Tag Archives: Western Conference

The Oklahoma City Thunder tank conundrum: The difference between 14 and 18

adams kanter westbrook roberson waiters morrow thunder

With Tuesday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs (and New Orleans’ subsequent defeat of the Golden State Warriors), the Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves in a position they hadn’t been for the past month: outside the top 8 in the Western Conference. With only four games left and with New Orleans holding the tie-breaker between themselves and OKC, the likelihood of the Thunder missing the playoffs has become a very real possibility.

The 8th spot in the Western Conference is almost guaranteed to get the 18th pick in the draft, while the 9th spot in the Western Conference is slotted to be the 14th pick in the lottery, as they would hold the best record of all the non-playoff teams. The 14th worst team in the league has a 0.5% of getting the 1st pick, a 0.6% chance of getting the 2nd pick, and a 0.7% chance of getting the 3rd pick. The team that picks in the 14th spot has never won the draft lottery a.k.a the Number 1 pick. In 1993, the Orlando Magic won the draft lottery with a 1.52% chance of winning it. They had the best record of all the lottery teams and remain the team with the worst odds to ever garner the Number 1 pick. Since then, three more teams have been added to the NBA, so the odds are even lower now.

The possibility of Oklahoma City getting the top pick is damn near slim to none. Same goes for them getting the 2nd or 3rd pick. The question then becomes what’s more important for a championship contending team that has been saddled with bad luck: a higher draft pick or postseason experience for their playoff neophytes? More simply, is there a discernible difference between the 14th pick and the 18th pick?

leonard spurs antetokounmpo bucks

Looking back at the last five drafts, those five draft spots are extremely important for getting good role players, with the possibility of getting a lower tier superstar. The top three players that have been chosen in those spots in the past 5 yeas have been Kawhi Leonard, Eric Bledsoe, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Other players of high value include Nikola Vucevic, Dennis Schroder, Terrance Jones, Marcus Morris, and Jusuf Nurkic. Of all those players, only Marcus Morris was chosen with the 14th pick. Meanwhile, Terrance Jones and Eric Bledsoe were both chosen with the 18th pick.

From the numbers, there are no discernible differences between the 14th pick and the 18th pick. Without all the injuries, the Thunder are a championship contending team. If the team is able to keep Enes Kanter in the offseason, their needs will be peripheral at best. If the team is able to draft the mythical creature known as a 2-way shooting guard, then great. We’ve all seen grainy videos of two-way shooting guards that can shoot from the perimeter and defend their position well. According to lore, they still exist. Another need that could be addressed in the draft is another good shooter. Other than those two things, health is probably the only thing the Thunder need for next season.

Well, health and more playoff experience. Some of the remaining Thunder players that have survived the triage-apocalypse that has been this season, have never been featured players on playoff teams. Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, and Mitch McGary have never been to the postseason, and Enes Kanter made it to the playoffs in his rookie season with the Utah Jazz, but didn’t play many meaningful minutes as the San Antonio Spurs swept the Jazz in what was a lopsided first round series. The experience earned, even at the hands of a sweep by the Golden State Warriors, will be irreplaceable come this time next season.

reggie jackson kendrick perkins thunder

Think back to when the Thunder first played the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 postseason. Oklahoma City lost the series in 6 games, but the experience earned in that series fueled their next four postseason runs. The Thunder have a new set of players that have replaced some seasoned vets the Thunder had in their previous postseason runs (Kendrick Perkins, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher). Those new players need to experience what playoff basketball, at its highest, it like. I’d rather they earn that experience now, than have to earn it next season when the Thunder hopefully are chasing a title and the stakes are a lot higher.

The Thunder are in a position to get the best of both worlds: a solid first round pick and playoff experience. Is there risk for injury if the Thunder make the playoffs? Of course. But there’s a risk of injury any time any of these players gets on a basketball court, whether its in an NBA game or an offseason workout. Missing the playoffs on purpose makes no sense whatsoever, especially when there is only a 0.18% chance of obtaining a top-3 pick. Plus, there’s no way Russell Westbrook will ever stand by and allow the team to lose on purpose. The Thunder will try their hardest in these last four games, and will allow the chips to fall wherever they may fall.

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Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 77 of 82)

lamb adams thunder howard rockets

  • When: Sunday, 05 April 2015 at 12:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Its becoming quite apparent that the race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference (and Eastern Conference, I guess) is likely coming down to the last few days of the season. Both New Orleans and Oklahoma City have 6 games remaining as of the start of Sunday, with the Thunder holding a slim one game lead. Injuries and tough schedules have made it difficult for either team to gain any separation in the standings from the other. Just when the Thunder looked like they were beginning to put it together, down go Serge Ibaka, Nick Collision, and Andre Roberson in succession to various knee and ankle ailments. Just when the Pelicans thought they could gain ground on the Thunder, down goes Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson with ankle and knee injuries. While injuries are a shame, its good to know that both teams are battling through them and remaining relatively competitive. Here’s to both remaining healthy the remainder of this season and into next season.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between these two teams. Houston has won the previous two meetings. The first game was one of the more weirder games you’ll ever see. The Thunder were down both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but completely muddied up the game and held the Rockets to 69 points in the game. Unfortunately, for the Thunder, they only scored 65 in that game. The second game featured all the star players, but lacked any real drama, as Houston opened the game with a 40-18 first quarter, and put that baby to bed early.

The Opponent

howard harden terry rockets

The Houston Rockets come into the game with a 52-24 record, half a game up on the Memphis Grizzlies for not only the Southwest Division title, but also for the 2nd seed in the playoffs. Houston general manager Daryl Morey has transformed the Houston Rockets from a purely offensive team to one that is one of the more balanced outfits in the league. They rank in the top half of most major categories and are carried by their MVP candidate shooting guard James Harden. With starting point guard Patrick Beverly sidelined for the rest of the season with a torn wrist ligament, Harden will be asked to take on more of the ball handling duties for the team. Veteran Jason Terry takes over for Beverly in the starting line-up. On the wing, Trevor Ariza has been a great addition as one of the better 3 and D guys in the league. The returns of both Terrance Jones and Dwight Howard have bolstered the Rockets’ attack, even as they work their ways back from their injuries. Off the bench, the Rockets have one of the most diverse reserve corps in the league. Josh Smith and Joey Dorsey provide help up front, while Pablo Prigioni and Corey Brewer provide wing help.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jason Terry
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Trevor Ariza
  • PF – Terrance Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Dion Waiters – When you talk to Thunder fans about Dion Waiters, you usually hear about 2 things: his streakiness shooting the ball and his on the ball defense. Well, both will be tested against the Rockets. This group of Thunder players is at its best when Waiters is being effectively aggressive. That is, he gets to the basket, but when he gets there, he actually makes the shot or gets fouled. On the flip-side, Waiters will have to stay in front of James Harden for the Thunder to have any chance of containing the Rockets. The Rockets’ attack is almost always initiated by Harden, so staying in front of him is the key to defending the Rockets.

2. Foul Trouble – Steven Adams has struggled in the last few games with staying out of foul trouble. With Dwight Howard and James Harden both on the floor, it will be extremely important for Adams, the only defensive big currently able to play, to stay on the floor. Also, the Thunder wings have to play defense without fouling. Waiters, Westbrook, Anthony Morrow, and DJ Augustin are going to have to do more shuffling and less reaching.

westbrook thunder harden rockets mvp

3. MVP dual – This game matches two of the top three candidates for MVP this season in Westbrook and Harden. While Westbrook has won the last two Western Conference Player of the Month award and is on the Thunder, my vote this season goes to Harden. He has taken a team that many thought would struggle to make it to the playoffs at the beginning of the season and turned them into a powerhouse that is battling for the 2nd seed in the toughest conference in basketball. Westbrook has been great and is extremely valuable to the Thunder, but Harden is just a little bit more valuable to the Rockets.

Happy Easter to all my readers. Thank you for tuning in. 

Phoenix Suns vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 33 of 82)

durant westbrook adams thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 31 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s the last game of the calendar year and it finally feels like the Oklahoma City Thunder are starting to shed some of the bad luck that has hounded them these last few months. Everyone is healthy as Kevin Durant returns from a “mild” sprained ankle that kept him out for 6 games. When healthy, the Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, boasting a top 5 rated defense and a starting lineup that is pumping out some pluses on the offensive/defensive rating. It’s the staying healthy part of the equation that has been difficult. Hopefully, with the change in the year, maybe that part of the year will be behind us.

This is the 2nd of 4 meetings between these two teams. The Thunder completely dominated the Suns 112-88 in their first meeting. Of note, the Suns were without Goran Dragic in that game. The Suns are the current 8th seed in the Western Conference and sit 2.5 games ahead of the 10th-seeded Thunder.

The Opponent

dragic tucker green suns

The Suns currently have an 18-15 record, and have been the model of consistent inconsistency. Their last 30 games have gone as follows: W1, L2, W2, L2, W4, L1, W1, L2, W2, L6, W6, L1. Lately though, they seem to have found a formula that works. The 3 guard line-up of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Isaiah Thomas has been decimating opponents to close out games. To begin games, the Suns switched out Mason Plumlee for Alex Len, and the move has paid dividends not only in the development of Len, but in boosting the bench with Plumlee, who is more suited as an energy guy off the bench. Markieff Morris and PJ Tucker provide defense and perimeter shooting for the starting line-up. Off the bench, the aforementioned Thomas and Plumlee, along with Gerald Green and Marcus Morris, keep the pressure on defenses and can heat up at any time in the game.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Goran Dragic
  • SG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Alex Len

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Small Line-up – Much like the Dallas Mavericks without Tyson Chandler, the Phoenix Suns will likely try to force a mismatch with their small ball line-up of Dragic, Bledsoe, Thomas, and two bigs (usually Morris and Len). And if they really want to get fancy, they may throw Green or Tucker out there for an extremely small line-up. The Thunder have the appropriate counters defensively (Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Roberson, and even Ish Smith, if necessary), but some of those defensive counters are offensive liabilities for the Thunder. If it becomes a back and forth affair, the Thunder could be in trouble.

2. Alex Len vs. Steven Adams – Finally! We get to see the match-up from the 2013 NBA Draft that everyone has been waiting for. I may be exaggerating a bit, but with how these two have been developing this season, it is not outside the realm of possibility that this may be a premier center match-up in a season or two.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Kevin Durant – Welcome back Kevin. The last time we saw him in action, he was lighting the Golden State Warriors up for 30 points in 18 minutes in one half. Don’t get hurt anymore.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Sacramento Kings preview (Game 25 of 82)

durant thunder thompson kings

  • When: Tuesday, 16 December 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, CA

The Oklahoma City Thunder are slowly climbing that playoff ladder. With their win against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday and the Suns’ last second loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, the Thunder found themselves half a game from the 8th spot, behind the New Orleans Pelicans. While injuries tripped up the Thunder at the beginning of the season, injuries seem to be tripping up some of the teams the Thunder are currently look to climb over. Goran Dragic missed the Suns’ last two games with a back injury. Anthony Davis missed the last game for the Pelicans with a bruised chest. And Demarcus Cousins has missed the last 9 games for the Kings with viral meningitis. The breaks other teams were catching when the Thunder were injured, are the same breaks the Thunder are now catching against other teams. Such is the beast known at the NBA regular season.

This is the second of four meeting between the Thunder and Kings. The Thunder won the first meeting 101-93 in Oklahoma City. In that game, Reggie Jackson scored 11 of his 22 points in the 4th quarter to help the Thunder hold off the Kings who made a furious charge in the 2nd half after being down by 13 at halftime.

The Opponent

gay mclemore collison kings

The Sacramento Kings currently sit at 11-13, which is the same record as the Thunder. After starting the season off 9-5, the Kings have gone on to drop 8 of their last 10, culminating in the firing of head coach Michael Malone. From all reports, the Kings front office and the coach disagreed on a number of player personnel issues and the losing streak was just a means to an end for the front office. The recent slide can be directly linked to star center DeMarcus Cousins being sidelined with viral meningitis. Without a presence in the middle, defenses have been able to defend the Kings’ perimeter players one on one and not allow them to get open shots. Leading the Kings’ attack is Darren Collison, who is averaging 16 points and 6.3 assists per game. While never one to be mistaken with the league’s elite point guards, Collison can hold his own with his quickness and ability to get into the lane. On the perimeter, Ben McLemore and Rudy Gay may not be the most efficient bunch, but if they get going, they can take over games from the perimeter. Up front, the loss of  Cousins exposes the lack of depth the Kings have on the interior. Which is surprising considering half their roster is power forwards. Off the bench, Ray McCallum, Ramon Sessions, Carl Landry, Reggie Evans, and Nik Stauskas provide the Kings with some depth, especially in the back court. Omri Casspi and the aforementioned Cousins will be out tonight.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Sacramento Kings

  • PG – Darren Collison
  • SG – Ben McLemore
  • SF – Rudy Gay
  • PF – Jason Thompson
  • C – Ryan Hollins

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Trap-Game Potential – Having just played the No. 8 team (at the time) in the Western Conference standings and possibly looking ahead to a prime-time match-up with the Golden State Warriors, this game has high trap game potential. Add to that the fact the Kings are slumping, missing their best player, playing for a new head coach, and playing at home on national TV, and you have the perfect formula for a let down on the Thunder’s part.

2. Rebounding – There has been a lot of correlation lately between the Thunder out-rebounding their opponents and winning games comfortably. The Kings have a stable of power forwards that can grab rebounds by the bunches. If a Thunder allow them to get too comfortable on the interior, then the Kings will eventually take advantage of their 2nd chance opportunities.

perkins collison thunder thompson kings

3. Rudy Gay/Kendrick Perkins – There are a couple givens in life: Death, taxes, and the “Kendrick Perkins offensive foul due to a hard screen on Rudy Gay” play. It’s coming. Bank on it.

Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans preview (Game 18 of 82)

durant collison thunder rivers pelicans

  • When: Tuesday, 02 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

Now, the rest of the season begins. I used to make fun of teams that had high expectations at the beginning of the season, only to see their season crumple under a calamity of issues. The most recent example I can think of is the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. That was the first year of the Kobe Bryant-Steve Nash-Dwight Howard triumvirate that was supposed to bring a title back to LA. Of course, as we know, injuries and chemistry issues completely derailed that season. What was comical though, was every time the Lakers put a win streak together, the general theme in the postgame interviews was, “the season starts now.” Well, the Thunder are in that same boat now. Is it still early in the season? Yes. But in the extremely competitive Western Conference, you can’t fall too far behind, no matter when in the season it is.

The Thunder have a collection of teams that they need to target in order to get into the playoff race. The Grizzlies, Spurs, Rockets, Trailblazers, and Warriors are probably too far ahead of the Thunder for them to worry about them at this point. It’s the team in the 6th – 11th positions, the Kings, Nuggets, Pelicans, Suns, Clippers, and Mavericks, that the Thunder need to chase. Every game against those teams from here on out is basically a must-win game.

This is the first of 4 meetings between the Thunder and the Pelicans this season. The Thunder won 2 of 3 meetings last season, with each team winning by at least 10 points.

The Opponent

NBA: Preseason-Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans currently find themselves at 7-8, riding a three game losing streak coming into this game. The got off to a 7-5 start, but feasted mainly on bottom tier teams. Their record against teams with a record of .500 or above is 2-8. They are middle of the road in most categories and are just now starting to find out who they really are. They have a bonafide superstar and MVP candidate in Anthony Davis and are starting to tailor a team around his strengths. Leading that charge is point guard Jrue Holiday, who is coming off an injury-plagued first season in New Orleans. He has bounced back well, averaging 15.5 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game this season. The wing positions have always been a source of trouble for these Pelicans. Eric Gordon is always hurt, Austin Rivers is not that good, and Tyreke Evans has bouts of inconsistency. Up front, the Pelicans have one of the more dynamic front courts in the league. In Davis, they have a 5-tool player who is top-10 in five of the six major statistical categories (points, rebounds, FG%, blocks, and steals) and leads the league in PER (33.4). Omer Asik’s biggest contribution to the team may be the fact that he allows Davis to play most of his minutes at PF, where he is most comfortable playing. Asik does a good job of being a big body and grabbing offensive rebounds. Off the bench, the Pelicans are a bit thin, even with Ryan Anderson being a 6th Man of the Year candidate.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG – Jrue Holiday
  • SG – Austin Rivers
  • SF – Tyreke Evans
  • PF – Anthony Davis
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

5 Keys to the Game

1. Kevin Durant – Scott Brooks said Durant will start and will play about 30 minutes. As I said in the previous preview with Westbrook’s return: Welcome back. Now let’s napalm the league, sir.

2. Pack the Paint – If the Thunder have to pick their poison with this team, the best bet is to pack the paint. New Orleans doesn’t have any reliable 3-point shooters, outside of Ryan Anderson. Most of the offense is generated through Davis inside, Anderson shooting, and on Holiday and Evans dribble drives. While Evans, Holiday, and Rivers are capable shooters (all above 30% from 3-point territory), they are nowhere near as reliable as Anderson. Luckily, the Thunder’s specialty is defending the paint…..and unfortunately, leaving 3-point shooters open.

westbrook thunder rivers ajinca pelicans

3. Protect the ball – The Pelicans are the best ball protectors in the league. They only average 10.7 turnovers per game. In their wins, the difference in turnover has been a +5.6, in favor of the Pelicans. In their losses, the turnover difference has been in the Pelicans favor by only +1.8. New Orleans is going to take care of the ball. What you can’t do is allow them extra possessions because of your miscues.

4. The Returns of Lance Thomas and Anthony Morrow to New Orleans – Morrow and Thomas return back to the site where they played last season. One of the things that Durant’s return negates is Thomas’s “look at me now, New Orleans” moment as he is introduced in the opposing team’s starting line-up. Oh, what could’ve been. Enjoy the gumbo and beignets, gentlemen.

5. Never forget – Ahhh, look at Morrow being a good teammate.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Brooklyn Nets preview (Game 14 of 82)

adams lopez nets thunder

  • When: Friday, 21 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder are the worst team in the Western Conference and tied with the New York Knicks for the 2nd worst record in the league. Let that sink in for a second. A season that started with so much promise has devolved to this current state. The thing is, the Thunder don’t feel like one of the worst teams in the league. They have been competitive in most games this season, but, unfortunately, lack the horses to put teams away. The Thunder lead the league in moral victories, but those mean squat when it comes to the final W-L record at the end of the season. This team needs to start winning some of these close games in order to stay within striking distance of the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

This is the 2nd meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Nets. The Nets did a number on the Thunder in the 4th game of the season, beating them in convincing fashion, 116-85. That game was Reggie Jackson’s first of the season, and there was a bit of an adjustment period that clouded the team’s performance in that game. The Nets decimated the Thunder’s zone, which had been pretty successful in the previous 3 games, to the tune of 52.4% shooting from the field to go along with 11 3-pointers.

The Opponent

anderson garnett johnson nets

The Nets currently stand at 4-7. The Nets started 4-2 out the gates, but have since lost 5 in a row. The main issue has been defense. In their first 6 games, the Nets gave up 98.2 points per game. During their 5 game losing streak, they are allowing 106.6 points per game. They are middle of the road in most statistical categories. The Nets are led by the veteran backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. While both are a couple years removed from their prime, they are still consistent enough from the outside to be a threat. Rookie Bojan Bogdanovic has been a surprise at the SF position, pumping in 11.3 points and 3 rebounds a game on 37.3% shooting from 3-point territory. Up front, Kevin Garnett is still providing defense and rebounding in what will likely be his final season and Brook Lopez is rounding out nicely after coming back from a foot sprain earlier this season. Off the bench, the Nets have a mixture of shooters (Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson), an energetic big men (Mason Plumlee), and a savvy back up point guard (Jarrett Jack).

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Brooklyn Nets

  • PG – Deron Williams
  • SG – Joe Johnson
  • SF – Bojan Bogdanovic
  • PF – Kevin Garnett
  • C – Brook Lopez

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Lance Thomas
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Brook Lopez – After missing most of last season and missing the first 2 games of this season, Lopez is just now starting to round into shape. He’s always been an All-Star talent, but has always been derailed by injuries. His last game was his best one yet, totaling 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks on 11-19 shooting from the field. If the Nets get an inside/out game working with Lopez and their wings, the Thunder could be in a bit of trouble.

Joe Johnson, Serge Ibaka

 

2.  Perimeter Defense – The Thunder do a good job with this zone for the most part. But the Nets, in all their veteran savvy, exploited it the first time they played. If the Thunder are able to corral the shooters for the Nets, they will probably have a chance in this game. The addition of Andre Roberson will hopefully help this.

3. Transition Opportunities – There should be no reason why Reggie Jackson, Roberson/Jeremy Lamb, and Serge Ibaka don’t beat their man down the floor numerous times tonight for easy baskets.

The Thunder through the first month of the season: 10 Thoughts

ibaka jones jackson thunder

To call this season eventful would be an understatement. The Oklahoma City Thunder currently sit at 3-10, a far cry from the record many predicted the Thunder would have at this point before the season started. But those predictions are usually predicated on the belief that injuries won’t be a factor. Well, injuries have been a huge factor for the Thunder. Here are 10 thoughts from the first two weeks of the season.

1. Injuries stink!

It started with a small blurb, “Mitch McGary’s foot will be re-evaluated following the (Denver) game.” This was right after the Thunder’s first preseason game. A game in which McGary looked like the second coming of Bill Laimbeer. The injury occurred late in the game, but McGary stayed in the game until the final buzzer. But alas, McGary ended up with a broken foot and was reported to be out for 6-8 weeks. Then, after the second preseason game, Kevin Durant went to the training staff to complain about foot pain. It was revealed that he had suffered a Jones fracture and would need surgery. His recovery was slated to take 6-8 weeks also. Next up was Anthony Morrow, who was injured in practice two weeks before the start of the season. He recovery period was said to be between 4-6 weeks. Then 2 days before the start of the season, Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back) both got injured in the final home practice of the preseason.

The Thunder started the season with 8 healthy bodies. Then in the second game of the season, Russell Westbrook missed a shot, went up for a rebound, and came down looking at his hand. He accidentally slammed is hand against Kendrick Perkins’ granite elbow and ended up with a broken bone in his hand that required surgery. His recovery period is said to be between 4-6 weeks. Down to 7 healthy bodies. Reggie Jackson came back for the 4th game of the season, but in that game, Andre Roberson went down with a sprained foot. Down to 6 healthy bodies. In the 5th game of the season, the Thunder got Lamb back, but lost Perry Jones due to a knee contusion. One step forward, one step back. Luckily, the Thunder haven’t suffered anymore injuries since then. The cavalry is due to come back in the next few weeks, with the hope being that the patchwork Thunder can stay afloat long enough for the team to dig out of the injury-riddled hole it’s gotten itself into.

To get a full grasp of the current injury situation, Thunder players have already missed 80 games due to injury through 13 games. Thunder players missed 83 games due to injury all of last season.

durant westbrook roberson thunder injuries

I’ve never seen an injury spell like this, but it does kind of remind me of the 2nd season the Hornets were in town. In that season, the Hornets were predicted to be on the verge of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They had a young, up-and-coming duo in Chris Paul and David West, a young defensive big man in Tyson Chandler, and the catch of the offseason in Peja Stojakovic. The season got off to a great start as the Hornets opened up 8-3 out of the gate. But then came the injuries. Top reserve guard Bobby Jackson missed 26 games due to a cracked rib, West got injured in the 8th game of the season with an elbow issue that required surgery and missed 30 games, Stojakovic had back surgery after the 13th game of the season and missed the rest of the year, and Paul severely sprained his ankle in the 27th game of the season and missed the next 17 games. The Hornets still battled throughout the season, but the injuries proved to be too much and they were eliminated from the playoff hunt in the final month of the season. Here’s hoping the Thunder fare a little bit better.

2. The emergence of Reggie Jackson as a featured player

This could simultaneously be the best and worst thing for the Thunder in their future negotiations with Jackson. It’s great because the Thunder have a third player they can lean on if Durant and Westbrook either miss time or are being heavily keyed on by the opposing defense. And with this injury bug, they’ve definitely needed Jackson to step up. But it’s bad because, with every good game Jackson has and with every game he takes over in the 4th quarter, it’s just a little bit more added to his asking price. Through his first 6 games of the season, Jackson is averaging 22.8 points, 7.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 0.7 steals on 43% shooting from the field. Removing sample size from the equation, those numbers look very  Westbrookian. But like everything else in the NBA, once opposing defenses get at least 5 games worth of film on you, they can start to scheme against your strengths.

In the last 4 games, opposing teams have begun to focus their defensive energy on Jackson. They either blitz him with an additional defender when he’s 23 feet from the basket or they shadow him with a big man as he dribbles on the perimeter. In those 4 games, Jackson is averaging 15.3 points, 8 assists, and 6.3 rebounds per game. Those are still good number, but his shooting percentage in those 4 games has dropped to 34.4% overall and 20% from 3-point territory. Without too many consistent options on the offensive side of the ball, Jackson is getting a glimpse of what life could like on his own team.

The dirty little secret with the Thunder is that with Westbrook and Durant on the floor, their exorbitant usage percentages tend to mask the full talents of their 3rd and 4th best players. James Harden was never given the opportunity to fully show his array of skills throughout his time with the Thunder. Yes, he played well enough to win the 6th Man of the Year award, but it wasn’t until he was fully unleashed while on the Rockets that he proved he was, arguably, the best 2-guard in the game. While Jackson will likely never be in the discussion for best point guard in the game, he definitely has the skill set to be considered in that second to third tier of point guards outside of Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, and Westbrook.

3. The Veteran Presence of Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison

If I’m a young player in the NBA and I know that I’m likely headed down the career path of being a role player/specialist, then I would be attaching myself to the hip pockets of any of these two guys. In the midst of all this chaos, Collison and Perkins have been bastions of stability, with surprising flashes of necessary greatness. Perkins could have come into this season moping and complaining because of his demotion to the bench. Instead, he’s approached this season with an almost youthful zeal, and he’s probably put together the best 9 games of his Thunder career. In the Thunder’s first win of the season against Denver, Perkins (after scoring 17 points, by the way) echoed the sentiments of the coaching staff by saying that the Thunder “were all in this boat, together.” These are the intangibles that can’t be measured by a statistician. For the most part, Perkins’ stat do not merit his $9.4 million dollar salary. But as a locker room leader, its times like this where Perkins earns every penny he receives in that pay period.

perkins collison thunder

Collison’s play for the past season and a half would lead most to believe that he was on the last leg of his career. The nagging injuries were starting to mount and his effectiveness on the court was starting to diminish. But the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” fell on deaf ears when it came to Collison. Over the offseason, Collison worked on refining his outside shot. There were glimpses of it last season, but this year, Collison has taken it to another level. He has made more 3-point FG’s in the first 13 games of the season (11), than he has in the first 10 years of his career (5). While this may be some sort of statistical anomaly, it may also be the renaissance that can extend Collison’s effectiveness a couple more seasons.

4. Serge Ibaka: The Strangest 3 and D guy in the League

In the 7 seasons the Thunder have been in Oklahoma City, they’ve had a number of 3-point specialists on the team. From Daequan Cook to Kevin Martin to Anthony Morrow, the team is always in search of players that will help spread the floor and provide Durant and Westbrook space to operate. The floor spacer the team has been looking for may have been on the team all along. Serge Ibaka had shown signs of being an effective 3-point shooter in the past couple seasons. In the last 2 seasons, Ibaka has shot 43-117 from 3-point territory, good for 36.8%. This season, through the first 13 games, Ibaka is 23-59 (39%) from deep on 4.5 3-point attempts per game. He has already matched his total of made 3-point FG’s from last season. Some of that is out of necessity due to the team needing to find offense in its current situation. But, I also think this may be by design. Can you imagine Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson operating in a small ball line-up where Ibaka takes the center out towards the 3-point line? I would surmise it would be almost unfair.

5. The Development of Perry Jones

More than any other sport, athleticism is of extreme importance to basketball. The fluid nature of the game, the constant movement, the jumping, the slashing, the running. It’s almost like a fast paced ballet. The more athletic the player, the more of a leg up they have in the league. Is every athletic player destined for greatness? Of course not. But athleticism can be a major tool to have in an NBA career. For two years now, we’ve heard from different members of the Thunder organization marveling about Jones’ athletic ability. Heaping the accolades that he is the most athletic player on an extremely athletic team. But on the court, he could never seem to put it all together. You saw the flashes of athletic brilliance, but the motor and the want to be great seemed to be missing. What you got was a player that was seemingly content with being a “utility defender” and a spot-up 3-point shooter.

perry jones thunder

With necessity, though, comes action. When Westbrook went down in the first half of the 2nd game of the season, the Thunder were left without a consistent playmaker. Sebastian Telfair, a player that wasn’t even in the league last season, was tasked with setting up the offense. But who would he pass it to? Enter Perry Jones. With the vacuum created by the absence of Durant, Jackson, and Westbrook, Jones stepped up and averaged 22.7 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists on 52% shooting from the field in the 3 games in which he played more than 34 minutes. Even though it was only a 3 game spurt, the experience Jones got in learning how to use his tools, may be key to the Thunder’s future success.

6. The Fragility of Jeremy Lamb’s Mental State

The first two games after Lamb came from injury: 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists per game on 46.4% FG shooting and 33.3% from 3-point territory.

The next two games from Lamb: 5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game on 17.4% FG shooting and 0-7 from 3-point territory.

So, what was the difference between these two splits? The easy answer is that the first two games were at home and the next two were on the road. But I think the real cause goes deeper than that. Last season, Lamb’s home/road splits were nearly identical. Consistency, based on venue, was never an issue with Lamb. So, then, what was the major difference between the first two games and the next two games?

My hypothesis is that Lamb performs better when there is no competitive pressure on him from an internal source. In essence, when he is allowed to play carefree without anybody waiting in the wing to take his minutes, he performs wonderfully. But as soon as there is competitive pressure from a teammate for minutes, Lamb starts to press and his performance suffers. In the first two games that Lamb played, Anthony Morrow was out with a knee injury. But as soon as Morrow was activated, Lamb’s numbers suffered. A similar scenario happened last season when the Thunder signed Caron Butler in late February. Lamb’s performance, which had been trending downward in the month of February, completely bottomed out after Butler was signed and he lost his spot in the rotation.

Since his first 4 games of the seasons, it appears that Lamb’s inconsistencies have a lot to do with home/road splits this season. At home, Lamb averages 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field and 40% from 3. On the road, Lamb’s averages drop to 9.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game on 25.6% shooting from the first and 27.8% from 3.

7. The Importance of the 15th Man – Lance Thomas 

Every year, the Thunder brings in about 3-4 hopefuls to training camp to fill out their preseason roster. Those players are usually cut by the time the season starts and some even become part of the Thunder’s D-League team. The Thunder like to head into the season with an empty roster spot in case they need to facilitate a trade or if they need to sign someone later in the season. But this season, with all the injuries, the Thunder chose to sign one of their training camp hopefuls. Lance Thomas beat out Talib Zanna, Richard Solomon, and Michael Jenkins to secure the coveted 15th spot on the team.

Thunder v Raptors

A 15th man is usually a player that goes hard in practice, and then cheers from the sidelines in a nicely tailored suit as an inactive player. If the 15th man is getting playing time, then a couple of scenarios are at play: either several players on the roster are injured, a recent trade has trimmed the roster by at least 2 players, or some players are sitting out for rest. To us fans, the last guy off the bench is usually an afterthought. Someone we know is a part of the team, but also, someone whom we don’t necessarily want playing significant minutes.

But to a general manager, the 15th man could be the piece of gum that prevents the dam from breaking. If the 15th man has to play, then he better be someone that can give you something of significance. Well, not only has Lance Thomas had to play, but he’s also started 9 games for the Thunder. He’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and turnovers. There are games where he plays like the 15th man on our roster. But then there are games where his energy and hustle help the team significantly. In a perfect world, I would love for Thomas to remain as our 15th man. In the real world, though, he will probably be the sacrificial lamb sometime this season, for a trade or to make room for a late season veteran signing. Whatever happens, he has shown his mettle and will likely get another chance in this league because of it.

8. Sebastian Telfair – The Stabilizer

When Telfair signed with the team this offseason, the thought was that he would play the veteran third string point guard role that Royal Ivey and Kevin Ollie have filled in the past. A veteran that can still play some, but is more of a team-first guy. Instead, with all the injuries on the team, Telfair has had to fill the Derek Fisher role: point guard gunner off the bench.

Telfair career was thought to be on its last leg after he played in China last season. For the promise that he brought coming into the NBA, he has been a bit of a bust. But he has carved out a respectable 10 year career as a journeyman playing for 8 franchises, including a two time tour of duty in Minnesota. As a third string point guard making the league minimum, Telfair would’ve probably fared great on this team. The scary part would’ve been if he was needed to be pressed into action, and that fear came to fruition as the season started.

Surprisingly, though, Telfair has been a bit of a stabilizer on this team. Does he chuck too much at times? Yes. Does he turn it over more times than a veteran point guard should? Yes. Is he lacking defensively? Yes. But he’s a gamer when he’s in there and gives 100% effort. When Westbrook and Jackson were out for that game and a half in the beginning of the season, Telfair went out there and performed admirably against Chris Paul and Ty Lawson. His veteran presence has helped this team stay even-keeled throughout this arduous process.

9. Scott Brooks – Possible Coach of the Year candidate

The Coach of the Year award usually goes to one of two coaches: either the coach on the team that overachieves and makes the playoffs or the coach on the best team in the league when there isn’t a surprise overachieving team. But let’s say the Thunder navigate through this rough start and actually make it to the playoffs in the Western Conference. Wouldn’t Brooks be as deserving in leading this patchwork MASH unit to the playoffs as any other coach in the league? Brooks has had to adapt to the team he has. He’s muddied up the games in hopes that the Thunder can stick around long enough to make a run at the end of the game. He’s employed 2-3 zone defenses and strange line-ups where every player on the floor was over 6’9″ (Jones, Thomas, Perkins, Ibaka, and Collison). He’s become kind of a subdued mad scientist.

coach brooks thunder

Will voters remember this run when Westbrook and Durant have played 55-60 together at the end of the season? Probably not. But the biggest knock on Brooks has always been is inability to quickly adapt to situations, whether in game or in a small sample size of games. Now that he’s adapting on the fly, I wonder if this will continue when the reinforcements come back, or if Brooks will revert back to his old ways. Either way, if the Thunder are anywhere near the 6th seed in the West when the season closes, I think Brooks should be in consideration for COY.

10. Heart of a Champion!

Regardless of where the Thunder finish this season, the moxie they have exhibited in these first 13 games should be applauded. Have they looked horrible at times? Yes. But, at least they haven’t looked Philadelphia 76ers horrible. They’ve been in most games until the end and have shown no quit. It’s been a learning process and hopefully, the lessons learned early this season will help guide this team in May and June.

Uncharted Waters: The Thunder and the Kevin Durant injury

durant thunder injury

In life, things have a way of working out oppositely to what we expected. The job promotion you thought would make you happy, actually makes you miserable working under the megalomaniac you call your new boss. The breakup with that significant other you thought would sink you into a depression, actually allowed you to find THE ONE. Life has a strange way of finding its own equilibrium. And that’s exactly how I’m approaching this injury to Kevin Durant. There are negatives and positives to any situation, even this one.

Bad News First: The Negatives:

1. Risk of Reinjury – We saw last season how nagging surgical interventions can be. The battle is not won when the surgeon proclaims, “This surgery was a success.” On a side note, I’ve always wondered what that meant. How do you know it was successful if you haven’t even tested the fix yet? I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘the surgery was a success’ is doctor speak for ‘we operated on the correct leg and the patient is still alive’. Russell Westbrook’s initial meniscus surgery was labeled a success. But complications do occur and that’s what the Thunder faced when Westbrook’s knee began to swell during training camp. Scans were run, and it was determined that a loose internal stitch had caused the swelling. Westbrook had a second, probably minor, arthroscopic surgery to fix that issue. The second surgery kept Westbrook out all preseason and two games into the regular season. Westbrook returned on the third game of the season and played like nothing had ever happened to him. That is, until his knee began to swell again around the Christmas game. The team performed another scope of the knee, which kept Westbrook out until after the All-Star break. In all, Westbrook missed 36 games last season.

The area where Durant suffered the break is notorious for being a difficult heal spot. The blood flow to that area of the bone is much less then at the ends of the bone. There have been plenty of players who have suffered this break and have had this surgery and have come back to the game just fine. But there have been others, like Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers, who have suffered reinjury of the same bone, usually within a year or two of the initial surgery.  I bring up those two names because they span the spectrum of player body types. Lopez is a 7-footer who weighs over 250 pounds and plays in the post. McCollum is a 6’3 combo guard that can take it to the rim and shoot the outside shot. Durant is like the best of both worlds: a 6’11 forward who moves like a guard. Luckily, he doesn’t pack the same mass as Lopez. Will Durant lack of size actually benefit him in his recovery from this injury or will his style of play (guard-like) be a deterrent in his recovery?

brook lopez injury

2. Falling behind in the Western Conference – A lot changed this offseason in the NBA. One thing that remained the same: the Western Conference is still brutal. Most every team in the conference either improved or stayed the course, with the exception, possibly, of Houston and Minnesota. Over the past 5 seasons, the wins average to get into the playoffs in the West has been 47 games. Prior to Durant’s injury, this team was slated to win between 58 and 62 games and be in contention for the number one seed, not only in the Western Conference, but also, throughout the playoffs. That wins estimate will probably need to be curtailed back a bit depending on when Durant gets back, and how he looks when he does get back.

A Westbrook-Ibaka-Jackson core could easily lead the Thunder to 45 wins, which may be good for an 8th seed in the West. And although the Thunder have won road playoff games before, they would much rather play in the friendly confines of the ‘Peake come playoff time. With that said, one of the biggest lessons this team has learned in the past 3 seasons is that home court advantage probably counts more in the early rounds of the playoffs than in the later rounds. Veteran teams like San Antonio and Dallas, who have routinely been to the later rounds of the playoffs, don’t really care where they play. They usually perform the same whether they are at home or on the road. Maybe the Thunder are becoming veteran enough to realize that sacrificing a couple victories in the regular season for rest, may come back to help them in the playoffs, whether its at home or on the road.

3. Derailment of Durant’s repeat MVP campaign – Is it possible that Durant could repeat as MVP this season, even while missing up to a quarter of the season? It’s plausible, but highly unlikely. First of all, the season’s narratives are all working against Durant this season. LeBron James is back in Cleveland in the homecoming of all homecomings. Derrick Rose is back after being sidelined for nearly two years due to various knee ailments. Kobe Bryant is back from injury and looking like the Bryant of old. And Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are ready to take the next step in their development after a tumultuous final year of ownership under Donald Sterling. Narrative and time on the court are both working against Durant. Hopefully, Durant is more worried about the Finals MVP, since he already has a regular season one under his belt.

Good News: The Positives

1. We’ve been here before – We’ve been through this already with Westbrook. When he was scheduled to miss the first month of the season recovering from his second knee surgery in 4 months, many Thunder fans thought the team would struggle mightily out the gates. Instead, Westbrook returned in the third game of the season, and the Thunder played like a fully healthy Thunder team would play. Then, in late December when Westbrook was slated to be out for another two months, everybody fretted about the upcoming schedule. Instead, Durant went supernova on the league (Slim Reaper) and the Thunder made it out of that run relatively unscathed. Will this be the same situation? Probably not.

The Thunder had a good replacement player for Westbrook in Reggie Jackson. While Jackson is no Westbrook, he does a lot of the same things that Westbrook does, which allows the Thunder to play their style of basketball. Unfortunately, there is no one on the roster that can mirror what Durant does for the Thunder. Perry Jones is a candidate, but doesn’t have that extra gear to be a factor on the floor. Anthony Morrow is a possibility, but, while he’s a great shooter, he struggles in creating his own shot.

So how will the Thunder survive? The same way they survived when Westbrook went down. Rely on Westbrook to provide a lot of the offense, and have other players step up their games offensively and defensively. Ibaka, Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb can each do their parts offensively. The team will probably have to start Steven Adams as he is much more offensively adept as compared to Kendrick Perkins. And coach Scott Brooks will probably have to trust his young guys a lot more. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be frustrating at times? Yes. Will it be exhilarating at times? Hell yeah.

jackson ibaka jones thunder

2. Young guys get to step up – A lot like last season, the Thunder young core (Adams, Lamb, Jones, and Andre Roberson) has to step up if the team is to stay afloat and succeed. If anything, this season is a big one for Lamb and Jones, as they are eligible for their first extensions after this season. If that isn’t motivation to step up your game, I don’t know what is. It’s put up or shut up time for these two players. The organization seemingly likes these two guys, but with them coming up on extensions in the next two seasons, it’s time to see if they can really be core members of the team or if they are trade bait for future assets.

Last season, when Westbrook went down, Lamb provided some of the fire power off the bench that was missing when Jackson was tasked to start. In the first half of the season, Lamb almost averaged double figures. His scoring average and playing time went down when he started slumping after the All-Star break and after the Thunder acquired veteran forward Caron Butler. Jones was used as a utility man, playing any position not named point guard or center. He showed flashes, but continues to be a mystery because his physical attributes would suggest he would dominate on the court.

The real key will be Adams and Roberson. If they are both tasked with starting, their rapid development will be tantamount to how the Thunder react to their time without Durant. If Adams is able to stay on the floor, that make Perkins and his $9 million dollar expiring contract extremely movable. If Roberson is able to get some semblance of offense, his perimeter defense will take some of the pressure off Westbrook, so he can focus on offense. The young’ins have stepped up before. They’ll be expected to do it again.

3. Kickstart to Westbrook’s MVP campaign – This is probably the most exciting part of Durant sitting out the first month of the season. I mean, the Durant sitting part isn’t exciting. But if you’re going to find a silver lining, it’s the fact that we finally get to see what a Westbrook-led Thunder team can do. And no, I do not subscribe to the train of thought that Westbrook will go all Iverson on us and jack up 25-30 shots per game. Instead, I think Westbrook will beautifully manage games, attacking when needed and distributing whenever available.

westbrook mvp

In last season’s playoffs, Westbrook was probably the 2nd best individual player in the playoffs. In 19 games, Westbrook averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 2.2 steals, while outplaying the likes of Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker. The MVP talk for Westbrook for the upcoming season hit an uptick during those playoffs. But the reality was that Westbrook would probably never win an MVP with Durant in tow. But now, with Durant out of the picture for a stretch, Westbrook could toss his name into the MVP discussion. Other than LeBron’s homecoming, there’s no better narrative than Westbrook doing for the Thunder this season, what Durant did for them last season. Which is, carry them for long stretches and come up with game winning plays. I’m prepared to see games where Westbrook forces the issues and shoots 3-21 with 5 turnovers and the Thunder get blown out by 25. But I’m also prepared to see games like Game 4 of last season’s Western Conference Finals (40 points/ 10 assists/ 5 rebounds/ 5 steals) or Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals (43 points/5 assists/ 7 rebounds). The Westbrook Experience is just beginning.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Northwest Divison

Northwest Division

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

westbrook ibaka durant jackson jones thunder

Last season: 59-23 (1st in the Northwest Division, 2nd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Mitch McGary – Draft (No. 21 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Morrow – Free agent signing
  • Sebastian Telfair – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Thabo Sefolosha – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Caron Butler – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Derek Fisher – Retired (Head coach of the New York Knicks)
  • Hasheem Thabeet – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – After years of relying on internal improvement/development, the Thunder finally threw their hat into the free agency fray. They failed in getting Pau Gasol or Mike Miller to OKC, but did get the deep-range threat they coveted in Anthony Morrow. If healthy, this team is one of the best in the league. Sporting the current MVP and another top 5 players in Westbrook, the Thunder should benefit from their more versatile additions. When it comes to a team like the Thunder, though, its all about May and June. With the team’s shortcomings in the playoffs with such a talented roster, might this be the year that coach Scott Brooks starts to feel the heat?

2014-15 will be successful if: The Thunder win the championship

Projected 2014-15 Record: 61-21

2. Portland Trailblazers

aldridge batum lopez matthews lillard trailblazers

Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Northwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Steve Blake – Free agent signing
  • Chris Kaman – Free agent signing
  • James Southerland – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Mo Williams – Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Earl Watson – Unsigned

Season Preview – The Trailblazers basically bring back the same team as last season, but with a little bit more veteran presence. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should help shore up some of the inexperience off the bench. With that said, the Blazers’ Achilles heel this season will be the same as last season’s: lack of bench production. Second year guard CJ Mccollum will be expected to fill the production provided by Mo Williams. They were lucky the injury bug didn’t bite that hard last season. They will need similar health next season to produce the same output.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Blazers make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

3. Denver Nuggets

Indiana Pacers v Denver Nuggets

Last season: 36-46 (4th in the Northwest Division, 11th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Arron Afflalo – Obtained in a trade with the Orlando Magic
  • Gary Harris – Draft (No. 19 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jusuf Nurkic – Draft (No. 16 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Evan Fournier – Traded to the Orlando Magic
  • Jan Vesely – Signed overseas
  • Anthony Randolph – Signed overseas
  • Aaron Brooks – Signed with the Chicago Bulls

Season Preview – I only wrote three names on the “Key Additions” section, but with half the team coming back from injury, you could easily add about 5 players to that section. Now, half the team is a bit of an exaggeration, but the players who are coming back are core members of the rotation. JaVale McGee, Danilo Galinari, JJ Hickson, and Nate Robinson all missed time last season with surgery necessitating injuries. With all those key players coming back and Kenneth Faried coming off a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Denver becomes the wild card in the Western Conference. Two seasons ago, they were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with many of these players on the team. It may take Denver a bit to gel, but I could definitely see them being a nuisance come the second half of the season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nuggets make it to the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Utah Jazz

burke hayward favors jazz

Last season: 25-57 (5th in the Northwest Division,  15th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Trevor Booker – Free agent signing
  • Dante Exum – Draft (No. 5 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Rodney Hood – Draft (No. 23 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Steve Novak – Obtained in a trade with the Toronto Raptors

Key Departures:

  • Richard Jefferson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Marvin Williams – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets
  • Brandon Rush – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Diante Garrett – Traded to the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – The Jazz are probably at the midway point of their rebuild. Their young guys from 2-3 seasons ago are starting to come up for extensions and they have yet to show much fruit. They had to pay Gordon Hayward max money in order to keep him away from Charlotte. And their backcourt consists of a rookie (Exum) and a 2nd year player (Trey Burke). I think the Jazz take a step this season. Not necessarily a big one, but a 5-7 win improvement through the internal development of Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Trey Burke. Show improvement and the team probably stays the course. But, flounder again, and the team may be looking at a smaller rebuild for the future.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Jazz win 35 games

Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

"blg 04 wolves state fair"

Last season: 40-42 (3rd in the Northwest Division, 10th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Anthony Bennett – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Zach Lavine – Draft (No. 13 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Glenn Robinson III – Draft (No. 40 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Andrew Wiggins – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 1 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Mo Williams – Free agent signing
  • Thaddeus Young – Obtained in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers

Key Departures:

  • Kevin Love – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
  • Alexey Shved – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – The Timberwolves seem to have a problem holding on to great power forwards. Kevin Garnett about seven years ago and Kevin Love this offseason. But they got a much better haul this time around for Love than they did for Garnett. Wiggins has franchise player potential and Bennett has match-up problems potential if he is healthy this season. Thaddeus Young is a good veteran stopgap at the forward spot, but is also young enough to grow with this group. I believe this team will surprise some people. Rubio is made to be a fast break point guard and now has the horses to let loose his talent. In the end though, this team is extremely young and will have plenty of growing pains this season. Luckily, they’ll also be exciting as hell.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Timberwolves’ young players show development throughout the season, and they still garner a Top 5 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 30-52

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Divison

1. San Antonio Spurs

spurs championship 2014

Last season: 62-20 (1st in the Southwest Division, 1st in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy after Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • Kyle Anderson – Draft (No. 30 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Aron Baynes – Unsigned

Season Preview – Everyone keeps waiting for the Spurs to age, but every year, they come back wiser and better. The reigning NBA champs come back with the entire team basically intact. While chemistry won’t be an issue, a couple of the main players are coming back from injury. Manu Ginobili spent most of the offseason nursing a stress fracture in his leg and Patty Mills had rotator cuff surgery that will keep him out half the season. But as is the Spurs, they will turn that into a positive as Mills will be very well rested when the playoffs start next April.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Spurs repeat as champions

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Memphis Grizzlies

prince gasol allen conley randolph grizzlies

Last season: 50-32 (3rd in the Southwest Division, 7th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions:

  • Jordan Adams – Draft (No. 22 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Vince Carter – Free agent signing
  • Jarnell Stokes – Draft (No. 35 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Jamaal Franklin – Waived
  • Ed Davis – Signed with the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Mike Miller – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
  • James Johnson – Signed with the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – The Grizzlies have slowly put together a balanced team that doesn’t entirely depend on the post play of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The additions of Jordan Adams and Vince Carter, and the return of Quincy Pondexter from injury should help spread the floor for the big man duo to operate a little easier in the interior. Mike Conley remains one of the more underrated floor generals in the league and Tony Allen is still a premier defensive menace, as we saw in last season’s playoff series against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Grizzlies make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28

3. Dallas Mavericks

nowitzki ellis mavericks

Last season: 49-33 (4th in the Southwest Division, 8th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Al Farouq Aminu – Signed free agent
  • Tyson Chandler – Obtained in a trade with the New York Knicks
  • Raymond Felton – Obtained in a trade with the New York Knicks
  • Richard Jefferson – Signed free agent
  • Ivan Johnson – Signed free agent
  • Jameer Nelson – Signed free agent
  • Chandler Parsons – Signed free agent
  • Greg Smith – Obtained in a trade with the Chicago Bulls

Key Departures:

  • Jose Calderon – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Shane Larkin – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Shawn Marion – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Samuel Dalembert – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Vince Carter – Signed with the Memphis Grizzlies
  • DeJuan Blair – Sign and traded to the Washington Wizards

Season Preview – Other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Mavericks probably had the most player movement of any team in the leauge. The team that took the eventual champs to 7 games in the first round, got their defensive stopper in the lane (Chandler), and got an up-and-coming star in Chandler Parsons. The Mavs should be a little better balanced defensively, but that all depends on the health of Chandler. If he misses a big chunk of the season (15-20+ games), the Mavericks could be in trouble defensively. The point guard position is also a question mark, as each of the three possibilities (Felton, Nelson, and Devin Harris) have been starters in the past, but also have glaring weaknesses.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Mavs make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29

4. Houston Rockets

harden howard rockets

Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Southwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers

Key Additions:

  • Jeff Adrien – Free agent signing
  • Trevor Ariza – Free agent signing
  • Clint Capela – Draft (No. 25 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jason Terry – Obtained in a trade with the Sacramento Kings
  • Joey Dorsey – Free agent signing
  • Ish Smith – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jeremy Lin – Traded to the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Omer Asik – Traded to the New Orleans Pelicans
  • Chandler Parsons – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Jordan Hamilton – Signed with the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – After striking gold in the last two offseasons, Rockets GM Daryl Morey hit a rough patch this offseason. He traded away 2 of this team’s top 5 players (Asik and Lin) for basically nothing, and failed to resign Parsons, even though the Rockets held his Bird Rights. The reasons they made these moves was an “all in” attempt at either Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. By the time those two players had re-signed with their respective teams, the damage had already been done to the Rockets’ roster. The Rockets salvaged a little life this offseason by signing Trevor Ariza. The Rockets will still win games due to the talent of James Harden and Dwight Howard. But depth will be an issue, and any injury to any of the major players on the Rockets will be a huge blow to the team’s playoff chances.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Rockets make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten, Anthony Davis

Last season: 34-48 (5th in the Southwest Division, 12th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Omer Asik – Obtained in a trade with the Houston Rockets
  • Jimmer Fredette – Free agent signing
  • John Salmons – Free agent signing
  • Russ Smith – Draft (No. 47 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Patric Young – Rookie free agent signing (Undrafted)

Key Departures:

  • Al-Farouq Aminu – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Greg Stiemsma – Signed with the Toronto Raptors
  • Jason Smith – Signed with the New York Knicks
  • Anthony Morrow – Signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Brian Roberts – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets

Season Preview – After a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Anthony Davis is ready to finally take his team to another level. The acquisition of Asik will allow Davis to play his natural position of power forward. On the outside, Ryan Anderson returns from neck surgery and should help space the floor for Davis and Jrue Holiday to operate. The depth of this team is worrisome, and if the injury bug hits again, they could once again struggle to stay above water.

2014-15 will be succesful if: The Pelican make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40