missed the playoffs.)
Plain and simple, this season in Oklahoma City will be The Russ Show, and coach Billy Donovan needs to balance unleashing his best player with keeping the rest of the team involved. Letting Westbrook gun at full capacity would be a disservice to a roster that—ironically, in light of Durant’s departure—has finally filled out nicely.
Victor Oladipo is an intriguing backcourtmate for Westbrook, and he should be a better fit in OKC than he was on a cramped Magic roster. Steven Adams showed in the postseason that he’s on his way to becoming one of the better centers in the NBA. And Enes Kanter has always had the offensive chops to hang in Western Conference shootouts.
The Thunder will go only as far as Westbrook takes them, but the higher his usage rate creeps, the more OKC risks diminishing returns. — Rohan Nadkarni
Scouting report: Kevin Durant’s leaving ends their long reign as contenders. Even if Russell Westbrook is the MVP, it will be hard for them to crack the top four in the West because they’ll have a bottom 10 defense. . . . For years their whole M.O. has been two guys doing everything and the rest of the team playing off them. Now it’s going to be a much more collective approach. Westbrook won’t allow them to fall apart. . . . Sometimes people view Westbrook as just an athlete, but he is savvy beating guys off the dribble, and he understands that putting pressure on the rim can make a lot of good things happen. He’s probably the best rebounding guard in the league. If I had to pick one point guard in a vacuum, I’d take Westbrook over Curry, Paul and all the rest. . . . Pairing Westbrook and Victor Oladipo might not work. But if any backcourt could get by with two nonshooters, it’s this one, because their physical tools are off the charts. They’ll win games just through force of will. . . . I still don’t understand why they moved on from Serge Ibaka. Maybe he had reached his ceiling, but it’s a really good ceiling. Now, they’re taking a big step backward with Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis. . . . Ilyasova can stretch the floor, but he can’t guard most fours in the West for sustained minutes. No way. . . . Steven Adams will emerge as a big-time center this year. He’s not a one-on-one post scorer or a guy you force-feed, but he can steadily contribute offensively, he’s a big plus defensively, he’s a tone-setter and he’s fearless. His size really pops off the screen when you watch tape, and he moves well.
Bottom line: Last year’s heartbreaking loss in the West finals would be a dream scenario this year.